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

10 Must-Haves in your Handwriting Tool Box

-----My OT Tool Box-----
——————-My OT Tool Box——————-

10 Must-Haves in your Handwriting Tool Box

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

on the Handwriting is Fun! blog

Helping students work on their handwriting development skills is fun and exciting!  And there are so many cool games, gadgets, toys, and widgets out there to gather up and hoard in our OT Tool Boxes.  Unfortunately, too much of a good thing leads to….well, too much of a good thing!  It’s often necessary to weed out the extraneous (no matter how many you were able to buy at The Dollar Store!) and pick out the tools that will serve the needs of your diverse groups of children in the most efficient manner.  Those are the gadgets and widgets that can be used in multiple ways to address a variety of developmental skills for children within a wide age range and who have many types of diagnoses.   Yes, it can be done!

My OT Tool Box has traveled with me from Maine to Maryland to Massachusetts and finally to Arizona.  It has held basically the same items for all these years, beginning in the days when I was new to the pediatric scene until these times when I’ve got the thought of retirement tucked away in the peaceful, relaxing spot in my mind.  I’m sure you have some type of box or bag that holds your treasured items, as well.  I thought I’d share my must-haves in the hopes that you will share yours, too!  Here goes!

My OT Tool Box

All of my sessions are organized in the same way:

  • Gross Motor Warm Ups
  • Vision Skill Warm Ups
  • Visual-Perception Work
  • Fine-Motor Work
  • Functional Handwriting Tasks.

So, I’ve organized my tool box outline in the same manner.

Gross Motor Warm-Ups:

  1. Balls and balloons are indispensable to me! A foam ball or two and a bag of balloons can carry us through balance and movement actions that

    In Toys and Games on Amazon.com
    In Toys and Games on Amazon.com

    also provide a touch of vision challenges.  Reaching, throwing, catching, kicking, and juggling are great ways to warm up the large muscles and to prepare the body’s core for fine motor work.  These are the muscles that help children sit appropriately and quietly while they work on handwritten assignments.

 

  1. Yoga – can you beat it for covering just about every muscle group need there is?  While balls and balloons provide action movements to wake up the muscles, yoga positions help the muscles pay attention to the commands directed at them.  Sitting with appropriate posture requires both strong and coordinated muscles.  And best yet, yoga is a double-duty activity.  Performing yoga exercises at the beginning of a session helps to prepare the large muscles, as well as the brain, for the precision work ahead.  Including yoga positions at the end of the session gives the large muscles time to reenergize with oxygen and provides the student with a cool down period before reentering the classroom.

Yoga

There are many free downloadable yoga charts on the internet with moves designed just for children.  It’s important to choose ones that provide easy-to-understand directions in case you want to include them in the student’s home program.

Vision Skills Warm-Ups:

  1. The Cotton Ball Game* has been a favored vision skill assessment and remediation tool for both me and my students for quite some time now. It’s a great way to warm up the eyes and the visual system for both close and distance work.  Blowing on a straw addresses divergence, or the ability of the eyes to move outward simultaneously and focus together on an object in the distance to produce a single picture.  This skill is especially helpful during copying-from-the board activities.  Convergence, or the ability of the eyes to move inward simultaneously during close work, is addressed by sucking on a straw.  Just a cotton ball or two and a few straws can be magically turned into target or carry games that address these important vision skills.

The Cotton Ball Game helps build efficient visual skills.
The Cotton Ball Game helps build efficient visual skills. (Photo is the property of Handwriting With Katherine.)

Cotton Ball Game
(Photo is the property of Handwriting With Katherine.)

Have your students create and produce a target as part of their fine-motor work and then use it in the next session to warm up their eyes in the Cotton Ball Game.  They can move the cotton ball along a track (created with masking tape) by blowing through the straw or carry it across the table toward the target by sucking on the straw to keep it stuck there.  Your students will love creating the track on the floor or a table, making intricate maze designs that will challenge their vision skills.

  1. Word Search Books (or free downloadable puzzles) come in very handy for vision skill warm-ups. It is important to prepare the eyes for fine motor work, especially scanning and tracking, to set the students up for achieving their personal best in your session.  These activities also serve double-duty as they can be included in your visual perception portion of the session!  If they are not completely finished during the session, they are simple to include in the students’ home programs.

Visual-Perceptual Work:

  1. Tangrams are terrific! I know that there a lot of expensive kits you can buy with plastic, colorful tangram pieces.  But, there are also free downloads that will provide you with tangram kits that you can cut out, ask the children to color them if you’d like, then laminate them to preserve them for use year after year.  I was fortunate to have purchased a Getting It Write **  book by LouAnne Audette and Anne Karson that provided a great group of tangrams (shown below).  The answer keys are separate and that helped me a great deal when BOTH the student and I were having trouble figuring the picture out.  Of course, I got to peek at the answer; they did not!  (But I did give them hints!)

Tangrams
(Photo is the property of Handwriting With Katherine.)

Tangrams work on visual closure, visual discrimination, and visual spatial relationships skills, while they enhance visual attention skills.

