By Wendy Zachrisen, Wendy Z’s Hands on Learning
Published: August 12, 2009
The Children’s Book Review presents another guest post by Wendy Zachrisen (aka WendyZ). WendyZ was a teacher who couldn’t find a job when she had to move in the middle of the school year. (The things we do for love!☺) She wound up working for education companies for 12 years instead…and lived happily ever after. Wendy is currently an education specialist at Learning Resources, a manufacturer of award-winning classroom materials and educational toys.
Technology has changed our lives so much that some teachers and parents no longer consider handwriting a crucial skill! Yes, most of us, including our kids, can communicate faster using a keyboard/pad. (My cousin’s 12-year old scored 88 WPM on a Facebook typing quiz!)
But, handwriting is still an important everyday skill. There’s also some evidence that children who write better and faster get better grades. However, just remember that good handwriting is not an indicator of success. Look at your doctor’s handwriting!
Before helping a child experiencing handwriting difficulties, determine if the issue’s physical or cognitive. If the child struggles with fine motor skills or forming letters, the problem is likely physical. If she thinks a long time before she begins to write, the issue could be cognitive.
Most handwriting problems are physical. Fine motor practice helps, but gross motor play is equally important. Many experts believe the increase in handwriting problems (1 in 3 kids struggle now) is tied to the decreased physical activity of today’s kids. Handwriting involves body posture, and proper use of hands, arms, head, and eyes! If you suspect your child’s having physical trouble, try these activities:
1. Active play
Reduce tech time in favor of outdoor play! Playing “human wheelbarrow”, crawling, and climbing help connect the motor-neural pathways needed for handwriting.
2. Game time & clap songs!
Engage kids in games that require hand-eye coordination such as Operation, Skeletons in the Closet, badminton, tennis, baseball, or go “old-school” with pick-up sticks, jacks, and marbles. Betcha your lil’ ones know these fun clap songs too: Miss Mary Mack and Down, Down Baby (…down by the rollercoaster…)
3. Lil’ “Iron Chefs”
Cook with your kids. Let them knead dough, roll it out, cut it with cookie cutters, and pick up food with tongs. On days when you don’t want to deal with the mess, kids can use a pretend bakery set.
4. Artsy fartsy
Creative activities that involve cutting, folding, gluing, and drawing are fun fine motor practice! Give kids a wide variety of instruments to draw with too—pencils, colored pencils, markers, gel pens, crayons, pastels, and calligraphy pens. Sculpting with clay or dough is also great (kneading, pushing, pulling, and cutting).
5. Civilized diners
New house rule: silverware at every meal! Yes, the family will look very sophisticated on burger night. 😉 Try chopsticks some nights!
6. Dressing skills
Lacing, tying, buttoning, and snapping strengthen some of the same muscles used for handwriting. Use clothes, shoes, or doll clothes for these activities, or entice kids with fun toys that reinforce these skills.
7. Finger writing
Have kids practice writing with their fingers in, or on, different textures—shaving cream smeared on a tabletop, play dough, clay, or sand. (For extra help, they can use letter molds as a starting point or trace their fingers over magnetic letters.)
8. The “write” environment
Make sure your child has a good chair and table at the right height for comfortable writing. Demonstrate how to sit with correct posture, rest your arms on the table, hold the writing instrument, and keep your torso in the right position.
9. “Uh, thank ya, thank ya very much.” (Elvis voice)
Get kids into a habit of writing handwritten thank you cards for gifts they receive.
10. Repeated direct practice
Handwriting fluency is the goal—writing both legibly and quickly. Pencils with various thicknesses and grips, letter stamps, line-ruled paper, journals, and dry-erase boards can offer even more support.
If you try these activities without success, consult your child’s teacher, school reading specialist, or an occupational therapist. Your child may need physical therapy or help overcoming cognitive issues (sometimes caused by a learning disability). Your child’s teacher can suggest good strategies for tackling many cognitive issues.
Whatever her struggles, help your child to not be self-conscious. People tend to think of handwriting as reflections of themselves. Tell your child that she will get better with practice, and that it’s okay that her writing isn’t a masterpiece now!
Looking for great educational toys and classroom materials to help improve children’s literacy? Visit www.LearningResources.com