National Handwriting Week! How Does Vision Fit In?

IMG_5430National Handwriting Day is celebrated each year on January 23, John Hancock’s birthday (according to the Gregorian calendar), an American Revolutionary leader and first signer of the U.S. Declaration of Independence.  The Writing Instrument Manufacturers Association started this holiday in 1977 to acknowledge the history and influence of penmanship.  And we carry on this tradition today to increase awareness of the literacy benefits of mastering handwriting skills.

 

One of the most overlooked skills in the assessment of handwriting problems is the visual component.  Vision (which is comprised of 17 skills, only one of which is eyesight) can hinder a child’s educational progress by robbing him or her of the opportunity to form accurate perceptions of himself, the environment around him, and letter and numbers.  These misperceptions can lead to reading and writing challenges as well as problems with sports and activities of daily living.

With vision in mind, I am re-sharing this post that explains the vital need for having a child’s vision assessed and the important role vision has in learning.  And that includes handwriting.

 

Anatomy of the Eye Hot Air BalooningIn”sight” Into Handwriting Struggles

 

 

 

 

 

 

Katherine J. Collmer, M.Ed., OTR/L, owner, Handwriting With Katherine
Katherine J. Collmer, M.Ed., OTR/L, owner, Handwriting With Katherine
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; in the Universal Publishing Handwriting Teachers’ Guides; 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 author 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.

A Vision and Eye-Care Professional Primer for Occupational Therapists

A Vision and Eye-Care Professional Primer for Occupational Therapists

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

 

Vision Facts to Guide Assessment and Treatment:

childs eyes - aroni- by Bessi pixabay

The visual sense is the primary way in which we understand what we see.  It is “our most far-reaching sense” and the one through which we obtain 75-85 percent of what we learn about ourselves and the world around us.  (1, p. 3)   Vision as a term is most often confused with that of eyesight.  However, the terms are not interchangeable.

 

Eyesight consists of our level of visual acuity and our ability to recognize contrasts.  It is a measure of our distance vision and does not effectively determine the efficiency of our near vision skills.  It is also an indicator of eye health.

 

Vision is comprised of 17 skills, one of which is eyesight.  (2)  The measure of 20/20 eyesight and a healthy medical condition of the eyes does not entail the complexity of the visual system.  “In addition to clear vision, an individual must have the ability to use his or her eyes for extended periods of time without discomfort, be able to analyze and interpret the incoming information, and be able to respond to what is being seen.”   (1, p. 6)

 

Visual Brain Journey thru the cortex
The Visual Brain

Vision does not occur in the eyes but in the brain.  The eyes are actually a part of the brain and act as the sensory receptors that collect light and transmit it to the visual brain (3) to “form a model of our world, to identify objects and events, to attach meaning and significance to them, and to establish their causal relations” for the ultimate production of adaptive behavior.   The visual brain is influenced by the brain’s visual pathways and includes the vision that is used for action and that which is utilized for perception. (4)  Neurons devoted to visual processing in the brain account for about 30 percent of the cortex with millions of optic nerve fibers carrying information from the retina to these areas.  In contrast, touch and hearing are represented by 8 and 3 percent of the brain’s cortex, respectively, with each auditory nerve carrying 30,000 signals.  (5)

 

Models of vision have been developed that emphasize vision as a learned process and one that organizes and manipulates space.   It is the sensory system through which we understand the information collected through our other senses.  It a movement pattern and is developed through the use of our motor skills, much like walking and talking.   Vision provides the brain with accurate translation of the information collected through our eyesight.  (1, p. 6)   Therefore, vision plays a key role in learning and can influence the quality of learning through visual efficiency and visual information processing.  Visual efficiency comprises the process of visual acuity and refractive error, accommodation, vergence, and ocular motility.  Visual information Processing involves the higher level brain functions that include the non-motor aspects of visual perception and cognition, and their integration with motor, auditory, language, and attention systems. Deficits in either of these aspects of vision can result in some form of learning problem.  Proper diagnosis of learning related vision problems therefore requires comprehensive evaluation of visual efficiency and visual information processing skills.  (6)

 

vision assessment schedule by hooptometristUndetected vision problems can affect a child’s ability to learn in school by interfering with his ability to see clearly, interpret what he sees, and use his eyes to guide movement.   Although vision screenings are performed by pediatricians and school nurses, their tests are designed to assess for visual acuity and do not reflect how well the eyes focus up close, track, or work together.  Occupational therapists are in a key position to detect the common signs and symptoms that indicate a potential vision problem in these areas and that may be the cause of a reading, learning, or motor performance need.  An efficient OT evaluation will include a vision screening that checks visual acuity, eye teaming, eye movement control, and visual motor integration.  Therefore, it is important to understand and recognize the five most common symptoms that can identify a person is in need of a vision assessment by a developmental optometrist.

 

  • Frequent loss of place when reading
  • Slopping handwriting
  • Eye fatigue or headaches after reading
  • Avoidance of close work
  • Attention problems (7)

 

In addition, it is important for occupational therapists to inform parents and teachers about the importance of early detection of vision-related problems by sharing visual behavior checklists (8) and resources about vision assessments (9) and vision therapy (2).   Equally as important as recognizing early symptoms and sharing information about visual problems, occupational therapists should have a solid understanding about the areas of expertise for those professionals who specialize in eye care.

 

Eye-Care Professionals Guide

Maintaining eye and vision health relies upon regularly scheduled assessments that can alert us and our doctors to the presence of eye diseases and vision disorders.  The early detection of these conditions depends upon the selection of the appropriate eye-care professional to address these specialized areas.  There are four areas of expertise and levels of training that define the providers that address eye and vision health.  (The following was adapted from References 10, 11, and 12.)

 

  • Ophthalmologists (MD) are medical or osteopathic doctors who have completed college and at least eight years of additional medical training. They are licensed to practice medicine and surgery and specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of eye disease.  Ophthalmologists diagnose and treat all eye diseases, perform eye surgery, and prescribe and fit eyeglasses and contact lenses to correct vision problems.  In general, they use medical and surgical methods to treat eyes diseases and vision disorders.
  • Optometrists (OD) are Doctors of Optometry and the primary health care professionals for the eye. Optometrists complete a pre-professional undergraduate education at a college or university followed by four years of professional education at a college of optometry.  Following graduation, optometrists have the option to complete a one-year residency for additional training in a specific area of practice.  They are licensed to examine, treat, and manage diseases, injuries, and disorders of the visual system, the eye, and associated structures.  They are trained to perform eye exams, prescribe and dispense corrective lenses, detect certain eye abnormalities, and prescribe mediation for certain eye diseases.
  • Developmental Optometrists (FCOVD) provide vision care based on the principle that vision can be developed and changed. They are health care professionals who obtain board certification from the College of Optometrists in Vision Development (COVD) to provide specialized services in behavioral and developmental vision care, vision therapy, and vision rehabilitations.  Developmental Optometrists specialize in the treatment of functional vision problems, including difficulties with binocular vision, eye movements, and depth perception, as well as visual deficits following brain injuries and are skilled in the use of lenses, prisms, and optometric vision therapy.   They perform functional vision tests to determine underlying vision deficits.
  • Opticians are technicians trained to design, verify, and fit eyeglass lenses and frames, contact lenses, and other eyesight correction devices. They provide services through prescriptions supplied by ophthalmologists or optometrists.

 

A downloadable version of this resource is available at the Handwriting is Fun! Resource Page.