  1. Small playing cards are a dream tool to have on hand. Small ones help to develop fine motor skills and can work on so many visual-perceptual skills at the same time.
  • They can be used for memory games such as Concentration, where the cards are placed face down and then two are turned over to expose their faces.  If they are not a match, then they are turned over again and the next person reveals two more.  As the card faces are revealed, the object is to remember where you saw that one before and turn it over for a match!  Concentration games are wonderfully fun ways to enhance visual memory, visual attention, and visual discrimination skills.

how-to-play-concentration-1

  • Playing cards can be used for sequencing games such as those that teach math (1) to encourage the enhancement of visual attention and visual sequencing skills.  War, the ever popular two-person game, is great for visual attention and visual memory.  To change this game up a bit, I made small playing cards out of cardstock that each had a letter of the alphabet on them, then laminated them.  We played sequencing games and war by ranking the letters according to their placement in the alphabet.  Just think of all the ways you can then include handwriting practice in the game?  (Hint:  The student can write the letter or words that begin with the letter on his handwriting paper!)
  • My favorite small playing card game of all is The Number 10 Game!*  A long time ago, I found a small card game called that in a dollar-type store in Canada.  The cards had simple numbers on them from 1-10.  I still have those cards, although they are pretty worn out.  I wasn’t ever able to find the game again; so I use small playing cards now, removing the face cards and using just the number cards.  The goal is to find all the matches that add up to 10.  It’s simple to set up and a fun way to address both fine motor and visual-perceptual skills.  First the cards are set up in 4 rows with 4 cards in a row.  As the students make a match, those cards are put off to the side.  When there are no more matches in that set up, the removed cards are replaced to fill in the rows and the student continues to find more tens.  You can decrease the number of rows depending on your students’ strengths and needs.  If your students have difficulty with math concepts, post an addition chart by the table or next to the game so that they can reference it.  However, if your students are proficient in their addition skills, then you can set up the game as a race to beat their personal best.  Of course, I’ve played it with them as a race; but most often the scales are tipped unfairly – with them beating me every time!!!

Number 10 Game
(Photo is the property of Handwriting With Katherine.)

Fine-Motor Work:

  1. Putty, Always Putty!!! Therapeutic putty maintains a permanent place of honor in my tool box.  I don’t leave home without it.  Pegs, golf tees, marbles, tweezers, and coins are staples that come along for the ride, giving my students a fine-motor workout while they play.  Both the younger and older students enjoy creating objects out of the putty, rolling it out again, and setting their creative juices to work on it once more.  I do have a set of putty exercises* we work on, too, which often becomes part of their home programs.  For the more advanced students, I bring along clay especially for them so that they can warm up their fingers before beginning handwriting tasks.

Fine Motor Tools
(Photo is the property of Handwriting With Katherine.)

  1. My collection of fine-motor sundries make hand and finger warm-ups fun. Small sponge pieces, blocks, paper clips, and pegs match up with tweezers and tongs to exercise the arches of the hand and the fingers and wrist.  These pieces can be combined to outline the directional concepts of a letter formation, to place along the pathway of a maze, or to stack and create an object.  Pickup Sticks work the pincer grasp, shoulder and arm control, and visual attention and figure-ground discrimination skills.  Patience and critical thinking are added bonus skills that are touched on in this game!  Dice are wonderful tools to enhance in-hand manipulation skills.  They can be used during board games or activities that you design to address the handwriting development skills your students are working on.  For instance, you can play BINGO with them using the numbers they roll to determine what the students will write in the boxes.  In the example below, the die is rolled twice.  With the first roll, a 1 would indicate that the student would write a lower case “u.”  With the second roll, a 4 would indicate that the student would write that letter in the first box in the “G” column.  I always play along with the student so that we could compete to win.  The game would continue until the first person had BINGO!

Bingo Rules for Site

I’ve also used dice with the small playing cards, changing the Number 10 Game rules just a bit.  After the cards are set up, the student rolls the dice and selects the cards that add up to that number.  When all of those matches are made and the rows are filled in with additional cards again, the student rolls the dice again for a new number.  This adds to the suspense!

Functional Handwriting Tasks:

  1. I always carry a supply of postcards, sticky notes, children’s stationery, and lined and blank paper with me. The blank paper comes in handy for the younger children to draw a picture and then write a short story on handwriting paper describing what their picture shows me.  The older children can draw a directional map to guide me to their favorite place in town or a room diagram to show me what their living room or classroom looks like.  They label the items in their best handwriting and then write directions to the place or a provide a description of it.  To practice writing in small spaces, the students can write a postcard to a friend, their sister, or the teacher and hand deliver it; write the teacher or their parent a message on the sticky note; or write a recipe on an index card to share with me (they usually do this as part of their home program).  Handwriting practice that doesn’t look like handwriting practice.
  1. The most functional tool in my tool box doesn’t actually come with me to the session.  I often ask the students to bring in a homework or classwork assignment that addresses their particular handwriting need.  They will bring in their worksheets that include small, unlined spaces; book reports that are not quite completed; or math and spelling sheets.  These provide us with opportunities to work on spatial and editing skills, as well as discuss the areas that give them problems in class and at home.

Last but not least.

Other Tools
(Photo property of Handwriting With Katherine.)

Chalk Board
(Photo property of Handwriting With Katherine.)

