Handwriting and Telehealth

Handwriting and Telehealth

By Katherine J. Collmer, OTR/L

On the Handwriting is Fun! Blog

Well, who knew a few weeks ago that we would be venturing into a new experience…just…like…that! And as Occupational Therapists, we would jump right in and get to it! I’ve had quite a few requests from readers about the strategies that I’ve used in my previous telehealth experiences. Of course, there’s tons of information in my two blogs on this topic (links below), but this new situation calls for immediate action. So, I’m venturing out there with some suggestions for setting up your therapy sessions. As professionals, you may be doing all of this already and really just need to have it reinforced that you’re doing fine!  I’m a person who jumps in with both feet and assumes that I will be successful. My first experience with telehealth in 2012 was “self-induced” and began as an adventure that proved to be very rewarding. Positive attitude! So here we go!

Handwriting is Handwriting, no matter where it is!

All of my suggestions are directly related to handwriting development.  I work very little on actual handwriting because our role as occupational therapists is to work on the underlying skills that provide the foundation for handwriting mastery. If the teacher is providing handwriting instruction, then this should be covered in the classroom remote learning sessions. The students in my sessions actually perform handwriting tasks, of course, but they are introduced at the end of my sessions and increase in frequency and length as the students progress toward mastery. The rest of the work they do doesn’t seem like handwriting for them, and in most cases, that is a good thing!  Some children are very compliant and do whatever is asked.  And for them, retaining the same sense of routine and normalcy that they experienced in your school therapy sessions may be just the right strategy. But some students will find this new experience stressful and awkward. In turn, they will not be inclined to participate in activities (such as handwriting) if they are also stressful and awkward for them. These ”other students” are the ones for which I am offering the idea that we “change it up!” It can benefit them if we are having fun and trying out strategies that may be different than those we have used in the therapy room.  Remote learning is very different than 1:1 and thereby requires different thinking.  Although this is the way I conduct all of my telehealth (and onsite) sessions, no matter the child’s diagnosis, I think it is especially helpful to think about them now.  So, let’s get started.

Step-By-Step


1.  I’ve found that THE most important aspect of this type of therapy is to connect with the parents or caregivers (herein called parents!) who will be (and SHOULD BE) sitting with the student as they participate in your therapy sessions.  This type of delivery demands that a second pair of hands are on site to help YOU provide the services.  In Part 2 of my blog about telehealth below, I stress that communication with the parents is key.  Talk to them. Phone or email but phone is best.

Find out how THEY feel about this new experience.

Determine their level of technological awareness. Ask them about their resources (printer, paper, crayons, writing tools, games) so that you will know which strategies they can participate in without further expense. Chat with them about their role in this and what you will need from them. Let them know how important they are in this experience.  My blog talks a lot about this. As school-based OTs, we don’t typically have the opportunity to get to know the parents and families like we can in a clinic setting.  So you may or may not have already met them.  If you have the opportunity to do the above, please try to.  It can make the experience much more rewarding for everyone concerned. It also gets the parents involved in the therapy in a way that they never would have been able to before.  


2.  Ask the parents about seating and table arrangements.  Discuss how they should try to make simple adaptations so that their children are sitting in an appropriate manner with the technological device in the appropriate place for viewing – both for them to see your work and vice versa.  Here’s a link to a blog you can share with them about seating:  http://blog.handwritingwithkatherine.com/5-reasons-handwriting-needs-good-seat/

3.  Insert lots (and I emphasize lots) of fun into the sessions. I know as OTs we do this already; but when it comes to this method of delivery, adding more is a good thing.  Remote learning is just that – remote – no personal connection or feeling. They will sit for all of the other remote learning they will be doing.  Stash your sit-down method of delivery into the middle of the session and work from their feet or from some type of movement for the first half.  Here are some ideas:


Start with a gross motor activity.

Stretching or running in place or some toe touching are great ideas.  Do it with them, of course.  If they don’t want to try it, feeling like it’s dumb to do it in front of the camera, then do chair pushups or arm stretching in the chair.  Chair yoga is fun, too.  Something to loosen up the stiff and formal feeling that you can get by just plopping down in a chair and beginning to work.  For those who may be in wheelchairs or cannot jump up and down, the chair exercises are excellent ways to get the blood flowing and can give them ideas of how to pump up their energy for the rest of their remote learning experiences.  Don’t forget:  the camera (on the computer or tablet, etc.) can be moved and positioned so that you can see them off to the side of the desk or table.


Next, take a look at vision activities (pun intended).  

It is still possible to use a pencil and have them perform eye movement activities to warm up the eyes.  If they have a small ball at home, have them toss it (lightly) into the air and look up and catch it.  They can play catch with the parent and you can watch to observe their movements. Blowing a cotton ball across the table toward a target (with or without a straw) is an inexpensive game that is easy for the parents to set up.

You can move from this into setting up a visual memory game by placing items on your desk and then having them list them verbally after you cover them.  If possible, have the parent perform this on the desk or table in front of the student. But either way, the eyes and brain are warming up together. Save the vision worksheets for later.


Move on to fine motor activities.  It is VERY important to warm up the hands, fingers, and wrists for handwriting remediation. If you can, it would be wonderful to get theraputty to the students so they can work on putty exercises.   If you cannot, see if the parents can come up with play dough or squishy balls.  Otherwise, engage the students in finger exercises.  There are plenty of downloadable handouts and visuals on Pinterest.  

Playing cards works on plenty of fine and visual motor skills. And most families have dice from their board games! There are some super activities that include both of these tools on the internet.


This is the time when I move into executive functioning and some handwriting. First, I’d find out which games the parents have on hand.  Even if you don’t have the game (which most likely you do!), you can use it for executive functioning warm ups and enhancement.  If you have it and have never used it with the students before, have them discuss the directions with you and set it up.  You can play even though you are not there.  Someone else can move your piece – you can text your next move to mom or dad. In a card game, the parent can show you the cards and you can text your move to them.  Make it fun for everyone!  Just don’t let the distance between you stifle your creative juices.  

At this point, it would be fun for the students to write down part of each direction for you on a list.  For example, simply “Set up the board.”  ”Pick a player piece.“  And so on.  This gets handwriting into the mix. But just brief spurts of it.  No long sentences or paragraphs.  This can be done with any game.

Later on, I add longer handwritten work, such as copying down mom’s favorite cookie recipe, or at least the ingredients. Perhaps they could write me a short note, address an envelope, and send it off to me!


If the parents can afford to order a small chalkboard

(link below as an example), then this is a wonderful way to practice letter formations, pressure, sizing, and alignment, and many facets of handwriting development.  Use a q-tip and water to form letters.  The q-tip is an excellent enhancement strategy for pencil grip. Chalk boards are SO much better then dry erase.  The tactile experience is by far more effective. Drawing on it (or on paper) is perfect at this juncture.  Drawing, in general, allows them to work on pencil grip using crayons or pens (no markers, please). You can focus on areas of handwriting (such as sizing or alignment) by having them draw boundaries on their paper within which they need to stay with their drawing.  There are tons of drawing ideas on Pinterest.

Don’t forget about vertical spaces!

Set up the activity behind you if you can and have the parents and students imitate your movements on a wall near them. The camera can move, remember!


Collect tons of free downloadable sites for parents. Select items from the sites that you can work on for handwriting practice toward the end of the session.  Ask the parent (if they have the resources) to print it off and then you can work on it together.  Or they can do it as part of their home program.  I have tons of them on my Pinterest site and I am sharing them all the time on my Handwriting With Katherine Facebook page.  If the parents cannot print items, then have a copy on your end and read it with the students and have them “fill in the blank” on their papers at home.  It’s easy to improvise with this. 


This is a great opportunity to pull in some literacy strategies and combine them with handwriting, letting everyone concerned know how important handwriting will continue to be in this new learning environment. Find out what homework or class work the student is working on that can be practiced in writing.  Let’s say spelling words or definitions.  Yes, they will say, “But we are typing them!”  Yes, they are.  But they can always use extra practice to learn them by writing them down – which has been proven to be the most successful way to learn something!


And lastly, begin slowly with all of this.  There’s no rush.  You will get your minutes in even if part of them are chatting with parents and students to calm them, discuss their feelings (which the students can write down if they want to), and discuss goals for telehealth.  This step is so important and can be forgotten because we’ve already worked with these students for months.  We forget sometimes that this is like having them walk in for the first time.  Have fun and enjoy.  It’s all new for everyone!

And don’t forget, there are plenty of fun ideas in my Handwriting is Fun! Blog archives! And please feel free to reach out to me with questions – or suggestions!!

As always, thank you for reading!

Katherine

Previous Telehealth Blogs:

Link to Amazon Chalkboard: https://www.amazon.com/Plaid-Enterprises-Inc-Chalkboard-12679/dp/B01L3ZJFS8/ref=zg_bs_1069310_21?_encoding=UTF8&psc=1&refRID=Y63JBK7HQTCTXD69ADC8

Handwriting Games that go BAM!

Adding a game format to handwriting practice increases student motivation.

By Kathryn Mason, OTR/L

On the Handwriting is Fun! Blog

Bam! Is a fun and challenging handwriting game that can be made with popsicle sticks and a jar!
Bam! for handwriting!

As a school-based occupational therapist, I understand that

most of us work in multiple schools and need to haul activities with us from building to building to meet the individual needs of many students. It is important to have activities that take up little space, are easily graded to address varied skill levels, and progress with the students. Limited school budgets heighten the need to find inexpensive activities that fit these requirements. It is also important to find strategies that will keep our students motivated toward participation in therapy and engaged in tasks designed to meet their academic goals. Handwriting mastery continues to be a goal for many of our students; and for this reason and those I’ve mentioned above, I’ve created a number of game adaptations designed to reinforce letter recognition, formation, and proper positioning.

Students became bored fairly quickly with the other activities, such as worksheets, that I had used previously to teach these components of correct printing. By adding a game format, students became much more motivated to work on the requested tasks. I started using them about 3 years ago and gradually discovered other benefits and ways to adapt the use of the games.

I began letting students pick the board and playing pieces they used and discovered that they felt more in control of the therapy session. I always let the students go first and I’ve designed the individual game die so that they were likely to win about 5 out of 6 games. This kept the students feeling successful and more motivated to work on the expected tasks. I was able to gradually grade the expectations required to move the playing piece and never experienced resistance from the students. I have used these games with students from the first to fourth grades, with diagnoses of learning disabilities, neurological conditions, Autism, and ADHD. I’d like to share two game adaptations with you now that I’ve created and that have helped my students build their handwriting development skills.

Bam!Takes On Handwriting Skills!

The first game adaptation I’ve developed is a variation of Bam! The game called “Bam!” is one in which the players are offered opportunities to learn new information through different learning strategies. The game is easily adaptable for any subject or skill. For example, the students can learn by answering science questions; solving math problems; identifying incorrectly spelled words; or, in our case, working on handwriting skills.

Many teachers use the Bam! game to teach sight words, but I could not find a version that addressed printing components. So, I decided to create one of my own! I wanted a sequence of activities that was easily gradable and could be played by students of varying skill levels, with the therapist or with the parent as a home program activity. By adapting the Bam! game for our needs, the strategy could be graded to allow for

verbally identifying upper vs. lower case letters,

verbally identifying lower case letter positions,

copying letters from a model, or

printing the letters using visual memory.

Data collection is conducted simply by counting the sticks showing letters with incorrect answers. The game can also be graded by starting with just “tall” and “small” letters, later adding in “tail” letters. Bam! sticks can also be used without actually playing the game. For instance, they can be placed in a row to form an upper case or lower case alphabet or to sort lower case letters into the three size and/or position groups.

The simple and inexpensive DIY materials needed to create the game can be found at home or at a dollar store and are listed on the downloadable game instructions you’ll find by clicking on the picture below.

Bam! For Handwriting Game Instructions

Generic Game Board Handwriting Games

Another game format I’ve developed is like that of a typical game board. Many homemade game boards are available on Pinterest by searching for “learning board games.” Many offer free printable board games designed to provide a wide variety of learning opportunities. I decided to try my hand at it and came up with several different styles that allowed the students to participate in the selection of the board. The structure is the same on all of the boards, with each consisting of 30 – 1.25” squares, allowing for play that includes the entire alphabet, start and win squares, and 2 “go for one more” squares. Each board progresses to the right, up one, back to the left, and up one until the winner moves to the right across the top row to the “Win” space. The directions provided in the downloadable handout below are given for the vehicle game board; however, the pictures in the slideshow present my other variations. I’ve used a variety of themes to appeal to my students’ interests, as well as different levels of advancement rules to address their individual needs.

Generic Board Games Downloadable Directions

A Game Board Slide Show!

Stickers are used to “theme” the boards for those interested in cars, sports, or current movies. On a more traditional style of board, students are asked to answer questions about letters (“Is this a ‘tall’ or ‘small’ letter?”) or print a requested letter in order to advance to the next space. Here’s a video of one of my students doing just that!

Game boards that are aimed at handwriting mastery can be designed easily and inexpensively.
Click on the board to watch a student playing a handwriting game!

The biggest challenge I was faced with as I created these games was how to compensate for the OT always having the right answer on his or her turn! My answer to that was to create special dice for the staff to use during their turn. I’ve included pictures of the dice and have explained their uses on the downloadable instruction sheet above.

Handwriting board games can include special dice that add to the fun and challenge of the game.

Including dice in the game offers additional advantages.

First, students almost always want to roll the die for the OT staff and this helps to develop the arches of the hand.

A second advantage is the opportunity for the students to practice regulating their movements. I’ve created a rule that has them lose the privilege of rolling the die if it rolls off the table. In some cases where the students needs extra assistance in this area, I will place a small box lid on the table to corral the thrown die.

Having the student throw the die for the therapist’s turn offers an additional advantage in that the child needs to put down the pencil and pick it up repeatedly, up to 26 times, depending on the board. This provides great practice on correct pencil grasp, with or without the use of a rubber adapted grip, and the student never notices this practice!

Also, I’ve selected various types of beads and other small items for the students to select as markers that are small enough to require pinch or tripod grasp. The downloadable directions offer additional modifications to help you grade the activity for your students.

Board game pieces can be found at home or a discount store.
Generic Board Game Pieces should be of a size that will facilitate refined grasp patterns and can be created from items found at home or markers rescued from other games.

And the students love them!

Students will often request that I bring a particular game board for the next session, showing that they are motivated to work on these activities. The games are great strategies to suggest to families for at-home play and practice rather than suggesting somewhat more “official homework.” It is nice to see the children laughing during sessions. They enjoy competing against the therapist or other students in group sessions. If the children in the group are at different levels, for example in different grades or are working on different skills, the challenge can be modified for each one as long as the modification is explained to them. It seems to me that games are a win-win for everyone!

A Success Story!

Comparison of the top handwriting sample with that of the bottom demonstrates the benefits of using an adapted game board.

A very verbal first grade student with Autism transferred into our school. It was difficult to determine his true functional level because he appeared to demonstrate a lack of motivation towards classroom activities that were presented to him. Questions were raised as to whether it was motivation or skill level. I decided to use a game board strategy to help me tease out the answer. The top sample of his handwriting (above) was completed in the morning in his classroom. The bottom sample (a section of the completed alphabet) was completed the same day in an occupational therapy session using adapted paper and an adapted game board designed to increase motivation with a handwriting activity. Impressive, wouldn’t you say?

Kathryn Mason, OTR/L, is a graduate of Tufts University 1977, BSOT. She was previously the Director of the OTA Program at J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College, Richmond, Virginia. Currently she is working in the Chesterfield County Public Schools in Virginia. She can be reached at Kathywmason@yahoo.com

All photos are the property of the author and cannot be used without her permission.

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

Directive Drawing: A Handwriting Tool

Author Jason Gonzales, OTR/L, discusses why drawing is the most consistent strategy he uses to improve a student’s fine motor skills, attention, and most importantly self-confidence. He finds that combining drawing, writing, and academics into the same activity aids in increasing these skills.

Directive Drawing: A Handwriting Tool

By Jason Gonzales, OTR/L

on the Handwriting is Fun! Blog

WHERE DID IT ALL BEGIN?

It is now my 19th year as a school-based occupational therapist. I have worked in five states, in at least 15 school districts, and I’ve lost count of how many schools. I have worked with children from the islands of Hawaii to the urban areas of New York City and have treated a variety of diagnosis including dysgraphia, autism, dyslexia, and ADHD. When asked during a job interview what materials I would need, my answer was always “pencil and paper.” And it wasn’t to practice copying the letters of the alphabet, but to draw. Drawing is the most consistent strategy that I use to improve a student’s fine motor skills, attention, and most importantly self-confidence. From my experience, handwriting needs are the most common reason why a student is referred for occupational therapy. The quality of the student’s handwriting can be impacted by a variety reasons including poor letter formation, line orientation, and spacing and size, possibly due to decreased fine motor strength, endurance, motor coordination, posture, motivation, or visual perceptual skills. Drawing can address all of these areas and it’s one of the easiest activities to grade based on a child’s abilities. And there is research to back this up.

WHY IS A PICTURE WORTH A THOUSAND WORDS?

Teachers are beginning to use drawing as a problem-solving tool with the feeling that the pictures students create

help them to keep track of information that is difficult to process and help them to “see concepts from a different perspective, giving [them] ideas on how to proceed with a problem. (1)” Considering that “drawing (scribbling, actually) is the first step in the development of the graphomotor skills necessary for handwriting mastery (2 p. 16)”, it makes sense to include it in a plan to enhance a student’s handwritten work. The process of creating a picture using colors, shapes, and elements correlates with the process of learning handwriting skills. Each process “combine(s) the arrangement of shapes, elements, and sometimes colors into a language that sends a message considered important to share with someone (2, p. 16).” In addition, art offers children with an opportunity to develop visual-motor and visual-perceptual skills that will benefit their handwriting practice.

A research study conducted by Fernandes, Wammes, and Meade (3) was designed to explore whether drawing the information that they were expected to learned enhanced the memory of undergraduate students. The findings revealed that:

• The students realized greater gains from drawing the information than from “other known mnemonic techniques, such as semantic elaboration, visualization, writing, and even tracing the to-be-remembered information (3 abstract)”.

• It was believed that “the benefit arises because drawing helps to create a more cohesive memory trace that better integrates visual, motor and semantic information. (Wammes quoted in 5)

• “Participants often recalled more than twice as many drawn than written words. (Wammes quoted in 5)”

• These benefits were realized across learning styles and artistic talent levels and included note taking as well as the understanding of complex concepts (3 shared in 4, p. 2-3).

The researchers believed that drawing provides an opportunity to take an active role in learning where we “must elaborate on its meaning and semantic features, engage in the actual hand movements needed for drawing (motor action), and visually inspect [the] created picture (pictorial processing) (3 as cited in 4, p. 2-3).”

And that appears to hold true for elementary school students as well. A study by Norris, Reichard, and Mokhtari titled, “The Influence of Drawing on Third Graders’ Writing Performance (6),” “compared the writing products of 60 third grade students who drew before writing a story on a self-selected topic (Experimental Group) with the writing products of 59 third grade students who simply wrote without drawing (Control Group).” The results showed that students who engaged first in a drawing activity,

• “tended to produce more words, sentences, and idea units, and their overall writing performance was higher;”
• “seemed to be much more enthusiastic about the visits from [the] researcher;”
• at times “independently drew about and composed extra stories, according to their teachers;” and
• demonstrated pleasure with writing experiences (6, p. 25).

In contrast, those students who were not afforded the opportunity to draw first before writing:

• were less enthusiastic about the writing task; and
• appeared to be “stymied completely after writing only a few lines,” seemingly “suffering from lack of confidence in their writing ability,”
• with some stopping their writing “well in advance of the required time limit (6, p. 25-26).”

Another significant finding was that these results were consistent for both boys and girls, regardless of group membership (6, p. 26).

(Click on The Grinch picture at the top of this article for a free downloadable resource containing these research results.)

Directive Drawing as a Tool

Armed with that research, we can now take a look at how drawing activities work with my students.

I typically use directive drawing activities which can be completed at a pace that allows the children to draw based on their capabilities, whether they can draw simple shapes or only prewriting strokes. It is important to know the children’s baseline so that you don’t overwhelm them. When a child is working on prewriting strokes or simple shapes, tracing or copying lines can be boring for both the child and the therapist. Incorporating the drawings into something functional, especially if it’s an interest of the child such as Pokemon or Thomas the Train, is an essential element in order to improve participation. Through directive drawing, I showed a 5-year-old child how to draw Optimus Prime using only squares. Using a variety of square sizes, the child was able to work on visual perceptual skills; spatial terminology such as next to, above, below; fine motor endurance; and pencil grasp. Once a drawing is complete, the children can work on coloring and/or handwriting. Usually children are pretty excited about their work. At that time, you can say “Let’s show your (teacher, mom, dad, etc.)! But first we want to (write your name, the name of the character, or a quick sentence on the bottom). Let’s make sure we write neatly so that they can read it.”

Drawing activities work on pencil grip and attention skills.
“Mickey” – This drawing was done by a first grader whose goal was to hold a pencil and participate in a pen-to-paper task for 8 seconds. He had difficulty writing his name, coloring, and drawing.
(Photo is the property of Jason Gonzales, OTR/L)

Directive drawing activities can work on attention and impulsivity.

For children who have difficulty focusing or attending to pen-to-paper activities, I can move them at a desired pace designed to slow them down because they have to wait until the next step. I have done whole class drawing activities in both general education classrooms and special education classrooms from kindergarten to high school. The most successful drawing activities are the ones that are interesting and have an element of surprise, such as not telling them what they are going to draw. This strategy improves the children’s attention to the task and decreases their impulsivity to move ahead. Watching a whole kindergarten classroom pick up their pencils to draw and put their pencils down waiting for the next step at the same time is a sight to be seen. Also, the students liked trying to guess what they were drawing.

Drawing activities can work on increasing attention skills, handwriting, and fine motor skills.
“Balthazar Bratt” was done by a 4th grade student whose goal was to improve fine motor skills, improve handwriting, and increase attention to tabletop activities. He was able to attend and complete this activity for 25 minutes.
(Photo is the property of Jason Gonzales, OTR/L)

Directive drawing activities can include academics which makes learning fun and interesting.

Here are some examples of how I was able to incorporate the students’ interests with their academics in a grades 2-3 special education class while working on their IEP goals.

This drawing activity included measuring and drawing lines with a ruler.
“Steve from Minecraft”
(Photo is the property of Jason Gonzales, OTR/L)

“Steve from Minecraft” was a math activity. The class was learning Perimeter and Area. I started the activity by handing students a ruler and a pencil, as well as a piece of paper that included only the square for his head and the lines for writing. The class practiced using a ruler to draw straight lines, coloring within the lines, copying the words “perimeter” and “area” from the board, and writing a sentence or two based on the character. They also had to use the ruler to calculate the area and perimeter of “Steve’s” head, arms, and legs.

Drawing activities can include literacy skills such as math.
Pig Activity
(Photo is the property of Jason Gonzales, OTR/L)

In another strategy, I was able to use the above “Pig” activity and modify it by adding math. In addition to the skills involved above, this activity also included working on scissor skills; coloring; generating sentences on a given topic; letter spacing, sizing, and line orientation.

Drawing activities are the most engaging activity that I have found that improves both handwriting and attention, but most importantly it boosts self-confidence.

When children are engaged and have self-confidence, they are open to learning. The best part about drawing is that it is subjective, which means that the drawing doesn’t have to be accurate as long as the student is satisfied. And who doesn’t like a Picasso-looking picture? Remember the purpose of the activity is not to draw perfectly but to learn the academic-related activity such as math, writing, and handwriting. So as parents, therapists, and teachers, it is essential that you provide positive feedback especially when that child is proud of his or her work. And when a child is not satisfied or appears frustrated that one eye is larger than the other eye, this is a good time to mention that that’s why Edward Nairne invented the eraser in 1770. It is also a good opportunity to work on visual perceptual skills and have the student identify the differences and determine how can they can be fixed.

Kids learn to draw before they write.

It’s their early form of telling stories and from my experience it can push a child towards or away from pen-to-paper activities. One thing to remember when working with children, especially when they are really young, is that our external words become their internal words. Give them the freedom to be creative and make mistakes; and most importantly provide them with positive feedback, because the bottom line is that they want you to be proud of them. When a child constantly hears that their drawing, writing, coloring, etc., isn’t good enough, they will believe it and start to disengage from those activities and even demonstrate task avoidance behaviors. I have found it much easier to increase self-confidence, attention, and fine motor skills when I combine drawing, writing, and academics into the same activity. And remember, it’s never too late to introduce drawing to your students or children.

Jason Gonzales has been practicing school based occupational therapy for 18 years. He graduated from the Ohio State University in 2001. Jason is married and has two kids and a chihuahua. He has worked in Hawaii, California, Massachusetts, New York, and New Jersey. He is the CEO and Co-Founder of Double Time Docs and founder of The Better Grip. He has been on several occupational therapy podcasts including OT Schoolhouse, OT4Lyfe, and Ontheaire.

All photos, with the exception of one, are the property of Jason Gonzales, OTR/L, and their use is prohibited without his permission. The photo of the children drawing is the property of the owner at the link provided; and if it is shared, his information should be included with the photo.

References:

  1. “Building Your Child’s Problem Solving Tools: Drawing.” ExSTEMsions, June 24, 2019. Retrieved from https://exstemsions.com/blog/drawing?utm_source=facebook.com&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=want-to-help-your-child-to-be-a-better-p
  2. Collmer, K. J. Handwriting Development Assessment and Remediation:  A Practice Model for Occupational Therapists.  2016 ed. Waymart, PA:  Universal Publishing, 2016. Print.
  3. Fernandes, M.A., Wammes, J.D., & Meade, M.E. (2018). The Surprisingly Powerful Influence of Drawing on Memory [Abstract]. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 27(5), 302-308. Retrieved from https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0963721418755385
  4. Terada, Y. (2019, March 14). The Science of Drawing and Memory. Want students to remember something? Ask them to draw it. Edutopia. Retrieved from https://www.edutopia.org/article/science-drawing-and-memory
  5. Study International Staff (2016, April 26) University study finds drawing can improve memory. SI News. Retrieved from https://www.studyinternational.com/news/university-study-finds-drawing-can-improve-memory/
  6. Norris, E. A., Reichard, C., & Mokhtari, K. (1997). The Influence of Drawing on Third Graders’ Writing Performance. Reading Horizons: A Journal of Literacy and Language Arts, 38 (1) September/October 1997, Article 2 (13-30) Retrieved from https://scholarworks.wmich.edu/reading_horizons/vol38/ iss1/2

Sometimes “seeing is believing.”

Sometimes “seeing is believing.”

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

on the Handwriting is Fun! Blog

There have been some very heartwarming stories

that have come from my career as a pediatric occupational therapist. Some of the key players in my work have grown up to become adults working in their communities or high school and college students, while others are continuing to work on their elementary school successes. And all of them are doing their very best at what they can do. But no matter where they are right now, every one of them still remains a treasure in my memories. There are some stories, however, that touch my heart in a way that I can hardly express in words. Those are the times that created a dramatic change in both the child and myself.

Our last blog post was an article by The Vision Rehab OT that discussed the importance of providing children with vision eye exams. Keeping that theme in mind, I’d like to share a guest blog I wrote for Dr. Anne Zachry, Ph.D., OTR/L, over at the Pediatric Occupational Therapy Tips blog, as part of a special series she hosted in honor of OT month. After you read it, I’m sure there will be tears in your eyes, too.

It’s The Little Things That Make Life Big: “See those pictures, mommy?”

As always, thank you for reading and sharing my work!

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

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.

Vision: The Starting Point of Learning

Visual skills develop at their own pace. Skills like saccades and tracking are not yet fully developed in three- to five-year-old’s, making the “earlier is better” scholastic calendar challenging for every child.

Vision: The Starting Point of Learning

By Robert Constantine, OTR/L

  

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

“We worry about what a child will become tomorrow, yet we forget he is someone today. “

Stacia Fauscher

September is an exciting time for me. School programs are starting to get into their groove, setting up a fresh palate upon which students, teachers, parents, and therapists can create new adventures, paint exciting ideas, and draw up plans for a positive literacy experience. And this is the month that I like to share resources designed to guide educational staff toward helping their students work on the developmental skills they need today for literacy – and handwriting – success. I have an exciting schedule of informative posts lined up for us.

Today I’m presenting a guest post about a developmental skill I feel is perhaps the most important aspect of learning: vision skills. Robert Constantine, OTR/L, has dedicated his work’s mission toward educating therapists, teachers, and parents about the visual system in the interest of improving client outcomes. He has developed a presence in both the occupational therapy and the vision field through his continuing education courses and his social media platforms. Thank you, Robert, for joining our team and sharing this informative post and resource about vision skills and the importance of vision exams.

Vision: The Starting Point of Learning

I am excited to do a guest blog for Handwriting with Katherine. I am Robert Constantine, an occupational therapist since 1997 (no comments please!). I have spent a lot of time as a neuro and brain injury specialist where I developed an interested in vision and its relationship to function and therapy outcomes. In 2012, I had the unique opportunity to work in an optometry office, where I learned about the importance of eye movements and near vision focusing in school.

During my work in the optometry office, I learned two things very quickly:

  1. Vision affects everything we do. It is our furthest reaching sense and it gives us the most information about our environment.
  2. Eye movements and near vision focusing problems are holding back too many kids!

Now, I am on a mission to talk to as many therapists, teachers, and parents as possible about vision and share what I have learned! Here are some of the basics…

What is an age-appropriate vision expectation?

Academic standards continue to ask more of our youngest students. Reading and writing expectations for kindergarten students are common throughout our school systems, even as therapists continue to argue that these academic standards may not even be age appropriate. These tasks place a heavy demand on a child’s near vision skills. It is actually normal for children between 3 and 6 to be farsighted (hyperopia) making near vision tasks more challenging during this young age.

The age appropriate visual system

Visual skills develop at their own pace. Skills like saccades and tracking are not yet fully developed in three- to five-year-old’s, making the “earlier is better” scholastic calendar challenging for every child. Many parents are not getting eye exams for their children before they enter school for the first time, mistaking vision screenings by pediatricians or school nurses as sufficient evidence that their little one’s eyes are ready for the challenge of school. Eye exams are vital links for uncovering the hidden visual problems of our students. These problems can be the root cause for difficulty with learning and handwriting mastery. When it comes to eye exams, there are three lessons that are important for us to learn:

Lesson one: The complete eye exam

Only an optometrist or ophthalmologist has the skills to perform a complete eye exam that insures a child’s eyes are ready for school. In a child, a dilation is always part of the complete eye exam, not just to get a good look at the back of the eye but also to help tell how hard the eyes are working to keep things clear. The skilled eye doctor has no problem getting an accurate glasses prescription on any child, even when they are not verbal or do not know their letters, by using a procedure called retinoscopy.

For the school-based therapist, when a vision related learning problem is suspected, the Vision Therapy doctor may be able to help. These specially trained doctors offer services to improve eye movements and near vision focusing that could be at the root of poor academic performance. The College of Optometrists in Vision Development’s website shares important information about the 17 vision skills that impact learning and a link to help you locate a board certified optometrist near you who is qualified in vision development, vision therapy, and vision rehabilitation skills.

Lesson two: Eye Exam Frequency

The American Optometric Association (AOA) recommends that infants receive their first eye exam around 6 months of age to determine if an infant is at risk for eye or vision disorders. This exam is considered so important that the AOA, in cooperation with Infantsee, a public health program, provides an initial eye exam at no charge, no matter the parents’ financial status or access to medical care, for infants between the ages of 6-12 months. After this first exam, the next recommended exam is at 3 years old, or on a schedule determined by the child’s optometrist. Starting at school age (age 5), all children should have an annual eye exam. Just as their bodies are changing, so too are their eyes growing and changing.

Lesson three: 20/20 is not enough

Good acuity does not mean good vision. Vision is a dynamic process that includes the 17 skills mentioned above, two of which are the important binocular vision skills needed for handwriting mastery: near vision focusing and the ability of the eyes to move together accurately. When these skills are not well developed, a child may get headaches, see double, and even have behaviors that look like ADHD. Every pediatric eye exam should include an assessment of these binocular vision skills.

The Therapist’s Role

Just as visual skills begin to develop early on, an assessment of those skills should begin during those same years. The early intervention therapist is in the unique position to teach new parents about the importance of their child’s vision and the importance of eye exams. But many EI therapists have a difficult time finding the information they need to share with their parents. I have put together a group of tools for the early intervention therapist that includes a narrated power point discussing the development of vision from birth to 5 years old. It includes information to share with parents about eye exam frequency, an informational webpage on childhood vision pathologies with hyperlinks to explore the causes and prognosis of the most common problems, and a helpful glossary of vision related terms and more. This kit is a valuable collection of tools that can improve any therapist’s basic understanding of the visual system.

School Days!

Photo is the property of
Handwriting With Katherine

For school-based therapists, vision problems may be linked to many of your students’ handwriting and reading challenges. As you observe and assess their handwritten work, some initial symptoms of vision-related problems may appear as:

• poor letter spacing,
• “floating” letters that sit above or below the lines,
• different sized letters
• letter reversals
• poor far-near copying skills

Vision motor integration and visual perception problems that are uncovered during a handwriting assessment are, as the name implies, vision-related concerns. It is important to make sure the child completing these assessments has had an eye exam, as undiagnosed vision problems can affect the results.

I have some help for the school-based therapist, too. A vision toolkit for pediatric therapists with a narrated power point full of videos of treatment ideas, a narrated power point on my recipe for reversals, and lots more. There are also some easy strategies that can be employed during an initial assessment that can help you form a basic understanding of your students’ vision skills:

ASSESS EYE MOVEMENTS: Checking the tracking and saccade accuracy of your students will give you an idea of how well their eyes are working. A quick check of near point of convergence can tell you if they are seeing double when working up close.


HAVE A LOOK AT THEIR GLASSES. Are they dirty (yes…they are)? Do they slide down their nose when looking down to write? If so, they are losing the benefit of the glasses as the lenses are not in front of the eyes when they look up, causing possible copying errors.


ASK YOUR STUDENTS WHICH HAND IS THEIR LEFT AND WHICH IS RIGHT. Poor left-right awareness is frequently associated with letter reversals. Those children with laterization problems may also delay picking a dominant hand.

As therapists, we are also responsible for sharing the importance of vision with our teachers and parents. Every child needs an eye exam every year.

My Vision Platforms

Photo is the property of
Vision Rehab OT

My passion for spreading the word about vision has grown into the development of educational platforms where professionals can access resources easily and in a venue that is easy for them to use.


• I have a webpage at Vision Rehab OT where I share my blog, books, and wide array of courses.


• My Facebook group can be found at Vision Rehab OT .

• And for you visual learners, check out my YouTube Channel: Vision Rehab OT .

But that’s not all. I also conduct three live continuing education courses for PESI :


Visual Rehab After Neurological Events: Seeing the World Through New Eyes – All about assessing vision skills and treating vision problems associated with stroke, TBI, and concussion.

Innovative Vision Rehab Strategies for PTs, OTs, & SLPs: Don’t Let Vision Limit Your Patient’s Progress – For all of the therapists treating adult patients with eyes! This is about understanding vision and how it is affecting your patient outcomes.

Vision Techniques for Eye Movement Disorders Associated with Autism, ADHD, Dyslexia & Other Neurological Disorders: Hands-on Assessments and Treatments for Children and Adolescents – The pediatric course that I started presenting nearly three years ago. Its updated and lots of fun!!

visionrehabot@gmail.com

You can always email me at visionrehabot@gmail.com with that “I have this one kid…” question. I like those challenges.

Thanks, Handwriting with Katherine, for helping me spread the word about the importance of vision.

Robert Constantine graduated from University of Alabama in Birmingham in 1997. He developed an interest in vision while working as the clinical specialist in brain injury for the West Florida Rehabilitation Institute, in Pensacola, Florida. He had an opportunity to work at an optometry office where he learned the techniques used in optometry to improve near vision focusing and ocular motor problems that affect academic performance. He continues to provide vision rehab services to both children and adults at the Pearl Nelson Center, working closely with several optometrists in his community. He has completed training in sports vision and was a member of the High-Performance Vision Associates, working with a team of optometrists assessing the visual skills of elite athletes. He has developed drag racing specific glasses in use by many NHRA drivers. He is also a member of the Neuro Optometric Rehab Association, having attended clinical level 1 and 2 trainings. Robert has lectured on binocular vision assessment and treatment for several years to thousands of therapists and teachers.

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

Automaticity when it’s not Automatic

Automaticity when it’s not Automatic

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

on the Handwriting is Fun! Blog

Automaticity Defined

Automaticity is defined as “the ability to recall previously learned or experienced information from memory quickly and accurately without conscious thought (Collmer, 2016, p. 163).”  Vision works together with the hand to “interpret our movements and incorporate them in a pattern using vision as a guide to call up letter and word formations automatically (Collmer, 2016, p. 5).”  Automaticity is achieved through instruction, repetition of the instructional material, and practice of the skill in functional tasks, eventually leading to performance without conscious thought about the process that produces the outcome.  It is accomplished by “overlearning,” where the skills are “practiced well beyond the point of initial mastery.”   

Automaticity When It Fails

When automaticity for handwriting has not been achieved, then the primary task, let’s say writing an essay, is interrupted repeatedly with concentration spent on the mechanics of handwriting, causing the writer to lose his train of thought, misspell words, or take too long to complete the assignment. Diminished automaticity for letter and word recall is a contributing factor for poor marks in school and can be one of the signals that orthographic dysgraphia is present. Automaticity is a skill that is often addressed in occupational therapy rehabilitation plans for students in grades 3 and above, as they and their teachers become concerned about their falling grades and frustration with handwriting tasks.  But the warning signs can be seen and addressed earlier.

