Encouraging Pre-Handwriting Skills

painting

Photo courtesy of Clip-Art

While handwriting is an important skill for children to learn, they aren’t developmentally equipped to write letters with diagonals until age 5 and can develop poor habits if asked to try before they’re ready.  However, there are a few tips to encourage PRE-Handwriting skills to children under age 5:

  • Around age 3, children should be using fingertips on a pencil or crayon to color rather than a fist.  However, they may not move to just 3 fingers until age 5.  Encourage your child to use their fingers by using small, broken pieces of crayon to color or bulb crayons, like Alex brand finger crayons.
  • Begin reinforcing good habits as soon as they express interest in writing letters.  Letters are formed most efficiently from top to bottom.
  • Don’t substitute video learning games for fine motor activities like drawing and coloring – they do not build the foundational muscle control needed for writing.  And remember – no more than 2 hours of screen time a day (video, computer, TV, iPad, etc).
  • Good activities for foundational skills include mazes, dot-to-dot puzzles, tracing with color change markers and lacing.
  • You can put maze books or dot-to-dot books in a sheet protector and use dry erase markers over and over.
  • Work on recognizing letters and spelling your child’s name with magnets rather than trying to write.

Here are some fun activities to use with your kids:

Crayola Switchers
String Along Lacing Kit
Melissa and Doug Deluxe Alphabet Stamps
School Smart Dough
Squeeze Rocket
Fingerpaint
Squeezer and Tweezers
Magnetic Train Maze 
First Mazes

By:  Rebecca Thomas, MOT
Occupational Therapist

Disclosure of Material Connection: The above links are for informational purposes only. Brightsong, LLC does not receive a commission on any of the products reviewed or listed. The Brightsong team only recommends products or services we personally use and believe will add value to the families we work with. We are disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

3 Types of Evaluations and What They Tell Us about Your Child’s Development

When you have concerns about your child’s development, you want answers.  You might choose to have a screening completed to briefly assess your child’s development. If concerns are noted following the screening, a formal evaluation will help answer your questions.

During the evaluation, the pediatric professional will ask questions about your child’s birth history, health history, daily activities, current skills and challenges. There are several types of evaluation protocols available, but most often therapists combine evaluation tools to gather more information and to look at your child as a whole.

The 3 most common types of evaluation tools used by therapists include:

1. Clinical Observations – Therapists will observe your child as he or she plays with toys and interacts with others.  These observations tell therapists about your child’s play skills and social interactions.

2. Questionnaires and Checklists – These tools are used to gather more detailed information.  Parents may be the ones to complete these forms or therapists may go through the questions with the parents during the evaluation.

3. Standardized Testing – Most therapists will also use a standardized test to assess your child’s development.  These standardized tests are administered and scored in a consistent manner by all therapists.  The results of the standardized tests show a relative degree of validity and reliability – which means that if others administer the same test to your child, they would get about the same score.  The scores gathered from these tests are based on score samples of typically developing peers.

So, what exactly are therapists looking for when they assess your child?  This all depends on their specialty area and your concerns.

Physical Therapy:  The PT (physical therapist) will look at your child’s ability to use their large muscle groups, aka “gross motor skills.”  They assess your child’s ability to move and explore their environment.  They also look at their balance and coordination, body awareness, range of motion, strength, endurance, etc.

Occupational Therapy:  The OT (occupational therapist) will assess your child’s small muscle groups, aka “fine motor skills.”  They will also look at your child’s sensory processing skills, motor coordination, visual and perceptual skills, self-help, feeding skills and handwriting.

Speech Therapy:  The SLP (speech-language pathologist) will assess your child’s ability to communicate.  They will look at your child’s understanding of language (receptive language skills), their ability to express themselves (expressive language skills) and how they produce specific sounds (articulation).  They SLP will also look at the way your child moves and coordinates the muscles in and around their mouth in order to produce sounds and chew and swallow food.

Developmental Therapy:  The DT (developmental specialist) will assess your child’s overall development. They also look at their social interactions, play skills, classroom interactions and cognitive skills.

After the evaluation is complete, the results will tell us which skills are missing and what, if any, further recommendations and referrals are needed.

If you have questions about the evaluation process or the results of the evaluation, please talk to your child’s therapist.  It’s important for you to understand exactly what is being assessed and what the results mean.

Now It’s Your Turn:  Has your child had a formal evaluation?  If so, what did your think about the evaluation process?                                                                                                                                                                          

Handwriting: Irrelevant or Indispensable?

When was the last time  you wrote a letter to someone?  Addressed an invitation?  Even addressed a bill?  In today’s digital age, handwriting is a thing of the past, like a giant cell phone with a 6 inch antenna, right?  When you can print anything from address labels to autobiographies on your computer with ease, why would  we want to waste valuable instruction time in our already taxed schools on this antiquated skills?

How many times does a child miss a question on a test because the teacher couldn’t read it or time ran out?  Or lose her place in a lecture because she couldn’t write fast enough to keep up?  Or get a lower grade on an essay because his hand tired out?  Or miss a math equation because the numbers weren’t lined up?  Legible writing and higher grades are inextricably linked, and having good handwriting can be a self esteem booster for the student who struggles in more academically challenging tasks.  How can a child hope to remember that difficult word on his spelling test if he’s too busy remembering how to make the letters?  If we can help them make their writing automatic, we can free their minds to move on to more important things – like learning, analyzing, and creating.

As teachers feel the extreme pressure for test score improvement, a subjective skill like handwriting has little hope of making the list.  However, we ignore one of the three “R’s” at the risk of costing our children an important learning and expression tool.  Instead of lamenting the loss of something that was a critical part of our own education, we as parents can take matters into our own hands, offering our children support in learning this basic skill for better success in their academic careers.  Many ready-made worksheets or home program books are available, or you can ask your teacher or occupational therapist for more information.

My favorite music teacher from elementary school had a saying, “practice makes permanent.”  I quote this phrase to my kids often, much to their annoyance, but it is true – when we repeat a motor skill over and over, the plan for that skill is cemented in our brain.  If our kids are left to flounder, essentially teaching themselves to write, inefficient and labor intensive writing habits will be their fate, diminishing their ability to function in the school setting.  Writing is about much more than that thank you note to Granny for the hand-knitted socks – the ability to think and write, or listen and write, in a way that you or someone else can go back and read later is essential for note taking, test taking, and creative expression for all students.  Until there is a computer for every child in every grade in every school, we fail our children when we fail to teach them to write.  And by the way, they aren’t being taught keyboarding skills, either!

By:  Rebecca Thomas, MOT