I also carry a stash of supplies that will come in handy when the need presents itself.  A roll of blank paper and masking tape are two essentials to have on hand to practice letter formations skills (with drawings, doodles, mazes, or tracing) using large motor movements on a vertical surface.  Of course, sand paper, aluminum foil, and tissue paper are must haves for tactile feedback tools for pencil pressure.   I never leave home without my small chalkboard (have had this one for years!), tons of chalk, Q-tips, and a paper cup for water!  There is simply nothing that can replace these tools for the development of motor memory skills.  Writing the letters with chalk and then tracing over them with a Q-tip dipped in water is my all-time favorite disappearing act trick!  I usually have a bunch of construction paper on hand, too, to use as a substitute for the chalk board.  We write the letter in chalk on the paper and then trace it with the wet Q-tip.  (PS:  I never use white boards or markers.  Not enough tactile input to make the activity beneficial.  I like to get the most out of every minute the students are with me!)

So there you have it!

Well, I guess if you add up all of the individual pieces in my tool box, I wouldn’t be able to cash out in the “Around 15 items” checkout at the grocery store!  But, all in all, these are the tools I have been carting around for years.  I don’t know if they are the best ones; but I do know one thing.  Whenever I get overly creative and start to stuff boxes of toys and equipment into my trunk and lug them into the session, the children and I most often revert back to the old standbys!

Please let me and your fellow readers know “What’s in your tool box?”

And as always, thanks for reading and sharing my work!

*These activities, and many more, are included as downloadable handouts in my Handwriting Development Assessment and Remediation book.

**Updated 07/13/19:  It appears that the Getting It Write book is no longer available.

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

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

Collmer Handwriting Development Assessment and Remediation

(1) https://topnotchteaching.com/math/math-card-games/
Pictures are the property of the author and must provide a link back to this article or her website.  If the photos are linked to another source, their use must provide a link to the originating source.
 Disclaimer: The information shared on the Handwriting With Katherine website, blog, Facebook page, Twitter page, Pinterest page; in the Universal Publishing Handwriting Teachers’ Guides; on any guest blog posts or any other social media is for general informational purposes only and should not be relied upon as a substitute for sound professional medical advice or evaluation and care from your physician/medical team or any other qualified health care providers. Therefore, the author of these links/posts take no responsibility for any liability, loss, or risk taken by individuals as a result of applying the ideas or resources.

Minute Mania – Turning Handwriting Into A Functional Tool

clock PublicDomainPictures Pixabay

Minute Mania – Turning Handwriting Into A Functional Tool

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s how it goes: 

 

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

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

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

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

The process and some examples:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Minute Mania Works!

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

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

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

Katherine J. Collmer, M.Ed., OTR/L, is a pediatric occupational therapist who specializes in the assessment and remediation of handwriting skills.  In her current book, Handwriting Development Assessment and Remediation:  A Practice Model for Occupational Therapists,  she shares a comprehensive guide and consistent tool forCollmer Book addressing handwriting development needs. She can be contacted via her website, Handwriting With Katherine.
Pictures that are marked the property of the author must provide a link back to this article or her website.  All others must provide a link to the originating source.
 Disclaimer: The information shared on the Handwriting With Katherine website, blog, Facebook page, Twitter page, Pinterest page; in the Universal Publishing Handwriting Teachers’ Guides; on any guest blog posts or any other social media is for general informational purposes only and should not be relied upon as a substitute for sound professional medical advice or evaluation and care from your physician/medical team or any other qualified health care providers. Therefore, the author of these links/posts take no responsibility for any liability, loss, or risk taken by individuals as a result of applying the ideas or resources.
Case-Smith, J. (2002). Effectiveness of School-Based Occupational Therapy Intervention on Handwriting. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 56(1), 17-25. doi:10.5014/ajot.56.1.17
Collmer, K. J., M.ED., OTR/L. (2016). Handwriting Development Assessment and Remediation: A Practice Model for Occupational Therapists. Waymart, PA: Universal Publishing. ISBN 978-1-934732-53-3
Renaud, J. (2012, January 18). Good handwriting and good grades: FIU researcher finds new link [TXT]. Miami: Florida International University.
Sheridan, S. R. (2010). The Neurological Significance Of Children’s Drawing: The Scribble Hypothesis. Retrieved February 19, 2016, from http://www.drawingwriting.com/scribble.html

A Second Look at Kinesthetic Learning for Pre-Handwriting Skills

 

Summer Series

 

Purple Flowers Property of Katherine J. CollmerDuring the past two whirlwind years spent dedicated to writing my book, Handwriting Development Assessment and Remediation:  A Practice Model for Occupational Therapists, some of my gifted and experienced peers had graciously stepped in to help me share information and creative ideas with you, my readers, on  the “Handwriting is Fun! Blog.”   Needless to say, I am more than thankful for their dedication to my work.  Their support of me and the profession played a major role in keeping the blog in the news and in your tool kit.   As the project is nearing the final publishing date, I am going to take a writing break and set my sights on a few months of traveling and exploring with my patient and supportive husband. During that time, I am going to select some of the best-loved blogs from the past and roll them into a series designed to share therapy tips and research data with you.  Here is the first in the Summer Series:

 

Kinesthetic Learning and Pre-Handwriting Skills

When I came into the profession, I brought with me the knowledge and experience I gained from my background in teaching.  I am an avid follower of blogs and research sites that share information about teaching strategies and learning styles.  I feel that the understanding of learning and teaching principles provides an occupational therapist with an enhanced ability to present an environment that encourages and motivates a person to work toward success.  Kinesthetic learning begins naturally in infancy and, for some, becomes their preferred learning style.  In my blog, Kinesthetic Learning and Pre-Handwriting Skills, I present information that helps us to understand the importance of including tactile exploration in our therapy sessions and shares activities that can promote kinesthetic learning in the toddler and preschool years.