 

 

Katherine J. Collmer, M.Ed., OTR/L, owner, Handwriting With Katherine
Katherine J. Collmer, M.Ed., OTR/L, owner, Handwriting With Katherine
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.  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

 

 

 

 

 Disclaimer: The information shared on the Handwriting With Katherine website, blog, Facebook page, Twitter page, Pinterest page; in the Universal Publishing Handwriting Teachers’ Guides; 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 author 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.
Photos are the property of the photographers at Pixabay or authors on specific online sites.  Their use should include the link provided with the pictures.
References:
  1. Scheiman, Mitchell. Understanding and Managing Vision Deficits a Guide for Occupational Therapists. 3rd ed. Thorofare, NJ: Slack, 2011. Print.
  2. “Vital Visual Skills -.” COVD.org. College of Optometrists in Vision Development (COVD), n.d. Web. 26 Oct. 2015. <http://www.covd.org/?page=Visual_Skills>.
  3. Hubel, David H. “Eye, Brain, and Vision.” Eye, Brain, and Vision. David Hubel, n.d. Web. 24 June 2015. <http://hubel.med.harvard.edu/book/b8.htm>. Text Publication: Henry Holt and Company, May 15, 1995
  4. Milner, A.. David, and Melvyn A. Goodall. “The Visual Brain in Action.” Assc.org. The Association for the Scientific Study of Consciousness, n.d. Web. 26 Oct. 2015. <http://www.theassc.org/files/assc/2367.pdf>.
  5. Grady, Denise. “The Vision Thing: Mainly in the Brain.” Discover Magazine. Discover Magazine, 01 June 1993. Web. 26 Oct. 2015. <http://discovermagazine.com/1993/jun/thevisionthingma227>.
  6. Garcia, Ralph P., O.D., Steven B. Nicholson, O.D., Leonard J. Press, O.D., Mitchell M. Scheiman, O.D., and Harold A. Solan, O.D. “Optometric Management of Learning-Related Vision Problems, 2nd Edition.” Clin Exp Optometry Clinical and Experimental Optometry 89.6 (2006): 403-04. Aha.org. American Optometric Association, 2008. Web. 26 Oct. 2015. <http://www.aoa.org/documents/optometrists/CPG-20.pdf>.
  7. Hong, Carole L., OD, FCOVD. “Vision Screenings & When to Refer for a Developmental Vision Evaluation: What Every OTR Should Know.” PediaStaff. PediaStaff, Inc., 26 May 2011. Web. 26 Oct. 2015. <http://www.pediastaff.com/blog/qa-ask-the-expert-vision-screenings-when-to-refer-for-a-developmental-vision-evaluation-what-every-otr-should-know-3592>.
  8. Collmer, Katherine J., M. Ed., OTR/L. “Resources for Handwriting/Writing Development.” Handwriting With Katherine. Katherine J. Collmer, M.Ed., OTR/L, n.d. Web. 26 Oct. 2015. <http://www.handwritingwithkatherine.com/resources.html>.
  9. “InfantSEE: A Public Health Program for Infants | Helping Infants to Establish a Lifetime of Healthy Vision.” InfantSEE. Optometry Cares – The American Optometric Association, n.d. Web. 26 Oct. 2015. <http://www.infantsee.org/>. InfantSEE®, a public health program, managed by Optometry Cares® – the AOA Foundation, is designed to ensure that eye and vision care becomes an essential part of infant wellness care to improve a child’s quality of life.
  10. Mischio, Greg. “What’s the Difference between Optometrist vs. Ophthalmologist?” Vision Therapy Center. Vision Therapy Center, 14 Nov. 2011. Web. 26 Oct. 2015. <http://www.thevisiontherapycenter.com/discovering-vision-therapy/bid/75509/What-s-the-difference-between-optometrist-vs-ophthalmologist>.
  11. “Difference between an Ophthalmologist, Optometrist and Optician.” Difference between an Ophthalmologist, Optometrist and Optician — AAPOS. American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus, n.d. Web. 26 Oct. 2015. <http://www.aapos.org/terms/conditions/132>.
  12. “About COVD.” COVD. College of Optometrists in Vision Development (COVD), n.d. Web. 26 Oct. 2015. <http://www.covd.org/?page=About_Us>.

 

 

 

 

OT and Handwriting Programs: What is our role?

 

For the month of September, the Handwriting is Fun! Blog will be sharing insights about the role of Occupational Therapy in the classroom.  In recent years, the role of OT, in general, has been changing with the waves of healthcare and education reforms.  Despite a certain amount of turmoil and confusion where those changes may have thrown us a curve ball, most often they have provided us with an opportunity to make a difference in an area in which we’ve longed to see an improvement.  For me, that has been handwriting mastery.  For others, it has been the role of OT in the educational system as a whole.  This first article in our “OT in the Classroom” series addresses the first of these interests – the role of OT in handwriting mastery –  and brings up points that I hope will generate discussion and help us all to learn and grow within our profession.

 

Handwriting PracticeOT and Handwriting Programs: What is our role?

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

 

 

 

 

I have been asked often to reveal my “favorite choice” for a handwriting program. The question inevitably arises, “Which handwriting program do you use for instruction in your specialized OT practice?” And the answer is always the same, “I have none.” I’ve actually never considered the selection of one program over another, nor have I recommended one as my “preferred,” feeling that in my practice it is not my role to do that.  My business goals are to assess and remediate children’s handwriting development skills.  My first priority is to identify and target the underlying problems that are revealed in the student’s handwriting struggles.  My next step is to evaluate the capability of the classroom’s handwriting program to facilitate the student’s success with remediation.  If I feel it cannot, then I will speak with the teacher and parents about addressing the student’s needs with a different program.  For the older students, this is commonly not an issue, as they are not receiving handwriting instruction in class.  In both of these cases, I will address the student’s individual needs with a handwriting program that blends with his learning styles and remediation goals.  Handwriting “instruction,” per se, is not the mission of my particular business.

 

Of course, Occupational Therapy has certainly made a presence in the handwriting program environment. And rightly so, as we understand the underlying developmental skills that build handwriting mastery and our interventions in both instruction and remediation have been effective in advancing students in their handwriting mastery.  (1)  Occupational Therapists have designed effective handwriting programs based upon developmental principles, worked with a handwriting program publisher,* and most certainly have used handwriting programs in their therapy sessions.  But, what IS our role with handwriting programs?  Where does the value of our expertise and the validity of our responsibility fit into the provision of handwriting instruction?  These questions are legitimate and warrant a discussion in search for answers.

 

1.  What are handwriting programs designed to do?

 

First, let’s make the distinction between the two types of handwriting programs, the curriculum program and the published handwriting program, and the facets that define each as beneficial.

 

curriculum-wokandapix-pixabay-614155_1280

A curriculum handwriting program is one that is designed to provide

  • structured, consistent, and guided instruction in the development of letter formations, letter alignment, and spacing, both during copying and independent writing tasks;
  • instruction that provides handwriters with the tools to edit and correct their own work;

and

  • handwriting tasks across the subject areas                                                      that will promote the functional use of that skill.

 

A published handwriting program is designed to provide:

  • teachers with a structured program that will assist them in providing their students with consistent and guided instruction in the development of letter formations, letter alignment, and spacing, both during copying and independent writing tasks;

cursive-blackboard-kyasarin-pixabay-209152_1280

  • tools that assist the teachers in their instruction, as well as the students in their learning; and
  • a network of professionals who can guide teachers in their use of the handwriting program.

 

Published handwriting programs are a facet of a curriculum’s handwriting program. It is ultimately the role of the school to assess different published programs and select the one that fits their students’ and teachers’ needs.

 

What makes a good handwriting program?

There are a few basic characteristics that are included in the development of an effective curriculum and published handwriting program. Each must be:

 

  • Structured: The instruction is delivered in a format or plan that allows a developmental progression of skill development.
  • Consistent: The instruction is provided in a format that allows students to practice the skills sufficiently to enhance learning.
  • Guided: The instruction provides tools to assist teachers in their instruction and offers students one-to-one assistance and additional learning strategies during classroom instruction.

 

These tenets are integral to the development and mastery of handwriting skills. The development of a published handwriting program is a task as complex as the mastery of the skill itself and, therefore, research and experience play a vital role in the development of a good handwriting program. Occupational therapists, educators, and literacy experts have spent a great deal of time, energy, and finances toward building effective and valuable handwriting programs that address the diverse needs of our young learners.   Some published programs offer online teacher assistance, free downloads for creating worksheets, in-class technology to enhance visual and kinesthetic learning, or inexpensive teaching materials to help with school budgets. Some schools have included handwriting instruction as an integral part of their elementary school curriculum, while others are streamlining their instruction to meet overall educational requirements.  But, when it’s all said and done, an effective handwriting program – both a curriculum or a published program – is one that is “structured, consistent, and guided.”

