Slow Down! Handwriting is not a race!

Keijj44 pixabaySlow Down! Handwriting is not a race!

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

on the Handwriting is Fun! Blog

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

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

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

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

Editing Skills provide a foundation for appropriate speed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. Provide the student with these directions:

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

Makamuki0

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ideas for turning this strategy from practice into function.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Collmer Handwriting Development Assessment and Remediation

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

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

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

Minute Mania – Turning Handwriting Into A Functional Tool

clock PublicDomainPictures Pixabay

Minute Mania – Turning Handwriting Into A Functional Tool

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s how it goes: 

 

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

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

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

The process and some examples:

  • For students who have mastered only a portion of the manuscript or cursive letter formations, put together a list of words that includes those letters.  For the example below, my student was closing in on mastering the cursive letter formations for “A, a, h, i, M and m, t, u, and w.”  He and I created 10 “real and silly words” that would allow him to practice his writing speed using those letters.  We came up with “at, tat, tu, mu, tut, mitt, hit, tat, uti, and Mutt.”  For this student, the challenge was for him to have confidence in his letter formation skills and his ability to write them correctly without having to check each one as he wrote it to be sure it was perfect in his own eyes.  As you can see, for the first attempt (1.), he was able to copy 4 words.  This was mainly the result of the game being new and his anxiety to do his best.  For the second round (2.), however, he was able to write 9 of the words.  During the self-editing portion, he circled the errors he found and practiced the letters “u and w.  In his next session, after practicing with the game for homework, my student was able to produce the 10 words within the minute on the first try, then 9 words per minute in the second.
Photo is the property of Handwriting With Katherine
Photo is the property of Handwriting With Katherine
Photo is the property of Handwriting With Katherine
Photo is the property of Handwriting With Katherine
  • For another student, who was more proficient in cursive letter formations and was working on legibility as well as speed, we came up with 10 words that included the letters that were the most challenging for her. For this student, her letter formation skills were diminished when speed was the goal.    In the first try, her speed was excellent as she was able to complete the 10 words in one minute and four seconds.  However, as you can see in her timed work in the left-hand column, her legibility suffered.  So, we took a moment to talk about this and to correct her work on the right.  The next example was completed in 58 seconds after the game was used as homework.  As you can see by her stickers, she did very well!
Photo is the property of Handwriting With Katherine
Photo is the property of Handwriting With Katherine
Photo is the property of Handwriting With Katherine
Photo is the property of Handwriting With Katherine
  • As the student above became more proficient in her speed and legibility with individual words, I presented her with a paragraph to copy as fast as she could with her best handwriting.  She was able to produce a 43-word paragraph in 5 minutes and 37 seconds, legibly.  This was a
    Photo is the property of Handwriting With Katherine
    Photo is the property of Handwriting With Katherine

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

Minute Mania Works!

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

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

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

Handwriting and Posture: Revisiting Good Seating

Good PostureHandwriting and Posture:  Revisiting Good Seating

Handwriting and other fine motor tasks demand strength in the core body muscles to provide stability to the upper body and head so that the hands and fingers can engage with the eyes in the performance of precision tasks.  An efficient analysis of handwriting development skills and the development of an effective remediation plan to address handwriting needs should begin with the assessment of the writer’s seating arrangements.  Chair and desk sizes and heights are critical measurements that can provide the most basic and fundamental information about handwriting performance:  How is the seating supporting or hindering handwriting success.  In my book, Handwriting Development Assessment and Remediation:  A Practice Model for Occupational Therapists, I discuss this topic in detail.  In my post, “5 Reasons Why Handwriting Needs a Good Seat,” I share guidelines that can assist in the assessment of seating, as well as adaptations that can provide stability for your young writer.

5 Reasons Why Handwriting Needs a Good Seat

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.

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.

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.

Hand Dominance – a key factor in handwriting success

Hand Dominance – a key factor in handwriting success

by Katherine J. Collmer, M.Ed., OTR/L

hand dominance iwanna pixabayHand dominance is a key factor in handwriting mastery.  Handwriting is a complex functional task that demands the hand to work efficiently with a tool.  This is accomplished through the hand’s intricate link with the brain.  Handwriting is considered to be the highest form of unilateral hand dexterity skill attained by the general population.  (1)   The establishment of hand dominance provides the child with a skilled hand for efficient pencil control to facilitate the learning of letter formations and line alignment as well as a stabilizing hand to monitor paper placement.

What is hand dominance or handedness?

