One of the most common reason for children aged 5-8 to be referred for an Occupational Therapy evaluation is due to handwriting. In most of these situations, the children are having difficulty with issues such as legibility, completing their work (mostly due to lack of endurance) and many children are avoiding writing activities altogether. Our community is blessed with an abundance of highly creative and talented teachers; however, too many children are having issues that are too great to be dealt with within the classroom setting.
The development of our children’s fine motor skills begins at an early age. In our previous article we discussed the importance of hand strength and endurance and suggested various activities to help build up those areas. Even toddlers, as young as two years old, can begin the process of writing. Of course we are not condoning allowing your child to write all over the furniture or walls! But having a box of markers and crayons as well as paper and coloring books is a great way to encourage our children to write from an early age.
Now, what if you have a five year old child who hates writing and is avoiding all types of writing activities and you would like to try home remedies before consulting with a therapist? There are great strategies that you can implement today that may make a big difference in a child’s outlook on writing:
Take your child to a local craft store and allow him/her to choose their own type of markers. There are so many really cool markers these days. Try Crayola Window markers and allow them to write on a window, class door or mirror.
While you are there, encourage your child to choose a coloring book of their favorite character. Remember, right now we want them writing. It does not matter as much what they are writing, just that they are becoming comfortable with a writing implement.
Sidewalk chalk is a great invention! Allow your child to practice making various shapes on the ground. Remember, the circle, square, triangle and strokes such as vertical, horizontal and diagonal all are the beginning of letter formation.
Use your putty or dough to roll snakes and use those snakes to form letters and shapes. Soon enough you can have them writing on paper.
Look for games that will enhance eye-hand coordination, hand muscles and pre-writing skills
If, however, you are dealing with a child in first grade or above that is having difficulty with handwriting, the suggestions above may not be enough. Here are some suggestions to try out before seeking the help of a professional:
First look at the child’s position. He/she should be seated on a chair with his/her back at the back of the seat, feet on the floor, knees and hips at a 90 degree angle and the table top comfortably above the navel so that elbows are bent and he/she can bear weight into forearms.
Activities that can increase hand and arm strength will likely be helpful. Wheelbarrow walking, kneading dough (actual dough or play-doh are both good), putty, squishy/stress balls or anything that provides resistance can help increase strength in the inner hand muscles to improve endurance and pencil grasp.
Use of a pencil grip may be helpful. There are many different types. Some help position the fingers, others help to position the pencil and the hand and others build up the circumference of the pencil. This can be trial and error but the good news is that grips are relatively cheap and you can buy a few to try out at home.
Activity books like mazes, complex coloring books and connect the dots are great ways to improve eye-hand coordination and inner hand muscles.
There are many remedial/therapeutic handwriting programs on the market. The one that is tried and true that we like best is Handwriting Without Tears and you can find information about it on the web at www.HWTears.com. They have great suggestions for parents and teachers alike along with multisensory teaching tools and workbooks to help your child out.
If you’ve tried out these suggestions and there is not enough improvement, it may be time to call in the professionals. Seeking out an occupational therapist’s input can help you determine whether or not your child needs therapy or whether there are more specific suggestions that you can implement at home to get your child on the road to writing success.
Alyssa Colton MA, OTR and Aviva Lipner MA, OTR are pediatric occupational therapists and owners of Kids’ Therapy Place, LLC and Kids’ Therapy Toy Store info_kidstplace.com
By Alyssa Colton MA, OTR/L And Aviva Lipner MA, OTR/L