 

2.  What makes a good fit for an OT-Handwriting Program Relationship?

As a school-based, private practice, or clinic-based occupational therapist, we do not assess or select the handwriting programs that our clients will be mastering in their classrooms…unless, of course, we are on the curriculum selection committee, where we would indeed be an asset.  However, although studies indicate that “having preschool classroom teachers implement an occupational therapy-based curriculum to teach handwriting readiness skills reflects a more inclusive service model that benefits all students,” (1) at present the selection of a handwriting program most often remains in the hands of the school system.  Therefore, at the elementary school level, it isn’t our role to select another program to use in our therapy sessions that we might feel provides a better instructional format.  This gets confusing and does not provide the “structured, consistent, and guided” instruction that builds mastery.  Our role as OT’s is to assess and remediate handwriting development skills….which are the same skills he will need for handwriting mastery no matter which program is being taught in the classroom.  Our expertise guides us in the creation of instructional adaptations that can enhance a student’s learning, as well as cognitive, sensory, and physical suggestions to promote success in the classroom and at home.  This also allows us to consider the student’s individual needs to determine if he would benefit from a different program and if the discussion of a program change is warranted.   In the end, our role as OT’s continues to be the assessment and remediation of handwriting development skills….no matter which program the student is working with in the classroom.

We have a much broader role when we are working with older students (fifth grade and beyond), however, one that allows room for us to introduce a new handwriting program.  Their struggles may result from the lack of a structured, consistent, and guided program in elementary school; or they may have needed the assistance of an OT at that level but had not been provided with those services.  At this point, there would be many choices for us to consider that would meet their needs.

So, I pose the question that, instead of looking for a “good fit for an OT-Handwriting Program Relationship,” wouldn’t the more appropriate question here be

 

3.  What makes a good fit for an OT-Handwriting Relationship?

April is OT Month!
OT’s build independence by providing information! We are “information stations!”

 

Building an OT-Handwriting Relationship in the classroom begins with prevention.

One of our primary services has always been to inform our clients about choices and information relative to their needs.  For instance, in the adult community, we are a valuable link between those who are experiencing the results of a traumatic brain injury and the durable equipment options to increase independence in activities of daily living.  In the older community, we can share vital home safety tips about inexpensive modifications that can help clients and their caregivers extend a person’s ability to age in place.  We provide ergonomic and backpack safety information to office workers and students, as well as pain management techniques and tools for those suffering from osteoarthritis.  Moms welcome our early intervention skills as we share information about sensory needs and developmental milestone stages.  We ARE the “information station!”

This integral part of our practice also weaves its thread through our relationship with handwriting development skills.  Prevention is our first step in helping students with their handwriting needs and for building a recognized and valued OT-handwriting relationship.  We are the frontline source for fine- and visual-motor information for teachers and parents and the best member of the community to guide them toward building healthy habits for handwriting success.   In light of our position as “information stations,” we must take time to

 

  • share information with teachers and parents about pre-handwriting skill development and the appropriate ages for working on grasping patterns and for introducing a pencil;
  • help teachers and parents understand the positive benefits of movement and play in the development of body awareness, physical strength, and sensory skills;
  • become involved in the assessment and acquisition of a developmentally sound handwriting program; and

And we need to do these things BEFORE children are referred to us for occupational therapy to address their handwriting development needs. Prevention first!

information station logo property of handwriting with katherine

 

 

 

Building an OT-Handwriting Relationship in the classroom thrives through student success. 

The benefits of any practice are validated only by their visible successes.  Handwriting development skills are most often “invisible,” with the only evidence of their need for service being a poor handwriting style.  Hence, a functional penmanship style becomes the visible success.  In some instances, the teacher and parent won’t ever become aware of the myriad of underlying skills that we have addressed in our therapy sessions to bring about that result. Most often, however, our work with a student’s handwriting development skills will enhance his successes in other subject areas, validating even further the benefits of addressing handwriting needs.  There are times, of course, when an evaluation of the student’s skills will reveal that his struggles would benefit simply from the provision of a more structured and guided method of instruction, rendering the need for direct services as unnecessary.  The “ounce of prevention” tips offered above can help prevent those students from being referred for services as we assist teachers in assessing their needs and adapting their teaching style to meet them.  But, when a student does arrive at our doorstep with underlying handwriting development needs, it is important for us to have the skills to assess and remediate those needs…no matter which program the student is using in the classroom.  And no matter whether or not he is receiving any handwriting instruction at all.  It is our responsibility to seek continuing education instruction and practice guidance that will add these skills to our tool boxes. Handwriting assessment and remediation is an OT-related service.  And our students’ successes will pave the way for enhanced recognition of the role we play in handwriting mastery.

 

Handwriting programs are important, for sure.  But as OT’s in general, our primary concern is, and always should be, the development of the underlying skills that form the foundation for handwriting success.

 

Please join us next week for an article by a guest blogger that will showcase the significant impact that a school-based OT can have in handwriting success!

 

 

(1)Lust, C. A., and D. K. Donica. “Effectiveness of a Handwriting Readiness Program in Head Start: A Two-Group Controlled Trial.” American Journal of Occupational Therapy 65.5 (2011): 560-68. Web. 18 Aug. 2015.

 

* I was honored when Universal Publishing valued occupational therapy and my work by including “Katherine’s OT Tips” in the Teachers’ Editions of their latest edition of their Universal Handwriting Program.  It was a positive way to build a relationship between occupational therapy and a handwriting program publisher.

 

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 author of the book, “Handwriting Development Assessment and Remediation:  A Practice Model for Occupational Therapists.”  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; in the Universal Publishing Handwriting Teachers’ Guides; 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 author 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 Nifty Handwriting Helpers Revisited

5 Nifty Handwriting Helpers Revisited

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

On June 16, 2015, I posted the original version of this blog, titled “Five Nifty Handwriting Helpers.”  (Don’t click yet, but you can find it here.)  Today, I am reposting it in a different format in an attempt to gather information about your reading preferences and learning styles.  The “Handwriting is Fun! Blog” runs for one purpose:  to share information.  If the information we share, however, does not meet your learning and reading needs, then we haven’t achieved our goal to provide our readers with pertinent and helpful information about handwriting development skills.

So, in the interest of bettering our blog and achieving our highest goals, I am asking you to read the first version (not yet!) and then to read this revised format.  After you have done that, I would be honored and thankful if you would share two pieces of information with me in the comment section of THIS BLOG VERSION:

  1. Which version did you prefer?
  2. Why did that version appeal to you?

Thank you in advance for participating in this informal research study!  I look forward to your feedback!  NOW YOU CAN CLICK ON THE FIRST VERSION!  (Don’t forget to return here to read the revised version!)

 

Five Nifty Handwriting Helpers

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

This month, I am sharing a “Summer Handwriting Fun” series chock-full of articles written by myself and other therapy bloggers who have so graciously offered to share their work on my site.  This is the third in our series.  I hope you will find it useful and return to read some more next week!

 

What do we need before we get “good” at handwriting?

Alphabet Written on NotepadHandwriting mastery is actually based upon 5 basic handwriting helper skills.  They are:

  1. Body Awareness;
  2. Finger, Hand, and Wrist Strength;
  3. Vision and Sensory Skills;
  4. Posture; and
  5. Practice.

 

 

Although these five helpers are very important skills in handwriting development, they are not too be taken too seriously.  They can be developed during most play experiences all along a child’s developmental stages.  Today, we are going to take a look at the ways that we can engage our elementary school-aged “handwriters” in some “Summer Fun” that works on these skills!

 

The Five Nifty Handwriting Helpers!

  1. Body Awareness

This helper is

  • our “internal map” that lets us know where all of our body parts are – without our having to look at them to find out!
  • how we understand directional concepts, like up and down, left and right.
  • what gives us a perspective about navigating our environment.
  • the foundation that provides a child with the basic skills for learning letter formations, spacing, and fitting words and sentences on a line and a page.

 

Body Awareness can be developed through activities such as:

Yoga helps us with our body awareness!
Yoga helps us with our body awareness!

 

+  balance and coordination,

+  concentration, and

+  visual attention skills.

 

 

 

+  make left and right turns,

+  look up,

+  check on top or behind, and

+  look under.

 

Watch a cool movement video from The PE Update Blog!
Watch a cool movement video from The PE Update Blog!

  • Relay races, tug-of-war, musical chairs, or simply rolling down a hill provides children with opportunities to

+  use the left and right sides of their bodies,

+  manage their weight against gravity, and

+  determine the distance between themselves and other people or objects.

Skateboarding and roller skating will definitely do the trick!

