Is your child’s writing suffering? Your child’s writing development may be lagging do to poor handwriting. Research has found handwriting and literacy are correlated. Children with better handwriting turn out to become better writers. Unfortunately, estimates suggest that up to 44% of children have handwriting problems, and the issue increases in urban areas. At DrawnToDiscover, our experience has shown us that when children have legible handwriting, they like to tell us what they know, what they think, and what happened to them. When we give them drawing skills their ability and interest to express themselves is unleashed! People often focus on the problem, but fail to explain their process to the solution. We have discovered five crucial steps to improving children’s handwriting, visual literacy, and fine motor skills. If you follow these steps consistently and you’ll quickly see the same positive results over 50,000 students have experienced with DrawnToDiscover.
Step 1: Establish the Basics
Pencil grip and paper placement is at the foundation of improving handwriting. Without the proper pencil grip, children’s wrists and fingers become quickly fatigued. According to interviewed occupational therapists, pencil grip is critical in hand fatigue and very hard to change after the age of eight. Malformed grips such as the thumb wrap, thumb top, and palm grasp fatigue the hand and obstruct the child’s vision. Before children start writing, they need to learn how to correctly hold the pencil with their thumb as the driver in their writing. Without a proper pencil grip, a child’s hand won’t have the stamina to complete lengthy assignments. We teach kids to take control of their pencil grip and to tell their thumb, “You’re working for me now”. The pencil should rest on the third finger and the thumb must bend to create all kinds of movement and muscle memory potential.
In addition to pencil grip, the paper should always be positioned parallel to the arm with both hands on the paper. Writing is a bilateral skill, meaning both hands work together. The non-dominant hand must stabilize the paper for the hand that is writing. Using both hands on the paper engages both sides of the brain and sets up kids for success.
Step 2: Create a Productive Environment
Keeping the attention of young children for a long period of time may seem like an impossible task, but it can be done. With key environmental adjustments, children can stay focused and on task in the classroom. One of the most important things to start with is the ownership of materials. At Drawn to Discover we create an organized work space for each child to keep their materials. We have specially designed boxes for children to keep all of their fine motor skill development tools. If a child drops his or her box, the lesson continues uninterrupted, and that child has to put it all back by themselves. They may miss the lesson, but that is how we teach ownership. Among their tools, we have found it very important that each child has a personal sharpener. Wall sharpeners disrupt the class the learning of other students.
Additionally, we encourage a quiet working environment. Instead of saying “be quiet” or counting down “3,2,1”, the technique we model and suggest is to ask children to “enjoy the silence.” From many interviews with children, we have found they like silence, but they need to experience quiet first in order to appreciate it. A silent facing forward classroom allows children to work on their listening and following directions skills. Many occupational therapists, parents, and teachers have all commented on how impressed they are with the attention span and engagement we have been able to create with these simple tricks.
Step 3: Tools for Success
Giving kids the proper tools is crucial. Limited colors and paper limits their learning. All children deserve 64 colors. Most children start K-2nd grade with 24 colors, but that is not enough. By first teaching ownership, children can keep their 64 colors unbroken and in tact for 3 years: kindergarten, 1st, and 2nd grade. In kindergarten, we give them 6 colors each week for them to learn their names. We also teach them how the color changes when their pressure does. Pushing down harder gets a darker color, but soft is where the party is. This means you need soft pressure to overlap colors and create a new color mix. Children have shown us they love to change the pressure, create new colors, and learn to shade and make shadows.
Another tool, often overlooked, is the paper being used. Research has shown graph paper is beneficial to learning handwriting. Lining things up is an aspect of visual literacy. We have created graph paper for horizontal, vertical, and spatial understanding so kids begin to see and more importantly feel the correct lines. However, our graph paper does not outline the letter like some handwriting practice sheets do because research has shown that tracing letters is a waste of student and classroom time. Instead, we use graph paper to practice math facts, coloring skills, and fine motor development all at the same time.
Step 4: Modeling Correct Technique
DrawnToDiscover is observational learning for the 21st century student. Students best learn by example, which is why we must model correct technique and behavior to improve handwriting. As an educator, parent or concerned adult working with children, it’s not your words it’s your hands that will best teach children – modeling is the best practice. Learning by imitation activates mirror neurons in the brain. Observing motor actions performed is an incredible way to learn. We hope you will join us in taking full advantage of observational learning. Children following along to instruction learn to listen and to process information quicker. As time progresses, they are able to better keep up with instructions and follow along without missing steps or falling behind.
Step 5: Gradually Increase Difficulty
Once the foundation is set, you can slowly increase the difficulty of lessons by using paper with smaller lines and exploring more difficult content. Small paper and gradually smaller lines promote the fingers, not the wrist, doing the work. As time progresses, the improvements in handwriting, literacy, and listening will be undeniable. Further, drawing is a great way to explore various subjects, especially non-fiction. At DrawnToDiscover we get excited about non-fiction. We need the next generation excited about non-fiction so they can tackle problems the world faces. This all starts at a young age, with children excited about learning and understanding. It takes the team in STEAM to inspire children. Handwriting is a tool, and we give children the tools to express themselves, draw connections, create, and discover.
Early intervention can keep little problems from becoming big ones. Follow the above five steps to build a foundation for success. Poor handwriting is an injustice to children. Join us to help fix this epidemic and unleash potential!
~Caleigh Cramer and Miss WEndy
“Handwriting: What Do We Know and What Do We Need to Know?” By Jane Medwell and David Wray