The Challenge of Moving Toward Self-Sufficiency with or without Assistive Technology

This month, the Handwriting is Fun! Blog is proud to host another guest author series.  In July we will be sharing information on the topic of Technology and OT.  Our series will stray from our typical course and discuss non-handwriting related topics, except for the one published the first week.   I know you will enjoy what our guests will be sharing and will learn a great deal from their expertise.  This week, we are proud to publish this blog concurrently with Eleanor Cawley, M.S., OTR/L as she presents us with a beginner’s tutorial for helping students achieve their highest level of self-sufficiency with or without assistive technology.

Eleanor, you’re on!

 

community technology geralt pixabay
Transitioning students With disabilities onto the next phase of their lives.

The Challenge of Moving Toward Self-Sufficiency with or without Assistive Technology

 

 

As school districts begin to think about transitioning students with disabilities out of school and onto the next phase of life, the idea of becoming as independent or self-sufficient as possible comes to mind. I prefer to use the term self-sufficient as this term implies a sense of power and strength in addition to not requiring assistance from others.  At the age of 14 years, school districts are required to begin developing a transition plan.  Educators, therapists and parents investigate vocational as well as, social and self-care tasks.  In many high schools, Life Skills Programs concentrating on just this effort are charged with the task of fostering self-sufficiency.

Collectively, we explore both basic [BADLs] and instrumental activities of daily living [IADLs]. BADLs include basic self-care tasks, such as feeding, toileting [including maintaining continence], dressing [donning/doffing and selecting clothes], grooming/bathing, walking and transfers (such as from bed to wheelchair). These are the skills that we have begun to develop since birth. IADLs are more complex skills that we are taught as our thinking skills become more developed and include things like money management, driving/using public transportation, shopping, meal prep, communication using a telephone, computer or tablet, managing medications, housework and basic home maintenance.  The IADL and vocational skills are the focus of the Life Skills Programs.

Please click here to read the rest of her article on Eleanor’s blog.

 

Eleanor CawleyEleanor Cawley is an occupational therapist with many years of experience in the pediatric sector and specifically in transitioning students from high school to post high school.  Much of her practice focuses on using technology when lower tech strategies fail to meet the needs of her students. She is the author of Using Rubrics to Monitor Outcomes in Occupational Therapy and The Student Interview.

 

 

Technology and OT Series

Handwriting:  is an app applicable?
Handwriting: is an app applicable?

5 Nifty Handwriting Helpers Revisited

5 Nifty Handwriting Helpers Revisited

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

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

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

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

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

 

Five Nifty Handwriting Helpers

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

The Five Nifty Handwriting Helpers!

  1. Body Awareness

This helper is

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

 

Body Awareness can be developed through activities such as:

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

 

+  balance and coordination,

+  concentration, and

+  visual attention skills.

 

 

 

+  make left and right turns,

+  look up,

+  check on top or behind, and

+  look under.

 

Watch a cool movement video from The PE Update Blog!
Watch a cool movement video from The PE Update Blog!
  • Relay races, tug-of-war, musical chairs, or simply rolling down a hill provides children with opportunities to

+  use the left and right sides of their bodies,

+  manage their weight against gravity, and

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

Skateboarding and roller skating will definitely do the trick!

 

 

 2.  Finger, Hand, and Wrist Strength

This helper provides the foundation for

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

+  push,

+  pull,

+  grab ahold, and

+  hold on.

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

 

 

 

+  use their two hands together for precision work;

+  manipulate different tools and textures; and

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

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

 

 

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

 

+  dig in the soil,vegetables-condesign-pixabay

+  plant seeds, and

+  pull weeds,

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

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

 

 

3.  Vision and Sensory Skills

These helpers are those that allow children

 

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

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

 

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

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

+  maintain eye contact,

+  focus with near vision, and

+  use eye movements to follow the game.

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

 

 

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

+  movement and

+  imitation.

 

 

 

 

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

        +  visual attention,

        +  efficient scanning techniques, and

        +  visual perceptual skills to complete them.

 

 

4.  Posture

This helper allows children to learn using efficient

 

Postural skills can be developed through activities such as:

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

+  Core Body Muscles

+  balance, and

+  coordination.

 

 

 

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

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

 

        +  building core body muscles and

         +  vision skills.

 

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

 

 

+  understand what “posture” is,

+  develop good postural habits, and

+  appreciate the importance of having good posture.

 

 

5. Practice

This helper allows children to

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

trip maps

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

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

 

Katherine

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

Five Nifty Handwriting Helpers

Five Nifty Handwriting Helpers

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

The Five Nifty Handwriting Helpers!

  1. Body Awareness

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

 

What are some fun body awareness activities?

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

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

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

 

Anything that produces movement enhances body awareness!

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

2.  Finger, Hand, and Wrist Strength

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

What are some fun fine-motor strengthening activities?

Art can enhance writing!
Art can enhance writing!

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

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

 

 

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

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

 

 

 

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

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

 

 

3.  Vision and Sensory Skills

 

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

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

 

What are some fun vision and sensory processing activities?

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

 

 

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

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

 

 

magic-cube-domenicblair pixabay

 

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

 

 

 

4.  Posture

Why should we care about posture?

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

 

What are some fun posture enhancing activities?

 

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

 

 

 

 

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

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

 

5. Practice

Why do we need to practice even in the summer?

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


 

What are some fun handwriting practice activities?

 

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

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

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

trip maps

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

 

 

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Katherine

Katherine J. Collmer, M.Ed., OTR/LKatherine J. Collmer, M.Ed., OTR/L, is a pediatric occupational therapist who specializes in the assessment and remediation of handwriting skills and understands the link between handwriting skills and writing.  She can be contacted via her website, Handwriting With Katherine.
 
 Disclaimer: The information shared on the Handwriting With Katherine website, blog, Facebook page, Twitter page, Pinterest page; in the Universal Publishing Handwriting Teachers’ Guides; on any guest blog posts or any other social media is for general informational purposes only and should not be relied upon as a substitute for sound professional medical advice or evaluation and care from your physician/medical team or any other qualified health care providers. Therefore, the author of these links/posts take no responsibility for any liability, loss, or risk taken by individuals as a result of applying the ideas or resources.
 
Summer Handwriting Fun Series #1            Summer Handwriting Fun Series #2
10 Tips for Summer Handwriting Fun
10 Tips for Summer Handwriting Fun
Spaghetti and Meatball Spacing From Miss Jaime OT
Spaghetti and Meatball Spacing From Miss Jaime OT

Handwriting Tips for Older Students – Posters!

Handwriting Tips for Older Students – Posters!

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

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

A strategy to move from practice to function

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

 

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

 

A Visual Book Report Plan

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

2.  Then, I collected my supplies:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And how did we do?

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

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

And what did we gain?

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

(1)  visualization

(2)  graphic organization

(3)  use of handwriting for creative expression.

 

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

 

 

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

 

Katherine

 

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

Collmer Handwriting Development Assessment and Remediation

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

 

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

5 Handwriting Helpers For Older Students

 

5 Handwriting Helpers for Older Students

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

on the Handwriting is Fun! Blog

Three boys playing tug-of-war

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Learning a new hobby is fun, too!

Learning a new hobby is fun, too!

 

Learning a new hobby is fun, too!

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

4.  Give them lots of movement and sensory experiences

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

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

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

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

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

 

5.  Finally, PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE! 

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

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

 

 

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

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

Katherine

 

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

 

 

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

Collmer Handwriting Development Assessment and Remediation

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

 

 

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

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