Handwriting and other fine motor tasks demand strength in the core body muscles to provide stability to the upper body and head so that the hands and fingers can engage with the eyes in the performance of precision tasks. An efficient analysis of handwriting development skills and the development of an effective remediation plan to address handwriting needs should begin with the assessment of the writer’s seating arrangements. Chair and desk sizes and heights are critical measurements that can provide the most basic and fundamental information about handwriting performance: How is the seating supporting or hindering handwriting success. In my book, Handwriting Development Assessment and Remediation: A Practice Model for Occupational Therapists, I discuss this topic in detail. In my post, “5 Reasons Why Handwriting Needs a Good Seat,” I share guidelines that can assist in the assessment of seating, as well as adaptations that can provide stability for your young writer.
The “Summer Handwriting Fun” series proudly presents a Guest Post from OT Mommy! We are thrilled that she has joined us to share her inspirational strengthening activities that will help children enhance the physical skills they will need to master handwriting. Handwriting brings cognitive, fine-motor, and physical skills to the table each time we sit down to write. Mommy OT is here to offer ways to work on those skills while we are away from the table! I know you will enjoy her work! Be sure to visit her site and comment on this article so that she knows how much you appreciate her! OK, OT Mommy, we’re ready!
Top 5 Ways to Get Away From Table-Top Activities
If you are tired of the same ol’ sitting at the table, pencil and paper tasks, try switching it up with change of scenery, or at least a change in position. Altering body positions can be easily incorporated to enhance a therapy session individually or as stations in an obstacle course.
Take a look at my Top 5 Summer Themed Positions for Writing.
- The Backstroke
Have the student lay on his/her back under a table while coloring or writing. Not only will this position encourage bilateral use of hands by forcing the child to keep the paper from falling, it will also address shoulder strengthening and visual attention.
- The Doggy Paddle
High or Half Kneeling at a wall or an easel during a painting or writing activity will challenge the student’s core. A strong and healthy trunk can help to improve posture, digestion and respiration. Make sure to provide a yoga mat or a pillow to help with any knee discomfort.
- The Crawl Stoke
Clear the floor to provide enough space for your student to lay on his/her belly. My students love navigating through an obstacle course and ending with writing practice on the yoga mat. Weight bearing through the shoulders helps the students keep the forearms down and achieve a more dynamic grasp pattern during pencil paper tasks.
- The High Dive
Have the student stand at a canvas taped to the wall or door. Add a challenge by having the student complete wall push ups between tasks.
- The Free Style
Free Style is just that. It is the chance to mix it up for the student to experience the complex skill of handwriting in an environment other than at the table. No pencil or paper is needed here. Watch the child visualize the letters when a peer uses his/her finger to write on his/her back. Or head to the sandbox and use sticks to draw in the sand. Or to the sidewalk to challenge the tolerance of vibratory feedback when the chalk is dragged along the pavement. Or barefoot in the grass using their feet to form the letters with different muscle groups. Open it up to the students to guide how they want their therapy to be done.
By changing the way an activity is presented, you can awaken the senses and get more bang for the buck.
Rebecca Klockars is a mom, occupational therapist, RESNA certified assistive technology professional and author of the blog OTMommy Needs Her Coffee. When not ranting and raving about things to do with her children (her own and the school-based kids too) she enjoys cooking, reading and building things with PVC, duct tape and velcro. For more information, visit www.otmommy.blogspot.com
Five Nifty Handwriting Helpers
by Katherine J. Collmer, M.Ed., OTR/L
This month, I am sharing a “Summer Handwriting Fun” series chock-full of articles written by myself and other therapy bloggers who have so graciously offered to share their work on my site. This is the next in our series. I hope you will find it useful and return to read some more next week!
What do we need before we get “good” at handwriting?
- Body Awareness;
- Finger, Hand, and Wrist Strength;
- Vision and Sensory Skills;
- Posture; and
Although these five helpers are very important skills in handwriting development, they are not too be taken too seriously. They can be developed during most play experiences all along a child’s developmental stages. Today, we are going to take a look at the ways that we can engage our elementary school-aged “handwriters” in some “Summer Fun” that works on these skills!
