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

Top 5 Ways to Get Away From Table-Top Writing Activities

The “Summer Handwriting Fun” series proudly presents a Guest Post from    OT Mommy!  We are thrilled that she has joined us to share her inspirational strengthening activities that will help children enhance the physical skills they will need to master handwriting.  Handwriting brings cognitive, fine-motor, and physical skills to the table each time we sit down to write.  Mommy OT is here to offer ways to work on those skills while we are away from the table!  I know you will enjoy her work!  Be sure to visit her site and comment on this article so that she knows how much you appreciate her!  OK, OT Mommy, we’re ready!

 

Top 5 Ways to Get Away From Table-Top Activities

 

 

student falls alseep at desk with book open
Clipart provided by Classroomclipart

If you are tired of the same ol’ sitting at the table, pencil and paper tasks, try switching it up with change of scenery, or at least a change in position. Altering body positions can be easily incorporated to enhance a therapy session individually or as stations in an obstacle course.

Take a look at my Top 5 Summer Themed Positions for Writing.

 

 

  1. The Backstroke

Have the student lay on his/her back under a table while coloring or writing. Not only will this position encourage bilateral use of hands by forcing the child to keep the paper from falling, it will also address shoulder strengthening and visual attention.

 

  1. The Doggy Paddle

High or Half Kneeling at a wall or an easel during a painting or writing activity will challenge the student’s core. A strong and healthy trunk can help to improve posture, digestion and respiration. Make sure to provide a yoga mat or a pillow to help with any knee discomfort.

 

  1. The Crawl Stoke

boy-wearing-hat-in-pool-sitting-inner-tube
Clipart provided by Classroomclipart

Clear the floor to provide enough space for your student to lay on his/her belly. My students love navigating through an obstacle course and ending with writing practice on the yoga mat. Weight bearing through the shoulders helps the students keep the forearms down and achieve a more dynamic grasp pattern during pencil paper tasks.

 

  1. The High Dive

Have the student stand at a canvas taped to the wall or door. Add a challenge by having the student complete wall push ups between tasks.

 

  1. The Free Style

Free Style is just that. It is the chance to mix it up for the student to experience the complex skill of handwriting in an environment other than at the table. No pencil or paper is needed here. Watch the child visualize the letters when a peer uses his/her finger to write on his/her back. Or head to the sandbox and use sticks to draw in the sand. Or to the sidewalk to challenge the tolerance of vibratory feedback when the chalk is dragged along the pavement.   Or barefoot in the grass using their feet to form the letters with different muscle groups. Open it up to the students to guide how they want their therapy to be done.

 

By changing the way an activity is presented, you can awaken the senses and get more bang for the buck.

 

Rebecca Klockars is a mom, occupational therapist, RESNA certified assistive technology professional and author of the blog OTMommy Needs Her Coffee.  When not ranting and raving about things to do with her children (her own and the school-based kids too) she enjoys cooking, reading and building things with PVC, duct tape and velcro.  For more information, visit www.otmommy.blogspot.com

 

 

 

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

5 Nifty Handwriting Helpers
5 Nifty Handwriting Helpers

Handwriting is a complex language.

Handwriting is a complex language.

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

on the Handwriting is Fun! Blog

Language is defined as a “communication of thoughts and feelings through a system of arbitrary signals, such as voice sounds, gestures or written symbols.”  This system includes rules such as words and sentences and is shared by a specific group of people or a nation.  Language allows us to tell others what we know, ask questions about things we don’t understand, and to make our needs known.  Language is a living component of our lives.  We learn it, develop it, hone i,t and expand upon it.  It is complex.  And it comes in many forms.

As I conducted my research for this article, I came upon this interesting diagram that defines language as having five components:

The 5 Components of Language
The 5 Components of Language (Originally appeared in an article by Glenys Ross)

This clearly points out the myriad of connections that take place in communication.  But it also provides some insight into the complexity of handwriting mastery.  The author of the article, Glenys Ross, points out that

Handwriting is not an isolated activity; neither can it be seen solely as a motor activity (all about movement).  It is part of language activity.” 

Handwriting, as a task, utilizes information from our eyes, our mind, and our auditory, tactile, and proprioceptive systems.  It is a language that uses movement (fine motor), thinking, visual processing, and attention.  It has symbols, rules, and sounds.  And when we come across a child who struggles with the mastery of handwriting skills, these layers of complexity need to be investigated and assessed to determine which ones are hindering his progress.

 

As Occupational Therapists, we work to discover the underlying culprits that require remediation and begin the process of developing a plan that will attend to the development and/or adaptation of a handwriting program to meet the child’s needs. 

1.  We take into consideration how the child’s struggles with handwriting are affecting his educational success, as well as his self-esteem. 

2.  We look at the goals of his parents and his teachers. 

3.  And we must determine the child’s developmental, physical, and cognitive skill levels. 

4.  At times, the hurdle appears to be the very act of handwriting itself.  It’s laborious and time-consuming.  Perhaps the child’s pencil grasp is inefficient and his hand hurts. 

In many cases, the child has already been offered an adaptation that provides him with a keyboarding option.  For some, this appears to be the “just right” fit.  But is that truly the answer to solving a student’s handwriting problems?

 

But is keyboarding the answer?

