Why is handwriting important?
Handwriting is the written form of language. In order to produce written symbols, it is integral to coordinate multiple body systems including our eyes, arms, fingers and hand movements, and posture. The development of handwriting must first begin with precursor skill development including following directions, imitating visual information or demonstrations, in-hand manipulation skills, and of course fine motor strength and precision. Children will progress through multiple stages of handwriting within the pre-kindergarten and kindergarten years. These stages include a variety of grasp patterns on a writing utensil, progressing through imitation of simple to more complex designs, and copying symbols and letters. These milestones in development are crucial for the ability to eventually begin to form letters, write words, and write sentences.
Deficits in pre-handwriting or handwriting skills can significantly impact children’s ability to progress in school. Our occupational therapists at MPPT assist with assessing a child’s handwriting readiness and preparedness by looking at multiple body systems. This includes how the child is sitting in a chair and at a table or desk; how the child grasps a writing utensil; how the child is able to imitate or copy from a demonstration or visual stimulus; how the child can follow verbal directions; and how accurately a child can perform requested tasks. Although digital forms of communication are becoming more and more common, handwriting continues to be an integral part of child development.
How can an OT help with handwriting?
At MPPT, our occupational therapists address handwriting development from various areas. Our OT’s will work from a proximal to distal framework, meaning, they first observe and address core strength, proximal stabilization, and posture while sitting in chair/at desk. Moving from posture to the upper extremity, our therapists observe and address shoulder stability, arm movements while drawing, and the position of the child’s body in space. Finally, our therapists observe and address the grasp on writing utensil, pressure used during drawing or writing, and hand fatigue.
Many occupational therapists at Mount Pleasant Pediatric Therapy have additional continuing education experience with a handwriting protocol called Handwriting Without Tears. This protocol utilizes a multi-sensory approach for pre-writing and handwriting skill development. We strongly believe in a holistic approach to all functional skills, including handwriting. The program begins with writing readiness skills including following directions, color identification, imitation of simple motor movements, tracing and coloring. Throughout the program, children will utilize more than just a crayon/pencil and paper. Handwriting Without Tears uses songs, tactile or messy play and wood block building prior to writing letters. This multi-sensory approach engages the child’s visual, auditory, tactile, and kinesthetic sensory systems to create an environment that best facilitates learning. The program also breaks down handwriting from a formation standpoint rather than in alphabetical order. Handwriting Without Tears is widely used in therapy and schools to enhance pre-kindergarten and beyond handwriting skills. This program also includes print and cursive formation!