There are many factors affecting handwriting skills.
This page will help you understand just 10 of the different factors that can affect your child's handwriting abilities, and will also give you ideas and tips to help you give your child the best possible start on the handwriting journey!
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Visual-Motor Integration (VMI) and Handwriting
Visual-motor integration and specific fine motor skills have found by various studies to be the most important factors affecting handwriting ability (see references).
Visual-Motor Integration (VMI) enables the hands to correctly replicate what the eyes see.This enables a child to be able to accurately copy numbers, and letters.
need lots of practice in tracing and copying basic shapes such as diagonal lines, circles,
squares, triangles and intersecting lines.
This is an important foundation before learning number and letter formations.
How You Can Help Your Child Develop Visual-Motor Integration Skills
Provide lots of opportunities to trace and draw shapes and simple drawings in early childhood BEFORE letters are introduced.
Let your child trace over your shapes in sand, or with chalk on a board before trying to draw the shapes on their own.
How You Can Help Your Child Develop Fine Motor Skills for Handwriting
Encourage your child to spend less time on electronic devices and
more time on gross motor and fine motor activities to build these
skills. Swiping a screen does not help develop the in-hand manipulation and
finger skills that are needed for handwriting!
Encourage your child to thread beads and do lacing cards. Playing with Lego and other types of building blocks also encourages eye-hand coordination. You can get ideas for simple activities for young kids here.
Look for worksheets and activity books that have mazes and follow-the-pathpictures. Working on ocular motor skills such as visual tracking can also help develop hand-eye coordination skills.
Spatial perceptual skills help kids to lay their work out neatly on the page, and to size and space their letters and words correctly.
When spatial perception is poor, then their handwriting may look messy because of the irregularly sized letters, and the haphazard spacing of work on the page. This is common in children who are still learning to write, but may signify a problem by the second and third grade.
How You Can Help Your Child Develop Spatial Perception Skills
The biggest spatial perception challenge comes from filling in a shape without any internal lines to tell you what shape to use. You can download a free PDF from Young Mathematicians, that will give you pattern block outlines like the giraffe alongside, to help challenge your child.
Construction games where your child needs to follow instructions,such as building LEGO models#Ad, are also great for building spatial perceptual skills.
Older children may need to learn compensatory strategies
to help them with handwriting. These may include specially lined paper,
sticks to help with spacing on the page and frequent cueing.
Orthographic coding skills enable a child to remember what a word or letter looks like, and then to write it down as needed.
Children with poor orthographic coding skills easily forget how a letter is formed and may thus form it differently each time they write it, even writing it different ways within the same writing task!
Or they may retrace parts of the letter trying to figure out where the next part goes. This is an important factor contributing to untidy handwriting.
Kids with poor orthographic coding may struggle to figure out where to start the letter, and may hesitate a lot while writing.
They take a long time
to put their thoughts on the page as they are just trying to figure out
where to start to form the letters or how to write the word.
Orthographic coding delays may affect reading and spelling as well as handwriting skills.
Working on letter formation
How You Can Help Your Child Develop Orthographic Coding Skills
(these suggestions deal only with the handwriting aspect of orthographic coding)
Teaching correct letter formations from an early age
may help reduce later problems with handwriting. Start with the letters of your child's
name. It is never too early to learn to form the letters correctly!
Just as you would encourage your child to practice kicking a ball or building a tower, show the same patience and creativity in practicing letters correctly. Make it fun and interesting, but don't force young kids to write if they are not interested. Try these fun letter formation activities, or check out my tips and strategies for kids who are struggling.
Use verbal cues (such as rhymes that reinforce the formation of the letters). Look for programs like Handwriting Heroes#ad that use rhymes, stories and visuals to help kids master letter formations.
You can also work on visual memory skills with games like Concentration and include memory exercises in letter formations as well. Have them look at a letter, trace it with a finger, cover it up, picture it in their mind’s eye, trace it in the air and then check, trace it again and then write.
Ask your child to try writing the letter in the air with eyes closed. Watch carefully and you will get a good sense of whether the correct formation has been internalized.
Older kids may benefit from a letter chart on their desk, along with arrows indicating starting point and initial direction.
