Handwriting Warm-ups to Writing

Handwriting practice warms up the brain for writing activities!
Handwriting practice warms up the brain for writing activities!

In March, 2013, Virginia Berninger, one of the nation’s leading researchers on handwriting development and effective handwriting instruction, wrote an informative and enlightening paper titled, “Educating Students in the Computer Age to be Multilingual by Hand.” (1)  If you are as interested in handwriting as I am, it is definitely worth reading.

 

I was impressed by what I learned there, reinforcing the foundations upon which I’ve based my handwriting practice.  My commitment to connecting handwriting with writing skills has been a well-founded undertaking, as well.  Berninger writes that the automatic formation of letters by hand “is the best unique predictor of composition length – how many words written within a constant time limit.”  She adds that research supports the practice of using handwriting instruction as a “warm-up” to any writing activity, just as athletes and musicians warm-up before games and concerts.  Both the instruction and reinforcement of handwriting skills can enhance spelling and composition activities written by hand.

In every handwriting session, my students begin their work with gross motor, vision, and sensory warm-ups.  It is important to “get the body ready” to work on the precise fine-motor handwriting skills.  In much the same way, handwriting warm-ups get the brain ready to work on the cognitive skill of writing.  Berninger states that “Handwriting instruction does not have to take up valuable time for meeting other Common Core standards.  Less is more, especially if handwriting is taught as a tool for ideas expression.”  Now, while I don’t agree with her inference that handwriting isn’t as important as other educational goals (Is it okay to disagree with a professional of her stature?), I do resoundingly agree on turning handwriting “from practice to functional!”  With that said, let’s take a look at 5 Fun Activities that can put handwriting practice in the warm-up line-up!

Before spelling, note-taking, and written expression tasks, spend 5 minutes prepping the hand and brain for writing with some of these activities.  Be sure that each activity includes a writing utensil!  You will find that they are many of the familiar instructional activities that you use in your handwriting class.*

 

For the Young Ones (K-2nd Grade)

1.  Visual Motor Mania

Purpose:  Assists the writer with efficient pencil control, letter alignment, and spacing.
Activities:

– Mazes, word finds, or hidden pictures that include pencil use.

Sandpaper provides tactile input to help with pencil pressure!
Sandpaper provides tactile input to help with pencil pressure!

 

2.  Tactile Challenges

Purpose:  Prepares the hand and fingers for appropriate pressure on the pencil and to the paper.
Activities:

– Tracing letter formations with index finger, chalk, or a q-tip on a chalk board or construction paper.
– Tracing or forming letters with a tissue paper overlay or sandpaper underneath.

 

3.  Memory Makers

Purpose:  Enhances motor memory skills for the automatic recall of letter formations.
Activities:

– Writing letters or words they hear through dictation.
– Writing dictated letters or words on the chalkboard or paper with their eyes closed.

4.  Mix and Match

Purpose:  Enhances the ability to recognize a letter in both upper and lower case.
Activities:

– Race to write the upper and lower case versions of letters that are dictated.
– Write words that use an upper case (e.g., name) and lower case (e.g., verb) version of a letter that has been dictated.

5.  Make Space for Me

Purpose:  Prepares the eyes to manage spacing and letter alignment.
Activities:

– Fit letters or words demonstrated on the board into the correct boxes drawn on a worksheet.
– Fit letters or words onto various sized lines on a worksheet.

 

For the Older Ones (3-5th grade)

1.  Motor Memory Mixers

Purpose:  Enhances automatic recall of letter formations and words.
Activities:

– Write down the letters of a word that have been dictated out of order, then rearrange them to create a word.
– Write letters that are dictated and cross out the ones that do not belong in the word (e.g., morening for morning).

2.  Visualization Without Peeking

Purpose:  Enhances motor memory for automatic recall of letter formations and words.
Activities:

– Write dictated letters or words on a paper with eyes closed.
– Write the alphabet in order with eyes closed.

