Handwriting and why it is a complex skill.

Handwriting is a complex skill and there are several foundational skills required for a child to be able to print well. Handwriting performance has a significant effect on a child’s self-image, academic achievement and behaviour. It is also often judged and seen as a reflection of an individual’s capabilities. Some of these skills listed below often go missed when identifying the root cause of handwriting challenges.

To be able to sit at a desk and write well, a child needs to have good: - Core strength, stability and trunk control - Shoulder stability, wrist mobility and finger dexterity - Grasp of foundational pre-writing strokes - Visual-motor coordination - Good letter formation habits - Bilateral coordination - Fine-motor skills - Sensory Processing - Cognitive and perceptual skills

Technology’s Impact on Writing Skills:

While writing is both a form of communication and a life skill, writing also plays a social role in our lives. Think about the last time we enjoyed a handwritten birthday card, wrote stories, read a letter from a pen pal or passed secret handwritten notes with doodles around in class when we were not supposed to, oops!

With increased use of technology both at home and in schools, children may miss out on valuable opportunities to practice writing. Perhaps, with technological advancements, children may no longer need to practice writing the traditional way?

While keeping in step with the times, technology also allows for children with writing challenges to creatively express themselves without barriers to their confidence, speed and efficiency. Preliminary studies are also pointing to iPad applications that require a range of motor skills which in turn help with promoting motor coordination in children (Axford, Joosten & Harris, 2018).

On the flipside, a study published in 2017 found significantly greater changes in fine-motor skills among pre-school children who were given active manipulative play activities versus pre-school children who were only exposed to apps identified has having potential to improve fine-motor skills (Chen, Cherng & Lin, 2017).

It is important to consider that with increased screen time, children may spend much less time engaged in outdoor or sport related activities that are needed to develop the sensory and motor skills required for tasks such as writing. Oftentimes, when using a tablet, children are laying on the couch or are in positions which do not contribute to good posture or stability. Motor skills are not just essential for writing, they are needed throughout our whole life.

While staying relevant to current times, writing should still be a part of children’s holistic development. A good balance between screen time and outdoor play and intentional opportunities to develop motor skills is necessary.

Common writing challenges include:

  • Inefficient hold on the pencil
  • Letter formation challenges
  • Reduced legibility
  • Letter reversals
  • Line and spatial awareness challenges while writing
  • Inconsistent spacing between letters and words
  • Slow writing speed
  • Difficulty planning and organizing written work
  • Difficulty copying from the board

What to do?

Make writing fun! It does not always have to be a pencil and paper task while seated at the table. According to your child’s age and interests, engage them in pre-writing and writing activities such as:

  • Writing on vertical/ slanted surfaces
  • Forming letters and words using sensory trays – filled with foam, paint, rice or sand, get creative!
  • Air drawing letters
  • Writing using chalk and chalkboard
  • Writing letters over a rough surface
  • Provide verbal descriptions of letter shapes while child writes
  • Play dough activities
  • Baking together – whisking, mixing, rolling etc.
  • Craft activities – Tearing, cutting, pasting, colouring, drawing
  • Family games that help to develop fine and gross motor skills

If you suspect that your child may be facing challenges with their writing, reach out to an Occupational Therapist for a more comprehensive assessment and treatment plan. The Occupational Therapist would also be able to tailor activities specific to your child’s needs and monitor progress.