Visual perception enables kids to understand what they see. The different visual perceptual skills are all factors affecting handwriting in different ways.
Here are some examples:
A child with poor visual discrimination
skills may not see that writing an “r” is different to writing and “n”
or a “h”. And this may be reflected in a child's handwriting, where
those letters all look the same!
A child with poor visual closure skills may not realize that an “o” which is not closed properly looks like “u”, and this would affect the neatness and legibility of their handwriting.
How You Can Help Your Child Develop Visual Perception Skills
Encourage your child to pay attention visually by finding items
in picture books, finding specific groceries on a shopping
advertisement, and looking at "spot the difference" pictures.
Look out for Lotto and Bingo type games where your child needs to match up picture cards.
Motor planning is one of many factors that affect how a child develops handwriting skills:
figuring out how to hold the pencil and how to put it to paper
planning the layout of work on the page and carrying it out
establishing the motor memory of remembering how letters are formed
carrying over the memory from one task to the next
When kids have poor motor planning skills, a handwriting lesson is
like a brand new lesson for them each time – they may really struggle to carry over what they have learned in previous lessons.
You may also see the child with poor motor planning skills struggling with other classroom tasks, like figuring out how to use a ruler to draw a line, figuring out how to cut around a complex shape with scissors, etc. even if they have done the task before.
Planning how and where to write
Poor motor planning (also called dyspraxia) can thus affect all the
other areas discussed here (such as fine motor skills, visual motor
coordination, orthographic coding, etc)
How You Can Help Your Child Develop Motor Planning Skills
Kids with poor motor planning skills can benefit from lots of sensory and movement input to help their brains develop sensory-motor maps of movements.
They also benefit from learning strategy through games such as obstacle courses and strategic board games like Catan – they may need to be patiently taught the strategies of each game.
However, in the classroom, these children may need specific accommodations to help them work around their problems. An occupational therapist will help analyze your child's specific challenges and then provide "just right" recommendations to help your child.
Organization and problem solving skills include motor planning and the
spatial perceptual ability to lay work out well on the page.
The resulting general
disorganization and failure to understand and follow instructions, are factors affecting handwriting output.
How You Can Help Your Child Develop Organization and Problem Solving Skills
How You Can Help:
Play listen-and-do games, where your child has to respond to instructions given. Young kids love to help in the kitchen, so this is an ideal way to help them learn to follow instructions!
Problem solving games such as Rush Hour#Ad as well as spatial perceptual games such as Tangrams#Ad, can help a child develop organization and problem solving skills.
Board games such as Catan#Ad, Ticket to Ride#Ad and other similar games, can help your older child learn to plan and strategize.
I hope you found this page useful in helping you to understand the variety of different factors affecting handwriting and how you can help your child to develop a strong foundation for this crucial skill!
Daly, C.J., Kelley, G.T., Krauss, A. Relationship between visual-motor integrations and handwriting skills of children in kindergarten: a modified replication study.” AJOT, 2003, 57(4):459-642. http://dx.doi.org/10.5014/ajot.57.4.459
Kaiser, M-L; Albaret, J-M; and Doudin P-A. Relationship Between Visual-Motor Integration, Eye-Hand Coordination, and Quality of Handwriting, Journal of Occupational Therapy Schools & Early Intervention 2(2):87-95 · April 2009. DOI: 10.1080/19411240903146228
Tennyson, J. Effective Occupational Therapy Intervention For Handwriting/Fine Motor Difficulties, Master's Thesis, Humboldt Stae University, 2006. Article can be viewed here.
Weintraub, N. ;Graham, S. The contribution of gender, orthographic, finger function, and visual-motor processes to the prediction of handwriting status. The Occupational Therapy Journal of Research; 20(2):121-140 · March 2000 http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/153944920002000203
Wiid, Julie, Visual-Motor Integration (VMI) and Graphomotor (handwriting) Problems as a Barrier to Learning . PDF can be viewed here.
All activities should take place under close adult supervision. Some activities use small items which may cause choking. The activities suggested on this website are NOT a substitute for Occupational Therapy intervention. Please read my disclaimer before you use any of the activities.
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