Category Archives: handwriting

Does Your Older Child Hate Writing? Try HWT’s Double-Lined Paper

 

This paper has been more useful to older kids (6+) that I see for handwriting help than any other paper on the market, and almost any other tool Problems With Handwriting? You Need The Best Eraser , Great Mechanical Pencils Can Improve Your Child’s Handwriting Skills .  Why?  Regular lined paper, and almost all worksheets, are usually jam-packed with lines.  Red lines, green lines, lines with airplanes and worms.  There are papers designed by occupational therapists that are even more complex than the mass-market choices.

All this is often visual noise to kids with sensory processing issues and ocular or visual-perceptual issues.  These problems are sometimes subtle and appear to be behavioral.  The kids who “hate to write”.  The kids who look away when you are demonstrating how to write a letter or spell a word.  The kids who cannot seem to remember where to start a letter, even after repeated practice.  These children often do much better with HWT’s double-lined paper.

Let’s drill down into the design of this unique paper:

  • Double-lined paper provides just two lines; the baseline and the midline.  Knowing where to start uppercase letters and tall lowercase letters is important, and this paper encourages practice and awareness while still giving some structure to writing.
  • There is a wide empty space between sets of lines.  This is intentional; children have room to place the tails of lowercase “y” and “j”, for example, without blocking the uppercase or tall lowercase letters of the next line of writing.  For many kids, not knowing what to do about crowding and spacing is a good reason to stop trying to write well, or sometimes even write at all.
  • This sturdy paper is pre-punched to be used in a 3-ring binder.  The quality of the paper is very high, which means that it doesn’t tear easily when a child erases a mistake.  Most schools provide the thinnest paper for teachers to use as handouts, creating the potential for a disaster when given to a child that struggles with grading their force on an eraser, or makes multiple errors in a word.
  • Brains get practice in sizing and proportion.  Once kids have a pattern of letter formation, it is easier to accomplish without the extra midline.  But so many kids need that “training wheel” effect much longer than scrolls recognize.  Many kids need a day or two of double-lined paper use to start understanding the way a letter “h” is twice as tall as a letter “a” and the same size but aligned differently than the letter “y”.  Of course, pointing it out is important, and so is working on other writing qualities such as letter and word spacing.
  • Kids write faster.  Because they are guided to proportion and start letters correctly, they don’t waste time thinking about it or erasing incorrect letters.  Again, this doesn’t mean their brain isn’t taking it all in.  If that were true, we would start every kid on single-lined paper in preschool.
  • There are three line sizes, so you don’t have to abandon the double-lines when your kid enter middle school.  I will admit that I wish the pre-k/K paper were thicker.  But it is still fairly sturdy.
  • You can alternate using this paper with single-lined paper to see when to “take the training wheels off” and stop using double-lined paper.  Kids should always have a chance to practice with standard paper, but when the choice is between fighting and crying, and quickly executing a homework assignment, it is no contest.

 

The best paper wins.

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When Writing Hurts: The Hypermobile Hand

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Many children resist doing their homework, but most kids say “Its so BORING!” not “My hand hurts too much”.  If a child is complaining of pain, and they don’t have a joint disease such as JRA, the first thought is hypermobility.  The good news is that there are a few fast fixes that can decrease or even eliminate hand pain.

It is rare that hypermobility in the hand is directly addressed at the preschool level unless it is generalized throughout the body or severely reduces pencil grasp.  Many children have atypical grasp patterns when they cannot achieve the required stability for a standard pencil grasp.  Children with mild instability and no other developmental issues may still be able to write legibly and even fast enough to complete assignments in the early grades.  It is when the volume of work increases or the joint stability decreases that therapists get a request for service.