Hand dominance is the term used to describe the hand a child is observed using spontaneously during skilled activities such as brushing his teeth, using scissors, or handwriting tasks.  It is the hand a child naturally prefers to use because it performs skilled tasks more efficiently, leaving the other hand to act as a stabilizer.  For example, a child who is right-hand dominant, or right-handed, will use his right hand to manipulate the scissors and his left hand to stabilize the paper during a cutting task.  The development of hand preference is a sign that the brain is maturating and that brain lateralization is occurring. Initial development of a preferred hand occurs from about the age of 4 months to the age of three to four, shifting from a reach that is convenient (such as using the right hand to pick up objects on the right side) to one that crosses the body’s midline.  Hand preference for the completion of unilateral tasks becomes more evident during this time with further bilateral differentiation occurring between 5 and 7 years.  Although children may continue to switch preferred hands at this stage for use with different fine-motor skilled activities, a fully established hand dominance presents itself between the ages of 6 and 9.

What are the behaviors associated with an Unestablished Hand Dominance?

Hand dominance is a foundational skill that promotes using the hands together efficiently during activities that involve more complex motor plans, motor accuracy, and greater skill.  These tasks include tying shoes, buttoning a coat, playing with interconnecting blocks, or handwriting.  Crossing

Little Boy Lacing his Shoes --- Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis
Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

the midline and bilateral coordination are contributing foundational skills for the establishment of hand dominance and equally important in the performance of skilled tasks.  Difficulties in either of these skills can result in unilateral hand preference (using the right hand for performance on the right side and vice versa), difficulty with symmetrical bilateral hand skills such as catching a ball or holding an object with two hands, or competing dominance where the child switches hands during a fine-motor task.  It is also important to note that if a child who demonstrates a clear preference for one hand is observed switching between his dominant and non-dominant hand during skilled activities, muscle fatigue could be the underlying cause rather than difficulty with any of the above skills.

How can you determine the Establishment of Hand Dominance?

There are several ways to determine a child’s preferred hand and to determine the establishment of hand dominance.

Boy Playing with Building Blocks

  1. Observe the child participating in skilled fine-motor tasks such as brushing his teeth, buttoning his coat, drawing, playing with construction toys, or cutting paper.  Record the number of times that he uses a specific hand as the dominant one within each task, switches hands within the task, or uses only the hand located closest to the object when reaching for it (e.g., using the left hand solely to reach for items on the left side).
  1. Place items at the child’s midline on a table during a fine-motor play or functional activity.  Observe the use of a dominant hand or the switching of hands during the activity.
  1. Place items for use in activities such as puzzles, tangrams, or construction tasks in random positions on the table on the child’s left and right sides as well as in midline. Observe his use of a dominant hand, his switching hands, or the use of a unilateral reach as he completes the activity.

Activities that Promote the Development and Establishment of Hand Dominance.

After collecting observational data that reflects the child’s level of hand dominance, determine the hand that he appears to prefer.  Direct him to use that hand in activities that will reinforce it as the dominant hand.   If the child does not yet appear to have a preferred hand, begin with the foundational activities below to encourage the development of a dominant hand.  Progress to the activities that follow to enhance the underlying skills that promote the development and establishment of hand dominance.

Foundational Activities:

  1. Place objects for a task at the child’s midline. This provides him with the opportunity to select which hand to use and enhances the development of a dominant hand by lessening the chances to use the unilateral hand to avoid having to cross midline.
  1. Use auditory cues to direct the child’s reach across his body during play and functional tasks.  Positions items included in the activity randomly on the table on both sides of his midline.  Ask him to reach for them using the opposite hand.  For example, to direct him to reach across his midline to an object on his left, you might say, “Joey, please pick up the yellow marker with your right hand.”  This activity also promotes the development of crossing the midline and bilateral coordination skills as well as the understanding of directional concepts.
  1. Use auditory and visual cues to establish labels for his skilled and stabilizing hands. This helps him to understand how he uses his hands for fine-motor activities and supports their use as skilled or stabilizing hands.  For example, if the child has been observed to use his left hand predominantly during skilled tasks, you might verbally label his left as the “worker hand” and his right as the “helper hand.”  Demonstrate these labels as you and he complete tasks such as cutting, lacing, or construction play.  You may add a sticker to his worker hand to remind him of its role in the activity.
  1. Use auditory cues as reminders to continue to stay with one hand for the duration of a skilled activity.

Enhancement Activities:

Gross motor games.  Position balls or bean bags on the side of a child’s preferred hand and have him toss them at a target placed at his midline or on the opposite side of his body.  This activity promotes the development of hand dominance, as well as balance, bilateral coordination, visual attention, and crossing the midline skills.  Games of throw and catch (for example, baseball or bowling) and basketball (dribbling and throwing) also promote these skills.