 

 

Photo credit: renaln
Photo credit: renaln

 

Kinesthetic Learning and Pre-Hardwriting Skills

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

Pictures are the property of the author and their use must provide a link back to this article or her website.

The Handwriting Book revealed!

Well, folks, today is the big day!  My new work, Handwriting Assessment and Remediation:  A Practice Model for Occupational Therapists, will be officially launched at the #AOTA16 Convention in Chicago!  I am honored to have worked with Universal Publishing toward sharing my book with you and look forward to chatting with my peers at Booth #5015 in the Expo Hall!    This is a very exciting time for me and, as always, I think you for reading and sharing my work.

If you could not make it to the convention this year, you can still pre-order my book by clicking on the picture below!

 

The NEW Handwriting Book from Handwriting With Katherine

 

 

 

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

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

On my way to #AOTA16!

I’ll be boarding the plane bright and early today heading for Chicago and the 2016 AOTA Convention!  This will be a very exciting journey for me as I share my new book with my peers.  It will be an honor to discuss handwriting assessment and remediation and chat about the concerns and challenges we have all faced in this area of occupational therapy.  I look forward to meeting many of you at the Universal Publishing Booth #5015.  Please join me there!

 

Please stop by Booth 5015, AOTA in Chicago, to chat about my new book!

 

 

 

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

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

Ordering the New Handwriting Book!

order button ArtsyBee pixabayMy new book, The Handwriting Development Assessment and Remediation:  A Practice Model for Occupational Therapists, will be offered for the first time in Chicago at the 2016 AOTA Conference.  It’s very exciting to be sharing my work with my peers!  But, I know that many of you will not be able to attend the conference, so I wanted to let you know that the book will be offered through a link here and on my website after the conference.  Please look for it!  And, as always, thank you for reading and sharing my work.

 

 

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

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

Another look at Kinesthetic Learning and Pre-Handwriting Skills

Photo credit: renaln
Photo credit: renaln

Each year, as I work with students in elementary school, I continue to worry about their needs being the result of inadequate pre-handwriting skill training.  In short, that really simply means how well they learned to use their hands in play activities and kinesthetic learning.  Children learn to use their hands as tools to help them learn and grow from the moment they are born.  However, sometimes in this accelerated learning environment the we seem to be in now, children are being asked to attempt to learn skills that are far beyond their developmental capabilities.  With this in mind, I offer again my work to draw attention to the learning brain of the child.

 

 

 

Kinesthetic Learning and Pre-Handwriting Skills

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

 

Jean Piaget introduced the world to the learning brain of the child.  Through his systematic study of cognitive development, he discovered that children simply do not learn in the same way as adults.  According to his theory of cognitive child development, “children are born with a very basic mental structure … on which all subsequent learning and knowledge is based.

To read the entire article, click here.

 

 

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

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

Handwriting and the non-dominant hand

hand sketch AlexandruPetre Pixabay

Handwriting and the non-dominant hand

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

Frank R. Wilson, in his renowned discussion of the evolution of the hand, poses the suggestion that bimanual tasks result in the development of a visual vocabulary.  He defines a “visual vocabulary” as one that is established as a result of a mysterious, nonverbal language.  This language can be witnessed in the arts, from jewelry making to writing, as each creator uses “internalized rules for combining materials and structural elements” to produce unique patterns of work.   These works of art take on a meaning for both the designer and viewer and become the personal stamp of the creator. (1)  In this sense, handwriting can be defined as a nonverbal language that results from the production of lines and shapes that are placed within spatial constraints according to predetermined directional and alignment rules.  They become words and sentences that take on a meaning that the writer conjures up in our minds to share thoughts, feelings, information, and knowledge.  Although Wilson describes handwriting as a task commonly considered to be a unilateral hand skill, (1) one that is considered by researchers to require only the “specific coordination between the finger and wrist movements” of one hand, (2) it appears that handwriting under the label of a visual vocabulary would then be considered a bimanual task.

The production of a visual vocabulary, in the arts and handwriting, depends on the ability of the hands to form a complementary partnership in their role as a vehicle for expression.  This partnership consists of a dominant and non-dominant hand that become one unit in the completion of bimanual tasks. Brain lateralization and the intercommunication between the two sides of the brain have been considered the foundational requisites that facilitate the establishment of a dominant hand and determine handedness in humans. However, the establishment of hand dominance remains a confusing and baffling human trait that scientists admit there is little known about its history or neurologic foundations.  The study of the evolution of handedness has taken anthropologists back to an examination of how the hands were used by our Stone Age predecessors to wield stones as hammers to create tools for building or cooking or to design weapons intended to kill game or to act as protection against predators.  Their studies revealed that the tool users would have divided the tasks of hammering or throwing into two distinct parts, utilizing one hand to steady the object to be hammered or to balance two hands machines pashminu Pixabaythe body against gravity in throwing and the other hand to perform the precise movements necessary to direct the stone toward a target with accuracy.  This division of labor has been labeled as the dominant and non-dominant hand movements.

