Handwriting Games that go BAM!

Adding a game format to handwriting practice increases student motivation.

By Kathryn Mason, OTR/L

On the Handwriting is Fun! Blog

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

As a school-based occupational therapist, I understand that

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

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

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

Bam!Takes On Handwriting Skills!

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

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

verbally identifying upper vs. lower case letters,

verbally identifying lower case letter positions,

copying letters from a model, or

printing the letters using visual memory.

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

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

Bam! For Handwriting Game Instructions

Generic Game Board Handwriting Games

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

Generic Board Games Downloadable Directions

A Game Board Slide Show!

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

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

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

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

Including dice in the game offers additional advantages.

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

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

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

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

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

And the students love them!

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

A Success Story!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Directive Drawing: A Handwriting Tool

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

Directive Drawing: A Handwriting Tool

By Jason Gonzales, OTR/L

on the Handwriting is Fun! Blog

WHERE DID IT ALL BEGIN?

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

WHY IS A PICTURE WORTH A THOUSAND WORDS?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Directive Drawing as a Tool

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

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

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

Directive drawing activities can work on attention and impulsivity.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kids learn to draw before they write.

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

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

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

References:

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

Handwriting Help for Floating Hands

Handwriting Help for Floating Hands

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

on the Handwriting is Fun! Blog

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just recently, I received an email from an occupational therapist that I’ve been working with for quite some time.  She had a question concerning an issue that is very familiar to me.  She wrote:

I have a couple of students whose hands “float” off the tabletop (ulnar side of hand is not in contact with tabletop).  They tend to write with shoulder/elbow movements.  If I make them keep their hand on table, they then use wrist rather that finger excursion movements.

What do you recommend to help correct this?? More wrist work??  Finger mobility excursion work??

I though I’d share our conversation and the ideas that I have found to work in this situation.

 

Planning is Important!

 

Our time with students is precious and there’s always so much to do.  I’ve found that a schedule of activities helps me to keep on task and accomplish the goals that we’ve set for that session.  Also, a written or visual schedule helps the student follow and understand what his or her work will be for that day.  In the case of “floating hands,” I typically follow a strict schedule of tasks that will help both me and the student recognize progress and to uncover continued needs.

 

 

  1. Begin the session with gross motor work.    Although the students are using their shoulders to manipulate the pencil and negotiate the task, that doesn’t mean that they have strong upper body and/or core strength.  In fact, it could mean the opposite.  It takes strong muscles in those areas to maintain the arm and wrist positioning needed for a fluid and legible handwriting style.  Writers who use their shoulders and elbows in this way often benefit from lots of upper body and core strengthening activities.  I’d suggest starting each session with 10-15 minutes of upper body workouts: wheelbarrow races; wall pushups; yoga exercises such as the the plank and the warrior; and floor pushups if they are strong enough.  I even work on arm wrestling at the table.  Of course, be careful – lots of these students can take you down on that one!

 

Yoga Exercises

 

 

 

  1. In the same session, I’d move on to vertical activities.  These can be completed on papers taped to the wall or white board (but not completed with marker on the whiteboard, please*), a window pane, or an easel.   The activities I provide include drawing, doodling, word search, crossword puzzles, coloring, tracing, or any type of activity that places the wrist in the slightly extended position that is preferable for handwriting at the desk.  I usually take my students through another 10-15 minutes of this, making sure that I explain why the wrist needs to be placed just so and why it is important not to lean on the forearm to steady oneself or to rest against the wall.  The arm and hand need to move fluidly as they do while producing handwritten work at the desk.  During this segment of the session, I will provide the students with a break periodically to give the upper extremity a rest.  For example, after each 5-minute span, I offer a break that might include playing an ongoing game such as Operation, blowing a cotton ball across the table or floor at a target, putty exercises, or any board game that interests the student.  The type of break offered would reflect the student’s needs at that time, taking into consideration whether a fine-motor, vision, or simple “fun” activity would best suit his or her needs.

 

An important note:   During the vertical activities, the students should have their wrists and forearms in light contact with the wall and paper, allowing them to glide across the paper with a fluid movement as they perform the task. (Be sure to attend to the non-dominant hand, as well, ensuring that it is placed appropriately on the wall and paper.)  To help with the correct positioning, I may add a very light weighted wrist band on each wrist, draw a highlighted line where their wrist should maintain contact, and/or place light pressure on their wrists with my index finger to guide and remind them.  It takes time – lots sometimes – so be patient.

