Handwriting involves more than fine motor skills!
The ability to produce legible and age-appropriate handwriting involves more than just fine motor control. Although a dynamic grasp and refined finger movements do enhance handwriting skills, there are other fundamental components of handwriting.
- Postural Control
Think about the act of sitting and consider the following: you need core strength to sit upright and neck strength to keep your head upright. A child must first have enough core strength proximally (the trunk and neck) so they can sit upright at a table, before they are able to have enough strength distally (the shoulders, arm, wrist, and fingers) to create refined and controlled wrist movements.
Some activities to incorporate into your child’s routine to improve postural control include:
- Activities in prone (on a child’s stomach, on the floor, or on a peanut ball or swing)
- Crawling, such as through tunnels or obstacle courses; animal walks (bear crawl or crab walk)
- Gross motor equipment targeting postural control involving climbing or jumping (mini trampoline, climbing on playground equipment, hanging from a trapeze swing)
- Gross motor games: yoga, wheelbarrow walking, and pushing or pulling weighted objects (heavy work activities)
Core and trunk stability is necessary for other key factors of handwriting, such as the ability to cross midline. If trunk stability has not developed, it makes it more challenging to subtly rotate impacting the ability to cross midline. When a person wants to cross midline, they will subtly shift their weight to rotate their trunk; therefore, core stability is a precursor for effective midline crossing.
- Midline Crossing
Midline is an imaginary line that starts at the head and travels down the center of the body to the feet. The ability to cross midline is a skill necessary for reading and handwriting and is usually integrated during infancy. However, sometimes children need extra work to help them learn midline crossing. You might notice that your child has difficulty crossing midline if they play on one side of their body, do not demonstrate smooth and controlled left to right eye movements (impacting reading and completion of worksheets in a left to right manner), or they write and draw on only one side of the paper. Unestablished hand preference can result from the inability to cross midline; a child will switch hands at the body’s midline, using their right hand for the right side of the page and their left hand for the left side of the page. Crossing midline also allows a child to write with a left to right approach, attaining to the margins.
Some activities to incorporate into your child’s routine to improve midline crossing include:
- Encourage big movements for drawing (using a large painting canvas or a whiteboard). ‘Big movement’ activities encourage your child to cross midline with their arms, hands, and eyes, moving from the left side of the page to the right and vice versa.
- Have your child pick up objects on one side of their body and drop them into a container on the other side
- A great way to reinforce this is have your child side sit on their hip, propped up onto one elbow so that they cannot use that hand
- Bilateral Coordination/Integration
Bilateral coordination is the ability to coordinate two parts of the body at once for a planned activity. Using scissors is an example of an activity that requires bilateral coordination; a child must be able to stabilize the paper while he or she manipulates the scissors to cut. This skill develops from midline integration; if a child has difficulty crossing midline, they are also going to have difficulty with bilateral coordination skills.
Some activities to incorporate into your child’s routine to improve bilateral coordination skills include:
- Animal walks (bear, crab, or duck walks): these all promote reciprocal movements, using both of your arms and hands together but in opposite directions
- Jumping or foot hopping (hopping on one foot, hopscotch, skipping)
- Using stencils, encouraging a child to hold the stencil with one hand and trace with the other.
- Building with Legos, lacing cards, tearing up paper
- Hand Strength and Control
Hand strength continues to develop as a child grows older, but there are ways that you can facilitate increase in strength and control. Your child may not develop a hand preference until the age of 7. In preschool and younger, it’s important to encourage your child to use both hands in order to promote dexterity and control within both hands as well as arch development within the palms. The arches within the palm are important for grip strength and separation of the two sides of the hand. Children who do not have separation of the sides of the hands will often use their entire hands for movements instead of just their fingers, which leads to an improper pencil grasp.
Some skills that you can look for in your child to determine if they have developed good hand stability and dexterity include:
- Can your child touch each of their fingers with their thumb?
- Can they isolate their fingers (show a number 1, number 2, number 3, etc.)?