Hand dominance** has been suggested to have been a “critical survival advantage” to hunters and gatherers as they engaged precision tasks within their competitive environments.  (1)  Given that precision tasks demand practice for mastery, their consistent use of one hand to perform and perfect an accurate aim-and-throw movement may have organized the brain-hand pathways and established a hand dominance.  Again, the baffling question remains:   Why did these early humans select the right versus the left hand for precision tasks?  While scientists have yet to uncover the answer to this conundrum, they have turned with equal wonder at the mystery of the perceived underdevelopment of the non-dominant hand.  Some ask the question, “Did it stagnate?  Was it ‘dumbed down’ somehow, in order to guarantee the emergence of a manual performance asymmetry?”  Or was the non-dominant upper limb intended to become specialized in a different way?  (1)   This latter view of the non-dominant hand suggests that the two hands are complementary, forming a whole that is dependent on the accurate production of the specified movements of both sides.  This is an enlightening perspective on the role of the non-dominant hand, for sure.

Dominant and non-dominant hands were once referred to as the “good” and “bad” hands, with the non-dominant hand being labeled as the “somewhat disabled one.” (1) The right hand was viewed as the “good” hand despite the occurrence of left-handedness in some children.  Left-handedness, in fact, was considered to be a deficit and children were strongly encouraged, sometimes forced, to ignore their tendency to use their left hand and to switch Left-Hand-vs-Right-Handinstead to their right hand for writing and drawing.  The argument and prejudice against left-handedness was promoted by the confusing fact that an overwhelming number of people were right-hand dominant.  In the end, regardless which hand became dominant, the non-dominant hand was believed to be an unequal force in the production of bimanual tasks.  It was considered to be inferior to the more precise hand.  As researchers began to investigate more closely the interaction of the hands in bimanual skills, they questioned this idea and considered instead the likelihood that they were interdependent.  Bimanual tasks, by definition, involve the use of both hands.  While some bimanual tasks can be accomplished with the use of one hand (as evidenced by the rehabilitation efforts of persons who have suffered from a stroke), most often the speed, fluidity, and accuracy of their production are compromised by the lack of a supporting hand.  In general, then, bimanual tasks demand the use of both hands for efficiency, as is seen in activities such as playing a musical instrument, golfing, tying our shoes, cutting our food, and handwriting.

Wilson describes handwriting as a task commonly considered to be unilateral hand skill, (1) one that is considered by researchers to require only the “specific coordination between the finger and wrist movements.” (2)  However, in light of the research that considers the two hands as partners in a task, an analysis of the the non-dominant hand in handwriting has revealed it to play “a complementary, though largely covert, role by continuously repositioning the paper in anticipation of pen movements.”  (3, qtd in 1)  In 1987, French psychologist Yves Guiard studied the complementary hand movements in handwriting relative to the idea that the physical characteristics of the movements of each hand,  as well as the sensory control mechanisms that supported those movements, were significantly different.  He proposed that their scaled movements were spatially and temporally divided into two categories.  In Guiard’s theory, the scale of the dominant hand’s movements is considered to be “micrometric,” or produced within a smaller space with slower speeds relative to the supporting hand.  Its performance is rehearsed and mostly internally driven or pre-programmed, directed by the development of motor patterns and the automatic reproduction of those patterns.  (1)   In contrast the movements of the non-

Photo: Property of Handwriting With Katherine
Photo: Property of Handwriting With Katherine

dominant hand in its role as the paper positioner are “macrometric.”   They are conducted to facilitate improvised adjustments using faster speeds within a larger context.  They are externally driven, being directed by the writing hand to set the spatial boundaries within which it can perform its skilled movements.  In effect, the non-dominant hand is supporting the precise movements of the dominant one by providing a stabilizing environment that allows for frequent alterations that are responsive to the movements of the skilled hand.  This perspective of the non-dominant hand elevates its significance in the production of handwritten work.  The actions of the supporting hand require controlled motor movements that can transition within a diverse range of “improvised hold and move sequences” that do not follow strict rules for patterns or rhythm.  These movements require sensory control mechanisms that can detect, analyze, and integrate visual perceptual information, such as spatial boundaries or paper angles, relative to the movements of the dominant hand.  The supporting role of the non-dominant hand demands flexibility to “conform its movements both to the behavior of an external object and to the actions of the other hand, to ensure that the object and the handheld tool will intercept at the intended time and place.”  (1)  Guiard discovered that these alterations are anticipated and initiated before the movements of the skilled hand take place, leading to his proposition that “there is a logical division of labor between the two hands that appears to govern the entire range of human bimanual activities.”  (1)

The precise, rehearsed, and preprogrammed facets of handwriting rely on the supportive role of the less-precise hand to guide the dominant one in producing the “collection of identical hash marks” (1) that create an individual penmanship style and comprise the visual vocabulary that delivers each writer’s personal message.  The supporting role of the non-dominant hand places handwriting among our most creative bimanual tasks.  In this light, an assessment of handwriting development skills would warrant an evaluation of the behaviors demonstrated by the supporting hand and rehabilitative efforts designed to develop it to its highest skill level.

