Tag Archives: handwriting

The Preschool Water Arcade Game You Need This Summer If Camp is Cancelled (and maybe even if it isn’t)

819lGlAwx3L._AC_SL1500_

I cannot BELIEVE how much fun this Step 2 Waterpark Arcade toy could be!  You hook it up to your outdoor garden hose and play.  As an occupational therapist, I want all of my older toddler and all my preschool clients to get one of these arcade games to work on visual-motor coordination and hand strength.

What kid isn’t right for this toy?

  • This isn’t a toy for a child that cannot resist the impulse to spray others, as the water flow could be pretty strong.   Almost every child is going to have some experimentation with controlling the hose.  That isn’t the same as intentionally nailing their baby brother in the face.
  • Nor is it a good choice for a child that is really unsteady on their feet.  It won’t be easy to handle a hose while sitting down, and too much failure is really hard on kids that are already stressed because of missing camp.
  • They have to have enough hand strength, even with two hands together, as shown, to squeeze the trigger while aiming.  Older kids can stand farther back from the toy and use one hand.
  • Kids with significant problems with strabismus may not be able to aim from a distance.  Strabismus will force them to use one eye to avoid “seeing double” at a distance.  Again, failure isn’t fun.  Weakening one eye isn’t a great idea either.  If this motivates a child to wear their special glasses or eye patch, on the other hand, it could help you get some compliance.

Can You Incorporate This Toy Into Fine Motor or Handwriting Practice?  SURE!!!!

  1. Parents can come up with a score sheet on the sidewalk with chalk, on a white board with a marker, or use a bucket with pebbles.  Every time a child hits the mark, they get a point.
  2. They can write a hash mark or erase the previous score and write the new one, which is great for preschoolers and kindergarteners to practice writing numbers over the summer.
  3. Of course, they have to write their names and their opponent’s name as well.
  4. Counting the pebbles without writing them could be great practice for younger kids.

Looking for more outdoor fun this summer?  Read Doing Preschool Camp at Home This Summer? This is the Water Table You Want!  Worried about rainy day fun?  Read Doing OT Telehealth? Start Cooking (And Baking)!

61AMCGsaLzL._AC_SL1000_

A Practical Guide to Helping the Hypermobile School-Age Child Succeed

 

The Joint Smart Child.inddThe JointSmart Child series started off in 2019 with Volume One:  The Early Years.  It is finally time for the school-age child to have their needs addressed!

Volume Two:  The School Years is available now on Amazon as an e-book, filled with information to make life at home and at school easier and safer.  This book is equally at home on a parent’s or a pediatric therapist’s shelf.   Filled with clear explanations for the daily struggles hypermobile children encounter, it answers the need for a practical reference guide for daily living:

Section I reviews the basics:  understanding the many ways that hypermobility can affect motor, sensory and social/emotional development.  General principles for positioning and safety are presented in easy-to-follow language.

Section II addresses daily living skills such as dressing, bathing and mealtime.  School-age kids may not be fully independent in these areas, and they need targeted strategies to improve their skills while boosting their confidence.

Section III looks at school and recreational activities.  It covers handwriting and keyboarding, playing sports and playing musical instruments with less fatigue, less pain, and more control.  When parents and therapists know how to select the best equipment and use optimal ergonomics and safety guidelines, kids with hypermobility really can thrive!

Section IV reviews the communication skills in Volume One, and then expands them to address the more complex relationships within and outside the family.  Older children can have more complex medical needs such as pain management, and knowing how to communicate with medical professionals empowers parents.

The extensive appendix provides informational forms for parents to use with babysitters and teachers, and checklists for chairs and sports equipment such as bikes.  There is a checklist parents can use during IEP meetings to ensure that their child’s goals include issues such as optimal positioning, access, and endurance in school.  Therapists can use the same materials as part of their home program or in professional presentations to parent groups.  There are even simple recipes to use cooking as a fun activity that develops sensory and motor skills!

I believe that this e-book has so much to offer parents and therapists that have been looking for practical information, but find they have to search around the internet only to rely on other parents for guidance instead of health care professionals.  This is the book that answers so many of their questions and empowers children to reach their highest potential!

for more information on how to help your hypermobile child, read Need a Desk Chair for Your Hypermobile School-Age Child? Check out the Giantex Chair and Should Hypermobile Kids Sit On Therapy Balls For Schoolwork? plus Should Hypermobile Kids Use Backpacks?

ahmed-saffu-307321

Need a Desk Chair for Your Hypermobile School-Age Child? Check out the Giantex Chair

 

71ASiKXBSJL._AC_SL1200_.jpgOne of my colleagues with a hypermobile third-grader told me this chair has been a great chair at school for her child.  It hits a lot of my targets for a chair recommendation, so here it is:  The Giantex chair.

Why do I like it so much?

  • It is a bit adaptable and sized for kids.  No chair fits every child, but the more you can adjust a chair, the more likely you are to provide good supportive seating.  This chair is a good balance of adaptability and affordability.  My readers know I am not a fan of therapy balls as seating for homework.  Here’s why: Should Hypermobile Kids Sit On Therapy Balls For Schoolwork?
  • It isn’t institutional.  Teachers, parents, and especially kids, get turned off by chairs that look like medical equipment.  This looks like a regular chair, but when adjusted correctly, it IS medical equipment, IMPO.
  • It’s affordable.  The child I described got it paid for by her school district to use in her classroom, but this chair is within the budget of some families.  They can have one at home for homework or meals.  Most kids aren’t too eager to use a Tripp Trapp chair after 6 or 7.  It’s untraditional looks bother them.  This chair isn’t going to turn them off as easily.
  • This chair looks like it would last through some growth.  I tell every parent that they only thing I can promise you is that your child will grow.  Even the kids with genetic disorders that affect growth will grow larger eventually.  This chair should fit kids from 8-12 years of age in most cases.  The really small ones or the really tall ones?  Maybe not, but the small ones will grow into it, and the tall kids probably fit into a smaller adult chair now or in the near future.

For more helpful posts on hypermobile kids, read Joint Protection And Hypermobility: Investing in Your Child’s FutureHow To Correctly Reposition Your Child’s Legs When They “W-Sit” and When Writing Hurts: The Hypermobile Hand.

71rDUMVbq2L._AC_SL1200_

Want more information to help your child and make life easier?  My newest book has finally arrived!

The JointSmart Child:  Living and Thriving With Hypermobility  Volume Two: The School Years is now available as a read-only download on Amazon and a printable download on Your Therapy Source .  It is filled with the practical information that parents and therapists need to make kids’ lives easier, safer, and more independent.

There are extensive forms and checklists for school and home, and strategies that make immediate improvements in a child’s life.  Learn how to buy and fill a backpack that doesn’t damage a child’s joints, how blankets can create more pain and sleep problems,  and how to help a child write and keyboard with greater control.  Read more about it here: Parents and Therapists of Hypermobile School-Age Kids Finally Have a Practical Guidebook!

The Joint Smart Child.indd

When Writing Hurts: The Hypermobile Hand

IMG_1145

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!

The Hypermobile Hand: More Than A Strength Problem

 

wout-vanacker-497472

I just received another referral for a kid with “weak’ hands.  Can’t hold a pencil correctly, can’t make a dark enough mark on paper when he writes or colors.  But his mom says he has quite a grip on an object when he doesn’t want to hand something over.  He plays soccer without problems and otherwise functions well in a regular classroom.  Could it be that hypermobility is his underlying problem?

Some children display problems with fine motor skills due to low muscle tone.  Many times, their low tone is significant enough to create poor joint alignment and stability, resulting in joint hypermobility as well as low muscle tone.  But kids can also have joint laxity with typical muscle tone.  Assessing the difference between tone, strength, alignment/stability and endurance is why you get an evaluation from a skilled therapist.  And even then, it can be tricky to determine etiology with the youngest children because they cannot follow your directions or answer questions.  Time to take out your detective hat and drill down into patient history and do a very complete assessment.

With older kids, both low tone and joint laxity can lead them over time to develop joint deformity and soft tissue damage.  Like a tire that you never rotated on your car, inappropriate wear and tear can create joint, ligament, tendon, and muscular imbalance problems that result in even worse alignment, less stability and endurance, and even pain.  And yes, weakness is often observed or reported, but it often is dependent on posture and task demands, rather than being consistent or specific to a nerve distribution or muscle/muscle group.

What does the classic hypermobile hand look like?  Here are some common presentations:

  • The small joints of the fingers and thumb look “swaybacked”, as the joint capsule is unstable and the tendons of the hand exert their pull without correct ligament support.  When they slide laterally and the joint is unable to move smoothly, people say that their fingers “lock” or they are diagnosed with “trigger finger”.
  • The arches of the hand aren’t supported, so the palm looks flat at rest.  By late preschool, the arches of the hand should be evident in both active and passive states.
  • The fleshy bases of the thumb and pinky ( the thenar and hypothenar eminences, for all you therapists out there) aren’t pronounced, due to the lack of support reducing normal muscle development during daily use.
  • Grasp and pinch patterns are immature and/or atypical.  A preschooler uses a fisted grasp to scribble, a grade-school child uses two hands to hold an object that should be held by one hand and uses a “hook” grasp on a pencil.
  • Grasp and pinch may start out looking great, and deteriorate with the need for force.  Or prehension begins looking poor and improves for a while, until fatigue sets in.  This bell-curve pattern of grasp control is often seen with kids that have poor proprioceptive discrimination.  As they use their hands they receive more input, but as fatigue sets in, they cannot maintain a mature grasp and good control.
  • The typical arches of the hand that create the “cupping” of the palm when pretending to scoop water from a stream, for example, will be somewhat flattened. Unless there is nerve damage, you won’t see the “claw hand” pattern or another atypical posture.
  • Fine grasp will often be accomplished with the thumb and third finger to achieve greater stability through the MCP (knuckle) joints and to avoid full opposition of the thumb.  Another common compensatory pattern is using digits II and III together to gain greater stability.  Some kids can even wrap one digit partially around another to do this.  Now that’s hypermobility!

Don’t forget that hypermobility creates poor sensory processing feedback loops.  Reduced proprioception and kinesthesia will result in issues when children try to grade force and control movement without compensations such as visual attention and decreased speed. This can result in kids being labeled clumsy or careless.  For more on handwriting and hypermobility, read When Writing Hurts: The Hypermobile Hand

In terms of treatment, the standard strategies of strengthening and adapting equipment will be important, but I also teach joint protection to kids and parents, energy conservation and I do K-taping to hands.  It is more adaptable than splinting, parents can learn to do a taping protocol at home, and it provides the necessary proprioceptive input for learning that most splinting simply cannot deliver.  For more details on taping kids with hypermobility related to EDS, read Can You K-Tape Kids With Ehlers-Danlos and Other Connective Tissue Disorders?

Looking for more ideas to address the difficulties young children face when they have hypermobility?

I wrote an e-book for you!

The JointSmart Child:  Living and Thriving With Hypermobility Volume One: /The Early Years is my newest book, and it answers many of the questions parents of young hypermobile kids have every day!

 Filled with strategies to build control, independence and safety, it guides families in the use of seating, picking out utensils for meals, even how to make the bath and bedtime safer and easier.  It is available on Amazon.com for digital download on all platforms including iPads, and on Your Therapy Source as a click-able and printable download.  The book is designed to make parents feel empowered and to help children live happier and easier lives!

 

Here are more resources:

Take a look at For Kids With Sensory Issues and Low Tone, Add Resistance Instead of Hand-Over-Hand Assistance and Does An Atypical Pencil Grasp Damage Joints or Support Function In Kids With Hypermobility?.  Depending on the age and skill level of the child, adaptations and education can be just as important as therapeutic exercise.  Your pediatric occupational therapist can help with more than pencil grasp; we are able to help with so many real-life issues!  For toys that support a child’s grasp and control, check out Playing With Toy Food Builds Hand Skills…Faster! and DUPLO Train Set Is Affordable Safe Fun!; both of these toys are easy to hold and easy to manipulate, but allow creativity and fun while developing coordination and control.

 

Do you need help with toilet training?  My e-book will give you the support to make this less of a struggle!  Read The Practical Guide to Toilet Training Your Child With Low Muscle Tone: Potty Training Help Has Arrived! and find out what parents have to say about the only manual on the market to address potty training and low tone.

 

artiom-vallat-637980-unsplash

 

The Elf on the Shelf Could Get Your Child to Write a Letter to Santa!

 

123410761151840p.jpeg

Write to Santa, but KEEP the note since the elf brings it to the North Pole…and then back to your home!

‘Tis the season, and Elf On The Shelf is back for more fun!  Some parents adore the concept and cannot wait to move that little elf around the house every night, and others mock him and his expanding merchandising.  Now that he is getting kids to write and draw, and parents will be able to save the heartfelt message as an ornament, I’m in with the Elf!  Not familiar with the Elf story?  Read Elf on the Shelf Controversy: Let’s Try Positive Gossiping to Santa.  Used as an encouragement and not a punishment or a threat, I am OK with this holiday tradition.

You use the paper and materials in the kit to write and bake-off a letter into an ornament that the elf “shows” to Santa on his nightly trip, and then he “returns” it to your tree.  The kit includes a storybook, materials to write, bake and hang your ornament.

As a pediatric occupational therapist, I wanted to share a few ideas that could make this more fun and a bit less stressful for children that struggle with handwriting, learning and attention issues:

  • The set includes 8 special sheets of paper that will get baked off in the oven to create an ornament, but I would encourage everyone to have their child refine their message and practice writing/drawing the note on regular paper before putting it on the special sheets.  Use these sheets as a template so that your child is aware that they can’t write more than a few lines at most.  There is no way to erase on the special sheets, and although some errors are charming, a child can be heartbroken if they think that they are sending a messy message.
  • I would encourage parents to consider copying the message so that kids have a sample to copy, rather than free writing.  Copying is an easier task in the developmental progression of handwriting, and reduces the stress for success on kids.  Nobody needs stress when making a special request to Old Saint Nick.
  • Younger kids, or kids with strong fears of failure or anxiety in general can draw or decorate a parent’s writing.  As long as they are involved, I don’t think it has to be all or nothing.  Many of my most avoidant clients get excited when I tell them that they just have to draw a sun (circle with rays) or some grass (short vertical lines that start at the top and descend to a baseline) to a picutre that I am drawing, and I  will take care of all the hard stuff.  Sometimes they even decide that they want to draw much more than they were planning to contribute.
  • Encourage your child to make the letters and designs a bit large, since they will shrink with the baking process.  Most young children cannot comprehend this step and will assume that the finished product will come out of the oven the same size that it was when it went in.  Tiny details may not be visible, tiny letters may be illegible.  Make a sample if possible for children that need proof of everything before they believe you.
  • If you know that your child may be impulsive or has such significant struggles with design, handwriting, or decision-making that you will need more than 8 sheets to create one final project, buy two kits.  The holidays are challenging enough without a fun activity ending without even one finished ornament.  If things go well and you don’t need the extra box, you have something that can be a wonderful gift for another family this season!

If you use this kit with your child this Christmas season, please write a comment and let my readers know how it worked out for you!

 

 

Make Handwriting Fun While Getting Ready For The New School Year

Here in the US, kids are getting ready to go back to school.  And most of them haven’t been writing much in the last 6-8 weeks.  At the kindergarten level, some children will have forgotten any lowercase letters they knew in the spring.  At the 1-2 grade levels, it is not uncommon for kids to forget how to form letters, where to place them on the baseline, and how to use simple punctuation.   Teachers sometimes need to use the first 1-2 weeks for review alone.

What if they didn’t need to review?  What if your child was ready to hit the ground running (and writing)?  There is nothing like seeing a confident kid sit down to crush her homework instead of struggling through it.  For all those writers who worked hard last year and are a little nervous to pick up a pencil again, here are some ideas that help getting back to writing fun and easy:

  1. Get good materials.  Kids are just like adults.  We like new, cool stuff.  So do they.  I recommend using the best eraser (Problems With Handwriting? You Need The Best Eraser ) and either the small Learning Without Tears (they changed their name!!!)  pencils for kindergarteners, or the Papermate 1.3mm lead mechanical pencils for older kids.  Take a look at my post on these useful pencils Great Mechanical Pencils Can Improve Your Child’s Handwriting Skills
  2. Use fun workbooks like Madlibs and games like Hangman.  Make up games that you think your kids will find funny.  Try the Junior version of Madlibs for grades 2-3, and the regular one for the higher grades.  There are themes for every kid, trust me.  Something will be funny.  Do them together with your child, have a contest for silliest madlib, send them to relatives that can appreciate this humor, etc.
  3. Target any errors made in writing their first and family name first.  Those errors will be repeated over and over in the first few days of school if you do not focus on them.  Time to make this a priority.
  4. Figure out where the gaps are, and hit the low-hanging fruit next.  Why?  Because that builds confidence.  Look for simple errors with easy-to-write or frequently written letters.  Think “a”, “e”, and “t”.  Doesn’t even have to be letters; could be numbers.  Kids need to feel like they can hit singles, and then they will try harder for doubles and triples.  Forgive the baseball reference; I saw a ton of stickers and vanity plates today.   Apparently all of my neighbors are big baseball fans!

There are only a few weeks of summer left, but if you make a small effort,  it can mean a lot to a child’s first weeks of school!

Child Writing Too Lightly on Paper? It Might Not Be Hand Strength Holding Him Back

cindy-bonfini-hotlosz-354736-unsplash

If your child barely makes a mark when he scribbles or writes, most adults assume that grasp is an issue. Today’s post suggests that something else could be the real reason for those faint lines.

Limitations in postural and bilateral control contribute far more to lack of pressure when writing  than most parents and teachers realize.  For every child in occupational therapy that is struggling to achieve good grasp, I see three whose poor sitting posture and inability to get a stable midline orientation are the real issues.

Think about it for a minute:  if you sat with your non-dominant (not the writing hand) hand off to the side and you shifted your body weight backward in your chair, how would you be able to use sufficient force on a pencil or a crayon?  Try this right now.  Really.  You would have to focus on pressing harder while you write and hope your paper doesn’t slip around.  That would require your awareness and some assessment of your performance.  Children don’t do “awareness and assessment” very well.  That ability comes from frontal lobe functions that aren’t fully developed in young children.  But they can learn where to place their “helper hand”, and that sitting straight and shifting forward is the correct way to sit when you scribble or write.

If a child has sensory processing or neuromuscular issues such as cerebral palsy, Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome or Down Syndrome, achieving adequate postural stability may take some effort on the part of the therapists and the teacher.  Well worth it, in my experience.  There are easy hacks that help kids; good equipment and good seating that won’t cost a fortune or inconvenience the class.  Every child can learn that posture is important for writing.  But the adults have to learn it first.  Kids take their cues from what adults appear to value, and if they figure out that they are allowed to slump or lean, they almost always will.

I am doing a lecture on pre-writing next week, and I intend to make this point, even though the emphasis of my lecture is on the use of fun drawing activities to prepare children to write and read.  Why?  Because it may be the only time these preschool teachers hear from a pediatric occupational therapist this year, and I want to make a difference.  Understanding the importance of postural control in pre-writing and handwriting could help struggling kids, and make decent writers into stars!

 

For more information, take a look at For Kids With Sensory Issues and Low Tone, Add Resistance Instead of Hand-Over-Hand Assistance and Better Posture and More Legible Writing With A “Helper Hand”.

rawpixel-653771-unsplash

Does An Atypical Pencil Grasp Damage Joints or Support Function In Kids With Hypermobility?

72_1064_thumbangelina-litvin-K3uOmmlQmOo-unsplash

As a pediatric OTR, I am often asked to assess and teach proper pencil grasp.  Once you start looking, you see a lot of interesting patterns out there.  When a child clearly has low muscle tone and/or hypermobile joints, the question of what to do about an atypical pencil grasp used to puzzle me.  I could spend weeks, or even months, teaching positioning and developing hand strength in a child, only to find that they simply couldn’t alter their grasp while writing.

Now I triage grasp issues by determining if it is a problem for the child now or in the future.  An atypical pencil grasp can be an acceptable functional compensation or it can be a contributor to later joint damage.  What’s the difference?  You have to know a bit about hand anatomy and function, how to adapt activities, and how to assess the ergonomics of writing.

Children aren’t aware of most of the problems that low tone and/or hypermobility create when they hold a pencil.  They just want to write or draw.  Teachers and parents don’t know what is causing issues either.  The effects of their unique physiology often results in grasp patterns that cause parents pain just to observe; fingers twisted around the shaft of the pencil, thumb joints bent backward, etc.  The kids aren’t usually complaining; their lack of sensory receptor firing at the joints and muscles gives them no clues to the strain they are inducing.  None.  Occasionally children will complain of muscular fatigue or pain after writing a few paragraphs or completing an art project.  For the most part, they are unconcerned and unaware of what is really going on.  For a more detailed explanation, please check out Hypermobility and Proprioception: Why Loose Joints Create Sensory Processing Problems for Children,

Do these funny grasp patterns reduce legibility?  Only sometimes.  There are atypical grasp patterns that are good choices for children with hypermobility.  One is to place the shaft of the pencil directly between the index and third finger, and allow the thumb to support the side of the pencil.  The knuckle joints of those fingers provide more stability than the standard tripod grasp.  This grasp pattern is illustrated at the beginning of this post.

I allow preschoolers who need to keep more than 3 fingers on the shaft of the pencil to do so, and wait to see what happens as they develop more overall hand control.  This is especially beneficial for the child with sensory discrimination issues or joint hypermobility.  Forcing a tripod grip isn’t always in their best interest now or for the future.

What can be done?  My favorite method to help children with low tone or hypermobility is to look at the problem with both a wide-angle lens and with targeted analysis.  I think about changing overall posture, altering any and all equipment, and examine the mechanics of movement.

Does handwriting instruction matter?  I think so.  The best writing program teaches children quickly, so that they don’t have to write 100 “A”s to learn how to write.   The only program I use is Handwriting Without Tears.  The high-quality materials and the developmental progression make learning easier and faster.  Read KickStart Kindergarten: Get Your Child Ready for Kindergarten Writing The Easy Way! to see some sample pages and understand how this particular book can work for ages 4-8.

Wondering if there are issues beyond writing that your OT can address?  Check out   Hypermobility and Music Lessons: Is Your Child Paying Too High a Price for Culture?Hypermobility and Proprioception: Why Loose Joints Create Sensory Processing Problems for Children and Three Ways To Reduce W-Sitting (And Why It Matters) for more information.

Atypical pencil grasp can be a problem, but it can also be a solution to a child who is struggling to write and draw in school.  If you have concerns, ask your OT to evaluate and explore the issue this week!

Looking for more information on raising (or treating) a hypermobile child? 

I wrote 2 e-books to help you!

The JointSmart Child:  Living and Thriving With Hypermobility Volume One:  The Early Years

is filled with practical strategies to help parents of children 0-5 build safety, skills, and independence.  Written in easy-to-understand language and designed with chapter summaries that help busy parents find the answers they need, this book is unique in the world of special needs resources!  Therapists will find easy ways to boost ADL skills, safety awareness, and early fine motor skills with an awareness of the sensory processing needs of the hyper mobile client.

My e-book is available as a read-only download on Amazon and as a clickable and printable download on Your Therapy Source.  Worried that you don’t have a Kindle?  No problem:  Amazon’s downloads are totally supported on iPads and iPhones.

The JointSmart Child:  Living and Thriving With Hypermobility Volume Two:  The School Years

is my newest e-book for parents and therapists of kids 6-12.  Older children may still need to build their ADL independence and safety, but they also need to write and keyboard, and they play sports and musical instruments.  This book is larger and more comprehensive than Volume One, filled with forms and checklists to find the right chair, desk, bike, even the best way to arrange a bedroom for sleep.  Parents and therapists will have forms and handouts they can use in CPSE and CSE meetings with the school district and information on how to become an empowered consumer in doctor’s appointments.

It is available as a read-only download on Amazon  and as a printable download on Your Therapy Source ,and just like Volume One, Amazon doesn’t require you to have a Kindle to download my book.  They make it easy!

jerry-wang-jfnUC7s3iuw-unsplash

 

Why Dot-To-Dot Letter Practice Slows Down Writing Speed and Legibility

geo beach.jpeg

These beach umbrellas look like a dot-to-dot picture!

Most workbooks feature dot-to-dot practice for writing letters.  They shouldn’t.  Why?  The answer is obvious if you know how to teach handwriting.  The biggest problem is that so few people understand how children learn to write, and what gets in their way.

There are 3 stages of learning:  imitating an adult, copying printed materials, and independently writing a letter.  When the first stage of instruction is too short, poorly attended to (imagine a distracting preschool room) or nonexistent (“go practice at the writing table during your free period”), children end up drawing their letters, unaware of how letters are correctly constructed.  Dot-to-dot worksheets encourage drawing letters. They do a very poor job of teaching correct formation and a good job of encouraging bad habits in handwriting.

Dot-to-dot worksheets, even the ones with a starting dot or arrow, cannot be followed correctly by most very young children.  Start and sequence of writing strokes is essential to creating automaticity and control. Young children look at the letter “a” in the same way I look at a Chinese character or a hieroglyph.  I could probably copy it, but I have no idea which lines make a single stroke, which to write first, second and third, and no sense that it should be similar to other characters.  Children really don’t follow a tiny arrow or understand that numbering the strokes means that a tiny number two at the top means “This is your second stroke”.  Older children do, but they aren’t the ones laboring over the dot-to-dot letter pages.  There is a better way.

To make my point clear, look at the letters that Handwriting Without Tears calls the “magic c letters”:  c, o, a, d, and g.  By the way, are you wondering why “q” isn’t in the group, since it is formed in a similar manner?  They add “q” later in instruction, due to the potential confusion with “g”,which is a more commonly used letter in English.  I have seen a single child write the letter “c” made starting at the baseline and curving up, then make the letter “o” correctly by first writing a “c”, and then write letters “a”, “g” and “d”  by drawing circles and adding straight or curved lines.

This method of letter formation never looks neat once children have to write full sentences with some speed.  It can’t look good, as the pencil control required to write well with these strategies is too challenging for young children once they have to write more than a few letters.  Ooops! Where did they come up with all those different methods of writing letters that should be made by starting with the letter “c” and then continuing to form the specific letter?   They figured it out for themselves, since no one was watching!

The “Magic C” approach is brilliant because it is simple to recall and it creates control and automaticity, two hallmarks of legible handwriting.  Dot-to-dot writing leads children down a path riddled with possible bad habits.  Want a terrific HWT book for your preschool child that is advanced, or your struggling kindergartener?  Check out KickStart Kindergarten: Get Your Child Ready for Kindergarten Writing The Easy Way!.

So, are dot-to-dot pictures a terrible idea?

Not at all.  I love the way children have to control pencil strokes and visually scan the page for the connecting number or letter.  They are great visual-motor fun.   There are complex dot-to-dot pictures with over 200 dots that really challenge kindergarteners who can count.

Just don’t teach writing letters and numbers this way!

72_1065_thumb

Teach Your Kindergartener How To Erase Like a Big Kid

Does it matter how a child erases their mistake?  You are probably thinking that I ran out of topics for my blog this week.  Not exactly.

I was thinking about what makes my handwriting posts different than other bloggers that publish posts on early writing skills.  I like to look at all the details when I work with struggling writers.  I search for every way I can build a child’s skills and confidence.   Knowing how to control an eraser is a simple but important skill for children in kindergarten to master, and can save a homework assignment from the trash bin.

Controlled erasing prevents removal of well-written characters.  This means more work and more time to complete an assignment.  It prevents paper destruction.  If your child struggles to write, imagine how he would feel if he accidentally tore the paper and had to start over.

Why would children struggle to control an eraser?  Kids with limited hand strength and stability often press too softly or use too much force.  Children with sensory discrimination difficulties do the same.  Kids who have difficulty focusing, are impulsive or are defiant can make the same erasing mistakes.  Finally, kids with motor or orthopedic issues can have the same difficulty controlling the eraser that they experience with their pencil.

What can you do to help?

  • Select the right eraser.  Although pencils usually come with erasers, some children do much better with a larger eraser or one that is shaped for easier grasp.  A larger eraser can also have more textured edges and even more weight, giving children more sensory input with use.  My favorite eraser is the Pentel Hi-Polymer latex-free eraser.  Super at cleanly erasing, and easy to grasp.  Beats every pencil eraser I have ever used.  Here it is:Problems With Handwriting? You Need The Best Eraser.
  • Demonstrate how to hold the eraser for control.  If a child uses a fisted grasp, they are erasing with elbow or shoulder movements.  These large movements are likely to be harder and less controlled.  Demonstrate that using a mature tripod pencil grasp will result in more control and faster erasing.
  • Make eraser practice fun.  Write awful letters, your worst products, in between good examples on a page.  Have your child erase your mistakes.  Draw mean faces and have them get rid of the “bad guys”.  Draw “coins” and see who has the most money left.  Bonus round:  have them write in the amount on the coins.  Larger number, more money!!

 

Does Handwriting Have An Uncertain Future in School?

I have read two reviews of Anne Trubek’s book The History and Uncertain Future of Handwriting, one of them in the New York Times The Story of How Handwriting Evolved, and May Soon Die Off.  I have not read her book yet, but since I work with young children, I spend plenty of time with “boots on the ground”, in the trenches with early writers and readers.

My first thought after reading both book reviews was “If handwriting dies off, does she predict that 4 year-olds will be typing?”.   I have not seen the amount of physical writing in early education diminish.  In fact, I am certain that kindergarteners are writing more now than we saw in first grade only 10-15 years ago.  Kids are working on tablets as well, but the flood of worksheets hasn’t slowed down at all.  If you have a child between 4 and 6, you know what I mean.  It is a lot of paper!

So much for handwriting dying out in the near future.  In fact, we are expecting kids to learn to write earlier and to learn it quickly.  That is hard enough, but no one is teaching educators how to accomplish this feat.  My local preschools change writing programs faster than they change playground schedules.  We now have large numbers of children moving into elementary education that were not taught to print correctly, and educators who want to help them but don’t know how. I will only briefly mention the children with autism and learning differences that are mainstreamed and expected to keep up under these crushing conditions.   No wonder business is booming: Sharp Rise in Occupational Therapy Cases at New York’s Schools .

Frustrating children, by not teaching them well (which often prevents full language expression) because you don’t know how to help them, is not the answer.  I spend part of each day working with children who feel bad about themselves as learners because they cannot write clearly.  They believe that the problem is theirs and theirs alone.  I help them build their skills and restore their self-esteem.  In most of my sessions I am not using extensive therapy techniques. I am teaching them to write in a developmentally-ordered, practical and logical manner.  I am observing their errors, and showing them how to succeed.

Brain research from education, psychology and neuroscience has suggested that children who physically write letters, rather than clicking them, will display greater ease of recall and improved legibility. Children with physical limitations have no choice but to write digitally, but that doesn’t make it the more desirable method for children without motor issues to learn letter recognition, spelling, and build literacy skills.  Kids with autism and learning differences deserve handwriting instruction that makes things easier and simpler if they are expected to keep up.  But is handwriting dead or dying?  Not if you are in the age group in which you still need a carseat to go away on vacation!

 

 

Summer Fun Pre-Writing Activities

Here in the U.S., summer is fully underway.   Pools, camps, and vacations!  Handwriting isn’t really on anyone’s radar.  Except mine.  Without practice, kids with learning differences, motor control issues, and visual-perceptual concerns can lose a lot of the skills that they worked so hard on all year long in therapy.

Here is a fun activity, not a boring worksheet, to keep or build pre-writing skills for preschoolers and kindergarteners.  Remember, into each summer some rain will fall, and there will be overcast days, or times when kids have to wait for a meal in a restaurant  while on vacation.  This activity can be a fun way to pass the time!

Ice Cream Cones

I picked this theme because ice cream is a food that most kids love, and the strokes/shapes needed have pre-writing value.  Your child will have no idea that she is building the visual-perceptual and finger control needed for handwriting instruction!

For the youngest pre-writers:  Draw an ice cream cone as below, at least 4-5 inches tall, and have your child aim for the “scoop” to wiggle their crayon, making sprinkles. I lightly colored in the scoop and drew lines on the waffle cone.  Younger children don’t always recognize a figure in a line drawing as easily as a completed one.  Their scribbles will be large, but demonstrate that our scribbles stay inside the scoop and are reversing vertical or horizontal lines, or a circular scribble.  The important thing is that they are attempting to stay inside the scoop and they are reversing the direction of their stroke.

IMG_1180

For children that are beginning to trace letters:

  1. Write the letter “V” in gray, about 3-4 inches tall.  Why gray?  So that your child can use a bolder color to trace over your lines.
  2. Have them trace your letter in a brighter color, then use your gray crayon to make a line across the “V” from left-to-right (for righties.  lefties will be more comfortable tracing right-to-left).
  3. Let them trace that line as well.
  4. Draw an arch, starting at the beginning of your “V”, curving upward and ending at the end of the “V”.
  5. Let them trace that line.
  6. Demonstrate how to keep your crayon tip barely moving as you “wiggle” to create a tiny sprinkle.  Ask your child to copy you.

IMG_1182

 

For kids that are writing their own letters with demonstration:

  1. Write the letter “V”on your paper, placed directly above theirs.  Ask them to copy you.
  2. Make a line across the “V” from left-to-right( for righties; lefties cross from right-to-left).  Ask them to copy you.
  3.  Make an arch to form the scoop, starting from the beginning of the “V”, curving upward and ending at the end of the “V”.  Ask them to copy you.
  4. Demonstrate how to wiggle your crayon tip slightly to create sprinkles, and even add little lines for drips of ice cream falling off the scoop.

 

BONUS ROUNDS:  Use sturdy paper and have your child cut out his ice cream scoops.  Have him ask everyone what kind of ice cream flavor and how many scoops they would like him to make for them.  Grab the toy cash register, and use the cones to play ” ice cream shop”. 

The Two Important Handwriting Teaching Strategies For Lefties That Everyone Forgets

Teaching left-handed children to write in a right-handed world (estimates for right dominance varies, but always hovers over 80%) isn’t really all that different.  However, there are two specific actions that parents and teachers need to make while teaching that rarely make it to the blogs and articles on the web.  Read on.  I will highlight the basics of lefty teaching, and then explain the missing moves.  They can make all the difference in the world to a left-handed child.

Tilted paper placement and using the non-dominant hand to stabilize the paper apply to both righties and lefties.  Left-handed kids will often want to tilt their paper to a more extreme angle to see their writing.  Let them.  They need to use a mature grasp pattern with their fingertips on a pencil.  Lefties who do not do either will twist their wrist so that they can see what they are writing.  This makes for more fatigue and less comfort.  The likelihood of hearing “I hate to write!” goes up dramatically under those conditions.

Make sure that the printed model on a worksheet is not obscured under their hand.  Most worksheets usually give one letter model on the far left side of the page.  Add more models in locations that they can see. Handwriting Without Tears does an excellent job of supporting left-handed kids in this way.  They give all children multiple models across a line on a worksheet, so that kids don’t have to pick up their hand to check the spelling and letter formation/placement of a model.

The two comments that very few bloggers or professionals mention when giving suggestions relate to the almost-forgotten art of teaching children to write by demonstrating how to write.  This starts earlier than you might think, as your curious 3 year-old watches you write his name.  He is taking mental and motor notes on this skill, and is practicing with crayons to copy circles and other shapes.  If you have a lefty, you are going to change HOW YOU WRITE to support their learning:

  • Teach kids to cross their letters in the direction that is easier for them, i.e. not the way righties do it.  The letters that they can cross more easily from right-to-left are: A, E, F, f, G, H, I, J, T, and t.  There are plenty of letters that are harder for left-handed kids and cannot be altered easily, such as “U”, “L”, and “B”.  Don’t make even more of the letters tricky for them.  I have a few preschoolers in tutoring or therapy that have already created a habit of writing with the right-handed cross.  When I ask them which is easier, and they admit that the right-to-left cross is easier, they still go back to the way they were originally taught. The right-hand way.   I am sad that I did not meet them earlier and make these letters a bit easier for them.
  • If you are right-handed, sit to the right-side of a lefty when teaching so the they can see what you are doing, and you can see what they are doing.  You are already writing upside-down if you are sitting opposite them, right?  Where you sit as you write matters.  Imagine if I were teaching you to dance and you had to mirror all my moves, versus having my back to you so that you could move exactly as I do.  So much easier.  Let’s make this easy for everyone.  If you are teaching a small group, where the lefties sit so that they can see your writing matters as well.  It isn’t a criticism or at all negative to tell the other children that you care so much about every child that the girl who writes lefty needs to sit in a particular spot so that she can see you.  Delivered properly, your comment coveys that the difference is no way a problem for you, nor should it be for anyone else.  We accept everyone for what they are.