Girl (6-8) Painting an Egg --- Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis
Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

Fine motor activities.  The activities below promote the use of a dominant hand as well as the development of visual attention, crossing the midline, and bilateral coordination skills.

    • Drawing circles or lazy 8’s simultaneously on the left and right sides of a paper taped to the wall or on a chalkboard using a pencil or chalk in the hand on each side
    • Clapping games or games that tap knees and ankles on the opposite sides of the body
    • Tracing the non-dominant hand with the dominant
    • Drawing or coloring with the preferred hand.  The performance of this activity on a vertical surface will further enhance balance and visual attention.
    • Stacking blocks with the preferred hand
    • Activities that include stencils, rulers, or rubbing motions over textures using the dominant hand with the pencil or crayon and the other hand to stabilize the stencil, ruler, or paper.
    • Molding clay or putty using the dominant hand to pull and mold while the other stabilizes the clay or putty
    • Beading, lacing, and interlocking toys using the dominant hand to thread or position the interlocking toy while the other hand stabilizes the string, board, or opposite toy part.
    • Cutting and pasting using the dominant hand to perform the task and the other to stabilize the paper.
    • Construction activities with blocks, hammers, or screwdrivers using the dominant hand to perform and the other to stabilize during the task.
  • Opening containers using the preferred hand to turn or pull open the lid while the other hand stabilizes the container.

Academic activities.

  • Whole body writing (making large movements using the dominant hand) promotes the use of the dominant hand as well as the enhancement of motor movement planning skills.
  • Activities that include non-traditional materials such as finger paints, shaving cream, sand trays, or writing with water on the chalkboard or a piece of paper taped to the wall provide increased tactile input to promote the use of the dominant hand as well as the enhancement of motor movement skills.
  • Create letter formations by shaping them out of pipe cleaners or other tactile tools to promote the use of the dominant hand.
  • Writing or practicing letter formations with a pencil on a piece of paper over fine-grade sandpaper using the dominant hand for tool use and the non-dominant to stabilize the paper provides additional tactile input to promote the use of the dominant hand.
  • Tracing letter formations on a vertical surface using the dominant hand while the other hand positions and supports the paper also enhances visual attention skills.

Children who have not established a dominant hand may also be working with inefficient body image and spatial awareness skills.  It is important to observe the child in a diverse array of activities and provide a variety of opportunities to engage in bilateral tasks in order to determine the underlying  developmental skill needs.

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

Photos are the property of the  photographers at Pixabay or Royalty-Free/Corbis where indicated.    Their use should include the link or copyright provided with the pictures.

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. Yancosek, Kathleen E., and David R. Mullineaux. “Stability of Handwriting Performance following Injury-induced Hand-dominance Transfer in Adults: A Pilot Study.” The Journal of Rehabilitation Research and Development JRRD 48.1 (2011): 59. Web. 28 Oct. 2015.
  2. “Texas Child Care: Back Issues.” Texas Child Care: Back Issues. Texas Child Care Quarterly, n.d. Web. 30 Oct. 2015. <http://www.childcarequarterly.com/spring07_story3.html>.
  3. “Occupational Therapy for Children.” Occupational Therapy for Children. Occupational Therapy for Children, 08 Sept. 2015. Web. 30 Oct. 2015. <http://www.occupationaltherapychildren.com.au/blog/dominance-hand-dominance/>.

Low Tech Assistive Technology: MacGyver Inspired

This month, the Handwriting is Fun! Blog is proud to host another guest author series.  In July we will be sharing information on the topic of Technology and OT.  Our series will stray from our typical course and discuss non-handwriting related topics, except for the one that was presented the first week.  I know you will enjoy what our guests will be sharing and will learn a great deal from their expertise.

This week, we are proud to have Rebecca Klockars, the OT Mommy, join us again to share her “OT-made AT for success!”  She truly demonstrates the ingenuity and creativity that occupational therapy is based upon.  If you enjoy her post as much as I did, please be sure to stop by her site and let her know!

OT Mommy, you’re on!

 

toolbox clkerfreevectorimages pixabayLow Tech AT:  MacGyver Inspired

 

One of the things I love about Assistive Technology is that it does not have to be high tech.  Some of my favorite MacGyver-inspired modifications came from searching the plethora of stuff I have in my OT room.

 

When adapting materials for writing, I like to scour my surroundings and look for ways I can reuse materials.  I am sure many of you can relate to the hoarder tendencies in your own therapy room.