**For more information about the developmental stages of hand dominance and the it plays in handwriting mastery, please read my article, “Hand Dominance – a key factor in handwriting success,” and my book, Handwriting Development Assessment and Remediation:  A Practice Model for Occupational Therapists,” which can be purchased on my website.

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

Katherine J. Collmer, M.Ed., OTR/L, is a pediatric occupational therapist who specializes in the assessment and author of the book, Handwriting Development Assessment and Remediation:  A Practice Model for Occupational Therapists.  She can be contacted via her website, Handwriting With Katherine.  
 Disclaimer: The information shared on the Handwriting With Katherine website, blog, Facebook page, Twitter page, Pinterest page; in the Universal Publishing Handwriting Teachers’ Guides; on any guest blog posts or any other social media is for general informational purposes only and should not be relied upon as a substitute for sound professional medical advice or evaluation and care from your physician/medical team or any other qualified health care providers. Therefore, the author of these links/posts take no responsibility for any liability, loss, or risk taken by individuals as a result of applying the ideas or resources.
Photos are the property of online sites or the photographers at Pixabay.    Their use should include the link provided with the pictures.  All other photographs are property of the author and are not to be used without her written permission.
(1) Wilson, Frank R. The Hand: How Its Use Shapes the Brain, Language, and Human Culture. New York: Pantheon, 1998. Print.
(2) H. Reinders-Messelink, M. Schoemaker, and L. Goeken, Kamps, W. “Handwriting and Fine Motor Problems After Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia.” Handwriting and Drawing Research: Basic and Applied Issues. Amsterdam: IOS, 1996. 215-25. Print.
(3) Guiard, Yves. “Asymmetric Division of Labor in Human Skilled Bimanual Action.” Journal of Motor Behavior 19.4 (1987): 486-517. Web.

Crossing the Midline – an important handwriting skill

Crossing the Midline

by Katherine J. Collmer, M.Ed., OTR/L

on The Handwriting is Fun! Blog

 

baseball ruthclark pixabayChildren who experience difficulty with the mastery of handwriting skills are often struggling with crossing their body midline.   During the performance of handwriting tasks, the arm, hand, and eyes travel from the writer’s left side to his right, crossing the body’s center many times.  Letter formations also rely upon the writer’s ability to cross from left to right to cross a “t” or produce an “x.”  A developmental skill need that limits the fluid movement across midline prevents a child from mastering the basic facets of handwriting mastery.

 

What is Crossing the Midline?

Crossing the midline is a bilateral skill demonstrated by the ability to spontaneously move one hand, foot, or eye into the space of the other hand, foot, or eye.  This happens when we sit cross-legged on the floor, scratch our elbow, read or write from left to right, draw a horizontal line from one side of the paper to the other, or connect intersecting lines to draw a cross without switching hands.  Crossing the midline is a coordinated movement that is developed as a child experiences activities that include cross-lateral motions, such as reaching across the body to retrieve a toy.  These movements help to build pathways in the brain that facilitate the development of various motor and cognitive skills involved in completing self-care tasks, participating in sports, reading, and writing.

Crossing the midline is an integral skill related to bilateral coordination.  Bilateral coordination is defined as the ability to use both sides of the body together in a coordinated, controlled, and organized manner during tasks that require the use of one hand to stabilize and the other to perform simultaneously.   These activities include crawling or climbing stairs, catching or throwing a ball, manipulating clothing fasteners, tying shoes, stringing beads, cutting, and handwriting.  In addition to the foundational skills of eye-hand coordination and muscular strength, the development of bilateral coordination is dependent upon an accurate body awareness.  This perceptual skill represents the ability to know where the body and its parts are positioned in space without using vision allowing for the spontaneous and efficient completion of tasks.  The development of bilateral coordination indicates that both sides of the brain are communicating effectively in the sharing of information.  The development of a “helper” and a “worker” hand to facilitate bilateral movements is a sign that the brain is maturating and that brain lateralization is occurring.  The lateralization process is strongly correlated with the ability to cross midline.

Brain lateralization is defined by the ongoing process that is thought to begin in the prenatal period and continue throughout early childhood. The brain OpenClipartVectors pixabaycerebrum consists of two hemispheres (or halves) that specialize in different functions which control different areas of the body.  The left hemisphere controls the right side of the body and contains the centers for the understanding and use of language (listening, reading, speaking, and writing), memory for spoken and written language, analysis of information in detail, and motor control of the right side of the body.  The right hemisphere controls the motor movements of the left side of the body and contains the centers for processing visual-spatial information, comprehending and remembering things you see and do, and using pieces of information to form a complete picture.  The two halves are connected by a band of fibers called the corpus callosum which plays an important role in integrating their respective functions.  Lateralization becomes specialized to serve particular functions and involves a preference for using one hand or side of the body more than another.  Hand dominance is a result of brain lateralization.  (1, p. 176-7)

 

What are the behaviors that indicate difficulty with Bilateral Coordination and Crossing the Midline Skills?