Many of my clients’ parents are on the fence about this adaptation.  While they do see the benefits of having their children use a computer or iPad for schooltypewriter retro D Gabi pixabay-79025_1280 and homework, they continue to have concerns about the underlying reasons why they had difficulty with handwriting in the first place.  And they rightly should. 

The fact that handwriting is a complex language, and that it is one of our forms of communication,  indicates that the same facets that comprise it are also integral components of one or more of the other four languages identified above.

 

  • Reading is visual and cognitive. 
  • Listening utilizes cognitive and attention skills. 
  • Thinking requires movement and vision in order to access new information and to adapt stored information. 
  • Speaking requires thinking and listening skills. 

The languages we use do not stand alone.  They work together to provide a stage for learning and growth.  When the language of handwriting is deficient, it is most likely that another language area has been affected as well.

 

Removing the problem of handwriting with a keyboard does not address the underlying skills that stand in the way.  This strategy can certainly help a student over the immediate hurdle of completing class and homework in a timely and legible manner.  It can provide him with a means to keep up with his peers.  However, it does not work on the skills that he needs to address in order to solve his handwriting problems.

 

Why do we care if he can write by hand?

office building windows geralt pixabayIn a study headed by University of Washington professor of educational psychology, Virginia Berninger, (1) researchers found that children in the second, fourth, and sixth grades composed essays faster and more prolifically when using a pen versus a keyboard.  The fourth and fifth graders tested wrote more complete sentences using a pen.  Berninger found that the keyboard was better for writing the alphabet.  However, the results for composing sentences were mixed. 

Her research has shown that “forming letters by hand may engage our thinking brains differently than pressing down on a key.” She points out that written language in itself has “multiple levels like a tall building with a different floor plan for each story.”  For handwriting, the written language – letters, words, sentences, and paragraphs – comprise its set of complex levels.  She relates that although they appear independent of each other, they are actually related.  Spelling, words, sentences, and organizing sentences are located on different floors but can affect each other as a child begins to master handwriting and the written language.  Difficulty with spelling or composing text stems from skill proficiencies located on different levels resulting in transcription challenges.

 

Berninger stresses that transcription disability should not be ignored in children who struggle with the language of handwriting and that it is important to provide these children with the opportunity to form letters by hand.  She acknowledges that we still need more research to determine how forming letters by hand encourages learning differently than using a keyboard.  However, she points out that “Brain imaging studies with adults have shown an advantage for forming letters over selecting or viewing letters.”  The scientific reason behind this involves the reticular activating system (RAS) located at the base of the brain. 

  • As we perform any task, our brain is collecting information from our bodies, the environment, and from within the brain itself. 
  • Some of this information is essential to the task that we are engaged in.  Others are extraneous, such as the lawn mower in the neighbor’s yard, the student talking to the teacher, or our memory of yesterday’s events. 
  • In order for us to be able to effectively carry out the task at hand, the RAS filters the information we are receiving and places the most important to our task in the forefront.  It appears that the physical act of writing does just that. 

Berninger shares the thought that this physical act of writing – using your hand to form and connect letters – may provide the brain with a more active involvement in the process and brings the information being scribed to our attention.  Keyboarding is a passive activity where the “writer” touches keys and creates a letter or word with finger movement.  Handwriting provides the writer with the opportunity to “engage the hand” and the brain together in learning.

 

This is an exciting area of research into the areas of handwriting and learning. 

As we work toward developing handwriting mastery in children who struggle with it, it is important to remember the significance that handwriting plays in learning.  In a research study conducted by Laura Dinehart, an assistant professor at Florida International University’s College of Education, handwriting was shown to be a key indicator of academic success in elementary alphabet letters geralt pixabayschool.  Study results revealed that second-grade students who received good grades on fine motor writing tasks in pre-k had an average GPA of 3.02 in math and 2.84 in reading (B averages).  However, students who did poorly on pre-k fine motor writing tasks achieved an average GPA of 2.30 in math and 2.12 in reading (C averages) in second grade. 

 

Substituting keyboarding for handwriting can be a temporary accommodation for some children.  Let’s be sure to make that distinction as we assess and remediate a student’s handwriting needs in an effort to give each child the opportunity to use the language of handwriting effectively.

 

(1) Berninger, Virginia W., Robert D. Abbott, Amy Augsburger, and Noelia Garcia. “Comparison of Pen and Keyboard Transcription Modes in Children With and Without Learning Disabilities.” Learning Disability Quarterly 32.Summer 2009 (2009): 123-41. Sage Journals. Web. 6 July 2015. <http://ldq.sagepub.com/content/32/3/123.abstract>.

Katherine J. Collmer, M.Ed., OTR/LKatherine J. Collmer, M.Ed., OTR/L, is a pediatric occupational therapist specializes in the assessment and remediation of handwriting development skills.  Her book, Handwriting Development Assessment and Remediation:  A Practice Model for Occupational Therapists, can be purchased on her website, Handwriting With Katherine.

 

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

(1) Berninger, Virginia W., Robert D. Abbott, Amy Augsburger, and Noelia Garcia. “Comparison of Pen and Keyboard Transcription Modes in Children With and Without Learning Disabilities.” Learning Disability Quarterly 32.Summer 2009 (2009): 123-41. Sage Journals. Web. 6 July 2015. <http://ldq.sagepub.com/content/32/3/123.abstract>.

