Is your child learning handwriting in school? Are you wondering how to support this process at home? Did you pick up a pencil and promptly break it in half at the mere thought of this endeavor? Handwriting readiness is a tricky topic. Some children show an interest in learning to write as early as preschool. While this is great for some children, it is not very common and should not be expected of most children. In fact, the brain and body are not developmentally ready for handwriting until about 5-6 years of age. So, what can you do? These tips can help avoid frustration and maximize success!
Start with shapes. There’s actually a hierarchy of what is easiest to learn up to what is hardest. Have your child practice drawing a plus sign, circle, square, triangle and… very last… a diamond. Being able to copy a diamond correctly is actually an easy readiness “test” for handwriting.
People, too. Have your child draw a picture of a person or complete a drawing you make by adding “missing parts.”
Sensory drawing. Paint shapes on butcher paper at an easel or on the wall. Draw with a q-tip dipped in paint. Use a spray bottle and a kitchen sponge to draw shapes during clean up time on the kitchen table.
Coloring is key. Coloring builds up endurance and visual-motor control. If your child’s grasp is “funky,” a simple tip is to break off a tiny piece of crayon. About 1 inch long. This way, his/her fingers have no choice but to use a proper, tripod grasp.
Big to small. It is much easier to use big muscles to learn a motor pattern. Have your child practice shapes and letters by drawing on the carpet or in the dirt with his/her toe or with a stick. You can also practice on the wall in the shower with shaving cream or foam soap. Grab a party streamer and try it in the sky, making big strokes above your head!
Easy to hard. On that note… it is developmentally easier to learn “straight line” letters, such as an “L” or an “F” and it is hardest to learn diagonal lines, such as a “K.” Also, upper case letters should be learned first, as they occupy the same space and don’t “dip down” or “go high” like lower case letters.
Chalk — old school is best. Did you know that drag feedback into the small muscles in the hand reinforces correct motor patterns? Have your child use sidewalk chalk to draw and trace or use a good old fashioned chalkboard. This is actually how the “Handwriting Without Tears” program teaches letter formation. www.lwtears.com
Clay writing. Get some modeling clay. Spread it on a cookie sheet. Grab a wooden dowel or chopstick. You draw a shape or letter lightly and have your child press firmly to trace.
Guessing game. Draw a letter on your child’s back or on the palm of their hand with your pointer finger or the eraser on a pencil. Let them guess and then try to draw it on your back or hand.
Start at the top. Almost all letters should start at the top. Reinforce this basic rule during practice. You can also practice “start at the top” strokes by having your child add lots of vertical lines to a “birthday cake” that you have drawn.
These pointers should point you in the right direction. Pun intended!
Author’s profile: Lisa Helenius is a practicing occupational therapist with over 25 years of pediatric experience. She currently is a partner at Growing Up Therapy. See https://growinguptherapy.com for more information.