 

For example, the art teacher was throwing away “broken” brushes, so I grabbed them.  Like many occupational therapists and special educators, I had a box of unused pegs from peg boards activities.  Through trial and error, I discovered that a peg fit into the handle’s old spot, creating a short paintbrush with a convenient form to enhance the grasp of a developing writer.

From broken...
From broken…
Brush
…to functional!

 

 

If you have a child struggling to keep the pencil resting in the webspace, two elastic bands can provide a handy support.  Just overlap the bands and pull through.  This is great for tablet styluses too.

 

Two elastic bands
From two…

 

Overlapped elastic bands
…to one…

 

Help for Webspace
…to functional!

 

If you have a student with significant grasp difficulties, sometimes for just a few cents worth of PVC piping found in the plumbing section of your local hardware store, a T-shaped crayon holder can be built.   Depending on the size of the tool you are using, you will want to grab a PVC tee connector and two pieces of PVC piping cut approximately 2-3” in length each.  Place the two lengths of piping in each end of the top of the T; the writing implement is placed in the open end.  If needed, thread a strap of One-Wrap through the top to help support the grip.  Here’s an example from Therapy Fun 4 Kids!

PVC Crayon Adaptor from Therapy Fun 4 Kids
PVC Crayon Adaptor from Therapy Fun 4 Kids

 

 

 

Need to build up diameter of pencil but don’t have any foam tubing? Head to the dollar store and get a package of curlers.  These can be used for tactile feedback as well as a build-up material.

 

Curler
From foam…

 

Curler Pencil Grip
…to functional!

 

I’ve gone as far as the gym teacher’s closet to find broken jump rope handles.  Sometimes a marker fits perfectly in the handle, creating a makeshift universal cuff for writing.

 

Positioning materials are just as important for grasp development and writing readiness.  If a student needs a more angled surface than you can achieve with a three-ring binder, make your own. Get an old political sign made of corrugated plastic, some Velcro, and wallpaper corners (found at the local paint and decorating store).  With strategic cutting, bending and velcroing, a slanted surface for either writing or reading is easily achieved.

Book Positioning
From corrugated plastic…to functional!

 

For a great how-to video, visit University of New Hampshire You Tube Channel ATinNH – right here!

 

IPad Stand YouTube from ATinNH
IPad Stand YouTube

 

 

So the next time you are struggling to find the perfect pencil grip for a student, look around the classroom, in the art room, or in the aisles of the local hardware store.  You never know what you will find.  You may even become inspired to be your own AT hacker.

 

 

 

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 her site dedicated to Assistive Technology Consideration in Transition Assessment and her blog at www.otmommy.blogspot.com

 

 

Handwriting: is an app applicable? by Katherine J. Collmer, M.Ed., OTR/L on the Handwriting is Fun! Blog
Handwriting: is an app applicable? by Katherine J. Collmer, M.Ed., OTR/L on the Handwriting is Fun! Blog
The Challenge of Moving Toward Self-Sufficiency with or without Assistive Technology by Eleanor Cawley, MS, OTR/L
The Challenge of Moving Toward Self-Sufficiency with or without Assistive Technology by Eleanor Cawley, MS, OTR/L
Switch Use: A Success Story in Progress a Guest Blog by Cheryl from OT Notes
Switch Use: A Success Story in Progress a Guest Blog by Cheryl from OT Notes

Handwriting: Is an app applicable?

Handwriting:  Is an app applicable?

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

on the Handwriting is Fun! Blog

This month, the Handwriting is Fun! Blog is proud to host another guest author series.  In July we will be sharing information on the topic of Technology and OT.  Our series will stray from our typical course and discuss non-handwriting related topics, except for this first one.  I know you will enjoy what our guests will be sharing and will learn a great deal from their expertise.  Let’s begin the series with my thoughts on applications for handwriting.

woman ones zeros geralt pixabayAs the Internet nudges print media to the side and encourages the increased use of television, computers, or mobile phones for the collection of knowledge and entertainment, the question, “How does technology affect learning?”  has achieved a higher standing in the minds of parents and educators.  And, although the concern is raised, there continues to be a lack of  guidance for the use of mobile learning with children.  This is partly due to the lack of a “widely accepted learning theory for mobile technologies, which in turn “hampers the effective assessment, pedagogy, and design of new applications for learning.”  (1)