Automaticity Strategies for Success

Recently I received the following request from a Handwriting With Katherine Facebook reader:

“The whole process of writing is so complex. For the older kids I work with I feel like if letter formation and letter recall is not automatic, then they struggle greatly with getting high quality content onto paper because they have to sit and think about what letter to write, what it looks like, and how to form it, all combined with spelling, alignment, spacing, etc. That is personally why I generally look to technology for older students. But my question for you is how or what do you do with those students when they are at a younger age or even at the older age to help with making handwriting (letter recall, formation, etc.) automatic so that the students can focus on the content of their writing compared to the mechanics.”


These were great questions, ones with which I’m sure we all have struggled. So I felt it was appropriate to answer them here as well and share my strategies for dealing with automaticity issues.  Let’s start with the factors that can result in diminished automaticity.

The Visible and Invisible Links

Handwriting mastery is one of the foremost outward and ‘visible’ behaviors linked to dysgraphic struggles and its inefficiency can interfere with educational success with or without the presence of dysgraphia.  Handwriting development involves a complex process of ‘invisible’ behaviors based on the proficiency of the developmental skill sets necessary for its mastery, which in the end is dependent upon the attainment of automaticity. Therefore the presence of diminished automaticity in school-aged children is most likely the result of diminished proficiency in these developmental skills:

  • visual-perception,
  • motor planning and execution,
  • kinesthetic feedback, and
  • visual-motor coordination.

The “combination of ‘visible’ and ‘invisible’ factors can result in a decrease in incentive and motivation for using written work to achieve academic success (Collmer, 2016, p. 152).”  And at times this results in a push to remove the “offending skill” and offer the student technological options to replace it.  In some cases, this is part of an appropriate plan; but often it is only a band-aid fix that robs the student of the opportunity to conquer his dysgraphic struggles and demonstrate handwriting mastery.  So, how do we continue to deal with automaticity struggles while still offering our students with options that allow him to continue to learn in school?

Know when to fold ’em.

I found that over the years the most important concerns for students who are struggling with automaticity in grades 3 and up were to be able to keep up with their peers and to avoid the embarrassment of illegible and untimely work. Inasmuch as I wanted them to use their handwriting in school and at home, I came to understand that it was necessary to allow them to finish their work productively and creatively by giving them “permission” to use another option for class work, homework, and tests so that they could keep up with their peers and maintain their grades.  I say “permission” because they were struggling with many conflicting things at this point.  They wanted to master handwriting, yes, but they also wanted to get good grades, satisfy their teachers and parents, and meet my expectations.  It’s true.  Our students want us to be proud of them and giving up on handwriting meant they were giving up on themselves and me.  So, by giving them permission to use other options while we tackled automaticity was my way of allowing the students to feel “good” about trading handwriting for electronics because it was only temporary. They understood their work on handwriting mastery was going to continue in occupational therapy.  They were not giving up.  And I emphasized this to parents, students, and teachers – that the reason we were doing this was to facilitate the students’ learning while we continued with therapy to work on automaticity.

This compromise satisfied my need to continue to assess the students’ dysgraphic behaviors to determine if accommodations were indeed in order secondary to the presence of dysgraphia.  It also provided me with some breathing room to continue with the students’ therapy.  The times when I was a stickler for asking the students to hand write their work while we honed their handwriting skills, they became frustrated and their teachers began to request accommodations so the students could work entirely with technological devices in order to keep up with the classroom demands.  I didn’t feel that I was providing a positive strategy and so we compromised.  A “win-win” as they say.

Therapy Activities That Address Automaticity

My initial assessment would provide me with information regarding any underlying visual-perception, motor planning and execution, kinesthetic feedback, and visual-motor coordination needs of my students. A portion of my rehabilitation plan, as well as my therapy sessions, would include work on these skills. In addition to strategies that address these needs, I have found a select group of activities that have worked well for addressing automaticity and ultimately the functional needs of my students – being able to complete their assignments legibly and in a timely manner.

First, let me say that I use the same strategies for students in all age groups. They are structured and “simple,” with their focus concentrated on the end goal. While the end result is automaticity, the steps leading there are the mastery of letter formations, words, and sentences, in that order, just as they are taught in a handwriting program.  And that takes patience and practice; no other way can get the students there.  But traditional instructional worksheets are not the answer. If they were, most likely the students would not be seeking our help but rather they would have attained mastery in the classroom.  There really isn’t any need for any fancy tools for this type of remediation.  Paper, pencils, a timer, and a great sense of humor are all it takes!  Let’s take it step by step.

Letter Formations and Words.  

My first step is to determine if the students are struggling with a group of letters, say those that include lines and circles (b, d, p, g, q), or if they are having difficulty with the alphabet in general.  In the former case, I will isolate those letter formations to work on during the beginning stages of therapy.  In the case of the latter, I select the groups of letters in the order in which they are taught in a structured handwriting program.  

Next, I select interactive games that allow me some control to guide their learning for motor movement and memory with 2-3 of these individual letter formations. For example, in my game Pingo, which is a combination of bingo and a dice toss activity, I use the template included in the link above to write in the letter formations that we are currently working on. I can also add gross and fine motor activities, say for posture or finger and hand strength, that are aspects of the students’ rehabilitation plan and that work in tandem with handwriting mastery. Hang Man is an activity that allows you to combine letter formations that are learned and those that continue to need reinforcement.  In lieu of Hang Man, the game could be revised to create a beach scene where the person is buried in the sand. When his head is the only visible body part remaining, then the game is over!

The Pingo template allows you to insert the letter formations and words that your students are working on currently.
The Pingo template allows you to insert the letter formations and words that your students are working on currently. The link in the paragraph above includes the rules.

At the start, editing is a team effort, with the students and I chatting informally about their work and making revisions together.  Soon we transition into a strategy where the students “guide” me toward the errors they’ve made.  I make it a game where the students chart those that they find on their own and those that I guide them toward, the goal being that they “won,” of course, when they found more of them independently or all of them without my help! When they have a good handle on these 2-3 letters, I transition to minute-to-win it strategies that allow the students to copy each letter formation as it’s presented to them within a minute without editing, which is done after the minute is over.  They keep track of the letters that needed editing and the goal is to produce them all in a minute without any editing necessary. For students who tend to write too fast, I substitute a Turtle Race activity that presents letter formations to the students during a one-minute period and emphasizes a slower speed and the opportunity to edit their work as they write. They chart the number of letters that needed editing and were corrected as they wrote, as well as those that were discovered after the minute was up. Again, the goal is to copy them efficiently.

Minute-to-Win It and Turtle Game
Minute-to-Win It and the Turtle Game encourage speed (increase and decrease) and editing skills.

I resist the temptation to skip from letter formations to words until the students have learned at least 3-4 new letter formations with a good degree of automaticity.  Then I use those letters and any letters they may have mastered previously to conjure up words that can be used in those same games.  I continue to use the same games in this step as in the previous ones in order to concentrate their efforts toward building confidence in their handwriting and to avoid any learning curve that may occur by introducing new games. Instruction, practice, and repetition are the goals. At this point in their therapy, however, I am mixing it up by switching between games using words and those using the letters they need to continue to work on.

Then finally when the student is writing 3-5 letter words with a good degree of automaticy, I move on to sentences, again mixing the games between letters (if still needed), words, and sentences.  With sentences, I usually begin with copying tasks, first on the desk than from the board, so that the activity doesn’t require them to draw on their creativity, simply to copy the words they see.  At this point, we are practicing handwriting development skills still and not writing. I start this transition to sentences with a “safe” strategy that doesn’t have a time limit, yet it does ask them to record the time they take to write each sentence (usually 4-6 words long).  My understanding of the time they need to write the sentences guides my transition to minute-to-win it with sentences (using the same editing strategy as above). It also gives me an indication of any need to address speed issues so that the students will be able to finish their work in a timely manner.

When they’ve done well with minute-to-win it with sentences, I transition to writing in a journal for a minute (without editing while they write) and begin a game where they count the number of words they have used and how many letter formation errors they have made.  It’s a contest against themselves where they can have the freedom to write and create without editing but also gives them an opportunity to want to hone their editing skills, in the end writing more and more without errors. 

All of the strategies we’ve used above in our therapy sessions are parent-friendly and are excellent carryover activities for the extra practice at home that is essential for mastery. It is most advantageous to demonstrate the activities to the parents directly. However, if that isn’t possible, be sure to write up a concise, step-by-step set of directions – or give them a copy of my blogs as a resource!

Automaticity Revealed

At this point, my students would be demonstrating automaticity skills in our therapy sessions. However, during this stage where we are engaging in journal activities, I would enter into conversations with the teachers and parents to encourage them to ask their students to begin using their handwriting skills for class work and homework assignments. And I ask the students to bring in the work they’ve handwritten to give me an opportunity to assess it and to give them their moment in the spotlight where they can be proud of their work! In an effort to transition from practice to functional, I will add some of their class work to our therapy sessions, working with them on self-editing and speed skills if necessary. This works as a practical assessment of their skills and allows me to determine if the students are ready for discharge.

Dysgraphia

Regarding dysgraphia, when do we consider this to be the issue?  It all comes down to timeliness.  If:

— we’ve been working on letter formations and words and the students continue to struggle, often being inconsistent with automaticity, perhaps not moving past letter formations; or

— they have mastered all of the letter formations and are able to write words and sentences but are unable to complete the work in a timely manner appropriate for their grade level,

then I begin to work toward accommodations relative to dysgraphia.  Depending upon the school district, there are many ways to approach this. So each OT would need to gather that information in order to make the decisions necessary to enhance educational experience of their students.

