Parents often raise questions about how they might help their children at home. Often the questions relate to how to help their children improve their handwriting skills. Doreit Bialer works as an occupational therapist in our school district and has answered those types of questions from parents many times before. She has listed below effective strategies she has used to help children improve their handwriting. We hope you also find them helpful.
Thomas Vogenberger, Executive Director of Special Education and Pupil Services
Suggestions for Children with Handwriting Issues and Fine Motor Difficulties
Working with your child - Helpful Hints
Occupational therapy in the schools is a related service designed to help children succeed in academic and social performance. Occupational Therapy services are provided to children if they are experiencing significant deficiencies that impact on academic progress in areas of fine motor, sensory motor, visual motor, visual perceptual processing and in-self care skills.
The occupational therapist is available to teachers, team members and parents directly or through consultation to help recommend classroom modifications and/or special adaptive equipment. These modifications can help children achieve a higher level of success with their academic performance.
It is important that parents first speak to their child’s teacher with any concerns or issues regarding their child’s progress.
Frequently Asked Questions:
What can I do if I see my child having difficulties in handwriting?
- Use a mechanical lead pencil
- Use a loose leaf binder (3”) as a writing surface. Face the back of the binder away from the child to create a 30 degree angle for writing. This writing surface helps the child better position their pencil grip and their wrist during writing.
- Skip lines on the paper to make writing inside spaces easier.
- Teach space exaggeration, using Popsicle sticks, tongue depressors, etc. Cue your child to place these props after each word to help them understand spacing.
What can I do if I see my child using an awkward pencil grip?
- Teach the A-OK method. This teaches children how to hold the pencil correctly. The pencil is pinched between the thumb pad and the index finger.
- Pencil Grips. If a child has difficulties holding the pencil correctly there are a variety of grips available at supply stores, art/stationery stores and through catalogs. A great catalog for pencil grips can be found at www.therapyshoppe.com
- Use small pieces of crayon and/or small, thin pencil which help the child use a more mature grasp pattern due to the position of their fingers on the small writing tool. Working on an incline surface further reinforces the correct wrist and finger position needed for a proper grasp.
Have the student use an upright surface while writing, as the 3” loose-leaf described above.
What can I do if my child has difficulty copying from the blackboard?
- Use a colored overlay on the paper to increase contrast. The overlay can be yellow, pink or blue and can be purchased at Staples or in a drug store. The overlay is a book cover in which the paper is placed.
- Papers that are being copied can be placed on a vertical clipboard in front of the child. The vertical clipboards can be made by gluing a wooden triangle block on the back of the board to create a stand.
- Copying work that is written in yellow chalk is thought to have the best visibility.
- Have the child write using colored pencils or pens to help differentiate words.
- Highlight the top and/or the bottom lines of the spaces in which the child is writing.
What can I do if my child has poor posture while writing?
The chair height should allow 90 degrees of hip and knee flexion with flat feet on the floor. Desk height should be 2"above the bend of the elbow. No collapsing on the desk or sliding down the chair.
What if he/she switches hands for writing tasks?
Provide two- handed tasks that require use of a dominant and assist hand. Use an incline or slant board to position papers during writing to increase the need for an assist hand.
How can I help with poor letter formation or reversals?
Place an alphabet strip on the student's desk either in cursive or in print. Use a highlighter to underline the students most commonly reversed letters.
What if my child can't see legibility problems?
It is important to have the child begin to regulate their own writing process. Place a student check list on the desk to look for self correcting. Include the following: Is there at least one finger space between words? Are letters written on the line and inside the spaces? Do you have capitals? Is your writing to light, to dark? Have you written too fast or too slow?
What if they have heavy or light pressure on the pencil during writing?
Remind the student to use a BENT THUMB as opposed to a straight thumb while writing. The thumb should be bent at the middle joint opposing the pencil with the index finger. The middle finger should rest behind and bent to share tip opposition with the thumb. Have the child open and close their fist several times. Cue the child to relax the shoulders and shake out their hands to decrease tension in the hands.
For little pressure on the pencil during writing (weak hand grip) provide a wider writing implement (large pencil, crayon, etc) or try a felt tip pen.
How can I help with behavioral issues with decreased motivation for writing?
Provide sensory motor experiences before writing (rub, shake hands, squeeze paper into balls), avoid stressful time limits, keep only required material out, vary writing implements (markers, pens, chalk, and crayons), provide choices whenever possible and be sure to praise anything done well!
Can Certain Foods Help Your Child Learn?
Flavors and textures of foods can affect children's abilities to calm, organize and increase attentiveness.
While sweet foods can have a calming effect, sour flavors may cause variant levels of alertness.
The movement required to eat particular foods can follow a similar hierarchy. Sucking (on candy, bottle or finger) is calming, chewing (on candy, gum, bagel or eraser) is organizing, and crunching (on pretzels, carrot sticks, or a pencil) has been shown to increase attentiveness in children.
There are many foods and nonfoods, in each area, that are in the following list. These can be helpful for planning snacks and ideas for your children.
Chewy foods (organizing) - granola bars, fruit leather, dried fruit, bagels, cheese, gum
Crunchy foods (alerting) - popcorn, raw veggies, crackers, pretzels, apples, pears, nuts
Sucking foods (calming) - hard candy, frozen novelties, peanut butter
* Alerting will increase attention and levels of encouragement required for learning.