Some activities to incorporate into your child’s routine to improve hand strength and control include:
- Play Doh and Theraputty (this activity offers resistance, which helps develop strength)
- Clothespin clipping activities (this also incorporates bilateral coordination)
- Squeeze toys, such as bath toys that fill with water, and when you squeeze the water comes out
- Squirt bottles, tweezers, tongs
- Stringing beads or pasta
- Visual Perceptual Skills
There are other skills needed for handwriting that are not motor related. Visual perceptual skills are the brain’s ability to make sense of what the eyes are seeing. The following are visual perceptual skills that are helpful for a child and handwriting:
- Visual Spatial Relations: this skill allows for the organization of the body in relation to objects or spatial awareness. This includes laterality and directionality.
- Children have a hard time differentiating ‘b’ and ‘d’ or ‘p’ and ‘q’
- Children may also have a difficult time differentiating between ‘in’ and ‘out’, ‘over’ and ‘under’, or ‘left’ and ‘right’ because these are also spatial concepts.
- Sequential Memory: the ability to remember visual details in the correct sequence, such as remember the sequence of letters in order to spell a word correctly.
- Children may be struggling with sequencing the alphabet
- In older children, when they are copying sentences off the board, they may skip words or may only be able to copy one letter at a time
- Visual Discrimination: the ability to differentiate between objects and forms; the ability to discriminate differences between or the similarities between objects and pictures.
- A child may have a difficult time differentiating between ‘n’ and ‘m’, ‘b’ and ‘d’, and ‘p’ and ‘q’
- Form Constancy: the ability to see a form and find it among other forms, although it is sized differently or rotated.
- This is why some children may have trouble recognizing that ‘6’ and ‘9’ are two different numbers
- Visual Memory: the ability to recall visual information that has been seen.
- Reading comprehension can be difficult for children who have visual memory deficits.
- Children with deficits in visual memory may present with slow handwriting, difficulty forming letters, or mixing up letters and words within sentences.
- Visual Closure: the ability to fill in the missing details into an incomplete shape. This skill also requires abstract problem solving.
- A child may have difficulty working on puzzles (being able to put a picture together in your mind and to piece it together accordingly).
- A child with visual closure deficits may not know if a word is complete when writing.
- Visual Figure Ground: the ability to perceive the foreground from the background in a visual array.
- A child may have difficulty retrieving a specific color crayon from a box or finding a necessary item within a cluttered bin or drawer.
- Hidden picture worksheets work on this specific skill.
- Visual Motor Skills
Visual motor skills incorporate eye-hand coordination and the ability to use both in a coordinated manner in order to properly manipulate an object, such as a pencil. Many children that have visual motor deficits have difficulty with clothing manipulatives or tying shoes.
Some activities to incorporate into your child’s routine to improve visual motor skills include:
- Catching and tossing a ball
- Put coins into a bank slot (you can cut a hole into a plastic container)
- Use beads to create patterns on vertical pegs
- Balloon volleyball
- Letter and Number Recognition
Letter recognition is the ability to identify letter names, recognize what the letters look like and sounds like.
Some activities (click this link for more) to incorporate into your child’s routine to improve improve letter recognition skills include:
- Trace letters with beads or rocks
- Alphabet bingo
Some activities (click this link for more) to incorporate into your child’s routine to improve number recognition skills include:
- Stamping numbers into Play-Doh
- 1:1 correspondence activities, where a child sees a number and has to match an equal number of objects to that number
- Motor Memory
The ability to learn skills through practice, such as riding a bike, playing an instrument, tying shoes, or writing.
Activities that use other sensory pathways in the brain, such as smell and touch, are effective activities to help with motor memory. Some activities to incorporate into your child’s routine to improve motor memory include:
- Drawing letters using shaving cream, paint, or sand
- Writing letters and numbers with a child’s eyes occluded (this forces a child to picture what they are writing within their mind without assistance from their eyes)
- Put tangible letters into a bag and have your child reach into the bag without looking, and name the letter they are touching