Automaticity when it is Automatic

Instruction, practice, and repetition – works every time. And patience, for sure. But in the end, automaticity is accomplished and mastery is achieved. And the students are provided with an important skill for literacy enhancement. And we had fun in the process!

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


Katherine J. Collmer, 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

Reference:

  1. Collmer, K. J. Handwriting Development Assessment and Remediation:  A Practice Model for Occupational Therapists.  2016 ed. Waymart, PA:  Universal Publishing, 2016. Print.


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.


Pencil Grasp Repair: Strategies 101

Pencil Grasp Repair:  Strategies 101

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

on the Handwriting is Fun! Blog

Research results indicate that “the number of children who experience handwriting difficulties can be upwards of 27% in the primary grades (Volman, van Schendel, & Jongmans, 2006, as cited in Collmer, 2016, xiii).  Experts have identified a current trend that may result in handwriting difficulties and an inefficient pencil grasp:  presenting toddlers and preschool children with pencils and pencil activities before their motor muscles are ready for this complex fine motor task. (Collmer, 2016, p. 28)   Proper development of the muscles of the hand, both intrinsic and extrinsic, assist the writer in maintaining his grasp without pain or fatigue, with grip strength correlating with handwriting legibility in typically developing children. (Collmer, 2016, p. 29)  As occupational therapists, we play a key role in alerting educational staff about the hazards of pushing children into forming inefficient handwriting habits.  However, what do we do when we are presented with a student who has been struggling with his handwriting skills for quite some time; and who now, at the age of 9, is attempting to keep up with his peers in handwritten assignments?  Where do we begin?

I recently received a note from a seasoned occupational therapist who was striving to provide the best services to her young client.  She wrote:

“I have recently begun working with a student who is 9 years 4 months old. He is quite inefficient in the classroom due to the speed at which he completes his classwork.  This is concerning to the team as he approaches 4th grade.  His OT Evaluation revealed that he continues to use a static tripod grasp for all of the handwriting tasks.  I am curious about your experience with the static to dynamic transition for handwriting.  I am wondering if you have any thoughts on why some children do not transition to a dynamic grasp.  My assumption in this scenario is the lack of transition is related to poor postural control. For some reason, this one is just throwing me off a bit more than others to see an nearly nine and a half year old doing writing assignments from his shoulder.”

I did agree with this therapist that a common reason for a static tripod grasp is poor postural support.  Taking that assumption a step further, inefficient posture can also be an adaptation for the underlying reasons for his inefficient pencil grasp.  Poor shoulder, arm, wrist, hand, and finger muscles may cause the writer to grip the pencil tightly, brace his arm and elbow against his body, and produce movements from the shoulder instead of fluidly moving his hand and arm across the page.  I was excited about helping this therapist and her young man and I dove right in with a suggestion or two.  Since I had not seen this student’s grasp, I provided a strategy that I felt would help in most cases, discussing it as a step-by-step process from which I’d typically work.  Of course, we’d work on more than one strategy in the list at a time, with those presented close together complementing each other.  Both she and I thought it would be a nice idea to share it with you, too!

Step-by-Step:  Proximal to Distal

At this age, I turn to a very basic assessment that looks at shoulder, arm, wrist, and finger strength.  If it is determined that the grasping problems result from strength issues, then I begin there.  Experience has shown me that most times it will be!  At the start, I tend to do very little handwriting practice or paying much attention to changing the child’s grip during handwriting tasks, as most likely that is like trying to get blood from a stone.  Often, there’s been lots of practice and there’s been tons of hours spent on tips and tricks to change his grasping pattern with little success.  The frustration meter at this point has been pegged out for everyone concerned.  I’ve found the most success comes from working strictly with strengthening activities designed to address the child’s particular areas of concern.

  1.  I’d begin by concentrating on palmar arches and separation of the two sides of the hand.  There are plenty of exercises and activities that concentrate on these skills and can be adapted to his developmental level, helping him to open his web space and attain flexibility in his fine motor movements.  It’s important to be sure that he can perform thumb opposition efficiently, as well.  If not, include activities for that in this step.  This sets the stage for the following strategies.
  1.  At the same time, I would work on shoulder stability with upper body exercises or yoga activities.  Select activities that allow you to monitor progress with repetitions or quality of production, such as the plank, wall pushups, and indoor volleyball between you and him.  Work on drawing, sketching a map, or visual perceptual copying tasks on a vertical surface (such as a wall or window or chalk board – no dry erase please!), working with his wrist extended to 20 degrees and about 10 degrees of ulnar deviation. You won’t have to be as vigilant on correcting his positioning if he is working on these types of vertical surfaces since they will most often position his wrist and arm correctly by default!

Working on wrist extension on a vertical surface before tackling the thumb positioning. One step at a time!

Designs with Wikki Stix on a vertical surface to promote optimal wrist extension.

  1.  When he begins to experience some progress with No. 1 above, I’d include some bilateral fine motor activities such as molding clay or those that include cutting or putting things together.  This will begin to include his wrist and fingers of his dominant hand with help from his non-dominant.  Be sure he is resting his arms and hands on the table at first.  If he is performing everything “in the air,” chances are he’s using his shoulders to brace himself and he is less likely to move his hands and arms fluidly across the table (even in small bits) during the task, which is the goal in handwriting tasks.  Be sure that during these tasks, you are reminding him of the postural “must do’s” that you have been working on so far – back slightly bent toward the table so that he can see his work, elbows on the table, knees in front, feet flat on the floor.  I have to confess, I’m not as strict with every part of this as I used to be.  If the posture is working for the task and the child is not experiencing discomfort due to it, then I let it go and move on to the other things I’m working on.  If the posture is hindering the task, I have the student remind me what he needs to fix.  It helps to have a sign on the wall or a note on the desk that he can refer to during the activity.
  1.  Along with this, I’d begin to include core exercises in his routine (No. 2) above.  Alternating toe touches, modified sit ups, or yoga poses such as rocking the boat are great ways to add abdominal muscle work that is quantifiable and allows the student to monitor his progress.  (There are quite a few examples of exercises in the downloads included with my book.)

My favorite set of yoga exercises!

  1.  After some more progress is achieved with 1 and 3 above, which will be demonstrated by less dependence on his shoulder for movement and increased flexibility in his arm and wrist,  I’d add fine motor exercises – not tasks or activities. Strictly the same types of exercises that we would do with adults in a rehabilitation setting.  (I’ve included a handout for putty exercises in my downloads for my book.) They are simple to demonstrate and easy for him and his parents to follow at home….and they work.  I am leaving this until he has some upper body improvement because, as you know, development is proximal to distal.  Once we can get him to stabilize his shoulder and begin to move his arm in tandem with his hand, then he can begin to include fine motor movements to tie it all together.  The exercises are static, however, and do not involve much arm movement.  I try to mix the exercises in with some of the other activities above to add movement.  For instance, I might have the student perform one upper body exercise and then move over to the table for a fine motor, sequencing like that until both sets of exercises are completed.  Or I like to have them play a dice game where each number is attached to an upper body or fine motor exercise.  The student checks off which ones he’s completed and we roll the dice until they’ve all been done.  This way, the arm is working as well as the fingers.  It works to enhance flexibility.  You can also have the student perform the exercises standing up when his fine motor skills begin to get stronger.  This allows him to move his arms without support.  But be sure he’s not using his shoulder to stabilize too much!
  1.  When the above strategies are moving close to his final goals for those skills, I’d move on to adding about 5-10 minutes at the end of the session to work on activities that include handwriting – slowly at first.  I begin with a reminder of the appropriate ways that the shoulder, arm, wrist, hand, and fingers work together toward efficient handwriting skills.  Handwriting program workbooks often have great visuals to remind students of the placement of these parts.  (I know Universal Publishing’s books have great ones.)  I keep a checklist on the desk where the student can self monitor his positioning.  We work with tasks such as copying spelling or vocabulary words from the board in therapy to take home for study.  Even if this is a repeat of what he’s done in class, the task completion is being monitored by you and the student can actively practice his self monitoring techniques for use at home or in the classroom.  I like to have them write down directions to their home or the park or movie theater, make a list of items that they will need for their next camping trip or for what they want for lunch, or draw a picture and write a short, short description of what is happening in it.  It depends on what the child likes to do for fun.

Be sure to continue to include upper body exercises in his program to keep the muscles toned and ready for fine-motor work.  Most children love to continue with the putty exercises, too.  And that’s good because the fingers continue to need work at this point.  If he tires of them, there are others on line that he can try that use other materials or exercise tools.  It’s up to you and him.

  1.  Finally, when all of this is working, I shift from exercises to activities that concentrate on handwriting mastery.  We remain on vertical surfaces at first, moving to the table bit-by-bit as the student demonstrates transference of the skills he developed in the exercises and small tasks to specific handwriting activities.  If the quality of my student’s letter formation and alignment are good, then I’d work on speed and accuracy.  (Otherwise, I’d begin with those basics.)  I have some speed and accuracy activities in my downloads for my book; but I put a really effective one on my blog that’s not in there.  Here’s the link:

Minute Mania: Turning Handwriting into a Functional Tool by Katherine J. Collmer, M.Ed., OTR/L, on the Handwriting is Fun! Blog

I would work very slowly with students such as this guy.  I know sometimes that frustrates teachers and parents who want to see results right away for grading purposes.  However, slow but sure wins the race!  Posture is a problem for them.  But most of the time, their posture is poor because they are using their shoulder to stabilize their arm; and their wrists, hands, and fingers are too weak to form and maintain an appropriate grasp.  It is important to remember, too, that a functional grasp is not necessarily a pretty one.  If the grasp isn’t the traditional dynamic tripod grasp but his fingers aren’t white with pressure and he isn’t complaining about pain or fatigue in the hand, then it just might be an appropriate grasp.  In this case, to address speed and accuracy I would assess his shoulder and back muscles to determine their need for strengthening.  Just for fun, I’ve included a blog I wrote on functional grasping patterns.  If you have purchased my book, you may recognize parts of it, as some of the information is included in there:

Should we worry about pencil grip? by Katherine J. Collmer, M.Ed., OTR/L, on the Handwriting is Fun! Blog

I am pretty consistent in the method of my delivery, moving from gross motor, to vision skills, to fine motor, then function in my sessions, as I’m sure you all do.  I didn’t include any vision in the above, but these skills could easily be addressed in both types of exercises.