Children who have difficulty with these skills may display decreased coordination and motor control, tend to avoid crossing their midline by using alternate hands for performing tasks on each side of their body, and have difficulty establishing hand dominance.  These children may appear to be ambidextrous because they use both hands alternately during and among tasks.  However, they may actually be doing that because they have two unskilled hands.  In addition, children who experience problems with crossing the midline can have difficulty with higher level skills such as reading and writing as they both involve left-to-right eye and hand movements.   This may be observed as stopping in the middle of the page to blink or rub their eyes, losing their place frequently during close work tasks, being unable to master letter formations that include diagonal lines, or stopping in the middle of the page to switch hands during handwriting assignments.  For children who have an inaccurate sense of body awareness, they may appear clumsy and cautious with movement especially when it involves having their feet of the ground.  They may seek or avoid deep sensory input or have difficulty coordinating both sides of their body to complete bilateral activities of daily living.  These behaviors also can result from inefficient eye-hand coordination and muscular strength.

 

What are some activities to promote the development of Crossing the Midline Skills?

The activities listed below are some examples of easy-to-implement tasks or games that will enhance the underlying skills that promote the development of crossing the midline skills.

 

obstacle course Hezsa pixabayFor younger children:

  • Obstacle course activities performed inside or outside that encourage crawling and climbing using verbal commands for directional concepts such as over and under, back and front, and up and down promote gross- and fine-motor muscle strengthening, the understanding of directional concepts, body awareness, and bilateral coordination skills.
  • Floor games such as bean bag toss or ball rolling can be designed to encourage crossing the midline by having children catch or stop the bean bag or ball on the sides of their body versus the middle (e.g., using the right hand to perform the task on the left and vice versa).   Have the child call out the side of his body where he has caught or stopped the object.  These activities encourage body awareness, balance skill development, and midline crossing as the child reaches with one or both hands across the body to perform the task and identifies the sides of his body.
  • Sitting or standing games such as bean bag toss can encourage the child to reach for and pick up an object on the opposite side of the body and throw it at a target on the reverse side (e.g., picking up a bean bag located on the left side with the right hand and then throwing it at a target on the right side and vice versa.)  Provide verbal directions to direct which hand the child will use or have him call out which hand he intends to use before he begins each toss.  This activity encourages balance, midline crossing, and visual attention skills.
  • Push and pull toys or activities that are performed at midline such as pop beads, connecting blocks, lacing, hand exercises (pushing palms together at chest level), or rolling putty into a long snake encourage bilateral coordination, crossing the midline, and upper extremity muscle strengthening skills.
  • Pretending to drive a car using a ball promotes midline crossing as the child holds the ball in both hands and turns it like a steering wheel by crossing his arms over each other as he drives. This can be adapted for children who have sufficient upper extremity strength by having them perform the activity without the ball.  This activity promotes upper extremity muscle strengthening, bilateral coordination, and crossing the midline skills.
  • Clapping and popping bubbles performed in either sitting or standing can encourage engagement in the left, center, and right space in front of the popping bubbles seomyungjuk pixabay-766535_1920child.  This activity promotes visual attention, bilateral coordination, midline crossing, and upper extremity muscle strengthening skills.
  • Keeping time to music by clapping hands, alternating clapping hands and patting knees, tapping sticks together, or marching in place promote crossing the midline skills.  These activities as well as playing games that include following directions such as Simons Says or Hokey Pokey promote balance, body awareness, bilateral coordination, and visual attention skills.
  • Batting a balloon back and forth in sitting or standing promotes balance, visual attention, and crossing the midline skills.
  • Upper extremity exercises performed in either sitting or standing can promote midline crossing skill development.  Exercises can include touching toes with the opposite hand, performing windmills above the head or windshield washers in front of the body (crossing arms back and forth over each other), tapping opposite shoulders with the hands, hugging the body, or swinging lowered arms back and forth slowly across and behind the body.  Provide verbal directions or have the child call out the directions for each hand or side being addressed.  These activities promote balance, body awareness, bilateral coordination, crossing the midline, visual attention, and upper extremity muscle strengthening skills.
  • Large arm movement activities in the air that cross from the child’s left side to his right side and reverse, such as drawing large crosses or figure 8’s (an 8 turned on its side or the infinity symbol) promote midline crossing development.   Activities that include practice for letter formation strokes (circle, up/down, or left/right strokes) can be adapted to address midline skills by first producing the letter on the left side, then in the middle, and finally on the right side using the child’s preferred hand.  Large arm movements in the air promote balance, upper extremity muscle strengthening, bilateral coordination, and midline crossing skills as well as visualization skills for automatic motor memory patterns.
  • Lazy 8s 1296Large movement activities performed on the floor on a large piece of paper or on a sidewalk can encourage crossing the midline.  Have the child trace large crosses or figure 8’s (drawn on their side) using different colors of chalk to create rainbow tracings, drive a toy car through a figure eight driveway, or complete a large simple maze with chalk or colored pencils.  These activities promote visual attention, bilateral coordination, and crossing the midline skills as well as upper extremity muscle strengthening with crawling and movement on all four’s.  The use of chalk provides tactile input to promote handedness and writing/drawing tool control.
  • Tracing activities on a vertical surface that use large arm movements that cross from the child’s left side to his right side and reverse, such as drawing large crosses or figure 8’s (drawn on their side), driving a small car through a roadway system, completing a simple maze, or drawing lines on which to practice letter strokes. These activities promote bilateral coordination and crossing the midline skills.  In addition, activities that are performed on a vertical surface promote upper extremity muscle strengthening and visual attention skills.

