Many educators no longer consider handwriting a crucial skill because technology has changed our world. (When’s the last time you wrote a letter by hand? So, keep this skill in perspective.) Most of us, even kids, can communicate faster using a keyboard/keypad rather than with handwriting. (My cousin’s 12-year old scored 88 WPM on one of those just-for-fun typing quizzes on Facebook!)
Nonetheless, the skill of handwriting is still somewhat important. There’s evidence that children who write better and faster get better grades. However, remember that good handwriting is not an indicator of success. Look at your doctor’s handwriting!
Before trying to help a child who’s experiencing handwriting difficulties, determine if the issue’s physical or cognitive. If the child struggles with fine motor skills or forming letters, the problem is likely physical. If the child can’t remember how to form a letter of the alphabet or takes too long deciding what to write, there could be a cognitive issue.
Most handwriting problems are physical. Fine motor practice helps, but gross motor play is equally important. After all, many experts believe the increase in handwriting problems (1 in 3 kids struggle now) is tied to the decreased physical activity of today’s children. Handwriting involves body posture, and proper use of hands, arms, head, and eyes! If you suspect your child is having physical difficulties, try these activities:
1. Bilateral, outdoor play activities
Reduce time in front of the computer and video games in favor of outdoor play! Playing “human wheelbarrow”, crawling, and climbing help connect the motor-neural pathways needed for handwriting.
2. Game time & clap songs!
Engage kids in games that require hand-eye coordination such as Operation (tweezer games), Skeletons in the Closet, badminton, tennis, baseball, or go “old-school” with pick-up sticks, jacks, and marbles. Betcha your little ones know these fun clap songs too: Miss Mary Mack and Down, Down Baby (…down by the rollercoaster…)
3. Lil’ “Iron Chefs”
Cook with your kids. Let them knead dough, roll it out, cut it with cookie cutters, and pick up food with tongs. On days when you don’t want to deal with the mess, kids can use a pretend baking set.
4. Artsy fartsy
Creative activities that involve paper cutting, folding (origami), gluing, and drawing hardly feel like fine motor practice! Give them lots of opportunities to draw with various instruments—pencils, colored pencils, markers, gel pens, crayons, pastels, and calligraphy pens. Sculpting with play dough or clay is also good (kneading, pushing, pulling, and cutting).
5. Civilized diners
Make it a house rule to use silverware at every meal. Yes, the family will look very sophisticated on pizza or burger night. ;) Also try chopsticks some nights!
6. Dressing skills
Lacing, tying, buttoning and snapping are important life skills that can help strengthen some of the same muscles used for handwriting. Use clothes, shoes, or doll clothes for these activities, or entice kids with fun toys that teach the same skills.
7. Finger writing
Have kids practice writing with their fingers in, or on, different textures—shaving cream smeared on the table, play dough, clay, or sand. (For extra help, they can use letter molds as a starting point or trace their fingers over magnetic letters.)
8. The “write” environment
Make sure your child has a good chair and table at the right height for comfortable writing. Demonstrate how to sit with correct posture, rest your arms on the table, hold the writing instrument, and keep your torso in the right position.
9. “Uh, thank ya, thank ya very much.” (Elvis voice)
Get kids into a habit of writing handwritten thank you cards for gifts they receive.
10. Explicit handwriting practice
Help kids learn to write both legibly and quickly (handwriting fluency) with repeated practice using different kinds of pencils (different thicknesses and grips). Letter stamps and line-ruled paper, journals, or dry-erase boards can offer even more support.
If you try these techniques without success, consult a professional—your child’s teacher, school reading specialist, and/or an occupational therapist. Your child may need physical therapy or help overcoming a learning disability which is causing cognitive difficulties.
Just remember that not all cognitive issues indicate a learning disability. Sometimes kids simply have trouble remembering letter shapes, deciding what to write about, or taking too long to include too many details when they write. Your child’s teacher can give you some simple ways to tackle these cognitive issues.
Whatever your child’s struggles with handwriting, help her to not be self-conscious about it. People tend to think of handwriting as reflections of themselves. Help your child realize that she will get better with practice (and probably with age), and that it’s okay that her writing isn’t a masterpiece now!