 

 

 2.  Finger, Hand, and Wrist Strength

This helper provides the foundation for

  • efficient pencil control skills, and
  • the ability to write for sustained periods of time with legibility and speed.

 

Fine-motor strengthening can be developed through activities such as:

 

  • Spending time on the playground.   Playground equipment offers children opportunities to use their fingers, hands, and wrists to

 

Playgrounds build both gross- and fine-motor skills!
Playgrounds build both gross- and fine-motor skills!

+  push,

+  pull,

+  grab ahold, and

+  hold on.

And, as an added bonus, playgrounds also help to build gross motor strength for posture!

 

 

 

+  use their two hands together for precision work;

+  manipulate different tools and textures; and

+  use their fingers, hands, and wrists for sustained periods of fine motor activity;

Art also allows older children to enhance their fine-motor strength as they develop their creativity and visual perceptual skills.

 

 

  • Gardening projects such as potted or plotted gardens for herbs, vegetables, or flowers, allow children to use their hands to

 

+  dig in the soil,vegetables-condesign-pixabay

+  plant seeds, and

+  pull weeds,

while they experience a sense of joy and accomplishment and build self-esteem.

Sewing, woodworking, and building model airplanes also work well for that!

 

 

3.  Vision and Sensory Skills

These helpers are those that allow children

 

They also provide children with an understanding of their environment through their senses of

  • sight,
  • hearing,
  • touch,
  • taste, and
  • smell.

 

Vision and Sensory Skills can be developed through activities such as:

  • board game dantetg pixabayBoard Games.  They offer opportunities for children of all ages to

+  maintain eye contact,

+  focus with near vision, and

+  use eye movements to follow the game.

If you add a bit of mystery, let’s say by hiding the pieces of a word game in a plastic bin filled with sand, then you are working on the sense of touch at the same time!

 

 

  • Music and dancing activities that ask children to learn new motor planning sequences, or practice previously learned routines, provide sight, hearing, and tactile experiences through dance-alexas fotos pixabay

+  movement and

+  imitation.

 

 

 

 

  • magic-cube-domenicblair pixabayPuzzles, both of the magic cube and interlocking type, provide visual skill enhancement as they demand

        +  visual attention,

        +  efficient scanning techniques, and

        +  visual perceptual skills to complete them.

 

 

4.  Posture

This helper allows children to learn using efficient

 

Postural skills can be developed through activities such as:

  • Walking, climbing, hiking, and biking, as well as exercises such wheelbarrow walks and races.  These activities enhance a child’shiking family-pezibear pixabay

+  Core Body Muscles

+  balance, and

+  coordination.

 

 

 

  • Sports enhance both vision and postural muscles!
    Sports enhance both vision and postural muscles!

    Sports that include visual attention skills, such as ball challenges for the younger children, or bike riding or skateboarding through an obstacle course for the older ones, provide opportunities for

 

        +  building core body muscles and

         +  vision skills.

 

Vision and Posture are developmental partners:  Vision skills enhance the development of the core body muscles – and the core body muscles enhance the development of vision skills.

 

 

+  understand what “posture” is,

+  develop good postural habits, and

+  appreciate the importance of having good posture.

 

 

5. Practice

This helper allows children to

  • master their handwriting skills and
  • understand and appreciate their functional use.

 

Functional Practice of handwriting skills can be accomplished through activities such as:

 

 

 

 

 

To-Do-List_PrintableMaking lists for groceries, to-do’s, and people to invite to their birthday party.

 

 

 

 

trip maps

Recording their creative thoughts or journey experiences using writing prompts or travel journals.

 

 

 

 

 

I hope I’ve shared some different and exciting ideas for including the 5 Nifty Handwriting Helpers in your child’s Summer Fun!

As always, thanks for reading!  And I look forward to your comments and feedback.

 

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; in the Universal Publishing Handwriting Teachers’ Guides; 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 author 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.
 

Five Nifty Handwriting Helpers

Five Nifty Handwriting Helpers

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

This month, I am sharing a “Summer Handwriting Fun” series chock-full of articles written by myself and other therapy bloggers who have so graciously offered to share their work on my site.  This is the next in our series.  I hope you will find it useful and return to read some more next week!

 

What do we need before we get “good” at handwriting?

Alphabet Written on NotepadHandwriting mastery is actually based upon 5 basic handwriting helper skills.  They are:

 

  1. Body Awareness;
  2. Finger, Hand, and Wrist Strength;
  3. Vision and Sensory Skills;
  4. Posture; and
  5. Practice.

 

Although these five helpers are very important skills in handwriting development, they are not too be taken too seriously.  They can be developed during most play experiences all along a child’s developmental stages.  Today, we are going to take a look at the ways that we can engage our elementary school-aged “handwriters” in some “Summer Fun” that works on these skills!

 

The Five Nifty Handwriting Helpers!

  1. Body Awareness

    What is body awareness?  It’s simply our “internal map” that lets us know where all of our body parts are – without our having to look at them to find out!  It helps us to understand directional concepts, like up and down, left and right, and gives us a perspective about navigating our environment.  All of this provides a child with the basic skills for learning letter formations, spacing, and fitting words and sentences on a line and a page.

 

What are some fun body awareness activities?

Yoga has been shown to develop balance and coordination, concentration, and visual attention in children, as well as adults.

Yoga helps us with our body awareness!
Yoga helps us with our body awareness!

A fun yoga session can be as simple as including two or three “special for kids” poses outside on the lawn, just before bed, or during a quiet time in the afternoon.

 

 

 

 

Treasure and Scavenger Hunts are excellent “follow directions” activities that encourage children to use their internal maps to locate and discover the hidden objects.  Be sure to provide written directions that ask them to

  • make left and right turns,
  • look up,
  • check on top or behind, and
  • look under.

 

Anything that produces movement enhances body awareness!

Watch a cool movement video from The PE Update Blog!
Watch a cool movement video from The PE Update Blog!

Relay races, tug-of-war, musical chairs, or simply rolling down a hill provide children with opportunities to use the left and right sides of their bodies, manage their weight against gravity, and determine the distance between themselves and other people or objects.  Skateboarding and roller skating will definitely do the trick!

 

 

 

 

 

2.  Finger, Hand, and Wrist Strength

Why do we need this?  These three guys are vital components in efficient handwriting.  They provide children with pencil control and the ability to write for sustained periods of time with legibility and speed.

What are some fun fine-motor strengthening activities?

Art can enhance writing!
Art can enhance writing!

Art is simply the best way to introduce fine motor strengthening activities to children!    There are so many fun ways to develop these skills with sensory and creative components using simple paints, play dough, and putty.   Therapy Street for Kids offers a selection recipes for these supplies that I think you will find interesting, easy to make, and easy on the budget.

There’s even one for Pretzel Dough where you get the eat the final product!

 

 

Playgrounds build both gross- and fine-motor skills!
Playgrounds build both gross- and fine-motor skills!

The playground is an excellent place to build strength in the fingers, hands, and wrists.  Pushing, pulling, grabbing, and holding on are all fine-motor workouts.  And, as an added bonus, playgrounds also help to build gross motor strength for posture!

 

 

 

Gardening with children encourages lots and lots of fine-motor skill development.  Whether you choose potted or plotted gardens, herbs or

vegetables-condesign-pixabayvegetables, children can dig in and get their hands dirty as they work the soil, plant the seeds, and pull weeds!  The activity itself brings a sense of joy and accomplishment that builds self-esteem, too!  Sewing, woodworking, and building model airplanes also work well for that!

 

 

3.  Vision and Sensory Skills

 

Why do we need to worry about vision and sensory skills?

Efficient visual skills are essential toward the mastery of handwriting.  Seeing clearly, focusing effectively at near and far distances, and being able to remember what we see are necessary tools for learning and remembering letter formations. Since 75-90% of what a child learns in a classroom occurs though his vision, it is very important for us to care about his vision skills.    Sensory processing skills are those that allow us to experience and understand our environment through what we see, hear, touch, taste, and smell, as well as from how our bodies move.  Efficient sensory processing gives children the information they need to feel safe, learn without distraction, and remember what they’ve learned.

 

What are some fun vision and sensory processing activities?

board game dantetg pixabayJust about any Board Game will hit upon the visual skills.  They demand eye contact, focusing with near vision, and eye movement to follow the game.  If you add a bit of mystery, let’s say by hiding the pieces of a word game in a plastic bin filled with sand, then you are working on the sense of touch at the same time!