Here are a few strategies that can support hypermobile kids to write with less pain:

  1. Use a tabletop easel.  These can be foldable or static.  They support not just the wrist and forearm, but also the shoulder and trunk.  The angle of an easel both supports correct wrist positioning and decreases strain on the wrist and hand.  Some easels come with clips that hold the paper, but they should be placed on an angle to mirror the natural arm position.  This will require more table space, so be aware that the size of the easel could be an issue.  Simple hack:  use a three-ring binder as an easel.
  2. Enlarge the width of the pencil shaft.  My favorite pencils for grades 1+ (see photo above) have a standard #2 lead, but a wider shaft. Joint protection principles tell us that avoiding a closed joint position should lead to less strain on joints and supporting ligament structures.  You could use some of the adaptive pens available, but I find kids reject these as looking strange.  Of course, if you enlarge the shaft oo much you will find that it is more awkward, not less.  Think of those novelty pencils you buy in gift stores on vacation.  Cute but useless.  Nobody really writes with anything that thick.  Match the child’s hand size to the pencil.
  3. Increase the texture of the pencil shaft for easier grip, less pain, and more endurance.   Everyone has seen the rubbery grips you slip onto a pencil.  You can slide 3-4 onto the entire shaft, or add some tape to create a non-slip surface.  I have been adding kineseotape or Dycem to handles this year, with good results.  You are battling grasp stability, but also fatigue.  A hand that is tired is a hand that experiences more pain.  Adding texture reduces the amount of force needed for proprioceptive registration (a fancy way of saying that kids need to squeeze to fully feel what is in their hand).  Reducing force reduces pain and fatigue.
  4. Teach pacing.  Kids think that the faster they write, the faster they will be out of pain.  Breaking up the work can have better results, but it isn’t natural for children to pace themselves.  In fact, I have never seen a young child do so.  You have to teach this to kids who likely will have joint instability throughout their school years.  A schedule, a timer, organizing assignments and breaking them down into heavy writing choices and light writing choices all help.
  5. Splinting can be a real option.  Not a heavy plastic or metal splint (usually).  A neoprene splint can be a lightweight supportive choice.  These splints are comfortable and washable.  These are affordable without insurance for most families, and your OT can help you decide if this is a worthwhile pursuit.  They are durable but easily lost by younger children, so not all families send one to school.  But the support is real, and kids that have been told for years to “fix your fingers” can feel relieved that they can now focus on writing and composing on the paper.

For more information on hypermobility, read The Hypermobile Hand: More Than A Strength Problem and For Kids With Hypermobility, “Listen To Your Body” Doesn’t Teach Them To Pace Themselves. Here’s What Really Helps.

Looking for more assistance with hypermobility?  My new e-book is coming out this summer, and it will address the issues of the early years (0-5).  The series will continue with school age kids and teens.  But you don’t have to wait; visit my website tranquil babies and request a consultation to discuss your child’s treatment plan and make a better plan that works for everyone…today!

Deluxe Water Wow Pads Offer More Challenge And More Fun To Preschoolers and Kindergarteners

 

91Wl4b-x3nL._SX425_.jpgMy clients and colleagues know how much I love the original Water Wow books.  They are reusable and mess-free fun for kids at home, at the doctor’s office, the restaurant and the plane ride.  These bigger books are going to be even more fun for preschool kids and kindergarteners!

Here are some great reasons why I love these books:

  • They have more pages, and more pages means they keep kids busy (and happy) longer.
  • They offer more detail and more challenge.  The graphics inspire critical thought (Is this a silly thing to find in the supermarket or not?) and the red lens that looks like a magnifying glass makes kids feel like Sherlock Holmes as they search for secret items.
  • There are mazes, hidden items and pages where kids can compare two almost-identical pictures and find the anomalies.  It is more than just wiping water on a picture.
  • Like the originals, the pages dry quickly and can be used over and over.  It seems like kids would get bored after the first run-through, but children can enjoy the “reveal” and the sensory play of water on a page for a long time after they have solved all the puzzles.  If you are at 30K feet and your kid is getting restless, this could buy you a bit of time without having to resort to screens that they will insist on for the rest of the (expensive) trip.  Genius.
  • Oh, and the pen is easy to grasp, and it develops a mature pencil grasp with repeated use.  Yeah!

I think these would be terrific holiday gifts.  If you are looking for more gift ideas, read Automoblox: For the Discriminating Preschool Gearhead and Melissa And Doug Tape Activity Book Is Reusable Fun for some other good toys that build skills while having fun!

KickStart Kindergarten: Get Your Child Ready for Kindergarten Writing The Easy Way!