I really enjoyed working with this therapist and am looking forward to hearing her feedback about her student’s progress toward handwriting mastery!

As always, thank you so much for reading and sharing my work!

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

Reference:

  1. Collmer, K.  Handwriting Development Assessment and Remediation:  A Practice Model for Occupational Therapists.  2016 ed. Waymart, PA:  Universal Publishing, 2016. Print.

Pictures are the property of the author and must provide a link back to this article or her website.  Those that provide a link to the originating source should include that link when they are shared.

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.

Slow Down! Handwriting is not a race!

Keijj44 pixabaySlow Down! Handwriting is not a race!

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

on the Handwriting is Fun! Blog

I recently received an inquiry through my Handwriting With Katherine website regarding an aspect of handwriting that can be the final mastery challenge for many of my older students: handwriting speed.  My reader wrote:

“I have a 6th grade boy who writes crazy fast!  He wrote 99 letters/minute today.  According to the criteria I have, he should only need to be writing ~50 letters per minute for his age (11 years old).  And of course it looks very messy.”

This therapist indicated that the student produced “great precision and control when he slows down;” and while his grip was not considered anything “to be desired,” it was functional and did not affect his precision. His speed was affecting his ability to produce legible written work.  The therapist also inquired about the use of metronomes and music to assist in slowing her writer down.

Since I’m sure there are many therapists and teachers who have students who race through their written assignments, I thought I’d share my response to her. Here are some tips for helping students to get out of the handwriting race!

Editing Skills provide a foundation for appropriate speed.

Writing too fast can actually slow the writer down.  This can be both a good and a not-so-good thing.  In both cases, this is only true if students have been taught self-editing skills.  Self-monitoring their own work has been shown to increase the students’ sense of ownership and responsibility for their work (Thomson & Gilchrist, ed., p. 123).  They should understand the reasons for editing and have been instructed in the appropriate ways to incorporate editing skills as they are writing.  The foundation for self-editing is an important facet of a structured and guided handwriting instruction program.  In the early learning stages, they are taught to review their handwriting skills by going back to review a line of letter formation practice exercises as they complete each one.  As they become more proficient and begin to write words then sentences, they will train their eyes to recognize letter formation, alignment, and spacing errors as they are writing.  With these editing tools in hand, speedy writers will find themselves having to frequently

Self-editing skills (Photo property of Handwriting with Katherine)
Self-editing skills
(Photo property of Handwriting with Katherine)

erase and rewrite their work during its production.  As they recognize an error, they will attend to it and make the corrections.  So, editing can slow the pace of students’ handwriting.  This is a good thing if the writers are not producing so many errors that the time used in erasing and correcting hampers their ability to produce legible written work that accurately shares their knowledge in a timely manner.  This would indicate that the students have not yet mastered the foundational skills necessary for handwriting mastery.  In this case, it is important to return to practice or rehabilitation activities that will address letter formation, alignment, and spacing skills.  If the writers are producing sloppy work because of speed and not due to poor foundational skills, and their current level of self-editing has not assisted them in slowing down, then I suggest a fun game to help them to become “turtles.”  (Don’t let the name fool you. This game is appropriate for children in all grades.)

The Turtle Race.  For students who write very, very fast, I present an activity that is the opposite of my “Minute Mania” strategy.  (You can find many other excellent handwriting activities in my book, “Handwriting Development Assessment and Remediaiton:  A Process Model for Occupational Therpists.” )
Where in the “Minute Mania” strategy you ask the student to write very fast and worry about editing later, the “Turtle Race” is just the opposite.  Although I feel that metronomes and music can be effective timing tools, they do not present the functional basis for slowing down in a “fun and playful” way.*  I feel that this activity can do just that!

1. As with the “Minute Mania” strategy, you and the student can come up with a silly sentence (versus words) consisting of 5-8 words (perhaps more depending upon the age and handwriting skill of the student).

2. Present the sentence in typewritten format to prevent confusion over letter formations or handwriting style and cut the words into individual pieces of paper.

3. Place the individual words in sentence format above the student’s paper or taped on the board, depending on what type of task you are working on (near or distance copying).

4. Provide the student with these directions:

• Explain that the object of the game is to help him slow his handwriting speed in order to produce legible written work in a timely manner. Discuss self-editing strategies and how they are used to recognize and correct handwriting errors during the writing process.  (If the student is unfamiliar with these strategies – e.g., attention to detail and focusing on the letters produced versus his hand or pencil – take time to provide some

Makamuki0

instruction in them.)  Discuss the importance of correcting errors right away, so that during writing assignments he won’t have so many words to edit after his assignment is complete.  Explain that in the “Turtle Game,” he will correct his work during the writing process.  In addition, he will conduct a final edit of his work at the end of the game. At that time, he will create a score for the game by recording the number of words that he needed to rewrite during the final edit.  Finally, be sure that the student understands that the lowest score during final editing is the better one.

• Explain to the student that you will be pointing to each word in the order it appears in the sentence and that he will have a certain amount of time during each pointing to copy the word.  Emphasize that he cannot move on to the next word until you have pointed to it, so the student has LOTS of time to write it as neatly as he can and to edit his work.  You can decide on the amount of time you will allow for each word.  For example, 30 seconds per word for very fast writers will provide them with a sense that they have enough time to go slow; and that even though they may go fast, they will have to wait until the time is up until they can move on.

*You can enhance the students’ sense of timing by adding a metronome to the game, using its rhythmic sound and speed to help the writers’ slow down their handwriting speed.  Be sure to explain and demonstrate its purpose in the game and gradually remove it from the game to encourage carryover in a functional task.

• Be sure to let the student know that he should edit his work as it is written and not to wait until the end.

• Finally, remind the student that final editing will occur after the game; and for each word that includes an error, he will be asked to rewrite the word correctly and record the number of words that required rewriting. Remind him that the lowest score during final editing is the better one.  You can even make up a rubric for this if you want to so the student can monitor his own progress and take responsibility for it after each session.

5.  Now, students will most likely continue to write very fast at first even though you’ve given them time to work on each word.  This is a habit; and just like any other, it will need time to be replaced with a better one.  Don’t get discouraged.  Let them work it out as the game goes along.

6.  After the student has written the entire sentence, have him conduct the final edit and rewrite each word below the original, allowing the same amount of time you provided for each word during the original writing.  Have the student tell you what needs to be edited; and if he cannot find the errors, go ahead and discuss each word and/or letter formation with him.

7.  Have the student record his score on a score pad or your rubric.  Be sure to discuss his progress to help him understand the types of corrective actions that can help him improve his score.

8.  Then, run the “Turtle Race” again, with the same sentence, using the same time limits, and reminding the studentFotoShopTofs pixabay that he will want to beat his own score. Self-competition is a friendly, less stressful strategy for some students.  For others, healthy competition with another person can facilitate an understanding of speed and the motivation to slow down.

• If you are working with an individual student, you can add a more competitive component by including yourself in the game.  Both you and the student can write the words of the sentence sticking to the time limits.  By working alongside the student, you can demonstrate appropriate speed and timing, allowing him to get a sense of how fast he is writing compared with your speed.

• If you are working with more than one student at a time in your session or within a classroom setting, you can group the students and have them compete with each other by comparing scores.  This set-up can also provide students with an opportunity to model their speed after the slower writers.

Ideas for turning this strategy from practice into function.

• You can work with the student’s vocabulary or spelling lists.  Instead of providing a sentence format, simply flip over the words as they are presented in the “Minute Mania” game using a specific time limit for each word.

• Story-telling works well to incorporate writing skills into the session (which is the ultimate goal for handwriting mastery).  Have the student dictate a very short story to you, type it or write it on the board, and then conduct the game as originally presented.  As you point out the words, the student is actually recording his own original story.

Be Patient!  Sometimes the “Turtle Game” strategy very quickly accomplishes its goal of alerting students to the need to slow down.  Other times, it can take a while but then it clicks in.  Be patient – with yourself, the student, and the game.  There will always be a learning curve and it’s best to just let the learning take its course.  Remember, each student learns differently and that approaches to the game need to take those learning styles into account.

Be Prepared!  As an introductory preparation for this game, its best to begin with an activity that focuses on gross motor skills, especially those that include a visual component that requires diminished speed and precision.

• Let’s say for the little ones, the activity can be as simple as having them carry small objects across the room with a spoon to deposit into a small container.  This can work for older children, as well, if the props are appropriate.