The Five Nifty Handwriting Helpers!
What is body awareness? It’s simply our “internal map” that lets us know where all of our body parts are – without our having to look at them to find out! It helps us to understand directional concepts, like up and down, left and right, and gives us a perspective about navigating our environment. All of this provides a child with the basic skills for learning letter formations, spacing, and fitting words and sentences on a line and a page.
What are some fun body awareness activities?
Yoga has been shown to develop balance and coordination, concentration, and visual attention in children, as well as adults.
A fun yoga session can be as simple as including two or three “special for kids” poses outside on the lawn, just before bed, or during a quiet time in the afternoon.
Treasure and Scavenger Hunts are excellent “follow directions” activities that encourage children to use their internal maps to locate and discover the hidden objects. Be sure to provide written directions that ask them to
- make left and right turns,
- look up,
- check on top or behind, and
- look under.
Anything that produces movement enhances body awareness!
Relay races, tug-of-war, musical chairs, or simply rolling down a hill provide children with opportunities to use the left and right sides of their bodies, manage their weight against gravity, and determine the distance between themselves and other people or objects. Skateboarding and roller skating will definitely do the trick!
2. Finger, Hand, and Wrist Strength
Why do we need this? These three guys are vital components in efficient handwriting. They provide children with pencil control and the ability to write for sustained periods of time with legibility and speed.
What are some fun fine-motor strengthening activities?
Art is simply the best way to introduce fine motor strengthening activities to children! There are so many fun ways to develop these skills with sensory and creative components using simple paints, play dough, and putty. Therapy Street for Kids offers a selection recipes for these supplies that I think you will find interesting, easy to make, and easy on the budget.
There’s even one for Pretzel Dough where you get the eat the final product!
The playground is an excellent place to build strength in the fingers, hands, and wrists. Pushing, pulling, grabbing, and holding on are all fine-motor workouts. And, as an added bonus, playgrounds also help to build gross motor strength for posture!
Gardening with children encourages lots and lots of fine-motor skill development. Whether you choose potted or plotted gardens, herbs or
vegetables, children can dig in and get their hands dirty as they work the soil, plant the seeds, and pull weeds! The activity itself brings a sense of joy and accomplishment that builds self-esteem, too! Sewing, woodworking, and building model airplanes also work well for that!
3. Vision and Sensory Skills
Why do we need to worry about vision and sensory skills?
Efficient visual skills are essential toward the mastery of handwriting. Seeing clearly, focusing effectively at near and far distances, and being able to remember what we see are necessary tools for learning and remembering letter formations. Since 75-90% of what a child learns in a classroom occurs though his vision, it is very important for us to care about his vision skills. Sensory processing skills are those that allow us to experience and understand our environment through what we see, hear, touch, taste, and smell, as well as from how our bodies move. Efficient sensory processing gives children the information they need to feel safe, learn without distraction, and remember what they’ve learned.
What are some fun vision and sensory processing activities?
Just about any Board Game will hit upon the visual skills. They demand eye contact, focusing with near vision, and eye movement to follow the game. If you add a bit of mystery, let’s say by hiding the pieces of a word game in a plastic bin filled with sand, then you are working on the sense of touch at the same time!
Music and dancing can work for just about any of these five nifty skills.
But the movement and imitation involved in learning a new dance enhances the senses of sight, hearing, and movement.
Puzzles, both of the magic cube and interlocking type, provide plenty of visual skill enhancement as they demand visual attention, efficient scanning techniques, and visual perceptual skills to complete them.
Why should we care about posture?
Posture and head positioning play a big role in efficient handwriting. We’ve all heard the commands “make sure your feet are flat on the floor” and “sit up straight.” Appropriate table and chair heights are crucial to providing a child with the support he needs to maintain his head up, shoulders back and back straight. But, if a child is experiencing difficulty keeping a good postural alignment despite having the correct measures in place, then chances are he has weak postural muscles. But it can be so difficult at times to help children understand the importance of building those muscles and protecting their backs. The Kids Health Network shares a “posture perfect poster” that helps us to explain this in a “kid-friendly” way.
