Why is handwriting critical in the modern age of keyboarding?
According to research, manuscript is different than cursive, which is different than keyboarding. Each uses a different part of the brain, and each creates different pathways through the brain to fulfill a function.
Handwriting is considered a foundational skill and is important for many reasons: it engages the brain more fully, enhancing memory and improving retention, and it facilitates visual-motor skills like hand-eye coordination.
According to a study by the National Institutes of Health, handwriting is a critical doorway to better reading and comprehension, and it reinforces language processing skills. It creates pathways in the brain that recognize patterns and contribute to decoding, which is helpful in learning math, music, other languages, and advanced applications in science.
In teaching handwriting, there are three goals:
- Legibility: The ease in being deciphered and understood.
- Frequency and Speed: The ability to engage in writing whenever needed and at speeds that allow the students to keep up when doing such things as notetaking and taking tests.
- Fluency: The ability to express oneself accurately and articulately so that others understand.
“There are so many skills required for handwriting and it is a lot to expect from a 4- or 5-year-old child,” says Jessica Willey, an occupational therapist and therapy director for National TeleTherapy Resources (NTR). “So, handwriting starts with simple steps and builds on layers from there.”
Handwriting should begin with drawing lines: up and down, side to side, and diagonal. Lessons then progress to connecting those lines to form shapes, pictures and then uppercase letters. This should involve a multisensory approach allowing children to learn through play and manipulation of materials.
How Occupational Therapy Helps
From observing even these beginning strokes, an occupational therapist can begin to see strengths and weaknesses in the multiple components of handwriting: posture and stability, fine motor skills, grasp and pressure, letter and number recognition, visual-motor skills, visual perception skills including spatial awareness, and sequencing skills for letter formation.
If a deficit in one or more of these components is identified, it may be time for the teacher and parents to consider consulting with an occupational therapist.
National TeleTherapy Resources specializes in providing teletherapy services, including occupational therapy, speech therapy, behavior intervention, adapted physical education and mental health services via video conferencing platforms.
When one of NTR’s board-certified occupational therapists begins working with a student experiencing difficulty with handwriting, they are able to meet with the student, parents and teachers online to determine which components of handwriting are presenting challenges and which areas are strengths for the student.
Through videoconferencing, the therapist can observe if the child’s core is strong enough to hold himself upright with the head, shoulders, elbow and wrist supported and positioned so that the hand and fingers can move as needed to form letters and shapes.
Simple changes like adjusting seating or adding supports can stabilize posture allowing the hands to move more freely. The OT will often introduce exercises to strengthen muscles and build balance.
Does there appear to be an issue with visual-motor or visual-processing skills? Games like Jacks, Seek and Find, mazes, and puzzles improve hand-eye coordination.
Does the hand hold the writing device properly? If they are grasping the tool too tightly or too loosely, the occupational therapist can help the child understand how to apply pressure effectively by strengthening the tiny muscles in the hand and providing the sensory feedback the student needs to increase self-awareness. The OT may also introduce adaptive tools such as pencil grips so the child can hold the writing utensil more securely and confidently.
In fact, Willey recommends teaching small children to write with a broken crayon or golf pencil instead of an adult-sized pencil.
“It teaches the child to hold the writing tool with the tips of the fingers instead of clutching it with the whole hand,” she says.
They can also consider adaptive paper to help the child understand letter, word, and sentence formation and how to apply them spatially.
“Many of us remember learning to write on paper lined like this,” Willey says. “It helps on many levels, including learning orientation, placement, size, and letter formation.”
But, the tool can be enhanced with additional cues like color or individual boxes to define letter spaces, stars to show how a capital letter ‘starts at the top,’ or even ridges in the paper itself to create a guiding channel and provide sensory feedback to help with orientation to the lines.
“Building language – verbal and written – is a complex process,” says Willey. “We focus on therapies and tools that help students connect the dots between their minds, their bodies, and their ability to communicate. Our therapists work together as a team and love what they do because they know they are creating a foundation for continued learning and lifetime success.”
To learn more about how the National TeleTherapy Resources team works with schools to provide virtual therapy and counseling services for children across the country, contact us today!