A variety of factors contribute to difficulties with handwriting including vision, strength/posture, grasp and visual motor skills. TCESC's Occupational & Physical Therapy Department offers the following tips for improving student handwriting.
In order to produce legible work, a student needs to see clearly. A visual examination should be scheduled to determine adequate visual acuity, visual tracking and near and far vision.
Strength & Posture
A student's shoulder and trunk stability are essential to performing fine-motor activities with the hands. A student's chair and desk height are important for sitting posture. When sitting, a student's hips and knees should be at 90 degrees and feet should be flat on the floor. The elbows should be about 2 inches below the desktop when arms are at the student's side. This creates a comfortable angle at the shoulder when writing. Desktops placed at a slight incline also help to keep the trunk upright.
Activities to strengthen the shoulder include:
Climbing on a jungle gym.
Throwing/Catching balls of a variety of sizes and weights.
Drawing/Painting/Coloring on an easel.
Scooter board activities on tummy.
Pushing/Pulling: shoveling snow, running the vacuum.
Activities to strengthen the hands include:
Resistive toys such as Lego's, Tinker Toys, and Bristol Blocks.
Hiding objects in or forming shapes/letters with Playdoh or putty.
Using a hole punch.
Opening jars, nuts and bolts.
The most functional pencil grasp is a 3 point dynamic grasp with the thumb and index finger pinching the pencil and the middle finger supporting the pencil. Wrapping the thumb around the pencil and over the index finger or tucking the thumb under the index finger is inefficient. These grasps prevent adequate movement of the fingertip for handwriting and the student uses a less efficient, labored, static, whole-arm or hand movement.
Many adaptive pencil grips are available to help students train their hands to hold the pencil in a more mature, efficient grasp. Writing on a vertical surface such as a chalkboard or easel can also promote a more mature grasp. Using small pieces of chalk or broken crayons encourages a pincer grasp. Games such as Light Bright, Bed Bugs, Operation, Tiddly Winks, Jacks, and other activities that require thumb to index finger grasp are good for improving pencil grasp.
Some students have difficulty with formation of letters. Below are some tips for letter formation:
Letters that start out looking like c are: c, a, d, g, q, o, & s. Teach the student to make a c and turn it into the desired letter. This can be done without a pencil. Children learn best by imitating. An adult should model the letter and have the child trace over the model using the correct stroke sequence before making the letter on his own. Try forming the letters in sand, rice or shaving cream. Use finger paint or chalk on the sidewalk/carpet squares.
Letters that require retracing are: h, m, n, & r. Teach the student to retrace the straight line before hopping off the line. There should not be a space between the line and where it hops off.
For children who reverse b and d, a helpful hint is to turn c in to d (d comes after c in the alphabet). The letter b is a capitol B without the top bump. Or children can make an h and turn it into a b (honey starts with h and bees like honey = honey b).
It is helpful to tape a model of the alphabet to the student's desk while the student learns to form letters correctly.
A change in the type of paper may help a student who is having problems with letter placement. A variety of widths are available that can be matched to the student's natural writing size. The use of raised-line paper or divided-line paper with a space between lines is very helpful in improving legibility. Using colored lines for top, middle, and baseline is also helpful. Highlighting the writing area or using blocked letters can also help the student orient his letters. Talk to the student about the tall lower-case letters (b, d, f, h, k, l, & t), and the letters that go in the water (g, j, p, q, & y).
Using a Popsicle stick or a finger between words helps students who have a problem with spacing. Unifix cubes can be joined together to resemble a word and helps to emphasize the fact that letters in words are joined together and that there are spaces between words. Because cursive writing has natural spaces, many students who have difficulty with spacing write more legibly in cursive than in printed.
Additional suggestions for students who may be having trouble in the classroom because of writing skills include:
Provide a photocopy of notes from the board or lecture so that the student can concentrate on the content rather than on writing.
Allow the student to use a computer or word processor to complete longer assignments.
Pair the student with a buddy for note writing.
Reduce the amount of work.
Increase the time given to complete the work.
Allow verbal responses in addition to or in place of written work. Teach a student to use speech to text technology to produce written documentation.
There are many specialized and traditional handwriting programs available. Please contact TCESC's Occupational Therapy Department at 330-505-2800 ext. 143 for additional information or to refer a student for an evaluation.