It’s about 6 weeks into school. The progress reports are starting to come home. The honeymoon is over and the “real work” has started at school. How is your child faring? Sometimes the underlying issue when a child has difficulty meeting the demands of the school workload is handwriting. Many children struggle with being able to produce the written work that is required at school. Difficulty with handwriting is a difficult issue to address, especially in an era when many schools are cutting back on or eliminating handwriting instruction.
Handwriting is a complex activity that involves the coordination of many body systems in order to produce an interpretation of language in symbols. When difficulty with handwriting is evident, it is important to look at the many aspects of handwriting and address the underlying issues that may be affecting handwriting skills. The suggestions here may help to support your child’s skills by addressing some of the most common areas of difficulty.
1) Poor acuity, binocular vision (use of both eyes together) and ocular motor skills (voluntary eye movement control) can impact on handwriting skills. Evaluation by a Developmental Optometrist can help to identify or rule out any vision issues.
2) For copy work, have the child copy in the vertical plane (top to bottom) instead of the horizontal plane (having work side by side).
3) Enlarge the text used for copying.
4) Reduce of the amount of visual information on a page when copying. Cover some of it up or remove it by making copies of the material being used.
5) Use a highlighter to mark the lines where writing should start and/or stop, highlight spaces intended for words or in between words or to indicate where letters should start.
1) Develop hand strength for grip and endurance for writing by doing fun activities requiring pinch, gripping, squeezing and pulling. Use squirt guns, play-doh, tweezers, clothespins, and play games with small pieces for manipulation.
2) Practice the correct grip and build pinch strength by using small bits of crayon or chalk that must be held onto with a three point pinch (thumb, index and middle fingers).
3) Play games that require isolated finger movements, including finger songs, games with small pieces or activities like learning sign language.
4) Do warm-ups before handwriting by stretching and “waking up” the hands.
5) Use a slant board to support weak hands when writing: a 3″ three ring binder works well.
6) Use pencil grips when needed. There are many different kinds available. Try different types to see which works best for your child.
1) Provide the correct seat and table for writing. Be sure that your child’s feet are resting on the floor and the table is at lower chest level. If the chair is too big, provide a stool or box for a foot rest. If it is too deep, use a cushion or pillow at the back as a support.
2)Use alternative seating to encourage upright posture and alertness or to accommodate for weakness that interferes with cognitive focus on writing. Alternatives are endless and include using a therapy ball as a chair, an air cushion or wedge on the chair, standing up at a table or podium or laying on the stomach.
3) Do warm up exercises or activities before writing. Do whole body stretches, “chair push-ups”, “wall push-ups”, shoulder rolls and side bends.
4) Provide for “posture breaks” before fatigue sets in. Have the child stand up and move around or change position for writing.
As a parent you can help make homework time an easier time for all by recognizing if the mechanics of producing writing are an underlying problem in the completion of homework. You can help your child reduce the labor intensity of the task by accommodating for weaknesses and building strength where needed. If you are concerned your child has issues that you cannot address at home, please consult with your family doctor or pediatrician. An OT evaluation may be appropriate to help pinpoint the causes and provide treatment that can help ease the strain and frustration your child feels when writing.