 

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Starting kindergarten is so exciting for most kids, but learning to write can be challenging for those children that have fASD, SPD, fine motor or visual-motor issues.  Even though fewer and fewer teachers know how to teach handwriting well, it is still a necessary skill for young children.  Learning Without Tears has developed an amazing book that can help your child build skills faster and easier:  Kickstart Kindergarten!

Why Writing (Still) Really Matters

There are research studies that suggest that the physical act of forming letters positively affects memory and comprehension.  These studies suggest the benefits continue all the way through into college-level instruction.  Handwriting is a multi-sensory experience.  The brain is using many different areas of the brain are involved in organizing and coordinating it’s tasks to execute the ability to write.  Young brains need to practice and achieve a high level of coordinated activity before they can focus on comprehension and critical thinking.

The demands of writing create neural activity that could be considered  “brain exercise”.   I know I see it that way.  Taking notes at the high school and college level requires synthesis; the cognitive act of summarizing and condensing a lecture into a shorter message that you write down quickly.  It is a mental skill not required when you take verbatim notes on a laptop.  Oops.

Simply put, the reason keyboarding and digital access isn’t enough is simple:  by the time struggling writers are able to put their thoughts into words in a digital format, they have already developed frustration and even aversion to engaging in writing in any form.  

This is unacceptable to me.  Clever and creative kids are learning to dislike language arts because they can’t write with enough skill and speed.  I have struggling writers ask me: “How many words do I need in each sentence, and how many sentences”  This isn’t making them develop their ability to compose anything.  It is making them hate language arts.  At a time where communication skills are essential to success at any profession.

Kickstart Kindergarten:  Fun, Well-Designed, and Easy to Teach:

This workbook is the one you want to give your new preschool graduate this summer!  Filled with activities that boost the automaticity needed to go to kindergarten.

Here are some, but not all, of the terrific features of this workbook:

  • As with all HWT books, the paper is sturdy and won’t tear with repeated erasing or careless handling.
  • The individual letter pages start with tracing and fade to independence.
  • The gray boxes help kids with consistent and age-appropriate sizing and avoid reversals.  BTW, reversals are normal at this age.  Preventing reversals is even better than correcting them.  This book does both.
  • Each sample is placed near the space available for a child to write.  They don’t need to move their hand or copy the errors they made in the previous attempt (big issue for any kid with ocular control issues or visual organization issues!)
  • Letters are grouped into developmentally-correct bunches, based on the later pre-K motor developmental milestones.  This means that an “A” isn’t the first letter learned.  Letters that are all vertical and horizontal lines are the easiest to form, so they are first.
  • There are still coloring opportunities and plenty of chances to repeat and practice.
  • They include pages for parents and teachers to use as formation references.  You can’t teach writing if you aren’t sure how a letter is supposed to be formed.  I will confess that after taking the evaluation course, I found out that I have some very bad habits that probably date back to preschool.  And never got fixed.
  • Numbers are not ignored.  Numbers are presented in order, but their formation is actually not far from a developmental progression.

Here are some shots to get you excited about this book:

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Is your child entering first grade but in need of more practice?  These books aren’t going to make them feel self-conscious about needing help.  Take off the cover if you are worried that they will be embarrassed to use a book with Kindergarten int he title.  And tell them that this is the easiest way to get better at handwriting …fast!  You have their back, as always!

Is Automaticity The Key To Handwriting Success?

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I know that this is a bold statement.  Handwriting is a complex skill, with visual-motor coordination, perceptual, cognitive and postural components.  But when I evaluate a child’s writing, and I watch them having to think about where to start and sequence movements to form a letter and place it on a line, and then decide how far apart the letters and words should be, it makes me think that the lack of automaticity is often a child’s biggest hurdle.  Even if their motor control isn’t terrific, they can still have legible and functional writing if they make fewer errors and write fast enough to complete their work in a reasonable amount of time.  Slow and labored writing isn’t functional, even if it is beautiful.

Think about how important it is for any visual-motor skill to become automatic in order to be efficient.   You cannot hit that ball if you have to think about it.  You just can’t.  It has to be a smooth and automatic response that comes from practice and refined feedback loops developed by experience.  While practicing, professional athletes drill down on minute aspects of the swing, but during the game, they choke if they “overthink”.  Ask anyone who has done a ton of free-throws in basketball (you get an unimpeded chance to drop that orange ball into the hoop) for practice but cannot make it when the game is on the line.