10 Handy Helpers for Kindergarten Readiness

cartoon girl public domain pictures pixabay

10 Handy Helpers for Kindergarten Readiness

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

on the Handwriting is Fun! Blog

 

Kindergarten has become the new first grade.  Yes, I am from the “old school” where free play, guided activities, and milk and cookies gave Kindergarten it’s role and purpose.  I know they included nap time in there, as well, but I was never a napper.  So, I spent that quiet time day dreaming and cooking up story ideas in my head!  Kindergarten was a place to dream, grow, and get to know all about yourself.  But all that has been designated as preschool activities and Kindergarteners are expected to have certain skills at the “ready” when they come to school.  So, let’s take a look at some Kindergarten Readiness Skills, shall we?

 

 

First Some Research

  • A 2004 study conducted by the Southwest Educational Development Laboratory, (2) looked at the factors and components that account for differences in children’s skills and performance in Kindergarten.  They found that “the cognitive and social skills with which young children enter kindergarten make a difference in their achievement in kindergarten.”  Findings indicated that a child’s family experiences and interactions “strongly correlated with their relative skills and abilities upon entry to kindergarten.”
  • The authors of a 2002 National Center for Early Learning and Development study (1) found that “school readiness is not defined as a trait of a child but rather as a product of interactions in terms of the settings in which the child participates.”  Family, social, and educational environments prior to Kindergarten provide youngsters with opportunities to learn behaviors, language and communication skills, and problem solving strategies.
  • A 2000 longitudinal study conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics, (3) determined that “the foundation of cognitive skills and knowledge that children build in kindergarten will influence children’s experience in school and their cognitive growth in later school years.”

 

I’m sure you’ve noticed that I’ve selected 3 studies that are not current.  I’ve done that to emphasize that Kindergarten readiness has been known to be an important factor in a child’s educational success for some time.  Even us stick-in-the-muds have to admit that!  There is a great deal of effort in the communities to get children, their parents, and the schools together early to foster the development of children’s skills during the critical first 5 years.  Knowledge is the most important tool we can give parents in their quest for educational success for their children.  And it all needs to start before they enter the door to their Kindergarten classroom.puzzle family cartoon geralt pixabay-210786_1280

 

What are Kindergarten Readiness Skills?

Children who come to Kindergarten are expected to have a wide range of skills that will help them to learn and grown in school.

  • Enthusiasm toward learning.   A child should be excited about exploring new activities, comfortable with asking questions, and diligent enough to persevere with challenging tasks.
  • Language skills.  He should be able to communicate his needs and express his feelings in an appropriate manner.  He should have an accurate sense of body awareness with an understanding of directional terms such as around, under, over, and through.
  • Ability to listen.  A child should be able to follow simple instructions and listen to an entire story without interrupting.
  • Desire to be independent.  She should be able to separate from her parents for the length of the school day, be able to use the bathroom by herself, and be starting to take responsibility for her personal belongings.
  • Ability to interact with children and adults.  A child should be able to follow a simple two-step task and independently problem solve.  He should be willing to share, compromise, and take turns with his classmates and teachers.  It helps if he remembers to say “please, thank you, and excuse me,” as well!
  • Strong fine-motor skills.  A child should be able to hold and use a pencil, cut with scissors, and be learning to write her name.  It is important that she be able to carefully turn the pages of a book, pack and unpack her backpack, and fasten snaps and buttons on her clothing.  (Zippers are nice but not an essential just yet!)
  • Basic letter and number awareness.  A child should be able to sing and recite the alphabet and to recognize some letters   He should be able to count to 10 and identify numbers one to five.  Teachers would also like him to be able to recognize his name printed in in upper and lower case letters (James).  It is also helpful if he knows the basic colors and shapes.

 

Despite my stick-in-the-mud viewpoint, I have come up with 10 Handy Helpers for Kindergarten Readiness!  These are the very skills that eventually, when the time is right, will help children to master their handwriting skills!  So, let’s go and discover just what they are, shall we?

 

10 Handy Helpers That You Can Do At Home!

Have fun with learning by having your children include these activities in your daily routines:

1.  Count the number of steps from the bedroom to the bathroom, to the bath to the kitchen, and from the door to the mailbox. (visual-motor and visual perceptual skills)

2.  Shout out directional terms as he sets the table (left for the fork, right for the knife and spoon) or when you go for a walk (up for the sky, down for the sidewalk, and over for the bridge).  (body and spatial awareness)

3.  Find book titles in the library that begin with each letter of the alphabet in order.  (sequencing, visual memory, letter recognition)

4.  Sort and match the laundry when it’s dry and deliver it to the owners.  (visual discrimination)  Use clothespins to dry them outside on the line! (fine-motor)

peas and carrots condesign pixabay5.  Cut out pictures of grocery items from the newspaper and locate them in the store.  (visual discrimination, visual scanning, visual recognition)

6.  Draw a picture of something he did that day and verbally describe it.  (language, fine motor, visualization)

7.  Count out small snacks as she puts them into a bowl.  (fine motor, sequencing, visual-motor)

8.  Prepare a simple recipe by measuring, pouring, mixing, and stirring the ingredients.  (fine motor, visual-motor, sequencing, following directions)

9.  Dictate a letter for you to write for him to grandmother, sister, or friend.  (visualization, language)

10. Unpack the groceries and help to put them away.  (visual scanning, fine- and gross-motor, visual discrimination)

 

Of course, there’s always puzzles, board games, books, and crafts to help your child get ready for school!  So much fun, so little time!

