By: Epiphany Stephens, OTR/L
Handwriting is a complex task that involves many pre-writing and foundational skills. Kids want to do well and succeed. If your child refuses to write or finds it difficult, then there might be a delay in one or more of the foundational skills hindering their ability. There are at least 11 different skills required for handwriting and a few are discussed below.
Postural control is the ability to assume and maintain an upright position without support. Children who slouch or wrap their legs around their chair legs may be trying to subconsciously adjust their bodies to feel more stable. A strong core is required for a strong neck to hold your head up. You also need strong shoulders and arms for adequate arm and wrist strength; which are required for strong hands with well-developed arches and fingers to grasp and manipulate items.
Postural Control Activities:
- Activities involving weight-bearing on open palms such as animal walks (crab walk, donkey kicks, bear walks) or yoga poses
- Climbing and crawling on playground equipment
- Laying on your stomach while propped up on elbows while playing on the floor
Crossing Midline and Bilateral Coordination
Everyone has an imaginary line that runs from their head to their feet that separates the left and right sides of their body. When someone crosses a body part (arm, leg, etc) to the other side without turning their entire body, they are crossing the midline. Bilateral coordination is using two separate body parts to perform the same or different movements in a complimentary manner. The ability to stabilize paper with one hand and cut it with the other hand, jumping jacks, and stringing beads are all examples of bilateral integration.
Crossing Midline and Bilateral Coordination Activities:
- Making a large rainbow on long paper while stabilizing the paper with the other hand
- Batting a balloon with a tennis racket or plate taped to a stick using both hands
- Tracing stencils or objects by stabilizing item with one hand and tracing with the other
Visual Perceptual and Visual Motor Skills
Visual perception is the brain’s ability to make sense of what the eyes are seeing. This is different from visual acuity or how clearly the eyes can see. There are 7 different visual perception categories that affect handwriting. Visual-motor integration is the ability to use the hand and eyes together in a coordinated manner.
Visual Perceptual and Visual Motor Activities:
- Connect the dots, paper mazes, and marble mazes
- Puzzles, building with blocks or Legos
- Piggy banks or Connect 4
Hand strength is not fully developed until about the age of 7 and hand dominance is not normally identified until around 6 years old. However, a child will start showing hand preference before 6 years old. It is important for children to use both hands during play especially as toddlers and in preschool to continue developing the arches in their hands. Palmer Arches assist with cupping our hands to hold objects and promote stability for fingers to move independently. Palmer Arches also assist with the separation of the two sides of the hands which is required for proper pencil grasp and manipulating clothing fasteners. Difficulty with this may lead to weaker small muscles in the hand and difficulty using the thumb properly.
Hand Strengthening Activities:
- Playing with Play-Doh, slime, putty, making cookies or bread dough
- Use tongs, tweezers, clothespins, chopsticks, strawberry hullers to pick up small toys or food
- Peg Board activities/light bright or Geoboards with rubber bands
- Crafts that require squeezing tools: hole puncher, squeeze glue, puffy paint, etc.
- Water play with spray/squirt bottle, sponges, squirt toys, eyedropper, turkey baster
- Tearing paper
It is important to note that there are prewriting strokes that a child needs to form before they can properly form letters. A child also needs to be able to attend to a non-preferred task for as many minutes as their age. A 4-year-old child should be able to engage in a non-preferred task for a minimum of four minutes. If your child is having difficulty with one or more of the above areas, then go back to the basics of playing, building, climbing, or digging to work on foundational skills. If difficulties continue, schedule an appointment with an occupational therapist at Child and Family Development for individualized strategies pertaining to your child.