School Reports – Handwriting Improvements Needed!
So, the school report has been received and you have been told that your child needs to improve their handwriting.
This is all well and good, but what exactly needs improving?
What are they finding difficult and how on earth do you write a continuous cursive z?
So, you eventually get some handwriting practice sheets home or off the web. But no amount of time spent doing them seems to make much difference. It seemed to take longer to get them started than they spent practising handwriting. In fact they seemed worse because they were unhappy and frustrated with their own progress, so the more you try to push them the more resistant they become. Eventually you think there has to be a better way than this?
Doing more of what you are already struggling with is not always the answer. Handwriting is a complex skill to learn and there are a number of reasons why a child may be struggling.
To check that your child’s handwriting skill base is appropriate for their age, and/or to find where you are best focusing support at home, check out the parent section of our website, I would suggest looking at the following section first:
Supporting your child’s handwriting development can be fun using physical games and activities. To check if your child needs extra physical strength support or has other specific learning needs check out these areas in the parent section of our website:
With the summer holidays coming up it is a great time for you to be able to observe and assess your child’s key physical strengths and skills. Armed with this knowledge you can play games and do activities which then help them to develop the strengths and skills which may be holding them back and making handwriting a difficult task to master.
It is important to check and know which letter formations are being taught in school and that this is what you teach at home. Otherwise you will only be causing more frustration and stress for your child.
In last months Teach Primary’s Teach Reading & Writing magazine Kathryn Priddey, Head of Launde Primary School in Leicestershire, explained why they love the Teach Handwriting Scheme, course options and free Teach Handwriting website (page 51, published 06/05/19 Maze Media (2000) Ltd).
Kathryn’s article focuses on why she loves the Teach Handwriting Scheme and the three key elements that are important to her school and the learning outcomes for her pupils:
“A clear teaching pathway from Foundation through to Year 6”
“An engaging scheme with children at the heart of it”
“Bespoke training opportunities for staff and parents”
Some fun indoor activities may be the order of the day if the half term weather proves not to be so hot.
This is a very simple idea which children love because they can take greater ownership of it. The aim of the activity is to help build up hand and finger strength through using the pegs; however it can have a dual purpose, helping to keep track of the week by using it as a timetable or for learning spellings or maths activities, as well as supporting the development of language skills.
You do not need anything fancy, just some string (for the washing line), clothes pegs and pieces of paper or card to peg onto the washing line. The washing line can be a permanent fixture or you can just pop it up when you need to use it.
The clothes line needs to be at a height suitable for your child to peg things on to (placed against a wall is a safe option so that no-one can walk into it by accident and hurt themselves).
There are a whole range of games that can be played using this simple washing line and pegs concept:
- Memory games – Get your child to peg up 5 to 10 different pictures or items on the line. Then give them 1 minute to remember the items. Once the time is up ask them to look away, or close their eyes, and then you remove one or more of the items. Get them to look back at the line. Can they work out what is missing?
- You could try just moving one or two of the items around. Can they figure out which ones are in the wrong place and put them back in their correct place?
- Try swapping an item for something new, which your child did not hang up on the line. Can they work out which is the new item on the line?
- Odd One Out – Hang pictures on the line that belong together. Can they pick out the odd item on the line and explain why it is the odd one out.
- They could all be pictures of fruit with a picture of some clothing
- They could be shapes with straight sides and one with curves
- They could all be animals but all are wild with only one being domestic
- Sorting – Ask your child to sort all the pictures or items from a selection and to hang all the identical things on the washing line. They could all be the same;
- Pattern Work – Using pictures, different colour and shaped paper or items create different patterns. The patterns can be based on colour, size or type of object. You can create a pattern sequence on the washing line and then ask your child to try and copy the sequence. Can they explain the pattern and create their own for you to copy and explain?
- Pairing or What is the Same? – Hang a range of pictures or items on the line, making sure that some of the items can be paired together because they are exactly the same. They could match because;
- They are exactly the same e.g. a pair of socks
- Match numbers to a picture with the same number of items on
- Match capital to lower-case letters
- Or have items that can be put together because they are both from the same set, for example they are types of fruit or are the same colour.
Next week is half-term for many of us and The SUN should be out which makes it time for the water fights and games to begin.
How can water fights and games, where you can get wet, be handwriting homework?
It will soon be June, the weather should be perfect, so why not set up water squirting games in the garden. The kids are waterproof and everything else will dry out, eventually!
You will be encouraging your child to develop their hand strength, co-ordination and eye tracking skills (all handwriting skills), while increasing your cool adult status.
Some fun water games:
- Try setting up a target wall, using chalk to draw the targets.
- How many of the targets can you hit with water squirted from a water pistol or squeeze bottle in a set time.
- How many targets can be washed off.
- Set up a skittles range.
- Each skittle hit with water can be worth a certain number of points, or the distance of the skittles may affect their value.
- A time trial game to hit all the skittles. If you are using plastic bottles as skittles try making some of them a little heavier by putting sand or dirt in them to make it a bit harder to knock them over.
- Move the object race games.
- A light toy/ball has to be moved by squirts of water over a distance.
- A range of objects moved in to target areas to gain points.
The only limitation is you and your child’s imagination and trust me kids never tire of finding new ways to play with water (but then again neither do many adults)!
Homework has never been so much FUN!
We expect our children to sit and write at a desk for longer periods of time at school and this can become very challenging for some children. Handwriting is a very physical task requiring good gross and fine motor skills. A weakness in either, or both, of these areas can be why a child struggles with longer handwriting tasks.