 

As always, thanks for reading!  I hope you will honor me with your comments, feedback, and suggestions for more ways to include Kindergarten readiness in a child’s daily routine!

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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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.

 

 

(1) Pianta, R. C., & Cox, M. (2002).  Early Childhood Research and Policy Briefs; Transition to Kindergarten.  University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill:  National Center for Early Development & Learning.

(2)  Boethel, M. (2004).  Readiness: School, Family, and Community.  Southwest Educational Development Laboratory
(3)  U.S. Department of Education. National Center for Education Statistics.  America’s Kindergarteners, NCES 2000-070, by Kristin Denton, Elvira Germino-Hausken. Project Officer, Jerry West, Washington, DC: 2000.

Handwriting challenges ARE learning difficulties!

paper and pen condesign pixabay

Handwriting challenges ARE learning difficulties!

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

 

 

 

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

 

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

 

When does handwriting receive a fair shake?

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

Handwriting and Writing are Team Players

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

 

What do good handwriting skills look like?

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

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

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

 

What are the obvious signs of inefficient handwriting?

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

 

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

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

 

What are the underlying causes of inefficient handwriting?

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

These difficulties can present themselves as:

 

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

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

Katherine

 

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

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

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

 

Katherine J. Collmer, M.Ed., OTR/LKatherine J. Collmer, M.Ed., OTR/L, is a pediatric occupational therapist who owns and operates a clinic that specializes in the assessment and remediation of handwriting skills.  She can be contacted via her website, Handwriting With Katherine.

 

 

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

Visual Perceptual Skills: The Keys to Learning – Part 3

Visual Perceptual Skills:  The Keys to Learning, Part 3, Handwriting With Katherine        In our previous articles, we discussed the first four skills in the Visual Perceptual Skill Set:

·      Visual Attention
·      Visual Discrimination
·      Position in Space
·      Visual Spatial Relations
·      Visual Memory
·      Visual Sequential Memory
·      Visual Form Constancy
·      Visual Closure
·      Figure Ground

 

 

It was apparent that these skills set the stage for our ability to pay attention to our tasks, as well as to understand what our bodies can do and how we can manipulate them through space.

 

We will continue on our journey of discovery by taking a look at the next two visual perceptual skills:

Visual Memory and Visual Sequential Memory.

 

5.  Visual Memory is our ability to recall and store visual details in our short-term memory for use during automatic tasks such as handwriting, reading, and math.  It allows us to recognize the differences between the shapes and sizes of letters, to remember sight words, and to comprehend what we have read.  Visual memory is often described as a process by which we see an object in our “mind’s eye” and then retrieve a memory of that object in order to mentally identify it.

 

a.  Children who have difficulty with visual memory will often exhibit these signs:

(1)  Difficulty keeping up with his peers during handwriting tasks, needing to frequently “think about” the formation of the letters that form a word.

Visual Perceptual Skills:  The Keys to Learning, Part 3, Handwriting With Katherine
Sometimes children will appear bored when they are struggling with poor memory skills.

(2)  Difficulty copying from the board or a book, frequently losing his place and stopping to find the location of the last word he has written.

(3)  Demonstrates diminished comprehension after reading an age-appropriate story.

(4)  Difficulty following verbal directions that include over two-steps, usually only performing the last step that was provided to him.

(5) Demonstrates boredom and/or confusion during class or home work, tending to act as thought he was not interested in the task.

 

b. Activities that enhance visual memory include:

(1) Memory games, either board games or on-the-spot activities, provide “exercise” for the brain’s short-term memory.  Memory games can be constructed with everyday household items, such as feeding utensils, family photos, or crayons. Have the child look at them, name them verbally, and write them down, if he can.  If he is a beginning writer, have him draw a simple picture of each to enhance his memory.  Then, hide the items under a cloth and ask him to list them without using his vision.

(2) Copying pattern designs provides opportunities for children to use their visual short-term memory as they remember the colors or shapes that comprise the design.  Manipulatives, such as beads or blocks, enhance the development of visual memory by adding visual-motor input.

(3) Ask questions frequently that require the use of short-term memory, such as “What equipment did you use on the playground today?”  It also helps to reinforce any written directions with verbal ones, asking the child to repeat them to you to ensure that he has understood and remembered them.

 

6. Visual Sequential Memory is our ability to remember a series of numbers, letters, or objects that have been presented visually and to recall that sequence accurately.   We use this skill every day as we recall phone numbers or spell words such as “their” and “there.”

Sequential Memory I can teach my child
Story Sequencing is a fun way to enhance visual sequencing memory skills!

a. Children who have difficulty with visual sequential memory will often exhibit these signs:

(1) Difficulty remembering the alphabet or numbers in sequence.

(2) Difficulty sequencing letters in familiar words or numbers in a math problem.

(3) Difficulty copying from the board or a book without frequent errors.

