Handwriting Just Isn’t What it Used to Be
Can you remember sitting at your classroom desk and methodically practicing the formation of your letters on a sheet of lined paper?
Well, that’s happening less frequently in elementary school classrooms today. Because teachers are under increasing pressure to introduce more material to children at younger ages, handwriting instruction tends to suffer as it drops further down on the “to do” list.
What’s more, many teachers lack formal training in how to teach handwriting skills, according to Jan Olsen, OTR, founder of Handwriting Without Tears.
Many students, regardless of whether they received the proper instruction, struggle to form all of their letters correctly. Their handwriting may be difficult to read. And this may impact their ability to complete assignments on time. In more advanced cases, these early struggles can impair a child’s self-confidence and success in other areas as well.
Therefore, it’s no wonder that handwriting is a common concern of parents and teachers, according to Jessica Lynn Hatfield, MS, OTR/L, public media manager for the Kentucky Occupational Therapy Association (KOTA).
“Occasionally, in the school setting, we get a referral for just handwriting,” she said. “But then we identify during the evaluation that the student is having difficulty with more than just handwriting.” If a student struggles with handwriting skills, school-based online occupational therapists can often help.
The 2 Handwriting-Related Issues OTs Encounter
Handwriting-related problems that online occupational therapists encounter stem from one of two sources. The first question the therapist needs to answer is which one is causing the child’s challenge.
Handwriting Problems are Symptomatic of Other Problems
The Online Occupational Therapist might encounter a student who suffers from a more fundamental issue that is presenting as a handwriting problem. According to the American Occupational Therapy Association, “a child’s inability to master good handwriting skills could indicate a more serious problem such as developmental or learning disability.”
“The problem could be anything from an issue with hand development, strength, manual dexterity, visual-motor control, and visual perceptual skills to a number of other problems,” said Hatfield.
“Once the underlying challenges are identified, we address those skills,” she said. “If they have decreased hand strength, we’ll choose a fun intervention to build up strength. If they have a retained reflex, we’ll do a ‘game’ that integrates the reflex so they can look from board to their paper without losing their place each time.”
Hatfield added, “The interventions, which are tailored to each child, often do resemble play. That’s purposeful because children learn best when activities are contextualized in play. Additional strategies will not be as effective without building up the foundational skill,” she said.
Handwriting Skills Need to be Refined
The other situation an online occupational therapist might encounter is that the child is not suffering from an underlying problem, but is struggling with handwriting. In this situation, the child may have never received adequate handwriting instruction in the first place. When it has been determined that there is only a handwriting problem, OTs can work with the child on a program like Handwriting Without Tears.
How an Online Occupational Therapist Can Help
If handwriting skills are causing your child a challenge, you should begin with a formal evaluation from an online occupational therapist. This evaluation will assess the child’s visual-motor integration, visual perception skills, motor coordination, strength, and sensory processing.
It may be determined that your child needs to begin by learning how to hold the writing utensil correctly. The child must hold the writing utensil correctly with a tripod grasp. Since this correct grasp may not come naturally, you may need to help your child to facilitate it. Activities that can develop a tripod grasp are:
playing with a water gun
squeezing a dropper
Another imperative in learning to write correctly is that the child has a solid foundation in letter formation. The preferred method is to teach formation based on the similarity of strokes. Multi-sensory handwriting programs have been shown to help children develop a stable foundation.
Visual memory (child’s ability to write a letter without copying)
Start (where the child begins the letter)
Sequence (the formation of strokes after start)
Orientation (letters are facing the right way)
Placement (the child’s ability to have the letters sit on the line)
Sizing (how big or small the child writes)
Spacing (the amount of space between letters and words)
Control (legibility and proportion of letters)
Help Your Students Cope with the Crisis
The response to the COVID-19 Pandemic is unprecedented. Because of our unique role in children’s K-12 education, including online speech therapy, we feel a responsibility to do what we can to assist schools, therapists, and students with this transition to online learning and seclusion. To ensure that our students remain engaged and supported, our therapists are providing complimentary “Support Sessions” to the country’s youth. We are also assisting schools by training their therapists for remote therapy.