Children with a poor body posture often slouched over a desk, laying their head on the table or with their head propped up by their hand and arm or pull their chair in so far that they can rest their tummy on the edge of the table to help them keep a more upright position. This can look as if they are bored and disinterested in what they are doing. However this is not generally the case.
A poor posture position is not always due to boredom or incorrect chair and table height. For many children it is a lack of body strength or core muscle tone (the large muscle groups that control shoulder stability and the trunk of the body that work to enable us to sit and stand upright for sustained periods of time).
This is bad for them, as it puts unnecessary strain on the body, causing neck or backache and discomfort, which in turn makes them fidget as they try to get comfortable. All this can distract them from the task in hand and limit their handwriting ability as it reduces their hand and finger movements.
You can use our simple online Key Strengths assessment to check your child’s core strength (gross motors skills): http://bit.ly/2C7xYwq or use our core strength development games and activities to support your child: http://bit.ly/2FhFkR7
Choosing and using the right pen can help to avoid smudging; make handwriting look smarter and prevent hand strain when writing for extended periods of time. Everyone is different, so the type of pen required is different to.
There are three main points to think about when choosing a pen for handwriting:
- The type of ink it uses.
- The size and weight of the pen.
- The type of point it has.
1. Types of ink used:
- Oil-based ink
- The ink is quick drying and so does not smudge easily
- The ink flows smoothly depending on the point style of the pen
- Ink can stop and start for no apparent reason
- Water-based ink
- The ink does not dry as quickly as oil-based ink so can smudge
- The ink flows very smoothly
2. Pen sizes and weights
Because pens come in different shapes, sizes and weights it is important for your child to try out a range of pen styles to help them find the best fit for them. Remember one pen style does not suit all, everyone’s hand size and finger length are different.
Things to consider when choosing a pen:
- Does it feel too short or too long?
- Does it feel too thin or too thick?
- Does it feel too heavy or too light?
- Some children like a smooth round pen shape.
- Some prefer a textured round pen shape.
- While others may prefer a hexagon shaped pen.
3. Pen points
Pens come with different point or nib widths and shapes. The size and shape of the point gives different line thicknesses and are usually purchased as point sizes: extra fine, fine, medium or bold (some will have a measurement on as well).
A fine pen point produces thin lines and some children will find this can help to make writing neater.
A medium and bold point give thicker lines which many may find smoother to write with, though the letter size may be slightly larger because of it.
Once again it is important that children try out a range of pen point sizes to help them find the best fit for them.
Remember one pen point style does not suit all, everyone’s fine motor skills and writing pressures are different.
Why do we use pencils when we start to teach handwriting?
Modern classrooms use a range of technology, such as interactive white boards, so why are our children still using pencils when learning how to handwrite?
Pencils are a great first tool for learning to handwrite!
- They come in different widths and lengths (to cater for the different gross and fine motor skills of the children).
- Have different lead thickness and grades (soft to hard) of lead.
- Provide varying degrees of resistance (depending on lead grade) which slows down the letter formation process enough for young children to have the control required to start to form their letters correctly. The greater the resistance the more the body can neurologically acknowledge (feel) the movement and help to send appropriate information to the brain.
- As a child develops their handwriting skills to a more fluid handwriting style the pencil type can be easily changed.
- Cheap and easily accessible.
- A drawing medium which young children are already comfortable using.
- Often a one size fits all approach to the pencil type, rather than tailoring to a child’s needs.
- Difficulty in maintaining a good writing point, results in the child needing to use different levels of pressure, making handwriting hard work.
- Over use of rubbing out mistakes (wastes time and develops a culture where making a mistake is seen as a failure). Making mistakes is how we learn, it is not failing!
Pencils are practical in School:
- With pencil, children find it more difficult to write on one another and their clothes.
- You do not have a whole class of children clicking pens (Velcro is bad enough).
- Pen lids are not constantly lost or being swallowed.
- Pencils seem less of a problem when stuck in ears or up the nose.
- They are cheap.
- Pencils do not explode, leaving a mess all over the room and any child that happened to be in the room at the time.
- Time not wasted by trying to suck the ink up out of the pen.
Handwriting is a complicated skill to learn and having the right tools for the job always helps. It is worth spending a little time with children using a range of pencil styles and lead grades to find ones that they find comfortable to use for handwriting. These will be different from those they use for drawing. As their handwriting skills develop so the type and grade of pencil they begin to favour will change.
Research in recent years by psychologists, educationalists and neuroscientists has found that older children, with better handwriting skills, showed greater neural activity in areas associated with working memory (used for planning, ideas generation and composition skills for written work).
Due to the way that our working memory functions the handwriting process can impact on the quality of the work. For instance, those who have poor handwriting ability use a disproportionate amount of their working memory capacity in recalling and forming the letters, effectively blocking the higher level composition process (Gathercole, Pickering, Knight & Stegmann 2004, cited Medwell et al. 2007).
This is because children with fluent handwriting skills have developed an automotive (instant, subconscious) ability to recall and reproduce letter patterns, making handwriting a lower level process within their working memory.
This would suggest that learning to handwrite with accuracy, fluidity, speed and legibility is a vital goal if we want our children to reach their true potential. Learning to join letters is therefore an important step to achieving this. Once handwriting has been mastered a child can focus more effectively on the composition and structure of the piece, which requires planning and logical thought processes, so that the plot or argument can be fully explored and presented.
Here at Teach Handwriting we also recognise that for some SEND children learning to join their handwriting may not be a logical option. However this does not mean that using a single letter font style stops them from handwriting with accuracy, fluidity, speed and legibility (though it may never be as fast as a joined font).
Medwell. J, Wray. D: Handwriting: what do we know and what do we need to know, Literacy Vol. 41, No 1, April 2007.