(4) Difficulty recalling the sequence of events in a story or a familiar activity.

(5) Difficulty performing math problems.

 

 

 

b. Activities that enhance visual sequential memory include:

(1) Word search puzzles require a child to remember the sequence of letters that comprise the spelling of the word that he is locating on the page.

(2)  Board games that use numbers, letters, or words, such as bingo, provide opportunities to recall the shapes of letters and sequence of numbers or words.

(3) Movement games, such as Duck-Duck-Goose or Red Light-Green Light, require the child to remember the sequence of activities that comprise the rules of the game, as well as provide motor movement to enhance the development of memory skills.

 

 

Once again, it is clear to “see” that our vision skills are key facets in learning and literacy.

 

In the words of vision experts, 80% of what you perceive, comprehend and remember depends on the efficiency of the visual system.  And that makes vision an important detail to never overlook!

 

Please join us for the final segment in our journey of discovery as we unwrap the secrets of the Visual Form Constancy, Visual Closure, and Figure Ground skills!  Thanks for reading!

 

 

 

Did you miss Parts 1 and 2?  You can get them here!

 

Part 1:  The Cotton Ball Game is an excellent "attention-getter!"
Part 1: The Cotton Ball Game is an excellent “attention-getter!”

Visual Perceptual Skills:  The Keys to Learning, Part 2, Handwriting With Katherine
Part 2: Problems with balance can sometimes signal poor body awareness skills.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Katherine J. Collmer, M.Ed., OTR/L, is a pediatric occupational therapist who owns and operates a clinic that specializes in the assessment and remediation of handwriting skills.  She can be contacted via her website, Handwriting With Katherine.

 

 

Disclaimer: The information shared on the Handwriting With Katherine website, blog, Facebook page, Twitter page, Pinterest page; the Wellness For Life:  Cape Cod blog; 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.

Visual Perceptual Skills: The Keys to Learning, Part 2

Visual Perceptual Skills:  The Keys to Learning, Part 2 Handwriting With Katherine
“Look Again” App for Visual Perceptual Skills

In our previous article, we discussed the first two skills in the Visual Perceptual Skill Set:

·      Visual Attention
·      Visual Discrimination
·      Position in Space
·      Visual Spatial Relations
·      Visual Memory
·      Visual Sequential Memory
·      Visual Form Constancy
·      Visual Closure
·      Figure Ground

 

It was apparent that these skills set the stage for our ability to pay attention to important details while we filter out those that are not needed to complete our task.

 

In this article, we will discover the importance of the two skills that provide us with a sense of space and how we relate to our bodies and objects within that space:   Position in Space and Visual Spatial Relations.

 

3.  Position in Space is a skill that develops from our own body awareness.  As a child learns about his left and right, top and bottom, front and back, he is able to transfer that information to the position of objects outside of himself.  He can recognize the difference between verbal directions that ask him to “place it on top” or “put it under” the table.  He is able to determine the difference between the letter “d” and the letter “b,” as well as the words “was” and “saw.”

 

a.  Children who have difficulty with position in space will often exhibit these signs:

(1)  Appears clumsy during moderate movement activities, such as walking down the hall, playing ball, climbing on playground equipment, or with activities that involve rhythm.   Frequently falls out of his chair without provocation and appears to be “clowning around.”

Visual Perceptual Skills:  The Keys to Learning, Part 2, Handwriting With Katherine
Problems with balance can sometimes signal poor body awareness skills.

(2)  Difficulty maintaining his distance from others or the walls, frequently bumping into them as he attempts to stand in line.

(3)  Demonstrates the inability to cross midline during fine and gross motor tasks by switching hands for use on the right or left of his body, not using his non-dominant hand to support the paper during handwriting tasks, or rotating his body when writing in order to avoid crossing midline.

(4)  Difficulty with fine motor activities, dropping his pencil frequently, or having trouble with age-appropriate clothing fasteners.

(5)  Difficulty applying the appropriate amount of pressure on pencils and feeding utensils or doesn’t seem to pay visual attention to those tasks.

 

b.  Activities that enhance position in space include:

(1)  “Simon Says” and “Hokey Pokey” continue to be two of the best fun activities to enhance body awareness in young children.  Using terms and directions such as left arm, right leg, move to the right or left, will provide a verbal link with the visual-motor input, creating a movement pattern and a memory of directional terms relative to his body (laterality).  Strugglers would benefit from hand-over-hand assistance from behind to direct movements.

(2)  Hide-and-Seek activities can be utilize movement with hidden objects scattered around a room or with visual input as in “I Spy” or hidden pictures books.  Again, it is important to use directional terms that create the visual image of object placement, such as on top of the bed, under the chair, on the left side of the page, in order to develop the concept of direction relative to objects outside of our body (directionality).

(3)  Obstacle courses, inside or out, can be created that include crawling, climbing, rolling, and hopping to provide the child with proprioceptive input that builds awareness of how one’s body works and how it can manage the manipulation of the space around it.

