Handwriting with fluidity, speed, accuracy and over longer periods of time requires a complex range of whole body and hand strengths and skills. So, it is not surprising that many children find handwriting challenging.
The summer holidays are the perfect time to start working on supporting your child to develop the physical strength and skill sets they need for handwriting and many other everyday activities.
How do we do this?
Last week we looked at the importance of different types of play. By giving your child the opportunity to experience the different types of play you will also be supporting them to build their physical strength and skill sets.
Handwriting skills development is not all about paper and pencil worksheet activities (though these help later on).
So, it is the perfect time to go out and play or, as is often the case, stay indoors and play.
Play is often thought of as a frivolous pastime rather than a practical and meaningful one. However, here at Teach Children Ltd we see play as a vital part of a child’s physical, emotional, social and intellectual growth and well-being.
There has been considerable research over the years on play, which supports our point of view, with the consensus being that children need to experience five different types of play (Dr.D Whitebread, 2012). These five types of play are roughly based on the developmental opportunities they provide, especially if it is child driven rather than adult lead.
In our update parent section of the Teach Handwriting website we have a new ‘Learning Through Play’ section. Here you will find games and activities ideas to suit all ages.
If you click on the ‘Games’ button or follow the link (https://teachhandwriting.co.uk/games.html) you will find games split into the five types of play, which will help you encourage your child to experience them all.
This wide range of play opportunities will also support your child in developing their gross and fine motor, communication and turn taking skills.
At Teach Handwriting our aim is to move children off of worksheets as soon as possible. To achieve this, it is important to encourage them to transfer their skills to plain or lined paper whichever is most appropriate to their ability level. We realise that it is not always possible to buy paper with the appropriate line height in all cases, so would recommend creating your own on the computer.
Use a combination of worksheets and lined paper in each handwriting session with your child:
Use the colour worksheet, or a grey scale version, and complete one or two rows.
Then encourage the child to try the same patterns or letters on appropriately lined paper, again try one or two rows only.
Hopefully the worksheet will last over a couple of handwriting sessions and you and the child will see an improvement over the time. The sooner they learn to transfer their skills to paper the better.
We realise that printing off our worksheets and coloured lined paper can become costly so, to help reduce the costs:
Use a colour version of the appropriate worksheet initially and then try printing in grey scale. Children usually make the adjustment to grey scale well once they are used to how the picture clues and colours work.
You could also use the grey scale worksheets and colour the start of each row with the appropriate colour.
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.
There are a number of possible reasons why a child may reluctant to write or have a poor writing speed. Over the last seven weeks we have looked at a number of these:
Having the right writing tool
Letter and word spacing
Too much or not enough pressure
Visual and Motor Memory issues
Spatial Awareness and eye tracking issues
Copying from the board
Other key areas to look at we have also cover are:
Sitting correctly and why they may find this difficult.
The importance of learning to position and tilt the paper appropriately.
Pencil grip – is the grip appropriate for their age and ability and when to support them.
Having the writing hand under the writing line.
Learning to write their letter correctly.
Tips for a Child who Actively Avoids, or is Reluctant, to do Writing or Drawing Activities
Best tip – Don’t force them, the more you push the more reluctant they will become.
Assess their physical ability.
If weaknesses are found play the games that will build the appropriate muscles groups.
Develop directional skills and shape formation through activities that don’t require a pencil so that they are still developing their motor memory skills which will help them later on when they do start to draw and write.
When ready, try timed drawing and writing activities after your child has had a good run around or physical activity (but not when they are tired).
Set up a good writing environment where they are sitting comfortably and without distractions, such as the TV.
Correct poor posture and keep the activity short. One minute of happy drawing is better than no minutes.
Try a ‘Playtime Drawing /Writing Session’ (see below).
End the sessions with a fun activity or treat.
This will take time, patience and encouragement, each improvement, no matter how small, needs to be recognised and positively praised.
Remember as your child’s skills develop so does their confidence to try, and their self-esteem, as they succeed where once they felt they failed.
How to Organise a Playtime Drawing/Writing Session
When ready, try timed drawing or writing activities after your child has had a good run around or other physical activity (but not when they are tired).
Set up a good writing environment where they are sitting comfortably and without distraction, such as having the TV on.
Correct poor posture and keep the activity short – up to 5 minutes initially. However, one minute of happy drawing/writing is better than no minutes.
After the drawing/writing play a non-drawing activity or game with your child. Make this break between 3 and 5 minutes long, ensuring your child knows when it will end (use a timer so they can see when they will need to stop)
Return to the original drawing/writing activity for up to another 5 minutes.
End the sessions with a fun activity or treat.
Tips on Running the Session
Start with 2 drawing/writing activities and then slowly increase the drawing/writing time and/or the number of activities and reduce the playtime slot times.
You could try to do a couple of these kind of sessions at different times during the day.
It may take time for your child to be comfortable with the sessions. You need to show a lot of patience and encouragement, each improvement no matter how small needs to be recognised and positively praised.
Remember as your child’s skills develop so does their confidence to try and their self-esteem grows as they succeed where once they felt they failed.
As with learning any new skill the right tool at the right time can make a real difference to the whole learning experience as well as the outcome. Learning to handwrite is no different.
Young children due to their gross and fine motor skills ability require chunky shafted tools so that they can grip them effectively. This means they have a greater control over the tool and can achieve a more satisfactory outcome. If they are using a tool that is too thin they will find gripping it difficult and have to keep changing their grip. They will have less control of the tool making the experience disappointing at best and discouraging at worst.
