According to the American Occupational Therapy Association, handwriting is, “a complex process of managing written language by coordinating the eyes, arms, hands, pencil grip, letter formation, and body posture. The development of a child’s handwriting can provide clues to developmental problems that could hinder a child’s learning because teachers depend on written work to measure how well a child is learning.” To improve handwriting skills, it is important to consider the child holistically to help determine where the underlying problem lies.
How to Improve Your Child’s Handwriting Skills:
- Evaluate her posture and body position. Encourage your child to work while sitting upright,
with back straight and supported by the seat and two feet on the floor. Provide a footrest, or a cube chair with lateral support, if needed. If your child has a difficult time sitting still in this position (i.e. holds her head in her hands, lies down on the desk, or slouches prematurely), it may be due to a decrease in muscle tone, impacting core strength, postural control, and endurance for table work.
- Improve pencil grasp. Promoting a dynamic tripod pencil grasp is one strategy used by occupational therapists to improve handwriting success. Children who use an inefficient pencil grasp fatigue quickly because they are enlisting the larger muscles groups to work overtime on small, finite tasks. Improving control of the distal muscles of the wrist and hand may improve overall fine motor development and legibility. Games such as Operation, Don’t Spill the Beans, Ker Plunk, and activities that require tongs and chopsticks are all helpful in strengthening these muscles, improving arch development, and facilitating the tripod grasp.
- Work on a vertical surface, such as a binder or an easel. This will help to stabilize the wrist and the hand, improve visual attention, and facilitate better eye-hand coordination.
- Facilitate multi-sensory engagement. For children who struggle with letter formation, including top down letter formation, line adherence, directionality, and overall legibility, practice working across multi-sensory writing apparatuses. Tracing bumpy letters, writing their name in shaving cream, sand, or finger paint, or using a stylus to trace, copy, or write letters on an iPad can improve motor planning, visual motor integration, and fine motor coordination. (Check out some handwriting app recommendations from our OT here.)
- Create a writing checklist. This is very motivating for grade school children and helps them to begin to edit their own work independently. Include simple, 1 step instructions (i.e. all of my words have enough space between them) along with a check box so that they can follow along and correct their work at their own pace.
- Adapt the paper. For children whose letters appear to be floating in the middle of the paper, or have a difficult time with placement of their words, adapting the paper itself can be a helpful tool. Often, I will create paper that has a blue line on top, a yellow line in the middle, and a green line on bottom and refer to them as the sky, the fence, and the grass, respectively. Using this visual, it is easy for children to see whether or not their letters fall on the grass, touch the sky, or pass through the fence.
NSPT offers services in Bucktown, Evanston, Highland Park, Lincolnwood, Glenview 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!