The ABCs: Strategies for Handwriting

Despite our ever changing world of technology, handwriting remains an essential part of school curriculums and mode of daily communication. Legible and efficient handwriting allows your child to participate in school tasks and keep up with their homework load. Your child may be reluctant to participate in handwriting tasks if it is difficult or if it takes him or her extra time to complete the task. Handwriting doesn’t have to be only copying letters or sentences. Let’s learn how to make handwriting more motivating for your child, so it is less like “work” and more like “play!”

What are the underlying components of handwriting?

  • Fine motor coordination: Handwriting requires the coordination of our small hand muscles and the ability to use both hands for two separate tasks (i.e. holding the pencil and stabilizing the paper).
  • Visual motor and visual perceptual skills: Copying or creating letters requires hand-eye coordination, or using visual input to guide hand movements. Visual perceptual skills also include our ability to discriminate between letters, as well as remember the letters written on the board in order to copy them to our paper.
  • Motor planning: Our ability to use the information in our environment to create, execute, and carry out the motor action of creating letters or sentences. If your child has motor planning difficulties, they may have difficulty with letter formation and legibility.
  • In-hand manipulation: The skill of “shifting” consists of moving the pencil up and down, using your fingers to make small adjustments to your pencil grasp. In order to erase with a pencil, “rotation” is utilized by rotating the pencil to use the eraser and then back to resume writing.
  • Proprioception: The sense of knowing where his/her body is in space allows your child to use the appropriate force on writing utensils.

What can I do to help promote handwriting skills with my child?

  • Promote visual perceptual skills:
    • Mazes
    • Dot-to-dots
    • Word finds
    • Scavenger hunts
  • Do the “Wet-Dry-Try” method:
    • Write a letter on a chalkboard
    • Provide your child with a small wet sponge and a small dry sponge
    • Have your child write the letter using a wet sponge, then using a dry sponge
    • Finally, have your child use chalk to create the letter themselves
  • For older children, try these functional handwriting activities:
    • Write a letter to Santa, the Tooth Fairy, etc.
    • Write a grocery list
    • Help create the family calendar by writing down events
    • Write out a packing list for a trip
  • Promote fingertip grasping patterns by breaking crayons in half. This makes it difficult for your child to grasp the crayon with their whole hand, facilitating a more age-appropriate grasp with fingertips.
  • Facilitate grasping with hand-strengthening activities:
    • Hide beads or coins in Theraputty or PlayDoh and have your child retrieve the small items by pulling apart and pinching the putty
    • Have your child pick up items with a tweezer such as cotton balls, pom poms, or beads. You can also have your child place these items into an egg carton or cut-up foam pool noodles to address fine motor precision
    • Have your child place different sized clothespins on a picture or board
    • Make a 2-inch slit in a tennis ball. Place small items (beads, coins) inside of the tennis ball and have your child retrieve the small items by using their whole hand to squeeze the ball and retrieving items with the opposite hand.

Ways to encourage sensory-based learning with handwriting:

  • Practice forming letters in shaving cream! You can also use food coloring to die the shaving cream.
  • Try sensory bags: You will need a gallon freezer bag. Fill the freezer bag with clear hair gel, then add a few drops of food coloring. Feel free to add glitter! Mix the contents and apply tape over the top of the Ziploc bag. Have your child practice letter formations by tracing over the sensory bag, you can also place a piece of white paper underneath the bag to increase their visual feedback.
  • Write letters on foam sheets for increased sensory input by requiring your child to firmly press their writing utensil into the foam.
  • Encourage letter formation with motivating sensory media: Create letters with Wikki Stix, PlayDoh, beads, or pipe cleaners.
  • Use motivating visual input: Practice letters with a Lite Brite game or using rainbow scratch paper.
  • Turn out the lights and practice forming letters in the dark with a flashlight.
  • Use sidewalk chalk or washable window chalk.
  • For a movement break, have your child attempt to form letters with their body.

Questions or concerns?

If you have questions or concerns about your child’s responses to noise, please contact us at info@playworkschicago.com or 773-332-9439.

Robyn Geist, MS, OTR/L
Occupational Therapist

Feder, K.P. & Majnemer, A. (2007). Handwriting development, competency, and intervention. Developmental Medicine & Child Neurology 49, 312-317.

Photo Credit: Robin Brenner via brooklinelibrary.org

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