 

 

Music and dancing can work for just about any of these five nifty skills.  dance-alexas fotos pixabay

But the movement and imitation involved in learning a new dance enhances the senses of sight, hearing, and movement.

 

 

magic-cube-domenicblair pixabay

 

Puzzles, both of the magic cube and interlocking type, provide plenty of visual skill enhancement as they demand visual attention, efficient scanning techniques, and visual perceptual skills to complete them.

 

 

 

4.  Posture

Why should we care about posture?

Posture and head positioning play a big role in efficient handwriting.  We’ve all heard the commands “make sure your feet are flat on the floor” and “sit up straight.”  Appropriate table and chair heights are crucial to providing a child with the support he needs to maintain his head up, shoulders back and back straight.  But, if a child is experiencing difficulty keeping a good postural alignment despite having the correct measures in place, then chances are he has weak postural muscles.  But it can be so difficult at times to help children understand the importance of building those muscles and protecting their backs.  The Kids Health Network shares a “posture perfect poster” that helps us to explain this in a “kid-friendly” way.

 

What are some fun posture enhancing activities?

 

Attention paid to the Core Body Muscles is attention well spent!  Exercises, presented in activities such as wheelbarrow walks and races, are fun ways to encourage the strengthening of the postural muscles.  hiking family-pezibear pixabayClimbing, hiking, biking, and even just plain walking enhance balance and coordination while working on the legs, back, trunk, shoulders, and neck muscles.

 

 

 

 

Sports enhance both vision and postural muscles!
Sports enhance both vision and postural muscles!

What you see is what you get when it come to posture.  Vision skills enhance the development of the core body muscles – and the core body muscles enhance the development of vision skills!  So, it is important to incorporate visual attention within the gross motor activities that you choose to enhance postural skills.  Vision-enhanced gross motor activities range from playing fun ball challenges with the younger children to maneuvering a bicycle or scoreboard through an obstacle course with your older guys and gals.

 

5. Practice

Why do we need to practice even in the summer?

In order to learn a skill – any skill, we need to practice it in a functional manner.  If a child is interested in volleyball, then he must eventually get out onto the beach and kick up some sand by the net.  If he’s interested in skiing, he can watch all of the instructional videos, build his core muscle strength, and buy the best equipment.  But, in the end, he will only master the sport by slipping and sliding down the slope.  The same goes for mastering the handwriting skill.  Build the skills and then use them!


 

What are some fun handwriting practice activities?

 

Nothing beats writing a letter to a friend or family member.  Nothing.  elephant mosaic ben kerckx pixabayjpg

Have the children design their own cards with fun art projects and send them off with a message in their own handwriting.

 

 

 

 

To-Do-List_PrintableLists make great handwriting practice activities:  groceries, to-do’s, and people to invite to their birthday party.

 

 

 

 

trip maps

And there’s always the great writing prompts or travel journal.  This is my favorite way to encourage handwriting practice during the summer.

 

 

 

 

I hope I’ve shared some different and exciting ideas for including the Five Nifty Handwriting Helpers in your child’s Summer Fun!

 

As always, thanks for reading!  And I look forward to your comments and feedback.

 

And please return next week to discover some more Summer Handwriting Fun tips from our next Guest Blogger, Becca Klockars, an OT from Providence, RI!  Hope to see you there!

 

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; in the Universal Publishing Handwriting Teachers’ Guides; 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 author 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.
 
Summer Handwriting Fun Series #1            Summer Handwriting Fun Series #2

10 Tips for Summer Handwriting Fun
10 Tips for Summer Handwriting Fun

Spaghetti and Meatball Spacing From Miss Jaime OT
Spaghetti and Meatball Spacing From Miss Jaime OT

Handwriting Tips Revisited: 10 Tips for Summer Handwriting Fun!

Most Important Thing About Handwriting
———Property of Handwriting With Katherine———

10 Tips for Summer Handwriting Fun!

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

 

This month, I am sharing a “Summer Handwriting Fun” series chock-full of articles written by myself and other therapy bloggers who have so graciously offered to share their work on my site.  This is the first in our series.  I hope you will find it useful and return to read some more next week!

 

Note:  This original blog was posted on June 2, 2015, as part of the above series.  At that time, I was honored to be a guest blogger on Special-Ism where I’d shared the 10 Tips for Summer Handwriting Fun.  Their site and my article, however, are no longer available.   My article below, “10 Secret Places to Practice Handwriting,” shares interesting options to encourage school-aged children to use their handwriting skills in everyday activities – pairing practice with function.    I think that you will find it useful.

 

Introduction

smiling girl pixabay

Time spent at home on the weekends is an opportunity for children of all ages to spend more time on outdoor play and less time “hitting the books!”  Although learning does not end with the school day or week, desk work becomes less appealing as on option for practicing handwriting.  The neatest thing about handwriting practice, however, is that it does not need to be completed at a desk, or even sitting down!  Let’s explore some fun activities that help children maintain and increase their handwriting mastery skills.

BUT, before we begin our journey, let’s take a look at one important fact:  Handwriting mastery is not accomplished simply by practicing letters over and over to produce a legible word.  That is the final destination.  The road to legibility, however, is paved with many other skills.  To master handwriting skills children need to develop efficient:

  • visual-motor skills – that provide them with accurate and precise eye movements that range from near to far,
  • visual-perceptual skills –  that help them to process visual information,
  • gross-motor skills – that give them strong muscles to maintain their posture, and
  • fine-motor skills – that help them to produce precision movements with their hands.

And functional, everyday writing activities can enhance the development of these skills.

Click on the picture below to read my article, “10 Secret Places to Practice Handwriting.”

 

10 Secret Places to Practice Handwriting by Katherine J. Collmer, M.Ed., OTR/L

 

 

The Handwriting is Fun! Blog is published by and is the property of Handwriting With Katherine.

 

Katherine J. Collmer, M.Ed., OTR/L, owner, Handwriting With Katherine
Katherine J. Collmer, M.Ed., OTR/L, owner, Handwriting With Katherine

Katherine 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.

Pictures that are the property of the photographers at Pixabay should include the link provided with the photo to give proper credit to their owners.

Disclaimer: The information shared on the Handwriting With Katherine website, blog, Facebook page, Twitter page, Pinterest page; in the Universal Publishing Handwriting Teachers’ Guides; 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 author 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.

Handwriting challenges ARE learning difficulties!

paper and pen condesign pixabay

Handwriting challenges ARE learning difficulties!

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

 

 

 

Handwriting challenges can create havoc with a student’s educational success.  They present themselves through a wide array of signs and symptoms that for the most part are caused by hidden sources.    Quite frequently, the very signs that should put up a red flag (1) that a student is experiencing handwriting problems are incorrectly identified as laziness, lack of motivation, and behavioral issues.

 

As a consequence, handwriting challenges have been ignored and overlooked as a valid learning difficulty.

 

When does handwriting receive a fair shake?

Poor handwriting does receive attention when it is associated with Dysgraphia, (2) as it is a symptom of that specific learning disability.   Dysgraphia is a processing disorder that affects one’s ability “to write coherently, regardless of reading ability or intellectual impairment.”  One of the symptoms of Dysgrapha can be poor handwriting skills.

 

For purposes of clarity, it is important to recognize the difference between handwriting and writing skills.

Handwriting is defined as “the activity of writing by hand.”

In contrast, writing is defined as the activity of “marking coherent words on paper and composing text.”

 

Dysgraphia interferes with these processes partly due to visual-spatial and language processing difficulties.eye drawing nemo pixabay

“Visual-spatial difficulties (are) trouble processing what the eye sees,”

while “Language processing difficulties (are) trouble processing and making sense of what the ear hears.” (3)

 

It is Important to note here that students who demonstrate symptoms of Dysgraphia most likely suffer from handwriting challenges, however, the presence of handwriting difficulties does not necessarily mean there is the presence of Dysgraphia.

 

Handwriting and Writing are Team Players

Handwriting and writing are developmental processes that are learned as a team, where children learn the motor skills needed (for handwriting) while learning the thinking skills needed to communicate on paper (writing).  (3)  Hence, challenges in handwriting skills can affect writing development due to slow, laborious fine- and visual-motor skills that interfere with composition.  But these symptoms do not necessarily lead to the diagnosis of Dysgraphia.  Generally, they do not lead to much more than a push for additional handwriting practice, an increase in frustration for the teacher and the student, and a diminished level of educational success.  Handwriting challenges are indeed a learning difficulty.  And it’s time that we recognized them as one.