What are some fun posture enhancing activities?
Attention paid to the Core Body Muscles is attention well spent! Exercises, presented in activities such as wheelbarrow walks and races, are fun ways to encourage the strengthening of the postural muscles. Climbing, hiking, biking, and even just plain walking enhance balance and coordination while working on the legs, back, trunk, shoulders, and neck muscles.
What you see is what you get when it come to posture. Vision skills enhance the development of the core body muscles – and the core body muscles enhance the development of vision skills! So, it is important to incorporate visual attention within the gross motor activities that you choose to enhance postural skills. Vision-enhanced gross motor activities range from playing fun ball challenges with the younger children to maneuvering a bicycle or scoreboard through an obstacle course with your older guys and gals.
Why do we need to practice even in the summer?
In order to learn a skill – any skill, we need to practice it in a functional manner. If a child is interested in volleyball, then he must eventually get out onto the beach and kick up some sand by the net. If he’s interested in skiing, he can watch all of the instructional videos, build his core muscle strength, and buy the best equipment. But, in the end, he will only master the sport by slipping and sliding down the slope. The same goes for mastering the handwriting skill. Build the skills and then use them!
What are some fun handwriting practice activities?
Nothing beats writing a letter to a friend or family member. Nothing.
Have the children design their own cards with fun art projects and send them off with a message in their own handwriting.
Lists make great handwriting practice activities: groceries, to-do’s, and people to invite to their birthday party.
And there’s always the great writing prompts or travel journal. This is my favorite way to encourage handwriting practice during the summer.
I hope I’ve shared some different and exciting ideas for including the Five Nifty Handwriting Helpers in your child’s Summer Fun!
As always, thanks for reading! And I look forward to your comments and feedback.
And please return next week to discover some more Summer Handwriting Fun tips from our next Guest Blogger, Becca Klockars, an OT from Providence, RI! Hope to see you there!
KatherineKatherine J. Collmer, M.Ed., OTR/L, is a pediatric occupational therapist who specializes in the assessment and remediation of handwriting skills and understands the link between handwriting skills and writing. She can be contacted via her website, Handwriting With Katherine. Disclaimer: The information shared on the Handwriting With Katherine website, blog, Facebook page, Twitter page, Pinterest page; in the Universal Publishing Handwriting Teachers’ Guides; on any guest blog posts or any other social media is for general informational purposes only and should not be relied upon as a substitute for sound professional medical advice or evaluation and care from your physician/medical team or any other qualified health care providers. Therefore, the author of these links/posts take no responsibility for any liability, loss, or risk taken by individuals as a result of applying the ideas or resources. Summer Handwriting Fun Series #1 Summer Handwriting Fun Series #2
Handwriting mastery is a complex skill. Yes, I admit that it is. But, just like any other skill, there are some basic procedures that must be learned before a beginner can hope to become a master. For handwriting success, there are 3 performance areas that simply need to be taught right from the start.
Let’s have a look at them, shall we?
A writer’s sitting posture should be comfortable and provide a sturdy foundation for a smooth handwriting style. It’s very simple to figure out, really, if you remember the “90-90-90 Angle Rule.”
When students are seated at their desks:
- Their feet should rest flat on the floor with a 90-degree angle at the ankles.
- Their knees should be bent at a 90-degree angle about an inch away from the seat of the chair.
- Their hips should be positioned at a 90-degree angle and nestled comfortably into the back of the seat.
These angles will allow the students to rest their elbows on the desk in a comfortable flexed position. For right-handers, it will also place their arm in a neutral position with a slightly flexed wrist for a smooth glide across the page. Left-handed writers should maintain a straight wrist position to avoid a “hooked wrist” handwriting style.
Important Note: This Angle Rule can only be followed if the chair is the appropriate height for the writer! Why?
- If the chair is too low, students may sit on their feet or hunch their shoulders to get a better look at their work.
- If the chair is too high, their feet will dangle beneath them. Students may sit on their feet to stabilize their bodies or slouch so that they can get closer to their work.
But, don’t fret! There are easy solutions to both of these problems.
- For chairs that are too low, have the students sit on a book or sturdy cushion to bring the ankles, knees, and hips into the 90-degree angle.
- For chairs that are too high, place a book under the students’ feet to provide the stabilizing 90-degree angle at the ankles.
2. Paper Placement
There are two schools of thought about the appropriate placement of paper for handwriting success. The following is my preferred guidelines!
Handwriting mastery requires smooth wrist, elbow, and shoulder movements. A slanted paper position allows the writer to use the hand, arm, and shoulder efficiently.
- For all writers, the paper should be positioned at the student’s midline with the bottom angle placed about 1” from the lower edge of the desk.
- For left-handed writers, the paper should be slanted to the right at about a 30-45-degree angle. This allows the writer to “push-rather-than-pull” his pencil across the page and to see where he is writing. This also helps him avoid smudging his work as he smoothly moves his arm across the page.
- For right-handed writers, the paper should be slanted at about a 20-35-degree angle to the left.
The student’s helper hand should be placed on that side of the paper to stabilize and move it to facilitate a legible handwriting style. Each student will find his most comfortable paper slant as he begins to master his handwriting skills.
3. Pencil Grip
My Pencil Grip Motto is “functional is more important than pretty.” Although the tripod grasp is considered to be the optimal grasping pattern, many efficient handwriters have developed their own functional pencil grip. If a pencil grasp does not affect a student’s handwriting by making it illegible or causing him pain, then it is probably best to let sleeping dogs lie.
There are some simple rules that should be followed with any type of pencil grip.
- The student’s hand should rest on the paper using the ring and little finger for support.
- The fingers on the shaft of the pencil should provide stability using a comfortable pressure that does not cause hand or finger fatigue.
- Smaller pencils are easier for students to learn and manage a pencil grip.
There are some unique rules for left- and right-handers to facilitate their handwriting success.
- Left-handers should hold their pencils about 1 to 1 ½” from the point with the pencil top pointed toward the left elbow. This allows them to see what they are writing and helps to avoid smudging their work.
- Right-handed writers can hold their pencils closer to the pencil tip if they can maintain flexible finger movements to guide their pencil strokes. If they find that their thumb, index, and long fingers become cramped, they should also use a higher position on the pencil shaft. Their pencil top should point toward their right shoulder.
Handwriting success depends upon a solid base of support. Posture, paper positioning, and pencil grip are three of the table legs that handwriting mastery stands on. Of course, the fourth leg is a structured, guided handwriting instruction program.
As always, I thank you for reading! Please be sure to comment, as I look forward to your feedback and learning from you!
See you soon,
KatherineKatherine J. Collmer, M.Ed., OTR/L, is a pediatric occupational therapist who specializes in the assessment and remediation of handwriting skills and understands the link between handwriting skills and writing. She can be contacted via her website, Handwriting With Katherine. Disclaimer: The information shared on the Handwriting With Katherine website, blog, Facebook page, Twitter page, Pinterest page; on any guest blog posts or any other social media is for general informational purposes only and should not be relied upon as a substitute for sound professional medical advice or evaluation and care from your physician/medical team or any other qualified health care providers. Therefore, the authors of these links/posts take no responsibility for any liability, loss, or risk taken by individuals as a result of applying the ideas or resources.
Body and Head Positioning Play a Key Role in Learning
by Katherine J. Collmer, M.Ed., OTR/L, on The Handwriting if Fun! Blog
Elementary school children spend 30-60% of their classroom time working at their desks on fine motor skills, predominantly on tasks involving handwriting. A visual sweep of the classroom scene will uncover as
many seated body postures as there are students. For the most part, an upright position will not be the one most utilized. Slouching, leaning forward; resting heads on the desk, arm or hand; and legs curled up on the chair seat will most likely be the writing positions that would be observed.
Unfortunately, these positions are not beneficial for the brain, back, neck or fine motor skills. These are not the children’s preferred seated positions, however. They are simply the ones that work best for them in order to save all of their energy for their school tasks. They may not be aware of it but they have chosen these seating positions because they find it difficult to maintain an upright body position. This could be the result of weak muscles and/or diminished visual skills. Or it could be the product of an inadequate seating arrangement. Muscle strength and vision skills should be evaluated and can be remediated to determine their role in poor postural development. However, regardless of the reason, seating always requires assessment and adjustment in order to provide students with the best opportunity to maintain their bodies in a healthy position that will assist in their learning. Posture affects the way that they learn and can enhance their educational experience. Their brains and their eyes demand better posture.
The brain comprises only 3 percent of the body’s weight. However, it uses more than 20 percent of the body’s energy. It requires a steady blood flow to sustain its supply of glucose and oxygen. These are the elements that prevent the brain from becoming “foggy” and robbing us of the level of attention needed to complete our cognitive tasks. That’s why a walk in the fresh air can raise alertness and even assist in creative thinking. The exchange of “old” air for fresh air recharges the brain for mental tasks. It has been reported that dolphins exchange nearly 90 percent of their lung capacity each time they surface, letting go of the majority of their “stale air” to make room for fresh oxygen. In comparison, humans are able to exchange only about 25 percent of their lung’s capacity even while standing up straight and taking a deep breath. The ability to exchange air is severely diminished when we are seated in a slouching position, allowing us only a 5 percent exchange with each breath. Sitting up straight can increase blood flow and oxygen to the brain by up to 40 percent.
Learning requires the ability to concentrate and to store new and adapted information into memory. Diminished oxygen to the brain decreases a student’s ability to concentrate – settling him into a state of “fogginess.” Equally as important for learning is the positioning of our eyes. Seeing is our dominant sense and our primary source for gathering information in learning. Between 75 and 80 percent of what we learn is accomplished through the use of our eyes. Learning and memory skills can only be as efficient as vision skills. They depend upon the two eyes working together efficiently: the accurate fusion of the information from each eye, smooth eye movements in every direction, the ability to focus both near and far, and the ease of scanning and fixating on objects of interest. Students from the age of 5 place continual demands on their eyes to gather information and learn. Virtually every moment of their day is devoted to this task – at their desk, in the lunchroom and on the playground. Close eye work, such as reading and writing, pose increased visual demands on the 17 essential skills required for efficient vision. Postural imbalance, such as slouching or resting our head on the desk, increase those demands and can result in distress to our vision and body.
Myopia, or nearsightedness, could be developed as a result of how a person uses his eyes. Although the tendency for myopia is based upon heredity, visual stress has been determined to be a cause as well. Visual perceptual processing, the skills we use to determine spatial relationships, to recognize likenesses and differences and to derive meaning from what we see, are also developed through the use of our eyes. The information we “learn” is only as accurate, however, as the information we gather. Poor posture, whether in a standing or sitting position, affects the accuracy of that gathering process. A student who reads and writes with his head resting on his left arm causes a shift in his eye alignment (fusion), diminishes the eyes’ ability to move smoothly across the page (scanning and fixation) and places an increased strain on the eyes for near vision (focusing). Slouching stresses the eyes by positioning them in an downward direction; crouching in the seat moves them into an upward position. Only an upright position can provide the eyes with the best possible advantage for learning.
Posture is an important player in a child’s educational success. It deserves attention.
(edited May 2018)
The Handwriting is Fun! Blog is published by and is the property of Handwriting With Katherine.
Katherine J. Collmer, M.Ed., OTR/L, 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.
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Disclaimer: The information shared on the Handwriting With Katherine website, blog, Facebook page, Twitter page, Pinterest page; in the Universal Publishing Handwriting Teachers’ Guides; on any guest blog posts or any other social media is for general informational purposes only and should not be relied upon as a substitute for sound professional medical advice or evaluation and care from your physician/medical team or any other qualified health care providers. Therefore, the author of these links/posts take no responsibility for any liability, loss, or risk taken by individuals as a result of applying the ideas or resources.