Top Tips and Activities for Developing Handwriting Skills
Handwriting is something which many children find difficult; whether it’s because they have trouble holding a pen correctly or they have difficulty forming their letters and words well, it’s an area which can cause a lot of upset and anxiety for lots of children. We support lots of children to develop their handwriting – while each one is different, there are some key bits of advice to follow for any child who is struggling with their handwriting.
While you may think of handwriting as a skill in its own right, there are a number of areas which need to be developed before handwriting starts. Many schools teach handwriting at a very early age, however it is important for children to develop foundational skills alongside this to develop good handwriting. Just some of the skills needed for handwriting include:
- Core Strength and Posture
To be able to sit at a table and complete handwriting tasks, children must first develop the core strength required to maintain a good posture. You might notice children with poor core strength leaning their head on their hands or on the table, slouching, or fatiguing easily while completing tabletop tasks.
- Shoulder stability
To be able to properly manipulate a pen, shoulder stability is essential. While you usually see toddlers drawing with their whole arm, older children need to progress to resting their arm on the table and to manipulate their wrist and fingers while using a pen. Shoulder stability is what keeps the arm stable during these tasks and improves control of the pen.
- Hand strength and Fine Motor Coordination
If a child has weak hand muscles, then they will likely tire quickly and will not be able to write for long periods of time. You may also see children with weak hand muscles switching hands when they get tired. Fine motor coordination relates to the small movements which enable us to manipulate items with our fingers. This is essential for developing a functional pen grasp in handwriting.
- Visual Perception and Visual Motor Integration
Visual perception is the ability to interpret what we see correctly. Visual motor integration relates to our ability to take visual information and to respond to it with our movements. This is what helps us to copy shapes and letters accurately by translating what we see into a physical movement with our arm to move the pen. Without good visual perceptual skills, it is likely that letters, shapes, and numbers will be incorrectly formed and may be distorted or reversed.
- Bilateral Integration
Bilateral integration is our ability to combine movements using both sides of our body. In handwriting, this is important to help stabilise the writing surface and to coordinate movements like removing a pen lid or sharpening a pencil.
Many children, especially those who are younger, struggle to maintain their attention for extended periods of time. Inattention can impact on all aspects of handwriting and can prevent a child from focusing on a task.
- Organisation and Executive Functioning
Organisation is especially important when moving from writing single letters to words. Difficulty with organisation can impact on the placement and formation of words, the letter and word order, and on presentation of work. Executive functioning is essentially the ‘common sense’ part of our brains which helps us to problem solve. This is especially important when planning out written work and getting sentences in the right order.
Now that we know handwriting is not just about putting pen to paper, it makes sense that a lot of handwriting activities in Occupational Therapy do not actually involve a pen or paper. If your child is avoidant of schoolwork, try some of the following activities to help develop their handwriting skills in a fun and creative way:
- Water painting
Especially great on a sunny day; give your child a paintbrush and a pot of water to ‘paint’ pictures on the garden fence or an outdoor wall. This will help to develop pencil control and shoulder stability. On a rainy day, tape or blutack paper to a wall or window for drawing.
- Treasure Hunts
Hide small items such as beads in a ball of playdough, slime, sand, or putty for your child to retrieve. This will work on fine motor skills and visual perception.
- Dot-to-dots, wordsearches, puzzles, and mazes
Paper activities like dot-to-dot, mazes, wordsearches, or spot the difference will target visual perceptual skills as well as pencil control, executive functioning, and shoulder stability.
Try out some yoga positions which focus on core strengthening. This will not only help with core strength and posture, but also with attention, executive functioning, and bilateral integration.
- Play with Lego, Playdough, and Putty
Playing with Lego or play dough will promote bilateral integration, executive functioning skills, and hand strength. For an extra challenge, hide the Lego pieces in putty to retrieve.
Finally, we’ve got some top tips for handwriting success:
- Write with broken crayons or very short pencils
This will encourage the use of a tripod grasp, which is the optimal grasp for handwriting. The lack of space to spread fingers will ensure they have to grip the crayon between their thumb, index, and middle finger.
- Highlight the writing lines
Highlight on the line for correct letter placement and sizing. This will ensure that letters stay even in size.
- Use a lolly stick as a finger space buddy
Decorate with googly eyes and a face if you like. Use this to encourage the use of spaces between words for children who tend to write their words too close together.
- Use a multi-sensory approach
Children learn best when all of their senses are engaged. Try practicing shapes in a range of textures before writing on a piece of paper; trace in sand or shaving foam, write on a chalkboard, paint, make the letter out of beads or straws. This is the best way to ensure your child remembers the correct way to form their letters.
We hope that these tips and activities are helpful in supporting your child to develop their handwriting skills. For more information about handwriting skills and for learning resources, take a look at https://www.lwtears.com. If you would like any more information about this topic, or need some support, please email us at email@example.com or join our online Facebook support group which can be found under ‘groups’ on our Facebook page.
About the Author
Joanne is a friendly, positive, and outgoing Highly Specialist Paediatric Occupational Therapist & Sensory Integration Practitioner, with a real passion and drive for supporting children, young people and their families with everyday activities and challenges. Joanne Works in a professional manner at all times and it is her aim to make a difference to the lives of the individuals and families she supports.
Joanne has previously supported and help to set up Occupational Therapy services to; a children’s therapy company, secure setting for adults with complex needs, and specialist schools for Autism. Joanne’s experience of various diagnoses and working within teams of professionals also extends to complex behavioural difficulties.
Joanne has extensive experience of assessment and report writing, with a particular interest in assisting individuals, families, and Solicitors with SEN Tribunals. Joanne is available to provide assessment, consultancy and training to families, schools, Solicitors and parent support groups, remotely, in the South Wales clinic, across the UK and Internationally.