 

What do good handwriting skills look like?

In order to accurately identify the presence of handwriting difficulties, we must be aware of the characteristics of efficient handwriting versus poor handwriting skills.

On the surface, good penmanship is identified by legible handwriting that is produced in a timely manner.  The objective of good penmanship is to allow the writer to create and produce written material in such a way that it develops an effective line of communication between him and the reader.  In order for communication to conclude in the desired result, it must be coherent and be completed with sufficient speed.  Good penmanship can be presented as manuscript, cursive, or a variety of alternative handwriting styles.

Penmanship, simply stated, is the art of writing by hand.  Efficient penmanship is not so simply defined, however, once the first layer of skin is pulled back to reveal the myriad of veins and arteries that feed its success…or failure.

 

What are the obvious signs of inefficient handwriting?

poor pencil grip paper positioning sharpemtbr pixabayThe outward appearance of poor penmanship becomes very obvious to a student as his teacher begins to point out that his work is messy, difficult to read, and incomplete.  If a handwriting program is presented in a structured and guided manner, the student will be alerted to his errors during practice sessions and assisted in editing and correcting his work.  The signs that a learning difficulty exists, however, come to light when the teacher and the student recognize that extra attention and additional practice have not made a significant difference in the quality of the penmanship.  Usually the student’s written work habits consistently display:

 

  • poor letter formation – open letters or reversals; varying letter sizes;
  • inadequate spacing – either too little or too much space between letters and/or words;
  • inappropriate spatial alignment – letters placed above or below the lines;
  • slow, laborious speed – resulting in incomplete work or needing extra time;
  • loss of place when copying from the board or a book – with omitted and/or misspelled words;
  • and poor posture – with his head on his arm/desk or slouching in his seat.

These signs should alert educators and parents that the student’s difficulties lie below the surface and require additional guided instruction and remedial strategies, and possibly an assessment by an occupational therapist.

 

What are the underlying causes of inefficient handwriting?

As was discussed earlier, efficient handwriting is a developmental skill.  It is such an important skill that it begins at birth and continues to develop throughout the toddler and preschool years.  Those are the years for reaching, grasping, scribbling, and manipulating.  These are the essential handwriting skills that are considered to be “child’s play” and should be encouraged throughout a child’s early life.  Sometimes inefficient handwriting skills are the product of “too little play and too much instruction” during these early years.  As children are rushed into the introduction of handwriting before their hands, eyes, and cognitive skills are ready, they develop poor habits that result in handwriting difficulties in kindergarten and beyond.

These difficulties can present themselves as:

 

  • an inefficient pencil grasping pattern – resulting in an immature or deviant grasp;
  • hand and/or finger fatigue – causing pain or resulting in a loose or too tight grasp;
  • inappropriate letter formations – most likely letters starting from the bottom or reversals resulting from poor instruction; and
  • insufficient automatic letter recognition – causing slow, laborious written work.

In addition to the development of these poor habits, the underlying causes of inefficient handwriting can be the result of inadequately developed:

 

  • Motor Planning Skills – necessary for planning and carrying out automatic movements of the shoulder, hand, and fingers;
  • Visual Skills extending beyond 20/20 eyesight – needed for visual attention, discrimination of details, line and space positioning, and visual memory;
  • Gross Motor Skills – necessary for efficient posture, appropriate eye alignment, and fluid arm and hand movements;
  • Cognitive Skills – Visual Memory in particular – required for automatic production of letters, words, and sentences to facilitate the creation of independent thought in writing.

 

 

Handwriting is a complex skill, built upon the foundation of these underlying skills; and it is only as solid as their efficiency.   Ignoring handwriting difficulties results in

poorer grades, frustration, diminished learning, and a lower self-esteem.

 

Handwriting difficulties have not received a label; but that does not discount their importance in a child’s educational success.  Handwriting may have taken second stage to other school subjects; however, handwriting difficulties should not.  The success of a student’s educational experience depends upon addressing them.

 

As always, thanks for reading!  I hope you will share this important information with those who work with children and their handwriting skills!

 

Katherine

 

(1) http://www.childsupport.in/html/ourservices_handwritingskills.html

(2) Collmer, M.Ed., OTR/L, Katherine J. “Taking The Mystery Out of Dysgraphia.” Special-ism. Special-ism, 10 Nov. 2014. Web. 21 Nov. 2014.

(3) “What Is Dysgraphia?” National Center for Learning Disabilities. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Nov. 2014. <http://www.ncld.org/types-learning-disabilities/dysgraphia/what-is-dysgraphia>.

 

Katherine J. Collmer, M.Ed., OTR/LKatherine J. Collmer, M.Ed., OTR/L, is a pediatric occupational therapist who owns and operates a clinic that specializes in the assessment and remediation of handwriting skills.  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; the Wellness For Life:  Cape Cod blog; 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.

Handwriting Tips for Older Students – Posters!

Handwriting Tips for Older Students – Posters!

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

This birdhouse became the centerpiece of visual book report!
This birdhouse became the centerpiece of visual book report!

 

 

One summer, I came across a remarkable fourth-grade student who desperately wanted to increase her speed with cursive.  We’ll call her Mary.  When I assessed her handwriting skills, I discovered that her letter formations were superb, but she certainly attained that perfection at the expense of speed.  We spent the summer building that skill and we were both thrilled with her progress.

 

But, the next summer, her parents came to me with their concern that, although she could produce legible and speedy handwriting, she was unable to construct a book report independently.  It was evident to me that my work had not ended with handwriting skills.  Functionality depended upon her ability to convey her knowledge through a handwritten product.  After years of struggling with speed, my little gal had not achieved the requisite skills for creating content with her brain while she was using her hands to write.  That summer turned my business focus from practice to function!

 

A strategy to move from practice to function

Book reports have been a part of students’ education since the beginning of time!  Well, it seems that way, doesn’t it?  Mary shied away from them not because they required handwriting but because they demanded her to use her handwriting and creativity together to develop a story of her own.   As I reviewed her needs, I focused upon the fact that handwriting and writing are both complex skills that rely heavily upon gross-motor, fine-motor, visual perceptual, and cognitive skills.  It was important to understand that older students who are continuing to master their use of handwriting to create written work do not benefit from simply having to write more book reports!  So, I decided to address her parents’ concerns, while adding a little zing to her sessions, with a mix of creativity that included movement, fine motor, and visual perceptual skills!

 

As Mary and I chatted over the past summer about her joy of outdoor activities, I discovered that she had not developed a fine-motor hobby.  I introduced her to my cross stitch and she was excited about trying it.  Bingo!  Right there I got the creative bug and began to develop our summer sessions!  Here’s what I came up with:

 

A Visual Book Report Plan

1.  First, I asked Mary to select and read a short-story from a list I provided.  The story she chose was about a boy who helps his granddad build birdhouses.

2.  Then, I collected my supplies:

(a) a beginner’s cross stitch pattern of a bird and a birdhouse to tie a fine-motor craft with our handwriting/writing project (above).  My goal was to encourage critical thinking that linked the use of her hands

A graphic organizer links visual and fine-motor skills!
A graphic organizer links visual and fine-motor skills!

to the book report ideas that she was developing in her thoughts.  (linking fine-motor and visual perceptual skills)

(b) a graphic organizer with the “bubbles” labeled as:  main idea, characters, struggles, lessons learned, and impressions.

(c) a 3-fold poster board and art supplies for the completion of a visual book report.

3.  As I suspected, Mary found the graphic organizer difficult to complete independently.  So, we used her cross stitch learning experience as an opportunity to fill in a graphic organizer to outline the process.   This exercise provided her with a way to refresh her memory as she worked on the project at home, while it mimicked the process we would use next time to complete her book report graphic organizer task. (linking fine-motor to both handwriting and creativity)

4.  I took our next attempt at the book report graphic organizer to the chalkboard.  I found that the move from chair to standing did wonders for her thought process, as well as the tactile experience she received from writing on the board.  I introduced Mary to visualization, asking her to think of the story in her “mind’s eye,” visualizing what she had read and how the story flowed.