*And it is also important to avoid using markers or pens for these initial stages.  Pencils provide important tactile feedback that gives the student an increased awareness of his or her hand placement using the appropriate writing tool, of a sense of pressure on the pencil, and a feel for the movement of the hand.

 

 

Graph Drawings (You can find more resources in the Needs and Strategies Tool Box included with my book.)

Wikki Stix Activity

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Cotton Ball Game helps build efficient visual skills.

Doodles and Drawings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  1. Next, I’d move on to a fine-motor activity.   Exercises that include wrist work and finger mobility are excellent choices.    But,  before I asked the student to do too much fine-motor work, I would take into consideration the level of finger and hand fatigue the student is experiencing after the vertical surface work that has been done.  If they are very fatigued, I’d alternate the sequence of the vertical work

    Fine Motor Activities From Dollar Tree

    and the fine-motor in different sessions.  For example, on Monday I’d do the fine-motor first, then go on to the vertical.  Then on Wednesday, I’d begin with vertical and then move on to fine-motor, increasing the amount gradually relative to the fatigue levels.  The reason I do this is because it makes it easier for me to assess the fine motor before and after using those muscles in the vertical position.  Then, when the fine-motor is improving, then I might keep that portion for after the vertical.  It sounds like that is contrary to the way we typically conduct a session, and it is.  But in the case of floaters, we are mostly working on keeping the wrist and forearm in the appropriate positions.  So, I alternate the order for the tasks to keep me informed about those particular needs.  Sometimes, the student doesn’t really need much fine-motor strengthening.  If he or she is not gripping the pencil too tightly or loosely, then the floating may simply be a case of upper body and core strength.

Putty exercises on a slightly vertical surface to enhance awareness of the appropriate wrist positioning. (Picture is the property of Handwriting With Katherine.)

 

  1. At the end of the session, I would transfer the vertical task requirements to desk work, explaining that the same wrist positioning and movement applies to handwritten work performed at the desk.  At first, it is best not to work on handwriting in this portion of the session.  Bring down the drawings, doodling, or coloring activities that the student was working on and have him or her practice on those.  This eliminates the need for the student to monitor his or her handwriting quality.  As the student progresses with the vertical activities, then handwriting can be introduced here in the final stages of the session.

 

Now, I would most definitely check sensory skills.  Sometimes students simply don’t like the feeling of having the side of their hand moving across the paper. In that case (which I’ve only come across rarely in children without other sensory needs), I begin their work on the vertical surface by adding a piece of felt or soft cloth layered on the bottom portion of the paper.   This provides a “gentler” surface that allows them to move their hands over that portion of the paper.  I gradually remove the amount of time this strategy is included in the task.  If they don’t like smooth surfaces, then I would put a fabric such as a softer burlap there that will provide some texture and scratchiness to the surface.

 

 

These are my tried and true suggestions.  But, I’m sure that you have your own strategies that have worked for you and your students.  Please share them with us so that we can all learn from your experiences.

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

Use of the bubble wand picture should include a link back to the blog author.

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

 

Pencil Grasp Repair: Strategies 101

Pencil Grasp Repair:  Strategies 101

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

on the Handwriting is Fun! Blog

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

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

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

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

Step-by-Step:  Proximal to Distal

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

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

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

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

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

My favorite set of yoga exercises!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Collmer Handwriting Development Assessment and Remediation

Reference:

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

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

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

Slow Down! Handwriting is not a race!

Keijj44 pixabaySlow Down! Handwriting is not a race!

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

on the Handwriting is Fun! Blog

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

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

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

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

Editing Skills provide a foundation for appropriate speed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. Provide the student with these directions:

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

Makamuki0

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ideas for turning this strategy from practice into function.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Collmer Handwriting Development Assessment and Remediation

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

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

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

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

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Minute Mania – Turning Handwriting Into A Functional Tool

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s how it goes: 

 

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

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

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

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

The process and some examples:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Minute Mania Works!

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

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

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

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

Technology by MacGyver Revisited

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

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

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

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

Another Look at Pencil Grip

Pencil grip Pencil grip is the first visible sign of handwriting difficulties that can cause teachers and parents to ask for the assistance of an occupational therapist.  But, as important as an efficient pencil grip is to handwriting skills, it is not always the cause of handwriting needs. Research studies have concluded that an efficient pencil may not always look like one – although it is functional, nonetheless.  My article, “Should we worry about pencil grip?” shares important research conclusions and their implications for an occupational therapy assessment and remediation plan for handwriting development skills. Please share your feedback!

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.

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.
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