 

For older children:  While some of the activities listed below were also listed for younger children, they can be enhanced for the older ones by increasing the challenges with time or speed elements or the inclusion of academic tasks.

  • Large arm movement activities in the air that cross from the child’s left side to his right side and reverse, such as drawing large crosses or figure 8’s (an 8 turned on its side or the infinity symbol) promote midline crossing skills.  This activity can include practicing letter formations or spelling words in the air using his preferred hand, first on the left side, then in the middle, and finally on the right side.  Large arm movements in the air promote upper extremity muscle strengthening, bilateral coordination, midline crossing skill as well as visualization skills for automatic motor memory patterns.
  • Large movement activities that combine arm and leg movements such as drawing or writing on a large piece of paper or a sidewalk promote crossing the body midline.  Have the child trace large crosses or figure 8’s using different colors of chalk to create rainbow tracings, use a pencil to “drive” through a figure 8 pathway, copy a drawing, or complete a large maze with chalk or colored pencils.  These activities promote visual attention, bilateral coordination, and crossing the midline skills as well as upper extremity muscle strength with crawling and movement on all four’s.  The use of chalk provides tactile input to promote handedness and writing/drawing tool control.
  • Tracing activities on a vertical surface that provide large arm movements that cross from the child’s left side to his right side promotes midline crossing.  These activities can include copying a drawing, completing an age-appropriate maze or word search, or drawing lines on which to practice spelling words.  These activities promote bilateral coordination as well.  In addition, activities that are performed on a vertical surface promote upper extremity muscle strengthening and visual attention skills.
  • Keeping time to music by clapping hands, alternating clapping hands and patting knees, tapping sticks together, or marching in place promote playing ball clip art clkerFreeVectorImages Pixabaybalance, body awareness, bilateral coordination, and visual attention skills.
  • Batting a balloon back and forth in sitting or standing promotes balance, visual attention, and crossing the midline skills.  Using a balloon instead of a ball increases the challenge and enhances the development of these skills.  Adding a verbal task such as reciting the alphabet or answering questions further increases the activity’s challenge.
  • Upper extremity exercises performed in sitting or standing can include touching toes with the opposite hand, crossing the right hand to touch the raised left knee and alternating sides in a rhythmic fashion, jumping jacks, or running in place with exaggerated arm movements.   These activities promote balance, body awareness, bilateral coordination, crossing the midline, visual attention, and upper extremity muscle strengthening skills.  Adding small, light weights or a verbal task, such as reciting the directions aloud during the task will further enhance development of visual attention, crossing the midline, and bilateral coordination skills.
  • Ball toss, catch, or kick games in standing or sitting promote visual attention, body awareness, balance, midline crossing, and upper extremity strengthening skills.
  • Construction toys and crafts that encourage the use of two hands to construct a product promote bilateral coordination, crossing the midline, fine motor strengthening, and visual attention skills.
  • Board or card games such as strategy games or solitaire can encourage visual scanning from left-to-right. These activities, as well as most board or card games, promote visual attention, bilateral coordination, and crossing the midline skills.
  • Mazes, word search, hidden picture, and tangrams performed on a vertical or horizontal surface promote visual attention and crossing the midline skills.  Activities performed on a vertical surface promote upper extremity strengthening skills.
  • Yoga postures. These activities promote body awareness, balance, bilateral coordination, crossing the midline, visual attention, and muscle strengthening skills.
  • Playing sports or tug-of-war.  These activities promote balance, visual attention, bilateral coordination, crossing the midline, and muscle strengthening skills.

 

Crossing the midline skills are developmental and should appear by the age of 3-4 years.  This article is meant to provide information about its development and the symptoms that indicate a need in this area.  If you find that your child has not achieved this milestone by the age of 4, it would be wise to consult with his or her pediatrician to determine if there is an actual need that would benefit from intervention.

 

(Blog edited May 2018.)

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

 

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

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

Collmer Handwriting Development Assessment and Remediation

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

 

 

 

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

 

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

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

Collmer Handwriting Development Assessment and Remediation

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

 

 

 

 

Photos are the property of the  photographers at Pixabay where indicated.    Their use should include the link provided with the pictures.  All other photographs are property of the author and are not to be used without her written permission.

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

 

 

References:
  1. Shaffer, David R., and Katherine Kipp. Developmental Psychology: Childhood and Adolescence. 9th ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 2013. Print.
  2. Edwards, Marissa, M.S., OTR/L. “Help Your Child Develop the “Crossing the Midline” Skill.” Nspt4kids.com. North Shore Pediatric Therapy, 18 Apr. 2011. Web. 28 Oct. 2015. <http://nspt4kids.com/parenting/help-your-child-develop-the-crossing-the-midline-skill/>.
  3. “What Is Brain Lateralization?” Nspt4kids.com. North Shore Pediatric Therapy, n.d. Web. 28 Oct. 2015. <http://nspt4kids.com/healthtopics-and-conditions-database/brain-lateralization/>.

 

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