 

4.  Visual Spatial Relations is our ability to determine the placement of one object relative to another using our vision alone.  This allows us to judge distances during gross and fine motor activities (e.g., running or handwriting) and to reproduce objects when presented with a picture or model (e.g., copying from the board or a drawing).

a.  Children who have difficulty with visual spatial relations will often exhibit these signs:

Visual Perceptual Skills:  The Keys to Learning, Part 2, Handwriting With Katherine
Visual Spatial strugglers will find age-appropriate block patterns a difficult task.

(1)  Difficulty understanding verbal directions, such as “stand behind Joey.”

(2)  Difficulty performing gross motor activities as part of a team or in a group without frequent crashing into others or inaccurate aiming of the ball toward the intended target.

(3)  Difficulty with dressing activities, often attempting to don a coat or sweater backward or upside down or consistently placing shoes on the wrong feet, even after practice and with visual guides, such as a red lace in the right shoe.

(4)  Difficulty copying patterns with activities such as Legos or copying familiar words from the board in class.

(5)  Difficulty with fine motor tasks such as mazes or word searches, frequently returning to the same incorrect routes or missing letters as he scans the page.

 

b.  Activities that enhance visual spatial relations include:

(1)  Hopscotch, leap frog, and bean bag toss games are fun movement activities that encourage the development of spatial distances and the moderation of body movement to “hit the target.”  Be sure to begin with slow movements, working toward speed only after the child is able to perform the tasks efficiently.

(2) Arts and craft activities that include a visual model and/or written directions (depending upon the child’s skill level) work well to enhance fine motor spatial relations as the child manipulates his hands while he uses his vision for comparison.

(3)  Step-by-step written directions, such as a recipe, can help a more advanced skill learner to organize his visual input and to manage a 2-D space as he returns his eyes to the page after performing a step in the task.

 

Once again, it isn’t difficult to “see’ the important role that vision plays in our ability to understand our bodies, how they work, and the ways in which they manipulate the space around us.

 

Visual Perceptual Skills:  The Keys to Learning, Part 2, Handwriting With Katherine
It’s important to have a child’s vision assessed by a developmental optometrist.

 

In the words of  Mitchell Scheiman, O.D., FCOVD, FAAO, “Vision is our most far-reaching sense.”

And that makes it an important one for learning!

 

Please join us for our next segment as we discover the wonders of Visual Memory and Visual Sequential Memory skills.  Thanks for reading!

 

Visual Perceptual Skills:  The Keys to Learning, Part 1, Handwriting With Katherine
The Cotton Ball Game is an excellent “attention-getter!”

 

Did you miss Part 1?  You can catch it here!

 

 

 

 

 

Katherine J. Collmer, M.Ed., OTR/L, is a pediatric occupational therapist who owns and operates a clinic that specializes in the assessment and remediation of handwriting skills.  She can be contacted via her website, Handwriting With Katherine.

 

 

Disclaimer: The information shared on the Handwriting With Katherine website, blog, Facebook page, Twitter page, Pinterest page; the Wellness For Life:  Cape Cod blog; 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.

Visual Perceptual Skills: The Keys to Learning – Part 1

Vision skills allow us to make sense of our bodies – how they work alone and how they work within the world around us.

Vision takes the lead in action-pro-action-and-reaction and is a cognitive skill developed in the brain.  In fact, our eyes are actually extensions of our brain.  Dr. David Hubel, and his collaborator, Dr. Torsten Wiesel, dedicated their research to discovering the ways that the brain processes information.  This journey lead to Hubel’s writing that Anatomy of the Eye Hot Air BalooningThe retina is part of the brain, having been sequestered from it early in development but having kept its connections with the brain proper through a bundle of fibers – the optic nerve.”   He hails the retina’s role in Visual Information Processing as one that “by translating light into nerve signals, it begins the job of extracting from the environment what is useful and ignoring what is redundant.  No human inventions, including computer-assisted cameras, can begin to rival the eye.”   And so, as we begin our discussion on visual information processing, we will soon discover for ourselves the profound effect that the work and writings of Dr. David Hubel and his coworkers had on our realization and understanding of the key role that vision plays in learning.

The skills we use to process visual information are often labeled as “Visual Perceptual Skills.”  This complex set of cognitive skills allows us to gather information and integrate it with our other senses.  This set includes:

·      Visual Attention
·      Visual Discrimination
·      Position in Space
·      Visual Spatial Relations
·      Visual Memory
·      Visual Sequential Memory
·      Visual Form Constancy
·      Visual Closure
·      Figure Ground

Visual Perceptual Skills: The Keys to Learning Part 1 Handwriting With Katherine

Learning takes place when an experience is registered as

(1) a new one or one that has been dealt with previously,

(2) a positive or negative interaction,

(3) one that is desirable to repeat,

(4) one that needs adaptation in order to be effective or pleasurable, and/or

(5) one that can be recalled, reproduced, or adapted for use again in the future.

Learning requires the ability to gather information, manipulate it, store it, and recall it automatically.  The process of visual perception, when it is efficient, provides us with the platform for doing just that.  As we discuss each of the 9 Visual Perceptual Skills, we will begin to develop our understanding of the significance of vision’s role in learning.

In this article, we will begin our journey of discovery with the first two skills:  

visual attention and visual discrimination.

1.  Visual Attention is “important for selecting and inhibiting visual information over space and over time.   It is a diverse et of operations that interact with other perceptual, motor, and cognitive systems.  As our eyes perceive the endless stream of information coming from our bodies and the environment, the brain operates a filter that helps us to focus on what is immediately important.  Visual attention is necessary for handwriting and the development of other higher-level visual perceptual skills and it needs to begin its development early in a child’s visual processing journey.

a.  Children who have difficulty with visual attention will often exhibit these signs:

(1)  Frequent fidgeting and/or cannot remain seated.
(2)  Often runs or climbs excessively or appears restless.
(3)  Appears not to be listening or fails to follow through with instructions.
(4)  Is easily distracted by external stimuli such as other children talking in the back of the room.
(5)  Avoids, dislikes, or is reluctant to engage in tasks that require sustained mental effort, such as handwriting or reading.

b.  Activities that enhance visual attention include:

(1)  Blowing through a straw encourages the eyes to pull together and work more effectively at close range.  The Cotton Ball Game is one that has the child blow through a straw to move a cotton ball toward

Visual Perceptual Skills: The Keys to Learning, Part 1 Handwriting With Katherine
The Cotton Ball Game is an excellent “attention-getter!”

a target, with or without visual guidance, such as masking tape from start to finish lines.  Whistles and blowing bubbles have the same effect and can include gross motor movement in their use, such as running to pop the bubble or marching to the whistle’s tune.

(2)  Balloon toss or tennis are excellent games to train the eyes to focus on a moving target.  Be sure to remind the child to try and maintain eye contact with the balloon as it travels away from and back toward him.

(3)  “I Spy,” hidden pictures, and memory games encourage the use of scanning and sustained focusing skills in close work tasks.  It is important to allow a struggling child to use his finger to search for hidden objects or to use his verbal skills to remember what he has seen in memory games.  As he becomes more proficient at the task, have him ease away from the “helping strategies.”

2.  Visual Discrimination is our ability to recognize the subtle differences and similarities between two visually represented forms in order to determine if they match or belong to a different group of forms.  This skill provides us with the perception of shape, size, and form for learning subjects such as handwriting and reading.

a.   Children who have difficulty with visual discrimination will often exhibit these signs:

(1)  Difficulty matching items of clothing such as socks or shoes.
(2)  Determining the difference between sizes of objects during sorting activities or the sizes of letters and numbers during handwriting tasks.
(3)  Difficulty detecting errors in handwritten work, such as letter reversals.
(4)  Difficulty matching pictures to verbal instructions, during yoga practice for example.
(5)  Frequently placing objects in the inappropriate place, such as the wrong cubby in school even though each is clearly marked with a name.

c.  Activities that enhance visual discrimination include:

(1)  Sorting games that involve activities of daily living, such as laundry or silverware from the dishwasher, will add a touch of “reality” to the game and enhance the likelihood for building memory and carryover to other educational activities, such as handwriting.

Sorting laundry is a “fun-ctional” visual discrimination activity!

(2)  Puzzles provide an excellent opportunity for a child to recognize differences (size, flat sides) and to use his visual skills as he manipulates them to match the correct “holes and spaces.”

(3)  Legos, Lincoln Logs, or tangrams provide visual and tactile activities using a picture to copy and shapes to manipulate in order to reproduce the picture into a 2- or 3-D object.

As you can “see” from this introduction to the visual perceptual skill set, it covers quite a bit of how we learn, as it starts right out with our ability to pay attention to the task and to details.  The eye is amazing, with the retina actually being a part of the brain.

In the words of Dr. Hubel, “The retina is part of the brain, having been sequestered from it early in development but having kept its connections with the brain proper through a bundle of fibers – the optic nerve

Please join us next week as we continue to explore the “rest of the visual perceptual skills story” with Position in Space and Visual Spatial Relations.

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

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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.

What Do Handwriting and Optical Illusions Have in Common?

sciencebob
   Image Credit:  Science Bob

(previously published November 2013)

Optical illusions fascinate us with the tricks they play on our visual system.  Combinations of angles, contrasts, and geometrical shapes have the power to confuse our brain into thinking that stationary objects are moving and that flat images have 3-D qualities.  The information received through our eyes competes with the data we have stored in our brains in an attempt to make “sense” of what we are viewing.    The past struggles with the present in order to assimilate the information that we are seeing and square it with what we have previously seen.  When the brain has difficulty matching what it knows to be true (or has learned from experience to be true) with what we are looking at, it tends to take on a leadership role in transforming the scene into what it “should be.”  Hence, static and straight lines become moving, curved ones.   Susana Martinez-Conde, Director of the Laboratory of Visual Neuroscience at the Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix, AZ, defines visual illusions as “the dissociation between physical reality and subjective perception of an object or event.”  It appears that when we view an optical illusion, we are experiencing “the ways in which the brain can fail to recreate the physical world.”

eyesThe brain’s re-creation of the physical world begins the day we are born – the first time we set our eyes upon a physical object.  Our first sighting may be blurry and limited to a face, but the information that we obtain from it becomes part of our visual memory.  As newborns, however, we suffer from too many disorganized visual cortex connections, “which must be carefully pruned, based upon visual experience, into crisply defined columns.”  Less is more in the case of our development of fine detail and shape and pattern recognition skills.  Vision skillsranging from color and form perception, to face and object recognition, and to motion and spatial awareness are strongly influenced by “expectations based on past experience.”   Vision is the dominant sense in the acquisition of approximately 75-80% of what we learn and is a powerful force for how we perceive ourselves and the world around us.  It is this very power, however, that can lead the brain to incorrectly “see and respond to the visual world,” as it is drawn into misperceptions while it attempts to match what it knows with what it sees.  While visual perception plays a key role in the misperception of an optical image – resulting in an optical illusion, it also maintains a significant place in the mastery of handwriting skills.  “From the detection of light and dark in the retina, to the abstraction of lines and edges…to the interpretation of objects and their spatial relationships in higher visual areas, each task in visual perception illustrates the efficiency and strength of the human visual system,” and its vital link to handwriting mastery.

In order to appreciate the mystery of optical illusions and their visual perceptual link to handwriting skills, we must begin with the one fundamental necessity for efficient handwriting – automaticity.  Virginia Berninger, in her paper “The ‘Write Stuff’ for Preventing and Treating Disabilities,” identifies handwriting automaticity as “a strong predictor of the quality of composition in normally developing and disabled writers.” Automaticity, in this context, is defined as the ability to correctly produce letters without having to consciously think about them.  When a writer can do this quickly, “memory space is freed up for higher level composing processes, such as what to write about, what to say and how to say it.”  Automaticity does not develop automatically, however.  It is heavily dependent upon guided handwriting instruction and practice.   As a student delves into the world of shapes, letters, and words, he begins to develop the visual perceptual skills that he will need for automatic writing.   The lines, angles, and curves that form letters begin to transform into communication tools in his long-term memory, ready memoryfor retrieval and storage into his short-term visual memory for use in writing quickly, legibly, and creatively.  The writing process from start to finish – from scribbling as a toddler to fluent handwriting skills – is a complex one that involves a myriad of strengths.  Physical, cognitive, and visual skills lay the foundation for automaticity…and the ability to see into the future.

Dr. Mark Changizi, in his book, The Vision Revolution, compares our ability to think about the future with our ability to see the future. Thinking about what will or might happen tomorrow is reflective of words and sentences coursing through our thoughts.  Sometimes we get it right and other times quite wrong.  Dr. Changizi states that, “visual perception is just a special variety of mental processes, one that leads to seeing rather than sentences running through your mind.”  He describes the visual system as one that creates “a perception that represents the way the world should look in the future” and that we must concede that it sometimes will get it wrong.  Optical illusions are an example of a misperception resulting from our brain trying to predict the future.  But he cautions us against worrying that these misperceptions are the result of faulty brain-vision designs.  Instead, he presents his theory that they are “useful fictions” and actually have a purpose in guiding our behavior as we interact with our world (as in the case of “filling in the blanks” when we can only see a portion of a familiar object).  Misperceptions occur when the object or event that we are perceiving “does not compute” with our experience of how that object should look or how the event should play out.  The brain steps in to make it right by rearranging the facts a bit, encouraging a match with a memory byte it has stored from the past.  This makes for great fun with optical illusions; but in the case of handwriting automaticity, “useful fictions” serve a more important function as they guide a writer’s behaviors by “filling in the blanks” for letters and words.

As we are composing or copying written material, we can’t wait around for the brain to figure out what is wrong and to make adjustments.    achesWhen a writer begins to form the letter “H” starting with the first vertical line, he must already KNOW that the next two lines are another vertical and a horizontal link.  As he writes, the information he produces matches his perception of the letter in his stored memory and he can quickly move on to the next letter.  In reverse, if he sees a vertical line with a short horizontal line extending from the middle right side of it, he will quickly form the letter “H” in his mind’s eye, allowing him to read or reproduce it. No matter the font,  an “H” is an “H” according to his visual perception!

In all cases, he is seeing into the future.

Our visual perceptual skills are in a constant state of motion. Neuroscientist Mo Costandi stresses that we do not see the world as it actually is.  Instead, he contends that “our perception of the world is the brain’s best guess at what is actually happening based upon the information it receives through the senses.”   Movement is a key component in learning as it engages the senses, particularly our vision.  As we learn through the experience of our bodies’ movement – from our trunks to our fingers – while they travel through space, we begin to understand how our bodies work and how they interact with the other objects in our environment.  This is vital to our development of directional concepts and spatial awareness.  These are not only critical skills for navigating physically through our lives, but they form the foundation for handwriting mastery.    Movement continues to play a significant role in our perception of the world as we use the skills we have learned.  Dr. Changizi stresses that we cannot “simply sit back and wait for the world to tell us what’s happening.”  Life, indeed, would be passing us by, both figuratively and literally.  Our visual perceptual skills need to be focused and engaged as we anticipate “the next moment and build a completed perception of it by the time it arrives,” moving with the moment – or at least a tenth of a second behind it.  (I suggest you turn to page 134 in Dr. Changizi’s book for this!)   Handwriting mastery – not simply the learning of handwriting – begins when a writer can anticipate the next movement of his hand in the production of letters before he is required to perform it.  Letter recognition, automaticity, and creativity demand that we remain one step ahead of our visual perception, staying clear of misperceptions.

Unlike optical misperceptions, there is no illusion to handwriting mastery – it’s all very visible, indeed. 

handwriting2
(origin unknown)

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

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