Hi my name is Samantha Everette and I’m an Occupational Therapist at Therapy Playground. And with me is Jesse Harris, he’s an Occupational Therapy Assistant student with me.
And today we’re going to talk to you about handwriting skills and how you and your child can get ready for kindergarten.
There are two main pre-writing skills. There’s grasping and there’s shape formation, we’re going to start with grasping.
Grasping skills initially form from basic activities that a kid will do. These can include feeding using a fork or spoon, or by playing with blocks or just exploring their environment.
These activities will eventually lead to what is called a gross palmar grasp where the hand is just curled around into a fist around a utensil.
This basic grasp will change and become more functional as the child observes and gains experiences until they reach what is called a dynamic tripod.
It’s important to know however that not all kids will develop a dynamic tripod, whatever is functional for them, works.
There are nine distinct transitional grasps, they usually develop in a specific order. There are three really important ones. Again there’s the gross palmar, the digital pronate, and the last grasp that develops is the dynamic tripod which looks just like the static tripod, except they actually use their fingers to write with and move their arms as the writing space shrinks.
When working towards these new graps it’s important for your child to have a visual model.
Just hold your hand out and tell them to hold it “just like I am”. It gives them great practice when working on it.
So what if I have 4 year old child and they’re holding their pencil wrong. So they’re holding it like this. What should I do?
Don’t be afraid to correct them, you can just move their hand into a more correct pencil position and if they need more help you can just hold your hand over theirs while they’re writing.
OK so hand-over-hand pretty much, gotcha.
There are also exercise activities that you should use to not only isolate the fingers but also get their arm strengthened up because believe it or not you do need strength to write.
When isolating their fingers you can use finger painting or you can learn how to sign or do puzzles, just small little things where they’re not holding something in their palm, they’re holding something in their fingers.
Activities to increase arm strength would be play dough, here at Therapy Playground we have something called Therapy Putty where they can pull stuff apart with their hands. You can also have them push or pull themselves with a scooter across the floor.
And there’s also wheelbarrow walking. These activites are designed to be fun so it doesn’t feel like work. So what’s wheelbarrow walking?
Wheelbarrow walking? It’s when they’re laying on their belly with their hands down and you holding their legs up and having them walk with their hands. Oh so they’re putting all the weight on their hands to help strengthen.
So before we learn letters, we like our kids to learn shapes first. So there’s a certain developmental sequence kids often go through before they get to learning letters. So around 10 months to a year children will start forming scribbles. Just a controlled scribble like this.
So around the age of 2 they’re start to form vertical and horizontal lines. So just a single line down or a single line across. Around the age 3 it gets to be a little more advanced, so they’re form closed circles with the end points touching and also intercepting crosses. So down and across. So around the age of four we’ll start teaching squares. Squares consist of verticle and horizontal lines with even sides and distinct corners.
What if the corners are not distinct? Then we try to correct them. We may give them visual cues such as forming dots and having them connect them.
So when they turn 5 years old we like for them to have triangles down. So this is the hardest shape to form because it consists of diagonal lines. So three sides and three distinct corners. So often times when we teach it we’ll demonstrate first, and then have the child trace it. And once they can master tracing it, then we’ll move on to forming dots giving it a visual cues until they can form it on their own.
Typically around the age of 4 or 5 we start introducing letters. We always start with uppercase letters first because they are all the same size, and they all look very distinct. So it’s not as easy for the child to confuse letters.
Typically people will teach letters alphabeticaly, but in OT we teach it based off of shape. First we’ll start with straight line letters, these are your letters like E, F, H, and I. All of these letters consist of vertical and horizonal lines. These are also the same lines that are in squares. So if your child has mastered shapes already, it’ll be easier for them to learn their straight line letters.
You can also teach letters with curved lines, letters like B, C, D. All these are kind of similar to your circles. So if your child has formed circles already then these letters are easier. They may have some lines in them but they can form circles around it.
And finally, we teach letters with diagonal lines. These are letters like K, Y, Z. These are the most difficult letters to make, and again this is why we teach triangles last. Diagonal lines are kinda tricky to learn.
Now it’s important to note that all of these are strategies, there are multiple stratagies you can use, but these may be some strategies the OT may recommend you can try with your child. But if you are concerned that your child has a developmental delay, I highly encourage you to seek out a n occupational therapist to do an evaluation and see what the root cause of your handwriting issues are.
Last but not least, we will teach lowercase letters. Lowercase letters are the hardest to learn because they all, well not all of them but some of the letters tend to look the same. Like b and d. And kids have a lot of trouble sometimes distinguishing between the two and confuse them. Also lowercase letters will start and vary in size and line placement. So b can start here, but g starts in the middle, so that can be confusing. So we like for them to master their shapes first, then uppercase letters then lowercase letters last.
Thanks for learning with us today, if you have any questions feel free to contact us at Therapy Playground or you can schedule an evaluation if you are concerned about your child’s handwriting skills. Hopefully these stratagies can help better prepare your child for kindergarten.