Pencil Power

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!

Why?

  • 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.

Limitations:

  • 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.

Is your child reluctant to handwrite or has a poor writing speed?

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
  • Hand swapping
  • 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.

The Right Handwriting Tool for the Job!

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.

Spring/Easter Drawing Activity Ideas – Supporting Language & #Pre-handwriting Pattern Development

The Easter holiday break is upon us!

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 for #Handwriting

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 Best Pencil Grip for #Handwriting – Tripod Grip

Left-handed Writer & Right-handed Writer

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 is a Physical Activity

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.

You will find our assessments on the ‘Key Strengths needed for handwriting’ page: http://bit.ly/2D1RKKs

A better understanding of a child’s key skills abilities enables you to focus more effectively, through targeted physical games and activities, to help them build and develop their skills.

You will find ‘Games to build gross and fine motor skills’ here: http://bit.ly/2FhFkR7  and ‘Games for the other physical skills’ such as visual memory and eye tracking here: http://bit.ly/2M350S1

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.

Paper Position & Tilt are Important for Good Handwriting

The correct paper position and tilt enables your child to handwrite comfortably while being able to see what they are writing. It also allows the non-writing hand to move the paper up the table so that the writing hand elbow can stay in the same position. The aim is to have the paper move up the table, rather than the writing hand moving down and eventually off the table.

As a class teacher I noticed that by the time children were about 8 or 9 years old it was very difficult to encourage them to move the paper up the table as they wrote. They would very often move their writing hand down the table, keeping the paper still, struggling to write properly as their hand hung over the edge of the table. Bad habits start early and can be difficult to change; good paper position and paper movement training at an early age can make such a difference to a child’s handwriting ability.

So why is paper position and tilt often ignored when teaching handwriting?

Maybe it is because experts disagree on what is the most appropriate paper tilt for right and left-handed writers. As there is no clear guidance people become uncomfortable about giving advice and so brush over the value of angling the paper for handwriting.

The most appropriate paper tilt angle is generally suggested as anywhere between 20 to 45 degrees anti-clockwise for right-handed writers and 30 to 45 degrees clockwise for left-handed writers.

For more tips and advice on developing a good paper tilt angle checkout this section of our website: http://bit.ly/2QSssWQ

Why do Children Fidget or Appear Bored When Handwriting?

There are two key elements that can cause a child to fidget or appear bored when handwriting, both relate to being able to sit correctly:

  1. The height of the table and chair
  2. The child’s physical core strength

Table and Chair Height

A poor and uncomfortable sitting position that causes a child to fidget and wriggle about affects their ability to concentrate and pay attention; for example, when listening to a teacher, as well as distracting them from the task and breaking their train of thought. It also puts unnecessary strain on the body, making sitting tasks such as handwriting more tiring.

When a child is sitting on a chair too high for them they may sit swinging their legs, causing the body to rock slightly. They might wrap their legs around the legs of the chair to stop them aching, which is not good for their circulation and can cause them to lean back away from the table top. Some children will sit with their legs underneath their bottom which often causes them to lean too far over the table due to being off balance, once again not good for their circulation or for handwriting and other fine motor skill activities such as eating or drawing.

If a table is too high for a child they will have their arms raised too high, causing tension in the upper arms and shoulders or they may rest their head on the table. Both have a profound effect on a child’s ability to handwrite with fluidity, comfort and for any period of time. Another result of this is a child fidgets as they try to readjust their position to get comfortable, which in turn distracts them from the task at hand. 

For tips and ideas on how to help a child develop a good sitting posture and position for handwriting check out our ‘Sitting’ section on the website: https://www.teachhandwriting.co.uk/handwriting-sitting-position-desk.html

Sitting and Core Strength

We often see children slouched over a desk, laying their head on the table or with their head propped up by their hand and arm, or fidgeting about while they are sitting at the desk writing. 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 some 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.

We expect our children to sit at a desk for long periods of time at school. To be able to maintain a good sitting position for writing over any length of time requires good core strength. Those who lack strong core strength tend to slouch over the desk, lay their head on the desk, hold their head in their hand 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 is bad for them, as it puts unnecessary strain on the body, causing neck or backache and discomfort, which in turn make 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 fingers movements to handwrite freely.

For more information, games and activities on developing a child’s core strengths check out the Key Strengths section of our website: https://www.teachhandwriting.co.uk/handwriting-key-strengths.html

Warm up For Handwriting!

Well the festive holidays are over and we are back at work and home schooling for many. So it is time to get back into good habits for the New Year!

So, before you try to encourage your little darlings to sit and write, get them to do a few physical handwriting ‘Warm Up Exercises’.  Not only do they help to prepare the hands and fingers for the task ahead, they also help to release any tension that has built up. They are fun to do, which usually brings a smile and often laughter, an added tonic to any learning experience.

The warm up exercises can be accessed through a number of ways: