Being ready to handwrite is dependent on a number of pre-requisites:
- developmental readiness and body awareness
- postural stability and control of trunk, shoulders, balance, forearm and wrist
- good coordination of arm, hand and eye movements, grasp and hand function
- bilateral integration, ability to cross midline, sensory experiences
Children must be able to independently form all of these pre-writing shapes before they are ready for formal handwriting.
/>Learning to cross midline can be a problem for pupils with physical difficulties and this can prevent them from making progress with these skills. Cross lateral activities such as marching and crawling, along with ideas from Fun Fit can help by linking up the two sides of the brain.
There are a range programmes available to develop handwriting skills, and providing access to these programmes for a short time each day is more beneficial than a prolonged ‘once a week’ session. These are some examples:
- Fun Fit an intervention designed to run as a daily group activity. It works on the gross motor pre-requisites for handwriting such as core strength, balance, cross laterality, coordination. Significant improvements with handwriting can result.
- Write Dance encourages children’s understanding of the gross and fine motor movements needed for writing. Done to music it follows age-appropriate story levels. The two main concepts are ‘movement in your space’ and ‘Scrimbling’.
- Write from the Start works on Pre-Writing Skills through to cursive writing, develops dexterity, formation, flow, pressure and fluency of handwriting, and is useful to many children, not just those with diagnosed physical difficulties.
- Speed Up! A kinaesthetic Programme to Develop Fluent Handwriting.
- Provide a range of writing implements for the write to choose the best for them
- Move away from having to achieve a pen license – this can be discriminatory
- To teach relative size and orientation of letters use 2, 3, or 4 lined paper
- Provide alternative paper choices
- To begin limit the amount of sentences on each page
- Focus on content and legibility of writing rather than appearance or organisation
- Use grids or boxes to enable child to draw the finger space in between each word
- Ensure page is in line with forearm of the writing hand and wrist resting on paper
- Talk about a ‘Doer and Holder’ to make sure both hands are used to full potential
- Colour code paper to distinguish left / right / top and bottom or start and stop
- Use coloured tape on desk – left side green to start, right side red to show stop
- Decorate iced lolly sticks, or strips of paper for spacing prompts between words
Handwriting hints for left handers
- A triangular grip might encourage a more conventional and functional pencil grasp. Sometimes an elastic band placed about 2 – 3cm up the shaft of the pencil can be enough to encourage the pupil to hold it in the correct place and manner.
- Don’t hold pencil too near the point to prevent obscuring writing / smudging. This may feel like a loss of control, but it is only the thumb that gets in the way – the index finger can be as near to the point as required.
- If a left – hander complains that their hand is tired, check that their grip is not too tense or the writing utensil is too slippery. It may be easier for them to hold the pen between the first two fingers rather than between the thumb and finger
- Paper should be roughly in line with the writing forearm, and for the left-hander placed slightly out to the left of midline, in line with the shoulder, at an angle of about 30°. This will avoid the necessity of bringing the hand across the body, thereby obscuring previous writing or causing a hook to develop
- Paper should be held steady by the right hand in the middle or towards right edge of the paper, not beneath the line of writing, to avoid obscuring the writing.
- Left hander should not sit on the right of a right hander or their arms will collide.
- If the work is smudging, try moving the paper further away from the body.
- Make sure the left hander sits with his/her chair towards the right of the writing space, leaving plenty of space for writing on the left side of the body.
- Some left handers may benefit from sitting on a slightly higher chair. This will help them see over the top of his/her hand as s/he writes.
- Make sure the source of light comes from the pupil’s right side or s/he will be working in the shade of his/her own hand.
- The left hander should choose a pen which moves smoothly over the paper as they tend to push the pen across the page rather than pull the pen as right handers do. A soft pencil, fibre tip or roller ball pen may be helpful. Avoid pens with shiny barrels as these could be slippery and encourage too tight a grip.
- Left handers benefit from using pencils with leads which are not so hard as to dig into the paper and pens which do not smudge.
- Some left handers experience directional problems and require special attention. Extra practise with left to write exercises may be necessary before a pupil writes from left to right.
- Many left-handers find clockwise movement easier than the anticlockwise direction needed for so many letters. Particular vigilance is needed to ensure that pupils do not start letters at the place where they would normally end. This can cause particular difficulties when left-handed children begin to join.
- It is difficult for left-handers to follow hand movements when they are demonstrated by a right-hander. Teachers should try to demonstrate individually to left-handers using their left-hand even if the resulting writing is not neat.
Equipment for handwriting
- Ideally, we look for a tripod grip with the pen or pencil shaft leaning back into the web-space (the bit between the thumb and forefinger), but some find another way more comfortable / supportive e.g. between the index and middle finger
- Provide a range of different shaped and sized pencils, pens and grips so that the pupil can find which is the most suitable for them e.g.
- chunky/thin pencils pens, a pencil grip, triangular pens/ pencils or soft pencils / felt pens which require little pressure
- pens with free-flowing ink and comfortable non-slip, wider barrelled grip
- an elastic band wrapped around the barrel of a pen or pencil where the fingers should rest can be enough to stop the fingers slipping and guide where to hold it
- pencils with a shorter barrel can be easier to control
- a dark pencil is better for pupils who cannot exert sufficient pressure
- a Staedtler Triplus triangular pencil requires less pressure to make a mark on the paper and is triangular which can encourage a tripod grasp
- It may be easier for pupils with limited/unpredictable movement to have pens/pencils stored in a flat tray, as opposed to a tub, which is easily knocked over
- Writing on a whiteboard offers less resistance as does free flowing pen on paper
- Many pupils benefit from having a non-slip mat (e.g. Dycem), magnetic board, masking tape or Blu-Tack to keep their work steady
- It may be easier to write on loose sheets of paper rather than in a book. If a book is used, Blu-Tack on the corner of the previous page will stop page moving
- A bulldog clip can clamp worksheets to an A4 ring binder or a lever arch file to create a portable and non–stigmatising sloping work surface for older pupils
- Provide wide lined paper or allow pupil to double space their work if necessary
- Rulers with handles or which adhere more readily to the paper are useful
- A strip of Dycem underneath a ruler will hold it in place with much less pressure than an ordinary ruler and can be much more discrete than one with a handle
- Desk mounted scissors or scissors with loop or spring handles enable some pupils to participate more fully in classroom activities
- Stubby/sawn off paint brushes are easier to handle. Decorators’ brushes, rollers, sponges and short handled sponge brushes require little pressure to make marks and are less tiring when painting a large area
Resources for Developing Skills or Relaxing the Hands
- Warm water, Cornflour gloop, Soap flakes, Wallpaper paste, Shaving foam
- Jelly, Cooked rice or pasta, Clay, Dough, Compost, Coloured gravel
- Sawdust, Shredded newspaper, Wood chippings
- Sunflowers seeds, Birdseed, Lentils, Couscous, Uncooked Rice or Pasta
Reducing frustration with recording work
Together, we can reduce frustration for children when it comes to recording their work.
Pencils / Pens. Have a range available – a free flowing gel or felt pen marks easier than pencils for those with limited grip strength.
Hands – are they gripping too tight to control the pencil – an elastic band can be enough to stop the fingers slipping and relax the grip.
Why are they writing – if it is to copy from the board, please ask the teacher to provide pre-prepared notes / diagrams etc.
Sitting position – feet flat bottom back, table level just above elbow height work and focus in front of them.
ICT – should this child be offered the opportunity to type if so they need to be taught see the typing page of the ICT SEND section of the website.
Computer settings – try slowing down the pointer speed, the letter repeat and making the mouse pointer larger. Adult settings are not necessarily the best for children!
Appropriate levels – Children must be able to independently form all of these pre-writing shapes before they are ready for formal handwriting. If they start too early, they can learn poor habits which are almost impossible to break and cause problems with fluency.
Lateral thinking…. isn’t it about time we moved away from being so reliant on the written word to share ideas and show knowledge and understanding?
Relieving tension caused by handwriting
Too much pressure when writing will cause the hand / forearm to tire easily and possibly cause some pain. Always check the grasp, fluency and the position of the child to see if they need to alter either of these elements.
Excessive pressure can be lessened if writing utensils are held further from the point. Using a shiny barrelled pen should be avoided as they are slippery and can cause too tight a grasp. A simple grip or an elastic band can serve to reduce the ‘slippage’ and therefore reduce the pressure needed to keep the writing utensil in place.
Younger children can practise writing letters and drawing pictures in a variety of mediums:
- In wet and dry sand
- In chalk and blackboard
- Large crayons on the floor
- Paint brushes, sponges, rollers, buckets and water outside
For those pupils who still become tense or their hand gets tight / tired during writing, some of the following relaxation techniques may help:
- Stand tall, back straight, feet apart. Breathe in as the arms are raised in front above head. Reach up and stretch on toes. Breathe out as arms are lowered in front. Repeat 5 times.
- Sit with a straight back
- Relax hand and arm (shake hand until it feels floppy)
- Uncross legs
- Relax hunched shoulders
- Take a couple of deep breaths
- Sit back in chair, allow hands and shoulders to drop, close eyes and concentrate on breathing.
- Put hands under thighs, rock side to side and then push up lifting bottom off chair
- Place palms together, interlock fingers, turn fingers towards body then push away
- Arms down by side and shake or make fists and then straighten & spread fingers
- Drop shoulders back and stretch arms out and slightly back so that hands are roughly at the same height as the seat of the chair
- Palms together in praying position, lower forearms onto table keeping fingers stretched upwards and wrists extended
- Relaxing scribbles can help a pupil loosen up.
Reducing recording/support in practical lessons for pupils with physical difficulties
Many pupils with physical difficulties use a tremendous amount of energy compared with their peers, and tire easily. Be flexible and use alternative means of recording.
- Pre–prepare work often copied out by students. Give questions or notes in hard copy or electronically, so that the pupil can edit on screen or on paper:
- So that they are still focussed on the content, get them to use a highlighter to mark the pertinent words etc.
- Use prepared question sheets with tick boxes, single word answers and multiple choice to show that they know answers. This will save time and effort and allow pupil to concentrate on learning task in hand rather than copy writing sentences.
- Pre-prepared diagrams and maps are helpful allowing pupil time to concentrate on the main purpose of a task such as labelling or filling in place names.
- It may help to increase the size of the diagram so that the pupil with large writing can fit it into the given space.
- Printed labels can be useful so that the pupil only has to stick them on.
- Encourage short bursts of handwriting rather than sustaining it for long periods of time.
- Provide an adult who can take notes either writing or preferably typing, so pupil can edit.
- Use collaborative writing to produce work.
- Practical lessons may not allow for physical participation due to dexterity or safety factors:
- Pre prepare part of task by gathering equipment.
- Adapted or specialist equipment may be available, although safety factors require careful consideration.
- Working with a partner in e.g. technology or science can be effective as long as they are both contributing ideas and information.
- Give each pupil a specified task to complete.
- Engage pupil in task, if they cannot complete a specific practical element, they should give TA clear requests, not always relying on them knowing what to do
- Use photos / online images to record findings or experiments in science etc.
- Use a computer / laptop / tablet as an alternative and effective means of recording, not to copy work previously done.
- Typing skills should be worked on to increase efficiency of recording and then used in class at least once a week at first to record work for ideas
- Predictive software can reduce the amount of keystrokes needed which can speed things up and / or decrease fatigue.
- When giving homework it can be very difficult for the pupil as they may not be able to read back their poor writing and therefore understand what they are supposed to do. Pre – prepare the directions and email to pupil / give to the pupil to stick in their books or give at the beginning of the lesson so that the teacher can check they have it down correctly.
- Develop skills for dictation by encouraging pupil to plan sentences before they speak.
- Encourage mind – mapping so there is a framework to refer to when dictating or typing.
- Consider using voice to text software