Tag Archives: prewriting

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

colin-maynard-231363

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.

nikos-zacharoulis-276714

Advertisements

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!

 

Build Pre-Writing Skills With A Focus on Scribbling

The greatest criticism an older sibling can level at a young child’s drawing is to call it “scribble scrabble”.  But wait!  If you want to develop finger control for future handwriting success, then you want more scribbling and coloring!  Random strokes aren’t going to move the needle forward for a child older than 3 years of age with typical visual and motor skills.  This is the time for good tools and materials that are selected to build skills and creativity.  Before a child writes letters, coloring and scribbling with intention and focus builds hand strength, hand control, visual-perceptual skills, and more!  Here are suggestions on  how to harness the power of the scribble with young children:

  1. Pick sturdy paper.  Young children are learning to control the amount of force they use, and if the paper tears, they can become discouraged.  Cheap coloring books have thin pages and will not survive the enthusiastic strokes of younger children.  Print out pictures from the internet on your thickest paper or buy great coloring products from companies like Melissa and Doug.  Their coloring pads use wonderfully sturdy paper.  Short on cash?  Study the quality of your junk mail.  Some of my junk mail uses nice sturdy paper, so I flip it over to the other side and use it for scribbling.
  2. Some threes and fours enjoy the possibilities of a blank page, but there are young children who color more, and color longer, on a simple graphic that is meaningful to them.  Handwriting Without Tears does an especially good job with their “My Book” and their preschool workbook pages.  I also search the internet for free coloring pages that have simple drawings with strong appeal.  In therapy, I will find very simple coloring pictures that have designs that require the target strokes a child needs for writing. Develop circular strokes and small wiggle strokes with bubbles or chocolate chip cookies, and swords or kite strings drawn on a diagonal for a child that is practicing “K” or “X”.  Coloring on a simply drawn Darth Vader or Rapunzel picture is so much more fun for these children than filling in a geometric design.
  3. The shape and coloring properties of your tools matter more at this age.  Handwriting Without Tears sells their flip crayons, those tiny two-sided crayons that require a tripod grasp.  Genius. But some of my kids, even the 4 year-olds that the flip crayons are designed for, need a thicker crayon.  They have low muscle tone or another issue that affects their ability to sense what is in their hand.  They need more “square footage” to refine their grasp in this pattern.  I break the thicker crayons in two.    Crayons are waxy, and that waxy grippy-ness helps kids feel what their hands are doing.  Markers just glide, and don’t give the kids with low tone or coordination issues enough sensory information about what is happening as they color.
  4. Look beyond the crayon.  Chalk has the same grippy input as crayons, plus the sound on a chalkboard gives another sensory reinforcer to boost attention.  Don’t buy thick sidewalk chalk and expect to build pencil grasp.  It is way too wide for little fingers.  Buy thin chalk once a child doesn’t press so hard that it crumbles all the time.  One of my clients used pastels for extra grippy input and fabulous colors.  They were super short but a little thicker than flip crayons.  He graduated to Crayola’s preschool pencils and is on his way to a standard pencil.
  5. For kids whose strokes barely registered paper when they scribble, the Magna-Doodle boards with magnetic pens can reward them with a dark mark on the screen from only light touch.  Finally, a tablet stylus (my favorite is iCreate’s stylus that looks like a preschool crayon) also gives some resistance and actually builds control while trying to drag and swipe while using it.
  6. Why haven’t I mentioned pencils?  Because until a child has a decent amount of control with their strokes, I agree with HWT and don’t bring pencils into the conversation.  Pencils require a lot of control to avoid falling into a fisted grasp.  I did review Crayola’s preschool pencils last yearPreschool Pencils That Develop Hand Control (and with tips that won’t constantly break!), and I use HWT’s pencils with the older 4’s and all kindergarteners.  This year I started using the Grotto grip The Pencil Grip That Strengthens Your Child’s Fingers As They Write.with thin colored pencils for my kids that did not progress their grasp pattern with a heavy diet of play-based hand strengthening, but had all the other components of readiness to start writing.   It has worked better than I ever thought possible!
  7. Color with a child and make your comments count.  Why?  Preschoolers don’t always want to be told how to do something, but they watch everything we do and listen to everything we say.  Describe exactly how you plan to do a good job, how you match your stroke to the shape of the design that you are coloring, and how you fill in a design without going over the lines.  Be proud of your work if you want a child to value their efforts too.  Narrate what you are doing and why with lots of details, But don’t direct the child to copy you.  They might start to do that spontaneously.
  8.  Extra Bonus Round:  Use prepositions and describe shapes that kids need to know in order to follow handwriting instruction later on.  They need to find out what is right and what is left, what the top-middle-bottom of a shape means, and what triangles, rectangles,straight lines, curves and diagonals are.  HWT teaches all that in the preschool book, but if you are using these concepts with 3.5-4.5 year olds, you never know what is going to stick.  It all adds up to writing readiness.