In this current culture, teachers have so many skills to impart.  Handwriting is still a skill children need.  Paper workbooks and worksheets are still used extensively until 3rd or 4th grade.  You cannot wait it out until kids get old enough to keyboard.  And a struggling writer in second grade is already feeling bad about their abilities. Sometimes so bad that they don’t want to do the language arts work that develops spelling, vocabulary and creative expression.   So waiting until they can type isn’t the answer.  You want excitement and enthusiasm for reading and writing early on.  Nothing develops excitement like success.  Nothing kills enthusiasm like boredom and failure.

If automaticity is the key to handwriting success, how do you develop it in children?  I think the folks at Handwriting Without Tears have figured it out.  I no longer use any other handwriting materials.  Their workbooks and pre-K multi-sensory learning tools are just too good.

  1. If you look at the pre-K and early primary workbooks carefully, you will see that the left-to-right, top-to-bottom orientation is embedded in everything.  Even the cute animals for little kids to color are all facing left-to-right!
  2. The two lines (baseline and midline) are simple to use.  No wondering where to place letters.   The pre-K letters are at the bottom of the page, creating an emerging automatic sense of baseline.
  3. The developmental progression (versus the alphabetical progression) builds slowly from vertical and horizontal lines to curves and diagonal lines.  Letters are grouped by the way they are formed, making automatic movements emerge early and consistently.
  4. Workbook pages aren’t overwhelming with activities, but the skills are repeated to intentionally develop writing automaticity.

For example, instead of writing 12 letter”B”s and 12 letter “b”s,  uppercase letters, with their larger and simpler hand movements are taught together and earlier.  Letters “b” and “d” aren’t taught together since they can easily be reversed.  Letters “b” and “h” are taught together since the formation is very similar.  Fewer reversals, more success without having to go back and re-teach letter formation.

Take a look at the best “pre-K into K” book I have ever seen, HWT’s KickStart Kindergarten.  It is the perfect summer bridge activity for your preschooler or your older special needs child.

Happy summer writing!

 

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When Should You Begin To Teach Handwriting? (You May be Surprised!)

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The ability to bring two hands to midline and use fingertips to hold a block is a pre-writing skill!

Many formal handwriting programs begin at 4 years of age.  Handwriting Without Tears, Fundations, and others begin with children tracing letters and quickly progress to writing.  But the foundational skills for handwriting actually begin early.  Before your child’s first birthday.  Yes, that early.  And, believe it or not, that is when you could be teaching important skills that will eventually morph into handwriting.

No, I am not suggesting that we start teaching infants to write!  I have met a handful of very gifted children, some of whom could read before 4, but not one was writing letters before their first birthday.  The foundational skills for handwriting are grasp, reach, bilateral control, posture, ocular (eye) control and visual perception.  And every single one of these skills is developing before a child turns 1.

How do you develop these skills?  Play.  Play with small toys, play with big ones.  Play that requires a child to move.  Crawling through a tunnel and climbing over cushions to develop arm and hand control.  Play on their stomach and play standing at a table for posture and core stability.  Play that requires more than tapping a screen or pressing a button.  I love my tablet as much as the next person, but I was fortunate to grow up before it was invented.  I had something called “toys”.

If you sent me to teach occupational therapists in a developing country, I would bring a small bag of the best toys I know:  crayons, paper, scissors, LEGOs, balls of all sizes, and I would use some things that every home is likely to have:  small cups for scooping and emptying, scarves for peek-a-boo, and little pieces of food for self-feeding.  This is all you need.  Really.  Giving a child the chance to feed themselves, play in water and sand, build and scribble can do a lot to build foundational skills.

One thing that I forgot to mention as a foundational skill is……interest. Some kids are very interested in coloring.  Many are not.  Same with reading.  How do you get your child interested in writing?  You allow them access to tools, make the tools desirable, and show them that you enjoy coloring or writing.  When your infant reaches for your pen and you slide it away from them, they are showing you interest.  They can’t use a pen, but they can mess around with food puree on their high chair tray, drawing lines in the goo.  Prewriting at work.  When your toddler wants to eat the marker, remind them that these are for scribbling, and help them to make a masterpiece.  Every day.  Find fun materials.  I am a big fan of crayons instead of markers, but there are some sparkly crayons and some great markers and papers that don’t destroy your home while your child is learning to draw and write Color Wonder Paper Will Boost Creativity and Save Your Walls.