Visualization skills can help to "see" what's behind without having to look!
Visualization skills can help to “see” what’s behind without having to look!

We practiced this skill with her cross stitch, transferring the skill to “see” the hole behind the fabric with her eye and her touch, without turning the fabric over. Then we brainstormed the “character bubble” as she wrote on the board, subsequently transferring the information to her graphic organizer.  (linking fine-motor with visual perception; transferring visual perceptual skills)

5.  Mary began to transfer her visualization skills independently at the board and with her cross stitch.  At her seventh session she announced that while she was working on her cross stitch at home, she began to think about her story and remembered something that she’d left out of the “lessons learned bubble!”  (Remember:  The cross stitch was a bird and birdhouse!)

communication poster board 2 calvary science6.  When the graphic organizer was nearly complete, we turned our attentions to the creation of a visual book report.  The poster board caused a panic, as Mary stated that she was “not good at those” and found herself back at the beginning of the summer without tools to help her to succeed.  I used the last “bubble – impressions” to regain her confidence and to encourage her to transfer her visualization and organizational skills to the design of the board.  She suggested we use another graphic organizer to plan her design.  Great thinking!

7.  We got very creative with brainstorming about the poster, including her cross stitch, her written book report, and pictures of birds and birdhouses in the layout.    The purpose of the craft activity was to encourage creativity and visual perception and to link what she had read to a visual presentation of the book.  Mary’s choices for the poster layout indicated that she understood the part that each played in her book report.

And how did we do?

(1)  Mary’s final handwritten book report at the end of the summer was an improvement over her initial work.  She continued to require quite a bit of encouragement and brainstorming to turn her poster profesales pixabayobservations on the graphic organizer into an age-appropriate handwritten book report.  It was apparent that she would continue to need practice on the processes we had utilized in our sessions.

(2)  Mary advanced her skill for thinking creatively with the use of a graphic organizer during the design of her poster.   She needed a bit of help with the physical presentation in order to display a pleasant and organized visual representation of her book.  Again, her confidence and creative ability were improvements from the beginning of the summer; but she would continue to need guidance and encouragement to continue to explore her creative and informative writing skills.

And what did we gain?

After 12 weeks (2 sessions per week), Mary was exposed to a set of skills that she would be able to transfer to her classroom assignments:

(1)  visualization

(2)  graphic organization

(3)  use of handwriting for creative expression.

 

And the best part?  Mary helped my occupational therapy practice turn the corner from practice to functional!  And, that is the level of competence that older students need to achieve as well!

 

 

As always, thank you for reading!  I would love to hear your impressions about our poster board book report idea, as well as any ideas you have used to turn practice into functional!

 

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. 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.

Pictures that are the property of the photographers at Pixabay should include the link provided with the photo to give proper credit to their owners.

Disclaimer: The information shared on the Handwriting With Katherine website, blog, Facebook page, Twitter page, Pinterest page; in the Universal Publishing Handwriting Teachers’ Guides; 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 author 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.

 

: 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.

In”sight” Into Handwriting Struggles

In”sight” Into Handwriting Struggles

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

Visual Perception and Learning

One of the most important skills involved in learning is Vision.  Vision is our ability to “see color, detect motion, identify shapes, gauge distance and speed, and judge the size of faraway objects….(it) is more than recording what meets the eye:  it’s the ability to understand, almost instantaneously, what we see.  And that happens in the brain.” (1)

The eye and its relationship to the brain is complex.  The brain “learns” about our environment through the information we receive with our eyes and the visual experiences we have had in the world.  Movement experiences help the brain to understand speed, balance, and distances as it separates movement that happens outside of our body from that which happens when we move our head.  Experiences that gather information about directional concepts, such as back and front, up and down, right and left, provide the brain with information that distinguishes objects from their backgrounds, as well as those that are far from the ones that are near.  This is the brain’s Visual Perception.  It uses these perceptions to guide our movements and reactions.  As information is transmitted via light that passes through the retina, the brain sorts out the relevant information and uses “short cut assumptions” about their meaning – the smaller item in the horizon is farther away than the larger one.  All of this in the blink of an eye.

Dstorted Visual Perception
If our vision skills are inefficient, our brains receive faulty information about what is “true.”

However, as powerful as the brain is, it can be fooled by its own “misperceptions.”    The brain relies upon the information it has gathered from the moment a baby first opens his eyes and it begins the visual perceptual process of  “converting light into ideas.” (2)   This visual experience turns on the learning process and vision continues to foster it throughout our lives.  When our visual skills are efficient, our brain interprets the world and our experiences efficiently.  However, when our visual skills are inefficient, the brain utilizes inaccurate information to form “misperceptions” about what we see.  Our vision tricks our brain, sort of like an Optical Illusion, by providing it with a knowledge base that is not accurate.   And like a computer, “garbage in becomes garbage out.”

Visual Perception and Handwriting

Vision is a collection of 17 skills that children need to succeed in school.  Visual Perception is just one of them.  But, as with the other 16 vision skills, it plays a key role in the learning process – and that includes handwriting mastery.  Visual Perception Skills allow children to:

  • understand directional concepts such as top-to-bottom and left-to-right;
  • recall correct letter formations quickly;
  • recognize letter formations in different contexts, such as in their workbooks, in a book, or on the board;
  • align their letters and words correctly on their paper;
  • locate letters and words on a page or on the board; and
  • complete handwritten work in a legible and timely manner.

When a student is struggling with these areas of handwriting mastery, chances are there may be a visual culprit behind it.  When extra practice doesn’t seem to work, it’s wise to collect some information that will provide some in”sight” into the problem.  A quick vision review can help determine if a visit to a medical professional is warranted.  It is easy to conduct a vision review at home or in school simply by observing a child’s “behaviors:”

kids playing outside kids pages com

  • how he buttons his coat
  • how he holds a book
  • how he walks down the hall
  • how he plays on the jungle gym

As you observe his movements in everyday life situations, you can use these handy vision checklists to uncover behaviors that indicate the possible existence of a vision problem:

Click here for a free downloadable handout for parents and teachers!
************”How is vision related to learning?”************ Click here for a free downloadable handout for parents and teachers from Sensory Solutions, Inc.!

Vision Red Flags Checklist
***Spotting Red Flags Vision Checklist!*** Click here for a free downloadable checklist for teachers and parents from Handwriting With Katherine!

If you find that you’ve checked two or three of the items on a checklist, it would be wise to consult with your child’s pediatrician about a referral to a Developmental Optometrist.

 What is a Developmental Optometrist?

What’s a Developmental Optometrist?  And why should you seek a referral to one?  In order to answer these questions, it’s important that we first discuss the distinction between the three significant members of an “Eye Team:

  • Ophthalmologist: This is a Medical or Osteopathic Doctor who is trained and specializes in eye and vision care.  They diagnose and treat all eye diseases, perform eye surgery, and prescribe and fit eyeglasses and contact lenses.
  • Optometrists: This member of the Eye Team has a Doctor of Optometry (OD) degree and provides vision care, with services ranging from eyesight evaluation to the diagnosis, treatment, and management of vision changes.  They also prescribe and fit glasses and contact lenses.
  • Opticians: The third member of the team fills prescriptions supplied by ophthalmologists and optometrists.  They are trained to design, verify, and fit eyeglass lenses and frames, contact lenses, and other devices to correct eyesight.

A Developmental Optometrist is an OD who has undergone further study and training to provide eye care that specializes in proper visual development.  They are trained to evaluate and treat underdeveloped skills such as eye focusing, tracking, and binocularity.  They may also provide vision therapy services to treat conditions such as amblyopia (lazy eye), convergence insufficiency, and eye focusing difficulties.  They usually join the College of Optometrists in Vision Development (COVD), and after passing rigorous testing, conducting extra research, and publishing case studies, they can become a fellow of the COVD and obtain the title FCOVD.

Their specialized training in vision assessment and rehabilitation provides Developmental Optometrists with the skills to address a child’s visual development and to determine if their educational struggles are vision-related.  They are the key link between efficient visual perception and learning.

