Handwriting

    There are many reasons why some children
    have difficulty learning how to form letters
    and numbers, and how to write neatly.  There
    are lots of fun ways to make this important
    skill easier.
Therapy Street for Kids

Learning Letters
  • Learn about the handwriting curriculum that is being taught to your child at school.  If your child is struggling, ask the teacher for
    worksheets you can practice on at home.  Letters in print should be written from top to bottom and from left to right.
  • A multi-sensory approach to learning is a great approach for all children.  Prepare a tray or baking pan with a shallow layer of any
    impressionable substance (sand, sugar, salt, bird seed, rice, pudding, shaving cream, etc.)   Practice forming letters and numbers
    using the index (pointer) finger.  Remember to form letters from top to bottom and from left to right.
  • Make raised letters on index cards to use for tracing with the index finger.  Here's how to make them:  use glue to form the
    letter, then cover it with sand or bird seed; puffy fabric paint; add food coloring to white glue and form letters in color.   Make
    sure to trace letters and numbers from top to bottom and from left to right.
  • Pre-write letters on paper and have the child trace over them with glue (squeeze bottle type)
  • form letters by gluing beans, rice, seeds, etc. on paper
  • form letters with putty, play doh, clay, modelling compound, etc.
  • write letters with a vibrating pen; this additional sensory input will enhance the child's memory for letter formation
  • For letter recognition, have child read through a story at his/her reading level and circle all of the a's or b's, etc.
  • Write letters in the air with the pointer finger and large arm movements.  Try it with eyes closed, then eyes open.
  • Write letters on your child's back and see if he/she can guess what letter it is.  Write on each other's palms
  • Write capital letters and numbers within boxes that are rectangular, oriented to be tall rather then wide.  Use the attributes of
    the box as landmarks.  For example, an H is formed starting at the top left corner to draw a line going down the left side of the
    box, then down the right side and finally a horizontal line across the middle (developed by the "Handwriting Without Tears"
    handwriting program, www.HWTears.com)

Writing letters from top to bottom (printing/manuscript)
  • forming letters to write words in a consistent direction is the most efficient way to write.  For printing, the top-down method is
    best.
  • Review all of the "Learning Letter" activities above.  Emphasize starting at the top and working from left to right.
  • On lined paper, in the left margin draw a simple house:  the roof (a triangle) is within the top half of the line, the house is a square
    within the bottom half, below the house is the basement.  Remind the child to start letters in the attic or roof if capitols, tall
    lower case letters and numbers.  Small letters stay in the house and start at the top of the box.  Descending letters also start at
    the top of the box and live in the basement.
  • Make up a song or a chant about starting letters at the type.  The "Handwriting Without Tears" writing program has a CD filled
    with songs about letter writing.
  • Write letters in the air with the pointer finger and with large arm movements.  Try it with eyes closed, then eyes open.
  • Write letters on your child's back and see if he/she can guess what letter it is.  Write on each other's palms
  • On a large chalk board or dry erase board, write large letters, always starting at the top.  Turn them into "rainbow" letters by
    going over them with different colors.
  • Write letters on paper that is placed over a textured surface, such as sandpaper, plastic craft canvas or rubbing plates.  The
    tactile feedback from the bumpy surface will enhance the child's memory for correct letter formation.

Writing on Lines
    In many Kindergarten classrooms, children begin to write on paper without lines.  Eventually lines are introduced, sometimes
    around mid-year.  If your child has difficulty using writing lines effectively, here are some strategies:
  • Highlight the bottom half of the line.  Instruct the child to "stay in the yellow" (or whatever colored was used) for all the small
    letters; tall letters start at the top line and descending letters dive down from the middle.
  • Darken the lines to increase awareness; sometimes copying paper on the darkest setting will make the lines easier to see.
  • Create a raised base (bottom) line by using glue once it's dry or Wikki Stix.
  • Use the clear color changing marker on the base line, then write with a color marker in the set.  When the color has changed the
    child knows he/she has reached the bottom line.
  • There are a variety of paper styles and modifications available for purchase.  Talk to your child's therapist for recommendations.
  • On lined paper, in the left margin draw a simple house:  the roof (a triangle) is within the top half of the line, the house is a square
    within the bottom half, below the house is the basement.   Tall letters start in the attic, short letters are inside the house and
    descending letters go down to the basement.


Awareness of Margins
  • Highlight the left margin to increase the child's awareness of where to begin and continue sentences.
  • Highlight the right margin if the child tends to cram in words at the ends of the lines.
  • Teach child to place a ruler at the left margin; remind him/her to return to the ruler to continue sentences.
  • Highlight the left margin green (for go) and right margin red (for stop).    

Spacing
  • Teach child to "finger space": place his/her left index finger (if right handed) after each word he writes
  • For lefties, it's better to space with an object, such as a popsicle stick
  • Have child make his/her own finger spacer: decorate a popsicle stick or tongue depressor,  Call it a "spaceman"
  • Have child place a dot with a stamp marker or highlighter after each word as a spacer, or to make a small dot with the pencil; later
    he/she can erase the dots
  • It's better to have large exaggerated spaces, especially for young writers.  Using 2 fingers to space may be a good way to start.
  • Try graph paper, enlarge the boxes if necessary on  a copy machine, and write one letter in each box with one box in between
    words.
  • "Readispace" paper, made by Mead, can be purchased at some WalMart stores or ordered directly from the Mead website: this
    has short vertical lines on each writing line for writing and spacing letters evenly.
  • To increase awareness and also for fun, challenge your child to read sentences that don't have spaces in between words.  Have
    him/her rewrite the sentences correctly.

Letter and Number Reversals (writing backwards)
  • Reversals of numbers and upper case letters can be fixed by writing within boxes (rectangular shaped and oriented to be tall
    rather than wide).  Use the features of the box as landmarks.  Add a sticker or draw a star at the top left corner of the box
    (developed by the "Handwriting Without Tears" program, www.HWTears.com).   For the number 5, for example, tell child to start
    at the star, draw halfway down the left side, draw a big belly, then go back up and put on a hat.  You can make up a story of
    instructions for most numbers and letters.
  • Lower case letter reversals are commonly seen with the letters b/d, p/q/g, w/m, j, s and z.
    For b/d, teach child to "make your bed" by forming 2 thumbs up, touching knuckles together,
    the left hand forms a 'b', the right hand forms a 'd', pictured at right.
  • Talk to your child's therapist or teacher about worksheets with activities to help children
    identify problematic letters.  As examples, there are "circle all the w's" mixed within a field
    of m's; coloring activities to color targeted letters, hidden pictures, and more.
  • work on learning the directional terms "right" and "left".  Can your child identify his/her own right and left hands point to objects
    on the right vs. left sides of his immediate environment?  Try this fun dice game: called "Left-Center-Right" at http://www.
    dicegames.com.  For additonal Right vs Left side awareness activities, see eye-hand coordination.
  • form letters with putty, play doh, clay, modelling compound, etc.
  • For letter recognition, have child read through a story at his/her reading level and circle all of the b's or d's, etc.
  • Write letters in the air with the pointer finger and large arm movements.  Try it with eyes closed, then eyes open.
  • Write letters on your child's back and see if he/she can guess what letter it is.  Write on each other's palms


Grip on Pencil
  • People hold pencils and other writing tools in a variety of ways.  The most common grip is called a "tripod" grip.  This involves
    pinching the pencil between the pads of the thumb and index finger while the pencil rests on the side of the middle finger.  Many
    people use a quadrupod grip which is similar except two fingers are on top of the pencil opposing the thumb and the pencil rests on
    the side of the ring finger.   And there are many variations.  For more information about optimal pencil grip, visit Thumb Opposition
    and scroll down to information on "web space".   MOST PENCIL GRIPS DO NOT NEED TO BE CORRECTED.  It's important to
    discuss this with your child's therapist.  
  • If you feel that your child's grip on the pencil is affecting his/her handwriting legibility, there are a number of activities to help
    develop the correct muscles for holding.  Refer to the section on Pincer Grasp for ideas.  
  • when coloring, drawing and writing use short writing and drawing tools such as broken crayons, golf pencils, Pip Squeak markers,
    short colored pencils or small bits of chalk
  • Discuss your conerns with your child's therapist.  There are a variety of finger positioning devices available, if needed.



Posture for Writing
  • Ideal sitting posture for writing is to be upright in the chair with the hips and knees at 90 degrees and feet
    flat on the floor.  The elbows should be bent at 90 degrees or less.  When the arms are straight down at the
    sides, the desktop should be about halfway between the shoulder and elbow or lower.  The desk should be lowered (or the chair
    raised) if the desktop is higher than this.
  • The head should be a reasonable distance from the paper, about 12 to 20 inches.  
  • When writing, the wrist should be in a neutral position or slightly extended (hand bent back).  
  • The best writing surface is a slanted one.  This helps to keep the head upright and supports the forearm and hand in the optimal
    position for writing.  Most school desks are not slanted but a simple modification is to use a wide 3-ring binder (3 to 4 inch spine)
    turned sideways.  
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d