Not an artist?  No problem!  Fake it.  Just like you gleefully eat veggies even though you’d rather have cake, scribble and make something silly on paper.  Show how much fun it is.  You might find out that you are more creative than you thought, or that once you kill that critic in your head, you actually like to draw.

Child development experts bemoan the limited language skills of kids from families without books.  Philanthropists like Dolly Parton donate tons of books to poor families in the hopes that children will be read to and develop a love of reading.  Guess what?  Children need to have early experiences with writing and drawing as well.  The family that has no crayons, no markers, no paper and no interest in drawing or writing will not inspire their children.

Give the gift of “pre” prewriting to your child, and give them a head start today!

Looking for more information on handwriting and development?  Read Have More Fun When You Use Drawing To Develop Pre-Writing Skills and Why Dot-To-Dot Letter Practice Slows Down Writing Speed and Legibility.

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Which Improves Pencil Grasp Best: A Pencil Grip Or A Thicker Pencil?

 

kelli-tungay-324329A a pediatric occupational therapist, I am often asked to weigh in on this debate.  Not often enough, it seems.  There are a lot of kids out there using pencils with wonky grasp patterns because no one has made an effort to improve the way they hold a pencil, or they doubt that it matters.  Oops.  Although grasp isn’t often or evn usually the biggest issue with writing problems, a really poor grasp can reduce control and increase pain and fatigue.  Not every kid with poor pencil grasp is a hot mess.  Some of them just need good instruction and good materials.  For the others, it might be time to get an OT involved.

Kids that struggle with pencil grasp are often (in my opinion, too often) given a pencil grip and told to use it when they write. It may help, but it may not.  An yet, I will still hand out my favorite pencil grip if I think that it will build control and strength. The Pencil Grip That Strengthens Your Child’s Fingers As They Write.

I thought I would drill down into the ways that OTs think about the use of pencil grips, and present a few alternatives to reflexively sending kids home with a bit of plastic on the end of a pencil:

  • Change the pencil.  Triangular pencils give more sensory feedback during writing, and they offer a flat surface for finger pads.  Thick mechanical pencils still have a standard-thickness lead, but they also are easier to hold for some children.  Short pencils, including golf pencils, force more fingertip contact and can be helpful (but not if grasp is really weak or awkward).
  • Don’t jump into pencil use too early.  Until a child can manage a mature grasp, I try very hard to keep them using crayons when they are not yet in kindergarten.  I like the flip crayons from Learning Without Tears because they are so very small, but not all kids in kindergarten are ready for them.  I break a toddler crayon in two so that they get the benefits of a thick shaft but they will be unable to use a fisted grasp.
  • Like markers?  I only use them if they are the Pipsqueak markers from Crayola.  Nice thick, short shafts for little fingers.  Markers don’t give a child any resistance at all, so they don’t give enough sensory feedback or strengthening for my kids that need both.  And they make a mess most of the time.  I don’t have the time to scrub off markers.
  • Build strength and control with play.  Yes, fine motor play.  Totally outdated (just joking) but necessary.  I use the iCreate tablet stylus, bead stringing, therapy putty and lots of tiny toys like travel Connect Four games.  Even baking.     Utensil use counts too. How Using Utensils To Eat Prepares Your Child To Write    Children are spending less time with toys and more with tablets, so I insist that they use a tablet stylus with me in sessions.  They have no idea that the physical “drag” of the plastic point on the glass screen as they move objects around is creating resistance that helps their fingers get stronger.
  • Color with children, draw with children. A lot.  Coloring is less stressful to the risk-averse child who thinks he can’t write. Drawing simple shapes is directly applicable to writing letters and numbers.  Think “T” and a vertical cross, “A” and a volcano.  Watching an adult and listening to their narration, such as ” I am coloring around and around to fill in the balloon, since it is a circle shape”  is very helpful to young children who resist direct instruction.  The child that doesn’t naturally gravitate to coloring may need downloads of their fave character or stickers to add to the picture to make it exciting.  But the key is the adult interaction.

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