“Drawing keeps the eye fresh, the mind alive, and the intuition nimble.”
Welcome back for Part 2 in our discussion about handwriting, our eyes and our hands, and drawing. We left our last meeting with some food for thought:
If the seed for our personal handwriting style… our creative interpretations for the message that we want to convey…remains in our scribbling memories, wouldn’t a bit of drawing practice help a struggling child find his way naturally toward handwriting success?
That’s what we are here to discover today!
A Common Ground
Art, handwriting, and creative writing are all forms of communication for us. They share a common ground for “getting our message across.” But children begin to try their hand at communicating from the day they are born.
- Trevor Cairney, in his informative blog, “When do children start writing?“, tells us that early on “babies begin to respond to their world and that many of their early vocalizations, eye movements, gazes, facial movements and body movements are attempts to communicate.” He goes on to discuss the importance of a child “making his mark” and his desire to tell us what those squiggly lines “mean.” They are the beginnings of a child’s desire to use handwriting to
communicate with us.
- Yes, we all have the desire to put our ideas into some form of communication. In my “Life is A Series of Baby Steps” blog on the Child Development Club website, I ask that you “Give Them The Space and They Will Create!” Providing space for art allows children to”talk to you” with an arrangement of colors, shapes, and elements that are a language in and of themselves!
- Janice J. Beaty, in her article “Early Writing and Scribbling,” tells us that “
Scribbling is to writing what babbling is to speaking: an early stage of children’s development that should be encouraged.”
She emphasizes that the development of hand and finger strength brings scribbling into the realm of producing “circles, ovals, squares and crosses….” Handwriting skills are developed long before a child even begins to think of the alphabet. They are experimented with and honed during the most exciting part of learning – play! Play without pressure. Play for the sake of play.
- I believe in the advice from Marvin Bartel, art professor:
“We encourage scribbling by providing a place and materials, by acknowledging the work, and by discussing the work in a nonjudgmental way.”
But, you may be asking, how can all of this “freedom” turn into efficient handwriting skills? Well, let’s take a look!
Handwriting is an Art Form
Drawing is “a method for creating intelligible order. It is a universal language, and a natural one.” ….. Dr. Susan Rich Sheridan
Dr. Sheridan is an artist, writer, parent, and teacher who utilizes drawing to build writing skills in her students with her “Drawing/Writing” program. For struggling students, drawing allows them to get over the “hump.” Just as children use drawings to develop their language skills, drawing activities can help students to go back to the basics to repair and enhance their handwriting skills. Dr. Sheridan tells us that “children are born ready for symbol systems. Every representation children construct in their brains is an abstraction. Serious play with abstraction need not be withheld at a certain time or grade.”
And I say, aren’t the manuscript and cursive letters of the alphabet simply abstractions? Symbols created to depict what we see in our “mind’s eye” in order to translate a picture symbol that we would immediately recognize into a language that society has deemed conventional. Again, I suggest, wouldn’t drawing be the perfect medium for handwriting instruction and remediation?
Art is there for the taking!
Efficient handwriting requires some very complex skills that can be developed in some very simple ways. Children seem to know what they need to do to sharpen these skills when they are given the freedom to experiment. You don’t have to look far to find those simple ways to hone handwriting skills. I am honored to share with you some of the excellent artistic/handwriting skill development ideas from two of my favorite sources! Just to help out a little, I’ve linked Vanessa Levin’s ideas with the handwriting skills that Lisa Marnell will define for us to guide you toward the “freedom for learning” that will link art and the development of efficient handwriting skills. Have fun exploring!
- Vanessa Levin, Pre-K Pages, in her blog,“What’s in Your Writing Center?”, provides a very simple, sensory-motor collection of tools that allow children to explore and learn.
- Lisa Marnell, Handwriting Help for Kids, shares an excellent outline of the five basic skill areas for handwriting from an occupational therapist’s point of view.
1. Visual Motor Skills
- defined as “using vision to guide written output”
- the ability to reproduce shapes, letters, and numbers
- to connect lines, to start and stop at the correct spot, and to edit for accuracy
Vanessa offers sandpaper alphabet rubbings to encourage visual motor skills with a touch of sensory input and alphabet stamps and pieces for creating pictures while they sort and identify the letters.
I love to use worksheets that provide budding artists with the chance to use their letters and art to connect the symbol with the letter formations. A wonderful way to connect the “visual” with the “motor!” You can even make your own worksheets at Enchanted Learning!
2. Visual Perception Skills
- defined as “a child’s ability to use visual information to make meaning of what he sees”
- the ability to cognitively “call up” letter formations and produce them automatically in writing
- to retain information in short-term memory until it is on the paper, allowing for fast and fluid handwriting
- to recognize the differences between letters (e.g., b and d)
- to remember the proper placement of letters within words (for spelling)
Vanessa provides plenty of opportunities for experimenting with visual processing skills. Her cutting center and alphabet pieces work well for vision scanning and tracking as they create pictures and crafts.
I enjoy Childhood Beckons’ “Storytelling With Illustrations” activity that asks children to visualize their story and produce it on the chalkboard.
3. Fine Motor Skills
- defined as complex
- the ability to use the hands adequately in order to write fluently and effortlessly
Vanessa provides plenty of opportunities for children to be creative using their hands with cutting, gluing, stamping, and even stapling, complimenting these with Wikki Stix, lacing, and and even fishing activities!
In lieu of issuing pencil grips, I like to see a child work on developing these skills.
4. Trunk Control Skills
- defined as “strong and steady trunk muscles to provide the base of support needed for delicate fine motor tasks like writing”
- the ability to work without fatigue sitting at a desk or running around the playground
Vanessa’s Writing Center appears to be a “free-form” area where students are encouraged to work standing, walking around the room, or even on the floor. Drawing, coloring, cutting, or pasting can be done during “big-kid tummy time.” They are working on trunk control as they support themselves on their elbows and maintain their head and neck position in order to see their creations!
I like to hide the pieces of our craft project in various corners of the room, presenting the work as a “ground-floor project” where we all crawl to find them and complete the work on our tummies! It’s fun. Try it!
5. Shoulder Stability
- defined as “the muscles around the shoulder working together to hold this joint stable”
- the ability to use “very slow, well controlled shoulder movements” for efficient pencil control
- to write fluidly and legibly without fatigue
Vanessa works on shoulder strengthening with clipboards to write and draw on and stabilize as they walk around the room or during tummy time!
I am especially partial to having children draw on the board or any vertical surface to encourage the development of their shoulder muscles and joints. Children always enjoy being the teacher!
Some Final Notes
- The developmental stages that lead to handwriting mastery begin in infancy and continue to develop through elementary school.
- Learning how to grip a pencil appropriately depends upon the development of the hand, vision, and the brain.
- These connections provide the foundation – and they can be developed through play!
Please be sure to connect with Vanessa and Lisa, as well as the other excellent sites offered here, and let them know how much we appreciate their awesome “shares!”
In Part 3 of our “Modern Handwriting or Hieroglyphics” series, we will discover the artistic ventures that can help our older strugglers with their handwriting mastery! I hope you will join me and share your thoughts!
Be sure to check out Part 1 in our series!
Katherine J. Collmer, M.Ed., OTR/L, is a pediatric occupational therapist who specializes in the assessment and remediation of handwriting skills and understands the link between handwriting skills and writing. She can be contacted via her website, Handwriting With Katherine.Disclaimer: The information shared on the Handwriting With Katherine website, blog, Facebook page, Twitter page, Pinterest page; 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.