While mobile learning provides “an environment of anytime, anywhere learning” made possible through an interconnecting flow of information between technologies, the production of these “learning tools” does not reflect a consistent theory for teaching and learning effectiveness.  (2)  The future promises a digital literacy that will toss out the linear learning forced on us through paper text and afford our children the opportunity to learn through         e-books, augmented reality and game-based technologies, and computing devices that utilize gesture-based (movement and touch) technology.   (2)  The effects of these promised treasures, however, are yet to be realized as the divide between the producers’ creations and the consumers’ developmental needs remains a wide one, and the implications for education and cultivation of informed educators on the uses of digital literacy tools in their classrooms continue to be investigated.  (1) (Part 3: pages 23-27)

The fact does remain, however, that the Internet and all of the technological byproducts that we have realized from it, are here to stay.  Just as the Gutenberg Press revolutionized the way that we obtained knowledge, changing us from an oral-based society where people gathered together to “receive information” to a reader-based one where learning became a solitary event, the Internet has catapulted us into a personalized state of learning that has us tapping, clicking, dragging, and linking – just us and the computer screen.  In addition, the Internet provides the “learner” with strong “sensory and cognitive stimuli – repetitive, intensive, interactive, addictive – that have been shown to result in strong and rapid alterations in brain circuits and functions.”  (3)  The Internet and its byproducts are not controlled by us, instead they tend to be in control, as they do indeed have an influence on the way we learn, communicate, and make decisions.  Nicholas Carr, in his book, The Shallows, pulls this transformation together in one potent statement about the Net:  “At the very least, it’s the most powerful (technology) that has come along since the book.”  (3)

There seems to be no area of learning that will be unaffected by this powerful tool; and, as a handwriting specialist, I understand that boy and chalkboard akshayapatra pixabaytechnology will change the way that my young handwriters will want to learn.  Their brains, eyes, ears, and hands will demand the “positive reinforcements” of sound, touch, and speed as they gather volumes of experiences from their preferred mobile learning device.  But, also as a specialist in my area of practice, I remain skeptical that the quality of this rapid-fire feedback-feed forward method of learning will provide them with the sufficient tactile, visual, proprioceptive, and cognitive developmental base for mastering handwriting skills.  Handwriting is a complex skill, one that demands the achievement of cognitive, visual/sensory, and physical components.   It is a task which 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. And it is this last facet of handwriting’s language that begs investigation when we consider diverting our instruction and remediation of handwriting development skills to the mobile world.

Nicholas Carr speaks to this silent facet of the Internet’s control over learning as he describes our behaviors as we click, link, and tap:  We work in a state where we are “often oblivious to everything else going on around us.”  As we seek information, follow a new trail to gather more, and find ourselves amongst all the bells and whistles of positive reinforcement, we become, what he calls, “a mind consumed with a medium.”  Although the book as a medium provides us with a gentler, calmer sense of “losing oneself” inside its text, interactive games, mobile applications, and even social media grab us by the eyes and ears and force us to attend.  And, unlike the book, they do this only to distract us simultaneously with the “rapid-fire delivering of competing messages and stimuli.”  Handwriting applications offer young learners the opportunity to delve into this world of sensory feedback, where colors, sounds, flashes, and pictures have replaced the concentration and attention paid to the tactile, visual perceptual, and proprioceptive facets of learning the skill.   The “haptic” of handwriting has been ignored as we limit the use of the hands to provide our brain with feedback from motor actions, substituting a fingertip or the smooth movement of a stylus for “the sensation of touching a pencil and paper.” Associate professor Anne Mangen at the University of Stavanger’s Reading Centre and neurophysiologist Jean-Luc Velay at the University of Marseille published an article in the Advances in Haptics periodical (4) in which they examined the question of whether “something is lost in switching from book to computer screen, and from pen to keyboard.”  Anne Mangen reports that “the sensorimotor component (of writing by hand) forms an integral part of training for beginners, and in special education for people with learning difficulties. But there is little awareness and understanding of the importance of handwriting to the learning process, beyond that of writing itself.”  She adds, seemingly disappointed, that “in educational science, there is scant interest in the ergonomics of reading and writing, and its potential significance in the learning process.”

Despite the lack of interest in the putting-pencil-to-paper aspects of handwriting mastery and the obsessive attention paid to the touch-and-learn angles of mobile media, the initial instruction and remediation of handwriting development skills continues to lie within the realm of the very real developmental stages of learning – Cognitive, Visual/Sensory, and Physical. The learning, development, and mastery of handwriting skills demand that we move within, touch, visualize, repeat, and self-correct our physical work.  We must review the product, uncover our successes and needs, and compare the samples in order to develop an awareness of mastery.  We must attend to it. There is absolutely no substitute for hands-on instruction that is structured, consistent, and guided – and social.  The benefits that the interaction within a classroom filled with students listening to the teacher, raising their hands, asking questions, and helping one another provides will never find its substitute within a computerized screen.  And while mobile learning can indeed offer a supplemental benefit to a 1:1 skill remediation session, the personal connection between the child and his pencil and paper allows the occupational therapist to facilitate the cognitive, visual, sensory, and physical input without the distractions of the bells and whistles. It’s important to remember that, as occupational therapists, teachers, and parents, we ARE the positive reinforcements.  Until research evidence proves otherwise, handwriting development remains a function of the hand.

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

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 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) Shuler, Carly, and Cynthia Chiong & Carly Shul. “Learning Is There an App for That?” Learning: Is There an App for That? (2010): n. pag. PBS Kids. The Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop. Web. 27 May 2015. <http://www-tc.pbskids.org>.  http://www-tc.pbskids.org/read/files/cooney_learning_apps.pdf

(2)  Richards, Reshan. “Theory of Mobile Learning.” Constructivist Toolkit. The Constructivist Toolkit, 24 June 2013. Web. 27 May 2015.

(3) Carr, Nicholas G. The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains. New York: W.W. Norton, 2010. Print.

(4) The University of Stavanger. “Better learning through handwriting.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 24 January 2011.

5 Nifty Handwriting Helpers Revisited

5 Nifty Handwriting Helpers Revisited

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

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

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

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

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

 

Five Nifty Handwriting Helpers

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

The Five Nifty Handwriting Helpers!

  1. Body Awareness

This helper is

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

 

Body Awareness can be developed through activities such as:

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

 

+  balance and coordination,

+  concentration, and

+  visual attention skills.

 

 

 

+  make left and right turns,

+  look up,

+  check on top or behind, and

+  look under.

 

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

+  use the left and right sides of their bodies,

+  manage their weight against gravity, and

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

Skateboarding and roller skating will definitely do the trick!

 

 

 2.  Finger, Hand, and Wrist Strength

This helper provides the foundation for

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

+  push,

+  pull,

+  grab ahold, and

+  hold on.

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

 

 

 

+  use their two hands together for precision work;

+  manipulate different tools and textures; and

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

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

 

 

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

 

+  dig in the soil,vegetables-condesign-pixabay

+  plant seeds, and

+  pull weeds,

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

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

 

 

3.  Vision and Sensory Skills

These helpers are those that allow children

 

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

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

 

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

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

+  maintain eye contact,

+  focus with near vision, and

+  use eye movements to follow the game.

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

 

 

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

+  movement and

+  imitation.

 

 

 

 

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

        +  visual attention,

        +  efficient scanning techniques, and

        +  visual perceptual skills to complete them.

 

 

4.  Posture

This helper allows children to learn using efficient

 

Postural skills can be developed through activities such as:

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

+  Core Body Muscles

+  balance, and

+  coordination.

 

 

 

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

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

 

        +  building core body muscles and

         +  vision skills.

 

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

 

 

+  understand what “posture” is,

+  develop good postural habits, and

+  appreciate the importance of having good posture.

 

 

5. Practice

This helper allows children to

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

trip maps

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

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

 

Katherine

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

IS Summer Handwriting Fun?

Welcome back to our Summer Handwriting Fun series!  This week we are sharing some very creative ideas that will spark your children’s interest in building handwriting development skills!  Our guest blogger is Stacy Turke, OTR/L, an Occupational Therapist from Michigan!  I think you will find her suggestions helpful and easy to do.  If you think so, too, drop her a note and let her know how much you’ve appreciated them.  Okay, Stacy, you’re on!

 

 

Summer Handwriting Homework

Summer Handwriting Practice

Summer Handwriting Fun!

 

sad student clikerfreevectorimages pixabayFor many kids, this statement is an oxymoron:  how can ANYTHING related to Handwriting be fun?  Good handwriting takes practice, lots and lots of it, and practice of almost any kind is boring.  Plus, kids want to be outside playing in the summer, or inside creating, and just generally having fun with their families and friends.  So a Summer Handwriting Program is a waste of time, right?

 

Not if it’s done well!

 

For kids with handwriting challenges, the writing itself is rarely the whole picture.  Handwriting is a very complex process, combining

  • motor planning,
  • postural control,
  • muscle strength and endurance,
  • joint stability,
  • bilateral coordination/control,
  • attention and focus,
  • visual processing,
  • fine motor skills,
  • eye hand coordination,  PLUS
  • visual and auditory memory

…and all that comes before the child begins to put pencil to paper to write down the language in their mind’s eye.  Practice the skills in these areas, and you’ll help your child maintain and strengthen their ability to write while having fun, without the feel of homework or practice. Who wouldn’t want that?!

