Thursday, September 8, 2011

OT Soap Box- Handwriting

It seems like the schools these days are forced to push kids beyond what they may be able to do.   You know, Kindergarten is the new first grade, Pre school is the new K.  But the problem is, you can't rush development.  Think back to basic child development classes that you may have taken.  There is a basic neurological development of fine motor and visual motor skills.  If you skip teaching these skills, the children often will struggle understanding more complex tasks.

As an occupational therapist in a public school setting, I see it more often than not.  What is the first letter you learn? A.  Two diagonal lines.  These kids are 3 years old.  Developmentally, a 3 year old may be able to form vertical and horizontal lines and a circle.  A 3 year old may struggle with the A because he hasn't developed the diagonal, crossing midline corner to corner.

So what do you do?  Well, luckily there are people, many of them OTs and teachers, who recognize this.  And some of those people have developed programs.  One of my favorites: Handwriting without Tears.   HWT is Jan Olsen's baby.  She is an OT who developed the program after her son struggled tearfully with his writing.  Jan was able to break the concepts down into a fun, practical and consistent technique that both kids and adults can use.  It was only in the past few years that a pre-k program was developed, but it has become a staple in my personal approach.
Mudge and Mat Man

I'll share a are a few key components.  
1. Because the little ones are in fact, little, HWT (and I) encourage use of small crayons.  Break them.  Its OK. And it may be cathartic.  Using small pieces promotes grasp development into eventually a "Tripod" or "Quadropod" grasp.   
2. Teach capitals first.  They are the same size.  They all start at the top.  
3. Use consistent language.  You can form you capitals with 4 simple concepts, Big/Little Lines and curves.  
4. Have fun and make it playful with music and movement.  Kids are multi-sensory learners.
Taping paper to the wall or an easel also helps to place the wrist in a better position to help the child use the inner muscles of the hand.  It also puts it directly in front of them, for better visual attention as well as encouraging the helper hand to stabilize
There is sooooo much more to handwriting than just a pencil and paper.  Language, cognition, position of the body, strength, coordination, vision, sensation, and the list goes on and on.  If one of these aspects is lagging, than chances are the overall outcome will be less than desirable.  If you think your child is struggling, becoming frustrated, not wanting to participating in crayon and paper activities, talk to his/her teacher or daycare provider.  See how (if) they are teaching Pre Writing concepts.  Then determine if something is missing.  If you think your child needs extra help, don't be afraid to ask.  You are your child's best advocate.  There are plenty of things out there.  Check out sites like Handwriting Without Tear, your local school department or child outreach for tips and contacts.

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