3.  Close It Up

Purpose:  Enhances automatic recall of letters and copying speed.
Activities:

– Complete an incomplete letter demonstrated on the board.
– Decipher and complete words written on the board with the top half erased.

4.  Space Attack

Graph paper provides visual cues for letter spacing and alignment.
Graph paper provides visual cues for letter spacing and alignment.

Purpose:  Prepares the eyes to manage spacing.
Activities:

– Write dictated words in the appropriate boxes on a worksheet or graph paper.
– Copy short sentences into appropriate boxes provided on a worksheet or using graph paper.

5.  Line It Up

Purpose:  Prepares the eyes to manage letter alignment.
Activities:

– Write upper and lower case versions of each letter of the alphabet side-by-side independently.
– Write dictated words that begin with an upper-case letter.

 

It is true that “less is more,” or as my mantra goes:  “Quality versus Quantity.”  Just a few minutes of warm-up can help students to master both their handwriting and writing skills!

 

 

*Important Note:  These warm-ups are not intended to be a substitute for structured, guided handwriting instruction.  There simply is no substitute for that!

 

 

Katherine J. Collmer, M.Ed., OTR/LKatherine J. Collmer, M.Ed., OTR/L, is a pediatric occupational therapist who specializes in the assessment and remediation of handwriting skills. In her current book, Handwriting Development Assessment and Remediation: A Practice Model for Occupational Therapists, she shares a comprehensive guide and consistent tool for addressing handwriting development needs. She can be contacted via her website, Handwriting With Katherine.

Collmer Handwriting Development Assessment and Remediation

 

 

 

 

 

Pictures above that are the property of the author must provide a link back to this article or her website. 

 Disclaimer: The information shared on the Handwriting With Katherine website, blog, Facebook page, Twitter page, Pinterest page; on any guest blog posts or any other social media is for general informational purposes only and should not be relied upon as a substitute for sound professional medical advice or evaluation and care from your physician/medical team or any other qualified health care providers. Therefore, the authors of these links/posts take no responsibility for any liability, loss, or risk taken by individuals as a result of applying the ideas or resources.

 

5 Easy Fine Motor Warm-ups for Handwriting

Fine-motor exercises that use everything in your pencil case!
Fine-motor exercises that use everything in your pencil case!

Handwriting mastery places a heavy demand on the muscles of the arm, wrist, palm, and fingers.  A pencil may not seem a formidable object, but the ability to manipulate and manage its movements can take its toll on fine-motor muscles.  So, it is a good idea to warm-up the key handwriting muscles with the “Handwriting With Katherine 5-minute Fine-Motor Workout!”  It’s simple and FREE!*

 

 

The Handwriting With Katherine 5-Minute Fine-Motor Workout

 

Before your students pick up their pencils, have them spend one minute on one or more of these easy activities that use the simple tools that they already have in their desks!

 

  1. Textbook Turnovers:
  • Grab a textbook and place it flat on the desk in front of you. Pick it up with two hands, one on each side.
  • Turn it over 5 times by switching hands from one side to the other, first from right to left, then left to right, without placing it back on the desk.
  • Next, hold the book as though you were going to read it, but with your elbows off the desk just a little. Push it out toward the front of the desk and then pull it back toward your body 5 times each way.
  • If your arms get tired, you can rest them on the desk for a bit!

 

  1. Ruler Wigglers:
  • Grab your ruler with one hand at each end.
  • Place your elbows on the desk with the ruler reaching toward the ceiling. Wiggle the ruler back and forth 5 times in each direction.
  • Lift your elbows up and stretch your arms and hands toward the front of the desk. Wiggle the ruler back and forth 5 times here!
  • Stretch your arms up to the ceiling and wiggle again!
  • If your arms or wrists get tired, you can rest for a moment!

 

  1. Eraser Challenges:
  • Grab an eraser or any small object that will fit into the palm of your hand. Place it in your “writer hand” first, with your arm on the table and your palm facing up.
  • Move it around in your hand by using only your fingers and thumb. Try not to drop it on the desk!
  • Switch hands and practice this exercise using your “helper hand.”

 

  1. Finger Flexers:
  • Keep that eraser handy for this exercise. Place it anywhere on your desk.
  • Reach over with your “writer hand” and pick it up using only your thumb, index, and long fingers. Do this 5 times from 5 different places.
  • Do the same thing with your “helper hand.”
  • Next, place the eraser in the palm of your hand and squeeze it with your fingers 5 times. Do this with both hands.
  • Of course, if your fingers need a rest, it’s okay to do that!

 

  1. Push-up Power:
  • Put a piece of notebook paper between your palms and hold it there at chest level.
  • Gently push your hands together and release just a little bit 5 times. Don’t let the paper fall out!
  • With your palms still touching, stretch your arms toward the front of your desk and back 5 times.
  • Now, stretch your arms toward the ceiling and do the same thing!
  • Tired? You can rest for a bit, you know!

 

It only takes 5 minutes, and some laughs, to get the fine-motor muscles in gear for handwriting practice.  These are also good activities to help prepare the arms and hands for any writing project.

 

*Be sure to download my free handout, “Handwriting With Katherine’s 5-Minute Fine-Motor Workout,” for students to take home!

 

Handwriting With Katherine's 5 Easy Fine Motor Warm-ups for Handwriting!
Handwriting With Katherine’s 5 Easy Fine Motor Warm-ups for Handwriting!

 

As always, thanks for joining me here at the Handwriting is Fun! Blog!  I welcome your comments and enjoy your company!

See you next time,

Katherine

Katherine J. Collmer, M.Ed., OTR/L

Katherine J. Collmer, M.Ed., OTR/L, is a pediatric occupational therapist who specializes in the assessment and remediation of handwriting skills and understands the link between handwriting skills and writing.  She can be contacted via her website, Handwriting With Katherine.
 
 Disclaimer: The information shared on the Handwriting With Katherine website, blog, Facebook page, Twitter page, Pinterest page; on any guest blog posts or any other social media is for general informational purposes only and should not be relied upon as a substitute for sound professional medical advice or evaluation and care from your physician/medical team or any other qualified health care providers. Therefore, the authors of these links/posts take no responsibility for any liability, loss, or risk taken by individuals as a result of applying the ideas or resources.

Posture, Paper Placement, & Pencil Grip: 3 Links to Handwriting Success

Seating height is an important link to correct posture!
Seating height is an important link to correct posture!

 

 

Handwriting mastery is a complex skill. Yes, I admit that it is. But, just like any other skill, there are some basic procedures that must be learned before a beginner can hope to become a master. For handwriting success, there are 3 performance areas that simply need to be taught right from the start.

 

 

Let’s have a look at them, shall we?

 

1.  Posture

A writer’s sitting posture should be comfortable and provide a sturdy foundation for a smooth handwriting style. It’s very simple to figure out, really, if you remember the “90-90-90 Angle Rule.”

When students are seated at their desks:

  • Their feet should rest flat on the floor with a 90-degree angle at the ankles.
  • Their knees should be bent at a 90-degree angle about an inch away from the seat of the chair.
  • Their hips should be positioned at a 90-degree angle and nestled comfortably into the back of the seat.

 

These angles will allow the students to rest their elbows on the desk in a comfortable flexed position. For right-handers, it will also place their arm in a neutral position with a slightly flexed wrist for a smooth glide across the page. Left-handed writers should maintain a straight wrist position to avoid a “hooked wrist” handwriting style.

 

Important Note: This Angle Rule can only be followed if the chair is the appropriate height for the writer!   Why?

  • If the chair is too low, students may sit on their feet or hunch their shoulders to get a better look at their work.
  • If the chair is too high, their feet will dangle beneath them.   Students may sit on their feet to stabilize their bodies or slouch so that they can get closer to their work.

But, don’t fret! There are easy solutions to both of these problems.

  • For chairs that are too low, have the students sit on a book or sturdy cushion to bring the ankles, knees, and hips into the 90-degree angle.
  • For chairs that are too high, place a book under the students’ feet to provide the stabilizing 90-degree angle at the ankles.

 

 

2.  Paper Placement

Slanted paper and a 3-ring binder can facilitate a fluid handwriting style.
Slanted paper and a 3-ring binder can facilitate a fluid handwriting style.

There are two schools of thought about the appropriate placement of paper for handwriting success. The following is my preferred guidelines!

Handwriting mastery requires smooth wrist, elbow, and shoulder movements.   A slanted paper position allows the writer to use the hand, arm, and shoulder efficiently.

 

  • For all writers, the paper should be positioned at the student’s midline with the bottom angle placed about 1” from the lower edge of the desk.
  • For left-handed writers, the paper should be slanted to the right at about a 30-45-degree angle. This allows the writer to “push-rather-than-pull” his pencil across the page and to see where he is writing. This also helps him avoid smudging his work as he smoothly moves his arm across the page.
  • For right-handed writers, the paper should be slanted at about a 20-35-degree angle to the left.

 

The student’s helper hand should be placed on that side of the paper to stabilize and move it to facilitate a legible handwriting style. Each student will find his most comfortable paper slant as he begins to master his handwriting skills.

 

A tripod grasp is optimal.  But functional is more important than pretty!
A tripod grasp is optimal. But functional is more important than pretty!

 

3.  Pencil Grip

My Pencil Grip Motto is “functional is more important than pretty.” Although the tripod grasp is considered to be the optimal grasping pattern, many efficient handwriters have developed their own functional pencil grip. If a pencil grasp does not affect a student’s handwriting by making it illegible or causing him pain, then it is probably best to let sleeping dogs lie.

 

There are some simple rules that should be followed with any type of pencil grip.

  • The student’s hand should rest on the paper using the ring and little finger for support.
  • The fingers on the shaft of the pencil should provide stability using a comfortable pressure that does not cause hand or finger fatigue.
  • Smaller pencils are easier for students to learn and manage a pencil grip.

 

There are some unique rules for left- and right-handers to facilitate their handwriting success.

 

  • Left-handers should hold their pencils about 1 to 1 ½” from the point with the pencil top pointed toward the left elbow. This allows them to see what they are writing and helps to avoid smudging their work.
  • Right-handed writers can hold their pencils closer to the pencil tip if they can maintain flexible finger movements to guide their pencil strokes. If they find that their thumb, index, and long fingers become cramped, they should also use a higher position on the pencil shaft. Their pencil top should point toward their right shoulder.

 

Handwriting success depends upon a solid base of support. Posture, paper positioning, and pencil grip are three of the table legs that handwriting mastery stands on. Of course, the fourth leg is a structured, guided handwriting instruction program.

 

As always, I thank you for reading! Please be sure to comment, as I look forward to your feedback and learning from you!

 

See you soon,

 

Katherine

Katherine J. Collmer, M.Ed., OTR/LKatherine J. Collmer, M.Ed., OTR/L, is a pediatric occupational therapist who specializes in the assessment and remediation of handwriting skills and understands the link between handwriting skills and writing.  She can be contacted via her website, Handwriting With Katherine.
 
 Disclaimer: The information shared on the Handwriting With Katherine website, blog, Facebook page, Twitter page, Pinterest page; on any guest blog posts or any other social media is for general informational purposes only and should not be relied upon as a substitute for sound professional medical advice or evaluation and care from your physician/medical team or any other qualified health care providers. Therefore, the authors of these links/posts take no responsibility for any liability, loss, or risk taken by individuals as a result of applying the ideas or resources.