• For older children, try a tether ball activity.  Hang a soft baseball-sized ball by a string from an overhead light or a ceiling tile at a height slightly above or at the students’ eye level.  Have your students stand about an arm’s length away, slightly less, and bat at it lightly.  Explain to them that the object is to have the ball cross just over their midline, back and forth just traveling from shoulder to shoulder.  Speed will need to be slower in order to maintain shoulder width and to keep the ball in control.  To help the students measure their speed, have them recite the alphabet slowly with each tap.  It also helps to enter into a conversation with the students, demonstrating speed by measuring the timing of your words.  As they converse with you, the students can model your speed.

I feel it’s very important to keep the functional aspect of therapy in the forefront of the student’s mind. Why do we need to write slow?  For the same reason we need to walk slowly with the spoon or tap the ball lightly – to maintain control and accuracy.  During the “Turtle Race,” discuss the reason why control and accuracy are important – many times!  It’s the ultimate object of the game, after all!  Enjoy!

The Handwriting is Fun! Blog is published 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

Reference:  Thomson, P., Gilchrist, P., ed. Dyslexia – A multidisciplinary approach. Stanley Thornes (Publishers) Ltd., United Kingdom, 1997.

Pictures that are marked the property of the author must provide a link back to this article or her website. All others must provide a link to the originating source.

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.

Minute Mania – Turning Handwriting Into A Functional Tool

clock PublicDomainPictures Pixabay

Minute Mania – Turning Handwriting Into A Functional Tool

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

Handwriting is considered to serve a functional role in literacy.  Its relevance to a child’s educational success is highlighted by the importance teacher’s place on its mastery, as evidenced by the large numbers of occupational therapy referrals that are based on handwriting needs (Case-Smith, 2002).  Gentry and Graham (2010), in their report, Creating Better Readers and Writers: The Importance of Direct, Systematic Spelling and Handwriting Instruction in Improving Academic Performance, identified handwriting “as an important communication skill that reinforces reading, spelling, and writing development” (Collmer, 2016, p. xii).  To emphasize handwriting mastery as a functional element in education, it’s important to note that its influence on success in school begins as early as pre-kindergarten, with a student’s proficiency with fine-motor writing skills at this stage being linked to higher academic achievement in second grade (Renaud, 2012).

Handwriting mastery is witnessed on several levels.  Initially, children make marks, mostly by chance, that represent their attempts to experiment with movement and sound.  As their grasping skills develop, those marks transform into more refined squiggles and swirls called scribbles, becoming essential components of handwriting mastery.  Susan Sheridan (2001) considers this stage as the beginning of a process for “train[ing] the brain to pay attention and to sustain attention” (Hypothesis One section heading) and the use of scribbles a method for the child to “practice and organize the shapes or patterns of thought (Hypothesis Three section heading).  Their marks begin to resemble handwriting and writing as they align their scribbles across the page from top to bottom and side to side.  The underlying components continue to develop as children experiment further with scribbling, progressing toward the development of pre-handwriting shape formation, “first by imitating geometric shapes beginning with vertical strokes, followed by horizontal strokes, and then to circle formations. (Collmer, p. 20)  Formal instruction follows to provide the essential guided assistance for the development of appropriate letter formations, alignment, spacing, and use of space, ensuring that children master the foundational components of a legible handwriting style.

Those foundational components are just that.  Foundational.  An efficient handwriting style includes one more element:  fluidity.  The writer must be able to call up those essential foundational skills quickly (referred to as automaticity) and produce a handwritten product in a timely manner.  Fluidity is the writer’s ability to move the hand across the page with even, efficient movements while maintaining both the efficiency of the foundational skills as well as his or her train of thought.  Speed is the skill that turns handwriting into a functional tool.  It is also one of the most challenging handwriting skills to remediate.

runner Cliker Free Vector Images PixabayA fun activity to help with handwriting speed!

I have found that games that prove to be the most beneficial to students who are challenged by speed and fluidity are those that encourage them to compete against themselves.   Writing races can be a fun way to help writers work toward their “personal best” without the anxiety of matching or exceeding another person’s strengths.  Minute Mania has served that purpose in my clinic for a number of years.  I have implemented this racing game in individual sessions, as well as in handwriting clubs.  It can be adapted for beginning, intermediate, and advanced letter formation skills and is an efficient tool to include in home programs.  And it only involves 10 words.

Here’s how it goes: 

 

  • The goal is for the students to write 10 words from text (initially) as quickly as they can within one minute without stopping to erase or correct, simply concentrating on speed. There is time after the game to edit and correct and to practice those skills with guidance.  At first, there may be quite a few corrections to make; but as the writers becomes more proficient and confident in their letter formation skills, there will be a more appropriate amount, and eventually none.
  • The words are printed in an easy-to-read text (such American Typewriter or Times New Roman) and cut into individual word cards.  The word

    Placement Example
    Word Placement (Picture is the property of Handwriting With Katherine)

    cards are placed on the desk by the therapist or parents either at the top or the side of the student’s paper. This is done one word at a time.  The next word card is placed on top of the first just as the student is finishing the current word.  When a minute is up, the last word that is being written is the last one that counts in the student’s total.

  • As the students become more fluent and can write the 10 words within the minute without having to do much correcting, they can advance to writing the words from dictation, thus not having the benefit of a visual model.  Each word is dictated and spelled, if necessary, following the same procedures as above.  In the end, the students will be able to write with appropriate speed from text and dictation.
  • If the students are having difficulty copying from the board with appropriate speed and accuracy, the process can go one step further to include that skill.
  • Eventually, the game can be adapted to include 10-word sentences that the students will write as fast as they can from text within the minute!

The process and some examples:

  • For students who have mastered only a portion of the manuscript or cursive letter formations, put together a list of words that includes those letters.  For the example below, my student was closing in on mastering the cursive letter formations for “A, a, h, i, M and m, t, u, and w.”  He and I created 10 “real and silly words” that would allow him to practice his writing speed using those letters.  We came up with “at, tat, tu, mu, tut, mitt, hit, tat, uti, and Mutt.”  For this student, the challenge was for him to have confidence in his letter formation skills and his ability to write them correctly without having to check each one as he wrote it to be sure it was perfect in his own eyes.  As you can see, for the first attempt (1.), he was able to copy 4 words.  This was mainly the result of the game being new and his anxiety to do his best.  For the second round (2.), however, he was able to write 9 of the words.  During the self-editing portion, he circled the errors he found and practiced the letters “u and w.  In his next session, after practicing with the game for homework, my student was able to produce the 10 words within the minute on the first try, then 9 words per minute in the second.

Photo is the property of Handwriting With Katherine
Photo is the property of Handwriting With Katherine

Photo is the property of Handwriting With Katherine
Photo is the property of Handwriting With Katherine

  • For another student, who was more proficient in cursive letter formations and was working on legibility as well as speed, we came up with 10 words that included the letters that were the most challenging for her. For this student, her letter formation skills were diminished when speed was the goal.    In the first try, her speed was excellent as she was able to complete the 10 words in one minute and four seconds.  However, as you can see in her timed work in the left-hand column, her legibility suffered.  So, we took a moment to talk about this and to correct her work on the right.  The next example was completed in 58 seconds after the game was used as homework.  As you can see by her stickers, she did very well!

Photo is the property of Handwriting With Katherine
Photo is the property of Handwriting With Katherine

Photo is the property of Handwriting With Katherine
Photo is the property of Handwriting With Katherine

  • As the student above became more proficient in her speed and legibility with individual words, I presented her with a paragraph to copy as fast as she could with her best handwriting.  She was able to produce a 43-word paragraph in 5 minutes and 37 seconds, legibly.  This was a

    Photo is the property of Handwriting With Katherine
    Photo is the property of Handwriting With Katherine

    dramatic improvement in just 5 months for a student who avoided her cursive and reverted back to manuscript during the assessment.

Minute Mania Works!

Minute to Win It Brain Games Care com
Minute to Win It Brain Games on Care.com

The idea to use minute timeframes to encourage cognitive and motor skills is not new.  There are many fun minute games for children and adults that benefit fine-motor, visual, and literacy skills.  They can be adapted for use with an individual child to focus on his or her skill strengths and needs and to offer a safe environment to learn and grow.  Don’t take my word for it.  Try a minute mania game with your struggling handwriter.  Let me know what you come up with.  I’m always on the lookout for new ideas to share with teachers, students, and parents.

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 forCollmer Book addressing handwriting development needs. She can be contacted via her website, Handwriting With Katherine.
Pictures that are marked the property of the author must provide a link back to this article or her website.  All others must provide a link to the originating source.
 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.
Case-Smith, J. (2002). Effectiveness of School-Based Occupational Therapy Intervention on Handwriting. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 56(1), 17-25. doi:10.5014/ajot.56.1.17
Collmer, K. J., M.ED., OTR/L. (2016). Handwriting Development Assessment and Remediation: A Practice Model for Occupational Therapists. Waymart, PA: Universal Publishing. ISBN 978-1-934732-53-3
Renaud, J. (2012, January 18). Good handwriting and good grades: FIU researcher finds new link [TXT]. Miami: Florida International University.
Sheridan, S. R. (2010). The Neurological Significance Of Children’s Drawing: The Scribble Hypothesis. Retrieved February 19, 2016, from http://www.drawingwriting.com/scribble.html

Technology by MacGyver Revisited

office FirmBee Pixabay

Technology comes in various packages, from the most expensive to the budget friendly.  It has become a staple in our lives, as well as an effective means for adapting school requirements to meet a student’s needs.  Rebecca Klockars, an occupational therapist and RESNA certified assistive technology professional, shares adaptive strategies that will not make a big dent on your therapy budget.  Click on the picture below to learn more!

Low Tech Assistive Technology: MacGyver Inspired by Rebecca Klockars, OT, OT Mommy

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.
Pictures are the property of the sites they are linked to and their use must provide a link back to the owner.