So, if your handwriting “struggler” is:

  • In"sight" into Handwriting StrugglesStumbling or walking into walls or furniture in a familiar environment;
  • Having difficulty with movement sequences, such as Simon Says;
  • Walking on his toes frequently;
  • Holding her crayons or pencils awkwardly, sometimes switching hands;
  • Leaning on his hand, resting his head on the table, or leaning close to his work at his desk; and/or
  • Rubbing her eyes or forehead, putting her hands over her eyes periodically during close work, or squinting or blinking frequently,

then visual perceptional “misperceptions” may be standing in the way of handwriting success.  And often, these same “misperceptions” are the underlying causes of school difficulties in general.

Isn’t it worth taking a look into our Vision Handouts?  You just may find a new perception there!

As always, thank you for reading!  I hope you will share your comments, experiences, and suggestions with us!

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
 
 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.

(1) http://discovermagazine.com/1993/jun/thevisionthingma227

(2) http://www.brainhq.com/brain-resources/brain-facts-myths/how-vision-works

 

5 Handwriting Helpers For Older Students

 

5 Handwriting Helpers for Older Students

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

on the Handwriting is Fun! Blog

Three boys playing tug-of-war

To describe the challenge of teaching (or reteaching) handwriting to older children as a tug-of-war is an understatement! 

 

Unfortunately, they have learned so many ineffective habits that their motor memory for handwriting resists any changes.  When a young guy or gal resists a try at slanting the paper and says, “But, I write better with my paper straight up and down” when, in fact, his or her handwriting is illegible…well, that’s just a natural response to the pull on an ingrained motor memory.  And messy, unreadable handwriting may appear to be simply the result of a student’s rushing through his work; but, in fact, it can be due to handwriting skills that have not been fully developed and the inability of the writer to produce fluent and automatic letter formations.

 

Steve Graham, during his tenure as a Curry Ingram Professor of Special Education and Literacy at Vanderbuilt University, authored an enlightening article,  “Want to Improve Children’s Writing?  Don’t Neglect Their Handwriting.”  In this report, he shares research that indicates that while most people’s handwriting becomes fluid and automatic, “researchers do not yet know when most youngsters reach this point, but it does not appear to be during the early elementary years.  In grades 4 to 6, handwriting fluency still accounts for 42 percent of the variability in the quality of children’s writing and students’ handwriting speed continues to increase at least until grade 9.”  With that said, it is definitely not too late to tug on the motor memories of older students!

 

So, how do we do that, you say?  I’ve put together 5 starting points to lay the groundwork for improving handwriting skills of older children. 

It’s important to remember one very significant point here:  If a child is struggling with handwriting in 2nd, 3rd, or 4th grade, then chances are that there is an underlying cause that has more to do with vision or cognitive skills than with sitting down at a desk and reproducing the letter “c” 4-5 times per line!  Hence, it is important to seek some advice from your child’s doctor, as well as an occupational therapist who is trained in handwriting skill assessment and remediation. 

OK, NOW THAT WE HAVE THAT OUT OF THE WAY…

 

1.  First, I cannot stress enough the importance of appropriate body and paper positioning!

 As we age, we develop our own “style” of sitting posture.  This is actually a result of the seating arrangements we’ve been exposed to, as well as the physical strengths that we have acquired, throughout the first years of our lives.  Posture – “shoulders back, back straight, and eyes forward” – is not a luxury and should be taught early in a child’s educational experience.  Good posture provides students with the tools they need to utilize rhythm and movement to produce fluid handwritng strokes.  We can only help them to learn the correct posture if we provide them with the appropriate chair and desk heights that address their individual needs. 

Once we have positioned the body effectively, we need to align the writing surface efficiently to allow for a smooth, legible handwriting style.  A slightly slanted paper provides right-handed writers with the ease of gliding across the paper, while it also lessens the chance for left-handed writers to smudge their work.

2.  Now we can focus on the “reinvention of the pencil grip!”

 Children with weak muscles in their upper extremities have often adapted to that by grabbing hold of the pencil for dear life and pushing it into the paper!  Some have no idea that their grip is too loose and are frequently having to pick the pencil up off the  floor as it “seems to fall out of my hand all of the time!”  I’d like to say that all you need to do is to find the right adaptive pencil grip.  HOWEVER,  I’m not going to say that because then we would be jumping to a Bandaid fix before we address the underlying cause of the problem.

Learning a new hobby is fun, too!

Learning a new hobby is fun, too!

 

Learning a new hobby is fun, too!

As with any other muscle development program, exercises that are designed to address specific muscle groups are the foundational elements of a fitness plan.   I’ve learned over the years that older students tend to follow through on a program if it interests them!  A fine-motor exercise program can include art projects, music practice, gardening tasks, and sports practice.  Once you have their interest, then you can offer strengthening activities such as modeling clay, finger strengthening exercises for guitar skills, arm and hand exercises to enhance their baseball game, or hand strengthening activities for gardening tasks.  They won’t even know they are working on grip strength!

 

3.  But what about those “gross” ways that some children hold their pencils? 

The Cool Cotton Ball Trick!
The Cool Cotton Ball Trick!

It is important to look at the practical side of things.  Not all pencil grasping patterns are created equal.  Some are efficient even if they are, well, ugly!  So, as they say, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”  However, if the students are experiencing handwriting challenges, and their preferred grip appears to be one of the culprits, then it is definitely important to address it.

A tripod grasp is reasonably comfortable for most writers.  The pencil is held between the thumb and index finger, resting on the middle finger about an inch from the pencil point.  (Left-handed writers should hold their pencil back a bit further from the tip to encourage an appropriate wrist position.)  One of the ways that I encourage the switch to this grip is by challenging my older students to tuck a cotton ball into the palm of their hand and to hold it there with their ring and little fingers.  This reminds them to keep those fingers OUT OF THE WAY while it strengthens the motor memory for a tripod grasp.  They can use a penny or small eraser, too.

 

4.  Give them lots of movement and sensory experiences

Get their eyes moving with challenging games like tether ball.   Hang a soft ball from the ceiling on a string, any size from 5-10″ around, positioned at eye level.  They can practice precision eye movements by “keeping their eye on the ball” while tapping it up or sideways in controlled patterns.

The Vision Tracking Tube is a fun challenge for older students!
The Vision Tracking Tube is a fun challenge for older students!

The Vision Tracking Tube is a fun challenge for older students!

Sensory activities, such as kneading bread dough, planting in the garden, jumping and reaching in basketball, or running and reaching in tennis, combine movement, vision, and proprioception to enhance fine motor skills. 

Visualization is an essential skill for the automatic reproduction of letters and words.  Drawing letter formations in the air, identifying those that are “written” on your back, or “blind writing” (drawing letters, numbers, or pictures with your eyes closed) are fun visualization activities.  And even older students can enjoy using finger paints to practice letter formations, drawing letters in shaving cream, or finding the hidden beads in putty!  Believe me, even the adults enjoy that!

 

5.  Finally, PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE! 

No, not by pulling out a worksheet and attempting to reproduce a perfect letter time after time.   (I’m not sure any of us can actually do that!)  But, encourage creative writing with ideas that also practice their handwriting.  Journals, poems, stories, newspaper articles, and letters to relatives are wonderful (and useful) ways to provide meaningful opportunities for older students to practice and hone their handwriting skills.  And Cursive Clubs have begun to spring up all over as fun ways to turn handwriting skills from Practiced to Functional!

Cursive Clubs are great ways to help older children gain confidence in their handwriting skills!
Click here for free Cursive Club Downloadables!

 

 

So, what do you think?  Willing to give it a try?  I would love to hear your tricks for older students and your feedback! 

As always, thanks for reading and I hope to see you again soon!

Katherine

 

(1) Graham, Steve. “Want To Improve Children’s Writing? Don’t Neglect Their Handwriting.” American Educator 2009-2010 Winter (2010): 20+. Http://orbida.org/resources/events/GRAHAMHANDWRITING.PDF. Web. 10 Nov. 2014. <http://orbida.org/resources/events/GRAHAMHANDWRITING.PDF>.

 

 

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

http://www.handwritingwithkatherine.com/handwriting-development-assessment-and-remediation-book.html

 

 

 

 

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

 

1 Disclaimer: This article is provided for informational and educational purposes only and is not a substitute for legal advice or the professional judgement of health care professionals in evaluating and treating patients. The author encourages the reader to review and verify the timeliness of information found on supporting links before it is used to make professional decisions. The author also encourages practitioners to check their state OT regulatory board/agency for the latest information about regulatory requirements regarding the provision of occupational therapy via telehealth.

 

 

%d bloggers like this: