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Handwriting basics

Analyzing first graders’ spelling tests won’t tell you about their personalities, but examining their handwriting may provide clues to developmental problems that could interfere with learning.

Handwriting is an academic skill that allows youngsters to express their thoughts and feelings and communicate their knowledge to others. Classroom teachers depend on written work to measure what children are learning and how well.

Handwriting efficiency requires mastery of multiple skills, including vision, memory, posture, and body control, as well as the task of holding a pencil and forming letters. Children who fall behind classmates because they lack some of these skills may miss learning opportunities and lack self-esteem.

What families can do?

Handwriting is a complex process of handling language by coordinating the eyes, arms, hands, pencil grip, letter formation, and body posture.

Sports, games, and everyday activities at home can help children improve many of the functions that make up handwriting skills.

A 5-year-old with poor motor control forms excessively large letters.

  • Home activities to improve motor control:
    • Serve meals requiring the use of silver instead of finger foods to help children develop a proper hand grip.
    • Provide a fun activity that uses the hands such as cutting pie dough, pizza, or Pla-Doh with a pizza cutter or cookie cutters.

A 9-year-old with poor visual memory concentrates on letter formation rather than words or thoughts.

  • Home activities to improve visual memory:
    • Encourage outdoor sports using hands. Play catch with a large ball; move to a smaller ball as skill improves.
    • Teach simple childhood games such as jacks or marbles.

A 9-year-old with poor muscle strength and low endurance cannot sustain the required level of written work despite high intelligence.

  • Alternative activities to substitute for a child with low strength and endurance:
    • Provide a computer and simple software programs for homework and creative writing.
    • Encourage writing letters to grandparents or penpals using the computer.

Professional help for handwriting problems

Is the classroom teacher concerned about the quality or quantity of your child’s handwriting? Does your child avoid writing or struggle while completing written homework? An evaluation by an occupational therapist can help to identify developmental problems affecting your child’s handwriting performance.

The occupational therapist will look for:

  • posture that supports the proper use of arms, hands, head, and eyes;
  • the child’s level of physical strength and endurance
  • adequate fine-motor control, which includes holding a pencil, and visual and perceptual abilities that influence the form of letters and shapes

The occupational therapist will:

  • provide teachers with strategies to help the child improve classroom performance, and
  • suggest home activities that promote the development of needed skills.

Finding occupational therapy services

Occupational therapy is available in schools, community agencies such as Easter Seals and United Cerebral Palsy, hospitals, home health agencies, and pre-school settings such as Head Start.

For further information contact:

The American Occupational Therapy Association 4720 Montgomery Lane P.O. Box 31220 Bethesda, MD 20824-1220 ConsumerLine 301-652-2682

American Occupational Therapy Association, Inc., and the American Occupational Therapy Foundation
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