To help young children to store patterns and letter shapes formation into their motor memory it is important that the tools used provide a resistance rather than one that flows effortlessly over the writing/drawing surface. The greater the resistance the more the body can neurologically acknowledge (feel) the movement and help to send appropriate information to the brain.
Some of the best tools for young children to begin learning to draw patterns, shapes and correctly write letters:
Chalk on boards, walls or paths
Flip chart pens or large felt tips on course paper such as sugar paper
Using appropriately sized paint brushes on course paper or surfaces
Finger painting or finger drawing in sand, paint or cornflour mix
Finger tracing and then trying to draw the pattern, shape or letter straight afterwards.
Try chalking the shape or letter onto a blackboard and have the child use a damp sponge to wipe it off again (make sure the child starts in the correct place and moves correctly around the shape or letter to the correct finish point).
Appropriately sized crayons and pencils on course paper or card (non-shiny side of cereal boxes and corrugated card can be good fun and different to use).
As children begin a more formal approach to learning to form their letters correctly then appropriately sized and lead grade pencils are the best tool for the job. Pencil come in all widths, lengths and shapes. The key is to find the style of pencil which best suits the child and their stage of pencil grip development. Remember one size doesn’t fit all!
When a child has learnt to join their letters and has a good and consistent letter size and places all their letters on the writing line correctly in relation to each other, then it maybe they are ready to be moved to pen. It is important before moving t child to pen that they are writing with speed (appropriate for their age) and fluidity (comfortable writing all the letters of the alphabet lower and upper case correctly). A child whose handwriting is slow and laboured may need additional support and time before being moved on to pen.
We have put together some quick step by step Easter drawing ideas for you to try, using basic shapes such as circles, rectangles and triangles. It is amazing how, by using these simple shapes, you and your child can create fantastic Spring/Easter: cards, pictures mobiles or bunting: http://bit.ly/2kyeo3w
Drawing pictures is a great way to help your child develop their pre-handwriting strokes and shape forming skills. As well as supporting shape, colour, pattern and language development.
The Adaptive Tripod pencil grip is identical to the Dynamic Tripod grip (still considered the most appropriate for handwriting) in that the pencil is held between the tip of the thumb and index finger and rests on the middle finger. The main difference is that the shaft of the pencil rests in the ‘V between the index and middle finger. This gives an open web space which allows the fingers to move freely so that a fluid handwriting style can be achieved.
This grip is often more appropriate for children who have low muscle tone or hyper mobility of the finger joints. It can also benefit older children who:
Continue to hold a pencil too tightly
Hold the pencil lightly using just their fingertips (often writing using whole arm movements)
Hold a pencil with their thumb wrapped around and across the pencil and index finger.
Changing to the Adaptive Tripod grip is not a quick fix for children who have poor hand and finger strength. These strengths still need to be developed to make handwriting more comfortable.
How to form the Adaptive Tripod Grip for Right & Left-handed Writers
From the research I have done I cannot find any information that the grip needs to be adapted for left-handed writers. So, our step by step guide applies to both left and right-handed writers and can be accessed using the following link and scrolling down the page: http://bit.ly/2XpuI8I
The Drawbridge Flip Method is a simple way of helping your child pick up a pencil and hold it correctly in the tripod grip for handwriting.
Follow this link for an instructional video for both left and right-handed writers on how to use the Drawbridge Flip method: https://bit.ly/2JiJrfH
Drawbridge Flip instructions:
Place the pencil on the table in front of the writing hand, so it forms a straight line up the table with the writing tip of the pencil pointing towards you.
Then using your thumb and index finger pinch the pencil either side of the shaft about 2 cm up from the tip for a right-handed writer and about 3 cm up for a left-handed writer. Dots or sticker may be placed on the pencil to help thumb and finger placement.
Pick the pencil up off the table and place the fingernail of the middle finger on to the pencil just above the tip.
Keep the ring and little finger gently curled in.
Push down with the middle finger so that the pencil moves up and over like a drawbridge, keep pushing until the pencil is supported in the cup (web of skin that joins the thumb, hand and index finger) and the pencil is resting on the inner edge of middle finger.
When writing, the end of the pencil will be angled towards the shoulder for right-handed writers and the elbow for left-handed writers.
Handwriting with fluidity, speed, accuracy and over longer periods of time requires a complex range of whole body and hand strengths and skills. So it is not surprising that many children find handwriting challenging.
For a good handwriting style children need to develop their:
Gross Motor Skills – so they can sit correctly for periods of time.
Fine Motor Skills – so that they can hold and control the pencil and move the paper up the table as they write.
Motor Memory Skills – so they can recall how to form the letters.
Visual Memory Skills – so they recall what a particular letter looks like.
Spatial Awareness Skills– so they can place the letters correctly on the paper and in relation to one another.
Eye Tracking Skills– scanning from left to right so that the letters are formed and placed correctly.
If a child is struggling with handwriting it is important to take a closer look at their physical abilities. If they do not have all the appropriate key physical strengths to support their handwriting development getting them to do more of the paper and pencil activities is not the answer.
Our assessments are simple to complete and do not need any specialist equipment. The important elements are; your knowledge of the child and your observations of them at play and while they are engaged in normal day to day task.
Handwriting is such an important skill as it engages the neurological pathways and working memory in a way that pressing a keyboard just doesn’t; so once mastered it helps to open up the doorways to other literacy skills such as phonics, reading, spelling and composition.