How can you improve handwriting in children?
Handwriting is a complex skill that many children begin to acquire as toddlers. Handwriting starts with scribbling or drawing. Drawing/scribbling allows children to develop the skills needed for writing such as fine motor skills and visual motor integration. It also assists in practising prewriting shapes such as strokes and circles, which together form letters and numbers. Handwriting requires many foundation skills including:
Fine motor skills
Fine Motor skills are activities that use of the muscles in the forearms, wrists, hands and fingers for activities such as drawing and writing. Handwriting requires all the fine motor muscles working collaboratively to manipulate writing instruments with control.
Gross Motor skills
Gross motor skills are movements requiring coordinated movement of the large
muscles in the trunk, arms and legs. Efficient control of the larger muscle groups is
required to allow mobility and control in movements of smaller muscles. Without stability in the trunk and shoulders, we would be unable to keep our body still enough to write with accuracy.
Visual motor integration
Visual motor integration is the ability to incorporate the visual information we see,
with motor output, so we can perform movements with our body, arms and legs. Visual motor integration allows the hands to replicate what the eyes see. This is essential in the early stages of learning letters and numbers.
Focus and attention
Children require a certain level of focus and attention to engage in handwriting. Their nervous systems need to balance levels of alertness and calmness; i.e. alert enough to know what they would like to write, and calm enough to sit still to engage in handwriting.
Visual processing refers to the range of skills required to process and make sense of the visual information we see. Visual processing allows us to recall visual properties of letters and numbers, differentiate between letters, and recognise a letter or number regardless of size or position.
Spatial awareness is an awareness of the bodies position in space. This is required for the body to move and effective perform tasks. Difficulties with spatial awareness can result in poor organisation of written work and reduced formation of letters.
Sensory processing involves registration, interpretation and filtering of information through the senses about the surrounding environment. Feedback from the muscles and joints through the tactile and proprioceptive systems, visual system (eyes), auditory systems (ears) and vestibular systems are essential during handwriting. For example, the eyes assist in determining letter placement on the line, tactile system determines finger placement on the pencil, proprioceptive system determines pressure placed on the pencil and vestibular system supports upright posture to allow controlled movements when writing.
Working memory refers to our ability to hold and manipulate information in our mind for short periods of time, e.g. following steps of a recipe that is not in front of you. Effective working memory allows children to recall how to write letters, spell words, use punctuation and organise work.
To best support children with their handwriting, it is helpful to understand which of the above area(s) may be contributing to difficulties with handwriting. A Paediatric Occupational Therapist will be able to assist you with this. A few common handwriting difficulties and possible contributing factors include:
- “Messy” handwriting product. This could be due to all of the above areas.
- Shaking hand during written tasks. This could be due to difficulties with fine motor skills or gross motor skills.
- Avoidance of handwriting tasks altogether. This could be related to difficulties with any of the above areas which make handwriting a tedious task.
- Letter reversals: This may be due to reduced visual motor integration, spatial awareness, visual perception or working memory.
- Incorrect pencil grip: This may be due to poor fine or gross motor skills.
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