Not sure if your preschooler is a lefty?  Two words of advice:  watch which hand they use for utensils at mealtime and with skilled play like LEGOS. Since it is very hard to alter dominance, it should become apparent over time with fine motor skill development.   If a child is wired for dominance of one hand but you have been demanding use of the other, she may comply, and then she will switch the pencil or spoon to the hand with which she feels has the most control.

Unless you are very vigilant and unbending, you will see natural dominance emerge between 2 and 5 years.  So far, I have had just one client who did not develop clear hand dominance in this period.  He had ASD and many other issues, so it wasn’t a total surprise that dominance did not emerge even at 7.  We watched him carefully, and saw that he was slightly more right-handed.  That is what we supported, but it was only after a lot of observation and targeted fine motor play.  He was encouraged, not forced.

Please feel free to comment and share your strategies and challenges of left handedness in pre-writing and beginning writing instruction!

 

 

 

Why The Switch to Single-Line Paper Creates Handwriting Problems

It seems so simple:  if a child can write all of her uppercase and lowercase letters independently, she should be able to use paper with only a baseline as an anchor.   I see too many kids in kindergarten and first grade go from proud writers to discouraged writers when the “training wheels”  of extra lines come off too early. Why does the loss the of the midline and top line (or the mid line of Handwriting Without Tears) totally blow their minds and destroy their legibility?

I think I have the answer to this one.

These kids have not been taught, or have failed to grasp, the proportion and placement rules of letter formation.  They don’t have an internalized sense of placement.  This is what adults do automatically.  You can draw a midline and a top line through any adult’s writing easily.  A child that can’t place letters correctly will get a lot of red marks on their compositions.  My suggestion?  Emphasize placement as early as late pre-K, and avoid handing back all those papers covered in red!

Placement on the baseline and proportions of lowercase letters are handwriting details that don’t get enough attention in our world of early test prep for all.  Even for preschools that teach lowercase formation well, teaching sizing and placement concepts are often overlooked or taught too quickly.  Sometimes it is because half the class of kindergarteners are still shaky on mental and perceptual concepts of  “middle” and “left/right”.  They haven’t fully mastered those important pre-writing skills.  It is also very, very hard to teach children to write using only the baseline if they do not know the correct start/sequence.  Correct sizing and placement are only dreams if a child is struggling to remember if the letter “r” starts on the midline or on the baseline.  What do you see with single-line handwriting if a child has’t been taught lowercase/uppercase proportion and placement?

  • the letter “t” will be the same size as an “i”, and crossed in the middle, since even 4 year-olds have mastered a vertical cross.
  • letters like “t” and “l” will start on the baseline.  Kids are looking for an anchor spot to start their letters, and since they don’t have those other lines, they go for the baseline.
  • the letter “l” as a huge straight line, and if it is D’Nealian, add a curly tail that makes it look like a backwards “j” without the dot.
  • The tails of both “Y” and “y” sitting on the baseline.  Sometimes the “y” is half above, half under as the child remembers there is a difference but can’t recall exactly what it is.

You get the idea.

Simply put, letters like “t”, “l”, and “h” are twice the height of “a”, “e’, and “o”.  Stack two “o’s” and you should be at the correct height for the letter “t”.

If a child can stack two LEGOs and visualize the ratio, than they can learn this principle with writing letters. If they do not have the physical control to write lowercase letters this way, go back to writing uppercase letters.  Use those larger letters to refine control, getting smaller and smaller, removing starting points and lines along the way.  Just don’t make red marks all over worksheets and wonder what is happening…

 

Great Mechanical Pencils Can Improve Your Child’s Handwriting Skills

IMG_1145

Great mechanical pencils for kids !

These pencils help students with the following handwriting issues:

  1. They use too much force while writing, and the pencil tips break frequently.
  2. They need more tactile information to achieve and keep a mature pencil grasp.
  3. They rarely notice that they need to sharpen their pencil to improve legibility.
  4. Getting up to sharpen a pencil distracts or disorganizes them so much that it extends the time to complete assignments.

I usually do not recommend mechanical pencils for the earliest writers, but that changes after the first half of second grade.  Once a child is facing the volume and speed demands of later second grade or above, it is time to be creative and think outside the box.

Working on the physical skills and the sensory processing skills that cause a child to struggle with grading force, perceiving tactile input, and monitoring their performance is still important.  They would probably take away my OTR license if I didn’t say that!

The problem is that sometimes life hacks are essential to keep a child functioning and feeling like a success.  Having the right equipment is an important and easy life hack for the child that already (at 7!) thinks of himself as a bad writer.  Using this pencil can be one of those “low-hanging-fruit” situations where performance improves while skills are developing.

PaperMate hasn’t targeted the kids with low tone, sensory processing, ASD, ADHD, or any other issues, and that is actually a nice thing.  Older kids don’t want a “special” anything in the classroom or even at home.  They might reject seat cushions and pencil grips that help them because they don’t want to look different or feel different.  Well, these are easy to get at office supply stores.  There is nothing “special” about them at all, except that they really help kids write neatly.

  • The pencils have #2 leads, a good eraser, and come with both extra lead and erasers.  We all know that running out of erasers will communicate “I don’t really need to erase that mistake” to a child.
  •  The colors are appealing to kids, but not infantile.
  • Adults know that their handwriting will immediately look better with a fine point writing utensil, but kids do not.   Children that have visual-perceptual or executive functioning issues often struggle to accurately assess what is causing their handwriting to look illegible, and then take the appropriate action.  They just shrug it off and say that they are simply “bad at writing”.
  • The pencil shaft is smooth, but the thick triangular shape adds much more tactile input than a regular pencil.  Feeling an edge, rather than a cylinder, is often just enough tactile feedback to remind kids to reposition their fingers without an adult saying “Fix your grip”.  Kids get so tired of adults telling them what to do.
  • The triangular shape limits how often the pencil rolls away or rolls off the table.  For kids with ADHD, that can be enough to derail homework without any drama!
  • Finally, mechanical pencils seem more grown-up to children than standard pencils, and you can spin it as such.  What a nice opportunity to be positive about handwriting!

What happens when your child makes a mistake and needs to try again?  They need the best eraser!  Check out Problems With Handwriting? You Need The Best Eraser , because the erasers on these PaperMate pencils are good but not great.  Having the best equipment positions your child for success!

 

 

Easy Ways To Build Bilateral Hand Coordination for Writing

Why do we need to use two hands for writing?  After all, you only need one hand to hold a pencil.  Well, did you ever injure your non-dominant shoulder or wrist? Without a hand to steady the paper and move it accurately as you write across a page, an adult will write like a preschooler or worse.  When you write, you are using one hand for writing and the other for balance, posture, paper stabilization and paper placement.  Bilateral hand coordination begins before a child’s first birthday and develops through early childhood.  Without it, handwriting is certain to be a challenge.

So many kids that struggle with crawling and walking as infants and young toddlers will continue to have difficulties using both hands together as preschoolers.  Occupational therapists like myself often observe that that they are not using one hand as a “prime mover” ( grabbing, reaching and writing) and the other hand as a “stabilizer”, i.e. holding a container or paper in a skilled manner.  What does it look like to stabilize a container with skill?  The container is held using just enough force and with the opening angled to allow the other hand to fill it without dumping the contents out. Take a look at my post  Better Posture and More Legible Writing With A “Helper Hand” to explore why that stabilizer hand placed on the table is essential for good handwriting.  Problems with bilateral control are often seen with children with ASD, SPD, and many neurological issues such as low muscle tone, but bilateral control delays can exist without any formal diagnosis.