 

So what EXACTLY do you do to practice?

There is no concrete, universal “Practice THIS List” because every child’s needs are unique and individual.   So instead of a “prescription,” consider these general areas and suggested activities to create a strong foundation for handwriting, and then get creative!

 

For tons of ideas, visit these Internet spots for ideas:

  • Blogs, such as Handwriting with Katherine (you’re there now!).  Also Google “handwriting,” or any of the skills listed above for more blogs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • Pinterest:  Search for “fine-motor skills, handwriting, eye-hand coordination, muscle strengthening for children” – or any of the skills listed above for many “boards” where people have collected activities.  These will also lead you to new sites to explore!   ——–|

 

 

  • Facebook:  In the “Search” block at the top,

——–>

type in “key words” such as, “children, occupational therapy, or education.”  If you have a favorite Facebook page that discusses children’s activities, click on its “Likes” section and browse through the sites there.

 

 

  • Twitter:  In the top right-hand block, search  for hastags (#) such as “#pediOT,  #occupationaltherapy,  and  #handwriting”  —————————————–|
Again, if you have favorite Tweeters that you enjoy, take a look at their profiles and click on their “Follows” and “Followers” ———-> for more suggestions.

 

 

You will find more activities that you have summer-time for!

 

So how EXACTLY do you get creative?

Consider the things your child likes to do, and then expand or adapt to allow for greater targeted practice and skill development.

  1. exercise_girl_pushups_word classroom clipart comWith my students, I typically begin with a whole body task or activity, something that will get all the muscles and joints working.
  2. Next, I will try to use an activity that engages the shoulders, and
  3. then, we will move on to an activity that uses the small muscles of the hand and fingers.
  4. After all that, we get a little actual penmanship practice in, once the body is ready for that level of focus.

 

 

 

Strengthening both the core and fine-motor muscles helps to build the foundation for handwriting skill development.

 

Let’s see if this strategy will work for your child!

Let me share some movement activities that Engage and Strengthen the whole body and follow the strategy I described above.  (Who couldn’t benefit from these activities?)

First, A Word About Strengthening:

As with any strengthening program, begin with very small expectations, and slowly build the amount of time your child engages in these tasks or with these materials.

 

Here we go!

1.  First, try these activities to help to wake up and strengthen all of the muscles, including core muscles and the muscles of the arms and legs, all at the same time.

-Practice Simple Calisthenics (sit-ups, push-ups, jumping jacks, etc.).

-Ride a bike.

-Climb a tree.

-Visit the local park and climb/slide/swing on the playground equipment.

5 Kid-Friendly Yoga Poses From Mind-Body-Green.com

-Swim.

-Walk or run.  Bonus points for walking the dog!

-Learn Kids’ Yoga.

-Play soccer.

-Roll down a grassy hill.  (Be careful if, like me, you have a dog in your yard…)

-Include some Screen Time (believe it or not): Websites like GoNoOdle offer fun, brief “brain breaks” that involve movement and music. Many kids will be familiar with GoNoOdle because their teachers use it in their classrooms!

Looking for more activities?

Search all of the Internet sites listed above with keywords or hashtags: #grossmotor   #proprioception   #heavywork   #kidsexercise   #kidsyoga

 

2.  Next, try these to Engage the Shoulders and Arms.

These activities will help strengthen the larger muscles of the shoulder and arm, while still being fun and engaging, and will also help support bilateral coordination (using both sides of the body together).

-Play T-ball.

-Play tennis.

-Play on the floor on the tummy, propped up on elbows.

-Push-ups on the floor if your child can manage this, or against the wall:  Place arms shoulder height on a wall, approximately shoulder width apart. Take a step back from the wall.  SLOWLY bend the elbows, bringing the face close to the wall, then SLOWLY push the body back to the starting position.

-Rake the yard.

-Shovel Snow.  (Hey, it’s snowy in the Southern Hemisphere in June-August!)

-Carry bags with groceries from the car.

-Help carry laundry.

-Use a spray bottle with water and “wash” the windows using big arm movements.

-Play in a sandbox or on the beach with shovels, buckets, trucks, etc.

Making Bread Dough With “My Small Potatoes.com”

-Sweep the sidewalk or the house.

-Vacuum.   (Hey, some kids LOVE using the vacuum!)

-Knead bread dough.

-Create artwork with sidewalk chalk on the sidewalk or vertical chalkboard.

-“Paint” (using simply water and a 1-2″ paintbrush) on the garage door or sidewalk.

-Use the water and paintbrush idea to “erase” a picture drawn with sidewalk chalk outside.

