There are plenty of handwriting programs out there that occupational therapists use to help improve a child's handwriting. There are also a variety of tips and techniques that I want to share with you to help you help your child work on the skills they may need to develop good handwriting. However, in this blog post I want to start with the basics. I want to walk you through basic strategies you can use at home to help your child work on his or her handwriting.
No matter what the issue seems to be, if your child is having difficulties developing age-appropriate handwriting skills, there are four things you can start doing at home to help him or her improve their handwriting:
1. Make Handwriting Fun!
Working on handwriting doesn't necessarily have to equal having your child seated at a table completing handwriting worksheets. The first strategy that you can adopt is to follow your child's lead and their interests. Usually, writing letters, words and sentences is not something that a child chooses to do in their free time out of fun. If you want your child to develop good handwriting, you need to find out what motivates them. Identify their interests, create play activities using them and add a handwriting task creatively embedded within what they love to do.
Creative Examples of Fun Tasks Using Handwriting:
Use a mini expo board to write the steps of a task (e.g. steps to make Jell-O or steps for an obstacle course in the playground). Depending on your child's age you can have them write words or sentences for each step.
Use a board game and ask the child to write down the rules/instructions of the game beforehand in order to “teach the rest of the group to know how to play”.
Play my favorite handwriting game: “The Store Manager”. Using a game the child likes and that has many different pieces (e.g. angry bird game), play pretend you own the game and they need to buy the pieces from you. Each of the pieces will be worth something different. For example, if they want the red bird they will need pay up by drawing/copying a triangle. If they want a crate block, they will need to pay up by writing their name. Grade it up or down according to the child’s developmental level.
Use a movement game in which they need to gain points and modify it in a way in which the child needs to win letters instead. For example, every time they score in basketball, they win a foam letter. The more letters they have, the more of a chance they have to win. Now, the challenge is that they will only get the foam letter IF they can copy it on a chalk board first. Check out my Instagram post for this activity.
2. Create a "Just Right" Challenge for Your Child
Many times, I find that parents either demand too much or don’t demand enough from their children. If you’re working on writing sentences and your child seems to get overly frustrated with the task, go back and work on simple letter formation instead. I am always checking to see if my patients are enjoying the activity. If they are not, I know I need to adapt or modify the task. Are they bored because it’s too easy? Are they frustrated and avoiding the task because it’s too hard? You need to become a detective and figure out what your child’s trying to communicate with their behavior.
If you are reading this, chances are that you are concerned about your child’s school performance, so don’t be afraid to go back and work on foundational skills first. Instead of working on writing paragraphs, write sentences. Instead of working on sentences, write words and focus on their ability to form legible letters. For the little ones, do they know all the letter names and letter sounds or do we need to go back and brush upon that as well. Create a "Just Right" challenge for them to improve the learning experience.
3. Use Multi-Sensory Strategies
Research has shown that we all have different learning styles. We can either be visual, auditory or tactile/kinesthetic learners. Some of us who are visual learners have a preference for seen or observed things. Auditory learners do better with verbal instructions of what to do. The kinesthetic learner enjoys being hand on and learns from the physical experience. Using multi-sensory strategies not only helps us make sure that our activities are meeting the need of our child, but it also provides different avenues for the lesson to be better understood by the child.
Examples of Activities for Different Learners:
Use songs to learn letters!
Have them watch videos to learn appropriate letter formation.
Demonstrate how you leave appropriate spacing between words.
Have your child analyze and correct someone else's handwriting: appropriate letter formation, sizing and space between words.
Give them detailed descriptions when forming letters (e.g. Handwriting Without Tears uses creative and fun descriptions when teaching children handwriting)
Differentiate between small, tall and descending letters.
Use games to spell out letters
Use different sensory mediums. How about playing with water colors, paint, chalk or scented markers? Make it motivating for your child!
4. Get Educated
It is important for you to understand what's age-appropriate for your child. There are many schools who may hold children to really high standards. Although, that can be good or bad depending what your perspective is, it is good to understand development in order to know when you need to seek help from a professional. If you do decide to get an evaluation from a handwriting specialist, such as an occupational therapist, make sure they talk to you and explain to you their observations. Ask all of the questions. Get all of the information and implement everything at home to carry over the treatment.