Most handwriting programs, such as Fundations, do not pay much attention to the underlying physical skills needed for legible handwriting.  Handwriting Without Tears does an excellent job of teaching educational staff to remember the physical aspect of handwriting. Children ideally need good bilateral coordination BEFORE they begin hard-core handwriting instruction, not after.  If a child has identified neurological or developmental challenges that contribute to limited bilateral coordination, working on these skills are essential to prevent compensations and delays in handwriting.

As an OT working with kids over 4, when those basic bilateral control and grasping skills should have been achieved, I have to decide whether to spend precious time in every session on handwriting or on the basic abilities (coordination, strength, visual-perceptual, and sensory processing) that support handwriting.  Usually, I end up doing both, building target skills with intensive and complex treatment plans while I am working on handwriting instruction that gets kids up to speed as quickly as possible.

I am going to guess that if some of my toddlers and preschoolers in treatment had received more daily home and school practice with the following activities, I would have more time to teach great writing strategies.  For every parent that has asked me for some effective methods for early bilateral control skills, here you go:

  1. Do not hold or stabilize toys too much for them while playing.  Let them figure out that they need the other hand to steady a soft but large object or container.  Kids will often ask adults to hold a bag for them during clean up.  Your response?  Place their “helper” hand effectively on the bag and direct them to use the other hand to pick things up.  You did help, but you didn’t enable more dependency.  Safety first, so always support a container that could shatter or injure them if it dropped and broke.  But if the contents of a safe container spills?  That is another lesson in coordination to be learned by the child.  Encourage and reward a good clean-up effort!
  2. Provide good containers that demand bilateral skills. My Ziploc post Develop Pincer Grasp With Ziploc Bags also develops bilateral coordination during snacking (one of my favorite times of the day!).  Another fave?  Store little toys in the cosmetic bags with nice big zipper pulls that the department stores include with free-gift-with purchase events. Ladies, if you love makeup as much as I do, you have a pile of these in a drawer somewhere.  If not, the local drug store probably has a selection.  When a container is soft and collapses, it is a greater challenge to stabilize and open.  Challenge is good.
  3. Encourage your child to turn the pages of a book while holding the book on their lap when sitting on the bottom step of the stairs or a low bench.  With the book resting on their lap with one hand holding it, there will be no chance for the floor to hold the book, or for you to do it.  If it is a really heavy or large book, either give them one finger’s wobbly assistance under the book, or pick a lighter/smaller book.  Some of my clients would rather let me hold the book, so I try to have something in my hands to prevent them from asking for assistance rather than working hard.  I cheer them on, and make sure they have great books to look at every time!

 

10 Easy Ways to Prepare Preschoolers to Write

Standardized testing has pushed the demand for handwriting down, down, down into preschool.  The great majority of preschool children by the end of the 4’s will not have the physical control of a pencil to write lowercase letters correctly, but some teachers tell me that their administrations require them to teach kids to write their names in title case (first letter in uppercase, remaining letters are lowercase) in preschool, in preparation for kindergarten!

Children that cannot write lowercase letters correctly because they cannot perform the reversals and back-tracing that this case requires will almost always figure out a way to “cheat”.  Not a criticism of children at all; these kids want to please.  So the”p” becomes a straight line placed next to a circle.  An “m” becomes two humps.  If not corrected quickly and effectively, I will be getting a call in a year or two for private tutoring.  I spend a lot of time doing home-based private work for families that paid for an expensive preschool, and it resulted in a child that created their own way to write lowercase letters.  Those adapted letters look cute when you are 4, even “advanced” to the uneducated eye, but they are just sloppy writing when you are 8. OOPS!

I cannot change the administrators’ attitudes about curriculum, but I can offer my very best suggestions to teachers of the 3’s and early 4’s who want to do right by these kids.  If you are being asked to teach lowercase letters this early, then your whole approach to writing needs to be well thought-out and comprehensive.  It’s like losing 50 pounds before a wedding: everything you do should contribute to your goal!  Yes, I said teachers of the 3’s.  Again, if a child is going to learn lowercase letters correctly at 4, that child needs skill development in the 3’s to get there.

This is a long post, and I am hoping that it will become an e-book so that teachers around the world will get solid advice that helps them.  Just telling you to buy a workbook or tiny crayons is not enough, not if you are being asked to bloom these little flowers early.

This does not mean that all you do is write.  If you have the HWT preschool teacher’s manual in front of you, you have a year’s worth of fun and multi-sensory activities to add to your lesson plans that incorporates language, social skills, pre-math awareness, and more.  The best pre-writing activities sometimes have no actual writing involved.  Small group play with wood pieces can be so much fun that kids don’t want to put them away!