For more activities, try these suggested searches or hashtags:   #bilateralcoordination   #shoulderstability   #shouldercoordination.

 

3.  Then, move on to Engage the Hands and Fingers.

These activities will support and strengthen the muscles and joints of the wrist, fingers, and thumb.  Bonus points if you combine several together creatively!

 

Turke 2-Play with playdough: roll it; pinch it; hide small objects within it and find them by pinching or twisting; cut rolls using scissors.

-Play with Silly Putty:  Use in the same activities as with the playdough.  Or create design “transfers” by pressing silly putty onto a newspaper comic or simple pencil drawing and peel away to reveal a picture.

Insert Q-tips into the holes in the tops of cleaned out spice containers.
Insert Q-tips into the holes in the tops of cleaned out spice containers.

-Insert Q-tips into the holes in the tops of cleaned out spice containers.

-Use small tongs or tweezers to pick up mini erasers or other small objects.

 

 

Push small pompoms into parmesan cheese containers.
Push small pompoms into parmesan cheese containers.

         Push small pompoms into parmesan cheese containers.

-Build with Duplo or Lego bricks.

-Rip up strips of paper, then use a mini “broom” and dustpan to sweep up the pieces.

-String fruit-loop type cereal onto yarn to make a necklace.

Create a bracelet using a rubber band loom.
Create a bracelet using a rubber band loom.

-Create a bracelet using a rubber band loom.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here some suggested searches/hashtags  for more activities like these:

#finemotorskills   #eyehandcoordination   #graspingskills

 

4.  Now it’s time to write.

After all the above preparation, your child is ready for a little handwriting practice.  My recommendation is that, whatever process your child is using, whether it’s a structured, formal handwriting curriculum or if it’s something that is more teacher created, it is important to offer opportunities to practice each letter, numeral, or word repeatedly. After all, one time through a workbook is rarely enough for kids to demonstrate mastery of a skill.   If you don’t have a writing program provided by your child’s teacher or OT, you can easily find some type of handwriting practice workbook at your local Target, Walmart, or similar store.  You can also Google #freehandwritingworksheets  (or similar key words) and you will be able to choose from all sorts of free resources online.

 

What about those kids who HATE to practice?

Girl Writing Notebook raphaeljeanneret pixabaySome of my students hate to simply practice letters and numbers because they see no purpose in it. So we try these ideas:

  • We write notes to ourselves.
  • We send letters to their parents, grandparents, or friends.
  • My students make lists of the movies they want to see or of their favorite foods.
  • One student who was really into one particular online game spent a couple of weeks writing a tutorial of sorts for me, so that I could understand all the characters and powers. (Full disclosure: I still don’t understand much about the game, but I do have handwritten instructions prepared by a student who would have otherwise balked at writing!)

 

Mix it up!

Keep a box of different types of writing tools and materials readily available for your child.

  • Crayons, both primary sized and the more traditional sized.
  • Pencils, both traditional and mechanical, and pencil grips.
  • Water-color markers.
  • And papers, to include lined, unlined, and construction.

 

My favorite writing practice tip?

Take that workbook you’ve purchased or been given and either tear the pages out and place them into clear plastic page protectors in a binder, or use a clear plastic overlay on each page. Using a dry-erase marker, you’ve created reusable practice pages, and your child can practice over and over until letters and numbers are legible and written with ease.

 

My next best tip?

Aim for about 5-10 minutes of writing practice after the warm ups (above), several times per week in the summer.   If you can.   If you can’t…just make sure your child is playing, creating, and helping around the house.  Keep your approach light and playful, and you will have your child working on improving their handwriting all summer long…and he or she might not even know it’s work!

 

 

I have been employed in my dream job as an Occupational Therapist at a county-level intermediate school district for almost 30 years. My career has ranged from working in a “center-based” school to working in public and private schools throughout the county, including rural, suburban, and urban schools. I have been blessed to have been able to work with students with a wide range of educational needs, to include cognitive impairments, Autism Spectrum Disorder, physical challenges, sensory processing needs, and learning disabilities (plus many more). More recently, OT within the school district has broadened somewhat, giving me access to working with all students and their teachers, focusing on self-regulation, classroom design to enhance learning, and handwriting support. This career has been fulfilling, always presents new and interesting challenges, and is NEVER boring!  If you want to get in touch, you can reach me at sturke@inghamisd.org

 

 

Links to the rest of the series:

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

 

Stay tuned!  Next week, we will begin our Techie Series.  Hope to see you then!

Tips for Getting Away From Table-Top Activities
Tips for Getting Away From Table-Top Activities