A Teacher’s Guide To Helping Students Of All Ages With Handwriting

Handwriting is a very important skill that can affect a child’s ability to learn, keep up with class, and ultimately express themselves. However, learning and honing that skill can be a stressful experience, for students and teachers alike. There are many factors that affect this (assumedly simple) skill of writing. The position of the paper, chair, and desk along with the paper and pencil used all can positively (or negatively!) affect a student’s writing. Below are suggestions to help make children of all ages beautifully legible writers!

Handwriting for Students Ages 5-6:

  1. Make it a (fun!) multi-sensory experience: Learning letters can be difficult (how to formA Teacher's Guide To Helping Children With Handwriting them, which direction they face). Help children learn with more than just their eyes by practicing letters in shaving cream, sand trays, gel-filled bags, Play-Doh, and Wikki Stix. Using songs can help as well!
  2. Teach uppercase letters: Children’s brains at this point are made for learning how to draw shapes, followed by uppercase letters. If children learn lowercase too soon, they may be forming them inefficiently, which could affect their legibility and speed later on.
  3. Check formation: Formation of letters (i.e. where to start and stop writing letters) is important for efficiency, especially when kids will be learning lowercase letters in the near future. Imitating the teacher writing a letter a certain way is also a great visual motor integration activity that is good for their sequencing of movements and attention to task.
  4. Use thick utensils (ages 5 and younger): Pencils can be difficult for these young ones to hold on to without an adaptive gripper, so give them the thick markers and crayons to help develop those hand and finger muscles needed for holding pencils when they get a little older.

Handwriting for Students Ages 6+:

  1. Use a writing checklist: This can be a list you and your students make for what to remember when writing (e.g. capital letter at the beginning of a sentence and names, punctuation, are my letters on the line? etc). This is a great tool to help students self-monitor their writing and know what is expected.
  2. 90-90-90: This refers to the ever-important 90 degree angles of the ankles, knees, and hips. Make sure your students are able to sit at their desks in this position, so they have the right amount of proximal stability to allow their arm and hand do he intricate fine motor movements required for writing at the end of their pencil.
  3. Check the position of the paper: For right-handed students, make sure the paper is tilted slightly up to the right, and the opposite goes for left-handed writers. This gives kids the optimal angle for their arm and wrist for writing smoothly. Also make sure they are stabilizing the paper with their non-writing hand.
  4. Type of paper: Some students may have difficulties with visual-motor integration or visual perception, which could make writing on standard wide-ruled or journal paper difficult. If the student’s spacing between words and/or sizing of letters are poor, try having them skip lines or give them triple-lined paper (with the dotted line in the middle) to help with overall legibility.
  5. Grasp (ages 5-7): Children ages 5 and up are expected to use a dynamic tripod grasp on their writing utensils (pads of the thumb and index finger on the pencil, pencil resting on the last knuckle of the middle finger). If your students have something other than this that seems to be affecting their writing and they are 7 or younger, it is not too late to change their grasp to help with legibility. Using a pencil gripper or a referral to an occupational therapist might be warranted.
  6. Environment: Help make the environment conducive for writing by limiting distractions. This could be anything from helping a visually distracted student move to a desk that faces a blank wall, or allowing a student block out auditory distractions use noise-canceling headphones. Give a particularly wiggly student a structured movement break during long writing assignments (e.g. at 1:10 you can go get a drink of water).

If you have students who continue to have great difficulty with writing, an occupational therapy evaluation may be appropriate.

NSPT offers services in BucktownEvanstonHighland ParkLincolnwoodGlenview, Lake Bluff and Des Plaines. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates today!

Visual Motor Integration

Visual Motor Integration: What is it and How to Develop This Skill

In last week’s blog on the Beery-Buktenica Developmental Test of Visual Motor Integration, assessment of visual motor integration abilities was discussed. Now that you know how it is assessed by many occupational therapists, you are probably wondering what this skill entails and how you can help your child develop it.

Visual motor integration is the coordination of visual perceptual abilities and fine motor control. It is a skill that allows us to use our eyes and our hands in a coordinated and efficient way. A child may not have any visual issues with acuity or perception and may not have any challenges with hand strength or dexterity but the connection between their visual and motor system is not as organized or efficient as it should be. If your child would benefit from strengthening this connection, try out some of the activities below!

Tips to Strengthen Visual Motor Integration

visual motor integration

What is Visual Motor Integration?

  1. Practice forming shapes and letters using objects other than pencils or markers. Use string, tooth picks, Wikki Stix, pipe cleaners, or glue.
  2. Use coloring books. Encourage kids to trace over lines first to help them better see where they want to keep their crayon.
  3. Complete jigsaw puzzles together. Puzzles typically have an age range suggestion listed on the box and you can always provide as much assistance as your child needs while still allowing them to place the pieces and be proud of their accomplishment!
  4. String beads onto a pipe cleaner, string, thread, or elastic to make a bracelet or necklace. You can up the challenge by creating a pattern for your child to replicate.
  5. Complete mazes and dot-to-dots.
  6. Provide your child with partial drawings for them to complete. This could either be half of a picture that he copy onto the other side or a picture with components missing.
  7. Tape small targets to a wall and try to bounce a ball once on the floor before hitting one of the targets. These targets could be index cards or pieces of paper with anything on them. This is a great way to work on letters, sight words, math problems, or anything else your child may need practice with!
  8. Cut out shapes beginning with short straight lines before moving to curves and turns. As they progress with this skill, cut out shapes and paste the pieces together to create art!
  9. Work on folding paper with paper airplanes, origami, or paper fortune tellers.
  10. Use step-by-step drawing books. These help kids to break down the whole drawing into more manageable parts.
  11. If writing inside the lines is difficult, try highlighting the top and bottom lines to increase their awareness and get them more used to writing with the correct sizing. If math problems are challenging to line up, using graph paper can help to keep their work neater and easier to follow.

When developing new skills, always be sure to work at your child’s pace. If it is still very difficult for her to draw a square consistently, continue working on her prewriting shapes before expecting her to form many of her letters. As she masters new abilities, she will build foundational skills and confidence for increasingly challenging tasks!