  1. If you are going to expect pencil grasp this early, you must provide early and substantial opportunities for small object manipulation to build refined motor and sensory skills.  What does that mean?  As soon as they are not likely to swallow little items (use food pieces if you are not certain about this), have kids picking up tiny items and sorting/gathering/assembling them creatively. Expand this beyond just fingertips by using tweezers, chopsticks and all manner of tools.Take a look at Teaching Pencil Grasp Can Start with Edison Chopsticks
  2. Teach pencil grasp, don’t just expect it or wait for it.   HWT does this well, giving teachers easy group instructions.  Don’t let a really awkward grasp go by.  You are doing a disservice to the child.  If your teaching tricks don’t work, ask an OT for a screening.  You might need help in more areas than just grasp.
  3. Require a mature grasp by limiting the use of a fisted grasp with those giant dot markers, giant chalk, etc.  This is the time to care about materials.  Use small crayon pieces that are still a large enough diameter to support a fingertip grasp.  Find short brushes for painting, fun lacing activities that require a fine tip grasp, use q-tips for spreading glue, and more.
  4. Teach and practice the use of a mature spoon grasp as early as 3.5 years.  See my blog post Which Spoon Is Best To Teach Grown-Up Grasp? on the best spoon style and activities to build this grasp Using Utensils To Eat Prepares Your Child To Write.  Why?  Because you want every opportunity to build hand control.  Don’t serve spoon-able snacks in preschool?  Use real toddler spoons for tactile play and scooping manipulative.  Those plastic disposable spoons don’t encourage the stable grasp and provide a non-slip surface the way good toddler spoons can. This is what I do in therapy, since I can’t always have a snack session in OT.    Use them consistently and wash them at the end of the day.  Better yet, have your kids do it.  Manipulating soap, water and towels are great, and they build a sense of personal responsibility to maintain the classroom.  A win-win, in my opinion.  The spoons can go right in the kitchen area so that dolls get fed with them and pretend meals are served with them.  The fun never ends.
  5. Use the prepositions and stroke descriptions that are needed to follow letter formation instructions when you speak to children.  Explain what you are doing as you write, and what each stroke is called.  Young children have no experience with the language of writing.  None.  It would be like not knowing the vocabulary of cooking.  Knowing the difference between “whisk” and “fold”  in baking is important if you are going to be a good baker.  Teachers, this is the same thing.  Handwriting Without Tears has the simplest instructions, so that is one good reason to adopt this program for teaching young children.  Games with wood pieces and roll-a dough incorporate the language of directionality and naming of stroke shapes in group instruction.
  6. Guess what builds comprehension of spatial prepositions like “up”, “across”, “down”, etc?  Movement, and lots of it,enjoyed by children and described by an adult.  It is the difference between saying to a 3 year-old: “Wow, big jump!” and “Wow! You jumped down to the ground and then popped right back up so-o-o fast!”.  Research tells us that children from families with higher levels of education use more words and more descriptive words when they communicate with young children.  By the time these children have entered preschool, they have had this subtle education in prepositions that give them an advantage when handwriting and reading are taught.  Let’s give that advantage to all children.
  7. Handwriting is a bilateral skill.  Ask anyone who has had their wrist and hand in a cast how difficult it is to steady the paper with one hand!  If schools are going to teach writing as early as possible, it means that more targeted bilateral (two-handed) play activities in your classroom have to be offered.  Montessori teachers do this really well.  Carrying those trays, sorting and dumping containers, stringing and snipping with scissors all develop coordination with both hands working around a center, one hand stabilizing and supporting, the other performing the target action. You can get scissors into the hands of young children if you choose the kind that don’t injure them.  Lakeshore Scissors for Toddlers That Only Cut the Paper, Not the Toddler
  8. Body awareness and postural control are essential.  HWT uses Mat Man for body awareness and drawing, but there are other fun things too.  Toys that require balance are nice, but so is standing on one leg, hopping on one leg, walking on a masking-tape balance beam.  Of course, being a ROBOT on one leg is more fun, and so is being a DANCER on one foot.  Why wait for the day your kids go to “movement class”?  The free play time in the gym could be so much more than chasing each other or fighting over the pedal cars.  Small groups doing fun movement is good for teachers too.  We all need to move.
  9. How to sit at the table used to be taught at home with mealtime manners and such.  Even the kids in the 1% ( some of whom who live in the fanciest part of my own town!) sometimes haven’t been taught to sit at the table by 3.  It is time to teach it at school.  Teaching kids that sitting on their behinds with their feet flat is the way to get their bodies steady for writing would help.  Are your chairs too large for the 3’s to do this?  Hunt the school for a chair that fits the child.  Again, the Montessori people are really good at realizing that you can’t sit a 3 year old on a chair built for a 5 year-old and get good posture.  They have well-designed furniture in their classrooms, and it isn’t for decoration.  It is for function. Go online and see if you can get some for your class.  Tell the administration that it is an investment.  It is.
  10. Use coloring activities that build strength and control.  The single most important thing you can do to make coloring a pre-writing skill with young children?  Color together!  Even the kids who ignore you when you tell them to copy your actions will watch what you do.  My favorite move is to narrate my work, even make some mistakes and say out loud what I did wrong.  I get to model frustration tolerance but I also make an emotional connection and then I do a good job and show pride in my work.  We have to be showing genuine enthusiasm for writing and coloring if we want to transmit that value.  Select coloring pictures with simple backgrounds or none at all.  Young children simply cannot see the difference between the focal design and the background.  It is like those weird paintings that you have to look at twice to see the hidden items embedded inside.  Kids just won’t color on something like that.  They just scribble across the page.  Choose themes that are meaningful.  My most popular coloring page?  Darth Vader.  Very few little boys don’t want him to look good, and by good I mean menacing. And by menacing I mean all black except for the light saber.  OK with me!

 

The Tally Sheet, Updated For End of Preschool

Fans of my simple and fun pre-writing activity Preschool Handwriting Activity: The Tally Sheet, come on back into the pool for more!  The tally sheet is a great way to keep score during a fast and fun game such as Pop-Up Pirate or Crocodile Dentist.  As this year’s group or preschoolers are approaching the stage in which they are independently writing their names in uppercase letters, thoughts turn to more challenging visual-spatial skills and grading stroke control.

IMG_1139

Enter the more advanced tally sheet!  The original had just a baseline at the top.  I kept the HWT smiley face as a cue for starting at the top left portion of the page.  Many kids  at this age will still start wherever their crayon lands, most likely directly in front of them.

Here is what your maturing preschooler will gain from moving up to this format:

  1. The additional line adds visual complexity on the page.  A child will have to remember that her name goes on the top line, not in the large space in between the two black lines.  It seems simple to figure out and remember, but not when you are 4.   Some kindergartens use Handwriting Without Tears, but some use much more visually complicated handwriting programs such as Fundations.  It’s time to build visual-spatial skills to navigate a slightly more complicated worksheet.
  2. Starting a tally line at the top and stopping on the bottom line demands more physical control of a crayon than just making a stroke down to the bottom of the page.  Better control of the crayon is needed to “put on the brakes”.  This prepares children for the stop-and-reverse formation of many lowercase letters such as “p” and “h”.

Good luck using the new tally sheet with kids who are preparing to graduate to kindergarten in the next month or two!

How Using Utensils To Eat Prepares Your Child To Write

My post on selecting great utensils has generated buzz with my clients.  When I mentioned in therapy sessions that every time a preschooler uses a fork or spoon with a mature grasp, they are building the strength and control needed for good handwriting, parent’s jaws hit the floor.  It never occurred to them that there is a connection. Time to explain.

A bit of history:  there was a time when preschoolers used utensils early during meals.  Perhaps as recently as 35 years ago, it was a land free of meats in nugget form and al dente vegetables with dipping sauces.  Forks and spoons were used for every meal, and fingers were rarely used for many breakfast and dinner foods.  “Table manners” were taught, and they included how to use utensils.

Life is now more casual and lived at a faster pace.  We eat in our cars, while talking on the phone, and our kids sometimes don’t even want to sit to eat.  They circle back to the table to have us pop a morsel into their mouth before going back to play.  Lifestyles have changed, but the need for finger dexterity and strength has not changed one bit.  If you have a 4 year-old who avoids coloring, has no interest in writing, and doesn’t want to use utensils, you have a child that can lag behind his peers in handwriting due to lack of fine motor skills.  He has missed out on years of useful fine motor practice that his teachers expect to capitalize on at 4.5  and up for handwriting instruction.  Teachers do not expect to do remediation for fine motor delays, they want to teach.  Since kids lose opportunities for fine motor development while they use tablets and push-button toys, utensil skills are a practical way to support good early fine motor skills.

The wrist control, finger isolation and grading of movement and force that goes into holding a utensil in a mature pattern (thumb on top, fingers in a gentle curved arc under the handle shaft, end of the handle visible resting on the large knuckle of the index finger) is a great way to develop those pre-writing skills.  Stabilizing the plate or bowl while eating develops into “helper hand” stabilization of paper while writing.  Scooping, piercing food with a fork, and even beginning cutting with a bread knife improve bilateral control and the ability to coordinate eye-hand control with accuracy, speed and endurance.  A lot of skill goes into feeding yourself a bowl of cereal or a plate of pasta.  Is your child still feeding herself only with her fingers?  That is a 12-month skill, my friends. Time to raise her game.

My previous post Which Spoon Is Best To Teach Grown-Up Grasp?showed you a great handle style that has kid-friendly characters and is well-designed for easier grip and independent placement.  If you have to keep helping your child put their fingers in the right spot, it isn’t independence.  Take a look at that post for fun ways to build skills without your child even catching on that they are practicing!

UPDATE:  One of my almost-4’s has been using these utensils for 2 weeks.  He has not been able to put a crayon in his hand correctly all year, no matter how much we practice, demonstrate or reward.  Yesterday we played a game with my spoon, and he handled it perfectly.  Then it was time to use the iPad stylus for a pre-writing game.  I placed the stylus on the floor and turned my back to set up the app.  I turned around and he asked “Did I get it right?”  His fingers were in a perfect tripod position, ready to go!!!!