Have you noticed, or been told by your child’s teacher, that he has trouble writing? If so, there are many different hands-on learning games you can do with your child that can help improve his handwriting ability.
Technically termed graphomotor weakness, handwriting problems are not necessarily related to general fine motor issues. Your child might be able to easily button up his shirt, or even be a talented cartoonist, and yet still be unable to write clearly and neatly. Graphomotor weakness also has nothing to do with a child’s intelligence.
Unfortunately, however, children are often quite self-conscious about their handwriting. Often they are told to simply “try harder” when writing. Sometimes this works-for a while-then usually the child goes back to chicken scratch. As one child explained, “sometimes I feel that my hand and my mind are completely disconnected. In my head I can see how the letters are supposed to look, but my hand refuses to listen when I tell it what to do!”
Children who suffer from graphomotor problems are generally easy to spot. Some hold their pen or pencil too close or too far away from the tip. Others grip their pen so tightly they sometimes develop cramped finger muscles, or hook their hand as if they would really be writing with the other hand.
If you or your child’ teacher notice any of these behaviors, you will of course need to seek the services of an occupational therapist. However, there are several activities you can do at home that can speed up your child’s progress in therapy.
One type of activity is common in Montessori schools. Referred to as practical life activities, these are activities that help a child learn to master his environment. Polishing silver, sorting different colored jewelry beads, sewing, or cutting celery sticks and then spreading them with peanut butter are several examples of practical life activities.
Maria Montessori, the founder of the Montessori movement, based her theories on watching children. She then created materials based on her observations, and tested and refined them even further in the classroom.
One of the principles that she noticed is that many skills can first be learned indirectly. Doing this allows a child to work on a skill without even realizing what they are doing; they simply absorb the principles of a particular body of knowledge while absorbed in a pleasurable activity.
With handwriting, Montessori schools give children numerous opportunities to exercise the muscles and practice the movements required for writing before they even pick up a pencil.
Children also absorb the proper method of writing individual letters through the use of sandpaper letters. These are letters made of sandpaper and glued on a painted piece of wood. The child closes his eyes, and traces the letter with their index and pointer fingers. Then they practice “writing” the letter in a small tray filled with colored sand or salt.
So by the time a Montessori child actually begins to write, she will have had numerous opportunities to practice her handwriting through practical life activities, the sandpaper letters, and other materials in the environment.
Even if your child is not in a Montessori school, you can still easily create the same types of activities in your home, using inexpensive and easy to find materials. Take a look at http://montessori-n-such.com/ for numerous ideas. You can either buy items from them, or make your own. Keep in mind this important points when presenting these to your child:
- Montessori broke everything down into small steps. If you plan on teaching your child to sew, make sure you show her all the steps involved.
- Be serious about the results you expect. If you are teaching your child to polish silver, make sure you show her what it looks like when it is really polished. Sometimes we allow children to do things because they enjoy it, but we don’t really spend the time to teach them how to do it properly.
- Let the child do it. You already know how to do the task. Don’t take away your child’s sense of joy and accomplishment by trying to “help” them.
- Have a set place to keep the materials, so that the child can access them when she wants. Change materials weekly, to keep up interest. Your child will be happy to play on their own.
Here are some links to some Montessori sites with specific lesson plans and ideas: