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Kids love Handwriting Heroes

Laughing makes things fun – even learning! And when things are fun they are more memorable. That’s why our letter stories are packed with wordplay, slapstick, and playful pranks. Not only does it make for a good laugh, but it also keeps kids engaged and boosts retention. Even older students appreciate the comical stories, and will often add their own twist. When learning about the letter r, a “bouncer” that drops down, then bounces back up and onto the rabbit’s head, one student joked that the bouncer should rather bounce onto the rabbit’s rear!

Research-Driven, Teacher-Approved

Teaches letters in groups based on the similarity of strokes

Teaches lowercase print first to maintain consistency with the symbol forms used for reading, writing, and spelling

Uses multi-sensory teaching to appeal to all learning styles

Promotes good posture, proper pencil grasp, and paper position

Uses a continuous stroke that retraces the line instead of lifting the pencil

Wolf B. Teaching handwriting. In: Birsch J, editor. Multisensory teaching of basic language skills: Theory and Practice, Revised Edition. Baltimore, MD: Brookes Publishing Co; 2011.
“Handwriting Heroes is a total game-changer in my classroom. My students LOVE it– they beg me to watch the videos and the rhymes truly stick with them. Thanks!”
“The way the program groups the letters together by similar stroke motions simplifies the muscle memory of how to produce letters while the songs imbed that simplicity in your brain with their fun, catchy tunes.”
“This program is fantastic! When children are singing the songs at recess, and choosing to write their letters at free time, you know you’ve found a winner. This bundle has all the versatility to adapt to any teacher or parent’s needs. Highly recommended.
THE BEST handwriting program I have found! A very comprehensive program that implements all learning styles for the most effective retention. It’s fun, engaging, and memorable. The character association, catchphrases, app games, and songs solidify the information for my kids, and keeps them excited to learn more! INCREDIBLE program! Thank you so much!!”

Learn to write in just 5 weeks!

On day one, the first group of letters, namely l, t, k, i, and j (aka the Skydivers), are taught in a 30-minute, step-by-step, fun-filled lesson. These letters are practiced each day of the week for 5-10 minutes. The following week the next group, the Bouncers are taught; followed by the Cannon Pops, Skiers, and finally the Surfers. And, before you know it, the students can write all 26 letters! The lightning-speed at which they learn to write is mind-boggling; but rest assured, Handwriting Heroes has been tried-and-tested for over a decade with children of all abilities, and it works!

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Organizing Crafts, Games, and Toys – Tips from an OT

I love buying bobbleheads toys, crafts, stationery and games for my occupational therapy practice! It is no wonder that I have amassed a serious collection of materials over the past two decades. This, in turn, has led me to buy many bookshelves to house these materials. When I considered buying a bookshelf to put into an unused shower stall, I knew it was time to take stock and to streamline my stuff! I needed an organizational system that made it quick and easy to find my materials. It also had to be portable because I see students at different schools.

I came up with several effective solutions to manage my materials. (And as an extra bonus, the first idea even makes them super easy to carry around for on-the-go sessions!) These tips aren’t limited to OT’s, they are also great ideas for anyone who needs to organize small materials!

Photo and Craft Keeper (a.k.a. The Perfect Organizing and Travelling Companion)

Everything became clear when I locked eyes with the Photo and Craft Keeper. It is my absolute favorite organizational tool because of its utility both in my clinic and on the go.

I initially only bought two, but quickly found myself ordering several more. Every Photo and Craft Keeper storage box contains 16 smaller cases that are made to fit 100 4×6 photos each. I put a different activity or craft in each box (think googly eyes, marbles, tweezers, and pegs) and used a label maker to print color-coded labels. Activities that took up a lot of space, like K’NEX and Lego’s, were paired down into smaller versions that are easy to grab and efficiently-organized. The goal is to create “bite-sized” activities that can be unpacked, used for a 10 to 15-minute activity, easily cleaned up and then returned to its correct place.

Everything is organized into color-coded categories based loosely on the goal that the activity targets. For example, white labels are for visual-motor or handwriting activities, blue for building toys, orange for lacing and Play-Doh activities, and yellow for motor planning games. The color-coded categories make it so much easier for me to locate the items and to grade them for the level of difficulty. For example, I have an assortment of pegs ranging from easy to very hard to manipulate.

I use some of the bigger boxes that the small cases came in as storage containers for larger items. Others are loaded up with containers and kept in my car (see the image above) – which is a vast improvement over the assortment of Ziploc bags and cumbersome containers that previously occupied the trunk of my car.

These systems have been beneficial in so many ways:

Fantastic for Grab-and-Go: The containers are light-weight and compact so I can just pop them into my therapy bag. Previously I would have to lug several games in their boxes and had to make selections based on what I could fit into my bag.

Greater Variety of Tools: There were many games that I rarely used – like Silly Sentences because it simply took too long to find the right pieces. By sorting it and moving a selection of essential components into a smaller container, it is now much more user-friendly. And I get to have “new toys” without spending.

Selecting the Right Tool: I can easily differentiate for each child by selecting an activity that fits their interest and goals.  Since I can fit about 10 to 15 containers into my therapy bag it is much easier to accommodate all ages and stages with targeted activities.

Easy set-up with little-to-no-prep: As much as possible, I use the container to hold all the materials needed for an activity so that it is ready to use. For example, “Drawing Animals” contains step-by-step directions and memo-sized white paper all ready for doodling and drawing. (As a side note: the small size paper is awesome – less waste AND it requires the student to stabilize the paper with their helper-hand).

Self-Selecting: Students will often wander into my equipment closet to find their own activities. They are drawn in by an appealing activity name (e.g., Magnetic Maze or Secret Codes), and will work hard to master the activity because they selected it.

Progress Markers: Students get a sense of their progress as they move from the containers labeled “easy” to those labeled “hard” and are motivated to keep moving up the rung.

Creativity Sparker: I have been inspired to create task-specific activities by reusing and reimagining my materials. For example, I made this “LEGO Lines activity” to help students to better visualize the spatial placement of their letters on the writing line. I used lego’s to make the sky-line, clouds, grass and dirt. The student chooses a small or tall lego block, depending on the size of the letter, and places it on the lines.

Wall Organizer Cups

These are fantastic for keeping all of your scissors, pencils, markers, and crayons organized and handy (plus, I can just take the cups off the rail and bring them to my work table as needed).

Clear Wall Shelf and Storage Containers

These shelves keep my tools visible and handy in my main therapy room for easy access. Any of your favorite shelves or clear stackable storage containers would work great for this!

Closet Organizers

I use all of the items below to keep my storage closet neat, clean, and organized.

What are your favorite organizational tips and tools? I would love to hear your suggestions!

Practical OT Activities for Home – Part 2

Children who struggle with sensory processing may have trouble interpreting sensory information correctly in order to make an appropriate response. They may cry from too much noise in the classroom. Or they may get very irritated by a seam or tag on their clothes. An Occupational Therapist can help with an assessment and recommendations to help with your child’s sensory processing.

This second post in our blog series includes practical ways to improve your child’s sensory processing in the following:

  • Proprioception
  • Vestibular Processing
  • Tactile Processing
  • Oral Sensory Processing

PROPRIOCEPTION

What Is It?
Proprioception is the ability for joints and muscles to know where they are in space in relation to the body and the environment.

Strategies to Help

  • Incorporate proprioceptive activities in your daily routine. Examples could be:
    • Sweeping or vacuuming
    • Wiping tables
    • Packing a backpack
    • Carrying a laundry basket full of clothes
  • Provide opportunities for weight-bearing activities or working against gravity to improve awareness for joints and muscles

Activities to Try

  • Jumping activities:
    • Jumping into a crash pad
    • Jumping in a zigzag pattern
    • Hopscotch
    • Jumping with a ball or balloon between the knees
    • Jumping on a trampoline or on a mattress
  • Animal walks:
    • Crab walk
    • Bear walk
    • Bunny hops
    • Frog jumps
  • Carrying heavy things
  • Crawling
  • Push-ups or wall push-ups
  • Handstands, cartwheels, or somersaults
  • Obstacle courses – crawling under, over, through, inside, or on top of various obstacles
  • Wheelbarrow walk
  • Tug of war
  • Playground:
    • Monkey bars
    • Climbing a ladder or rope
  • Playing with balls – larger, slower, lighter balls to smaller, faster, heavier balls
  • Playing in a garden or sandbox
  • Arm wrestling

VESTIBULAR PROCESSING

What Is It?
Our vestibular sense is our body’s ability to detect the motion and position of our head and body. It is the sense that helps us maintain our balance.

Strategies to Help

  • Changing positions might help with vestibular input, such as changing from lying down to sitting up or standing
  • Help children get used to linear movements (up, down, left, right) before using rotational or circular movements
  • Introduce movements slowly to a child; don’t force them to do something they are uncomfortable with. Definitely stop if they exhibit signs of dizziness or nausea.

Activities to Try

  • Swinging:
    • Hanging upside down on monkey bars
    • Playground swings
    • Hammock
    • Playing games while swinging, such as throwing bean bags or balls at a target
  • Riding a bicycle
  • Play rowing game, rocking back and forth
  • Walking on a balance beam, across a log, or on a line
  • Rolling:
    • Down a hill
    • While wrapped in a blanket
    • Somersaults
    • Cartwheels
    • Over a large ball while laying on top of it
  • Jump rope

TACTILE PROCESSING

What Is It?
Our tactile sense provides us with input about texture and touch through our skin. Children who have trouble with the tactile sense might have tactile defensiveness, in which some touch sensations might cause a behavioral or emotional reaction.

Strategies to Help

  • Encourage playing with various textures and objects in a fun way
  • Make tactile experiences part of your daily routine. Examples could be:
    • Rubbing with a towel to dry off
    • Applying lotion after a bath
  • If your child has tactile defensiveness, introduce sensations gradually
    • Let your child control the amount of sensation they can tolerate
    • Start with less sensitive parts of the body, moving to more sensitive areas such as hands, face, and feet
    • Start with firm pressure, avoiding light touch/tickling at first

Activities to Try

  • Walking barefoot over various textures like sand, grass, gravel, and sidewalk
  • Playing with “messy things”:
    • Sand
    • Shaving cream
    • Finger paint
    • Dry rice or beans
    • Playdough
    • Slime
    • Powder
    • Arts and crafts (using glue)
  • Find hidden objects in a bowl of dry rice or sand
  • Guess objects in a box by feeling them (no looking!)
  • Massage with lotion
  • Drawing letters on your child’s back and letting them guess
  • Playing with pets
  • Playing dress-up with various types of clothes, hats, shoes, and accessories
  • Brushing **check with your Occupational Therapist about how to do this

ORAL SENSORY PROCESSING

What Is It?
Our oral sensory system in our mouth helps us to detect texture (soft, hard, chewy, crunchy), taste (sweet, sour, bitter, salty), and proprioception through our jaw.

Strategies to Help

  • For children who avoid oral sensory activities, start with firm pressure when brushing teeth, gums, and mouth
  • Playing with tactile sensory toys can help with oral sensitivities, too
  • Talk about food textures, smells, and colors without pressure to eat them

Activities to Try

  • Blowing:
    • Blowing bubbles
    • Whistles
    • Blowing up balloons
    • Playing with party blowers
  • Using vibrating toothbrush
  • Trying various types of foods – spicy, salty, sour
  • Drinking carbonated beverages
  • Chewing:
    • Crunchy foods (i.e., apples, carrots, pretzels, popcorn)
    • Gum
    • Chewy toys
    • Chewy foods (i.e., fruit leather, beef jerky, bagels)
  • Sucking/licking:
    • Drinking thick liquids through a straw (i.e., milkshakes)
    • Ice cubes
    • Drinking through a straw
    • Popsicles
    • Hard candies

Practical OT Activities for Home – Part 1

I love lists – they’re quick and easy to reference. So, I wanted to make a “glossary” of sorts to explain the jargon that appears in occupational therapy reports and to provide associated activities that can be worked on at home.

Therapy is significantly more effective when parents work alongside the therapist – since motor learning requires lots of practice and repetition!

In part one of this new three-part series, I discuss practical ways to help your child work on:

  • Postural Control
  • Low Muscle Tone
  • Fine Motor Coordination
  • Bilateral Integration
  • Motor Planning

Postural Control

In Plain English

Postural control is the ability to hold your body up in an upright position, relative to gravity. Kids need this skill for stability in sitting for writing tasks.

Helpful Strategies

  • Ensure that your child is for writing: Feet flat on the floor
    • Knees and hips at 900
    • Back supported against the chair
    • Shoulders relaxed with arms resting on the desk
  • Try different positions for writing:
    • Standing
    • Kneeling
    • Lying on stomach, propped up on elbows

Beneficial Activities

  • Animal walks – crab walks, frog jumps, bunny hops, bear walks
  • Wheelbarrow walks
  • Play games:
    • Twister
    • Hopscotch
    • Tug of War
  • Bicycle movement with legs while lying on one’s back

 Low Muscle Tone

What Is It?

Low muscle tone is “floppy” or flaccid tension/resistance in muscles. Common features of low muscle tone are decreased strength, decreased endurance, hyper-flexibility of joints. Kids with low muscle tone might have decreased stamina or endurance for sitting/writing activities.

Strategies to Help

  • Build strength and endurance through gross motor play
  • Be supportive if your child appears tired
  • Add anti-gravity positions for fine motor tasks: i.e., writing on a vertical surface or while lying on one’s back

Activities to Try

  • Wheelbarrow walks
  • Monkey bars
  • Sit-ups
  • Push-ups
  • Pushing/pulling against another person
  • Working on a vertical surface (i.e., blackboard, easel)
  • Working above the shoulder level
    • Putting away things in cupboards
    • Hanging clothes
    • Washing windows
    • Wiping whiteboards, blackboards
  • For hand strengthening:
    • Playdoh/theraputty
    • Clothes pegs
    • Opening and closing lids on jars
    • Squeezing/wringing water out of a sponge
    • Use a spray bottle

Fine Motor Coordination

What Is It?

Fine motor coordination is the ability to use the small muscles in your fingers, hands, and wrists for activities. At school, kids need fine motor coordination skills to use blocks, scissors or rulers, to draw and to write.

Strategies to Help

  • Avoid light toys; provide toys that are solid and have some weight to them to provide more fine motor control
  • Provide activities that will allow your child to persevere and not get frustrated
  • Provide opportunities for fine motor practice in daily life: zippers, buttons, opening/closing ziplock bags, opening jars
  • Give verbal reminders for which fingers to use
  • Help stabilize an object while they are working on it if needed

Activities to Try

  • Threading activities onto a string or pipe cleaner: beads, straws, macaroni, Cheerios
  • Tearing paper
  • Crafts:
    • cutting
    • gluing
    • knitting
    • crochet
    • origami
  • Coloring
  • Jigsaw puzzles
  • Playdoh/theraputty exercises
  • Spinning tops
  • Wind-up toys
  • Turning coins over, putting coins in a coin slot
  • Using tweezers or tongs to put objects from one container into another
  • Cat’s cradle
  • Games:
    • Pick up Sticks
    • Card games
    • Mancala
  • Rolling marbles
  • Mazes
  • Using eye droppers
  • Snapping fingers
  • Blocks, Legos

Bilateral Integration

What Is It?

Bilateral integration is the ability to use both sides of your body (arms, legs), in a coordinated fashion in an activity. This is an important skill at school for tasks such as catching/throwing a ball, cutting, drawing, or writing.

Strategies to Help

  • Make sure your child is using the “helper hand” to stabilize the paper for writing
  • Gradually add complexity to movements:
    • Start with the same movement using both hands together i.e. placing pegs in a pegboard
    • Then add activities where one hand is doing one thing, and the other hand is doing another i.e., cutting, gluing, using a ruler
  • Place objects on your child’s non-dominant side and encourage them to cross their body midline (with their dominant hand) to reach them

Activities to Try

  • Catching/throwing: various sized balls, beanbags
  • Tearing paper
  • Playdoh
  • Threading activities
  • Blocks, Legos
  • Using stencils for tracing
  • Household chores:
    • Sweeping
    • Vacuuming
    • Wiping tables
  • Marching, cross crawling (hand touches knee on same side and opposite side)
    • Drying dishes
  • Tummy taps (tapping tummy with one hand, moving in circles on head with the other hand)
  • Games/Toys that use 2 hands in a controlled manner
  • Jump-rope
  • Jumping jacks
    • Jenga
    • Mr. Potato Head
    • Pick up sticks

 Motor Planning

What Is It?

Motor planning is the ability to understand a task (called ideation), plan an action for the task (called organization), and carry out the action (called execution). Many things that kids do at school require motor planning skills: cutting, drawing, handwriting.

Strategies to Help

  • Break down tasks into smaller steps; practice these steps
  • Repetition is helpful
  • Hands-on help might be necessary at first
  • Provide feedback on the task, such as what went well and what they could do to improve

Activities to Try

  • Obstacle courses
  • Animal walks: crab walk, bear walk, bunny hops, frog jumps
  • Skipping
  • Game: Twister
  • Jumping jacks
  • Catching/throwing: various sized balls, beanbags
  • Fine Motor planning:
    • Cut and paste activities
    • Using scotch tape
    • Tying knots, shoelaces
    • Origami
    • Dot to dot
    • Mazes
    • Block construction
    • Jigsaw puzzles

Ready set …. start practicing!

Note: In the next two blog posts, we will talk about: home activities for sensory skills, and for visual-motor skills.

Teaching Handwriting: 5 Essential Practices

The following video shares five core principles for making handwriting instruction highly effective and engaging. You will learn practical strategies that can be implemented in your classroom right away:

Video Script

Hi! Today we are going to discuss 5 essential practices to keep in mind when teaching handwriting.

SMALL GROUPS

The first is that handwriting should be taught in small groups. This enables one to closely observe students while they are writing and to provide immediate feedback to correct errors as they occur. When students practice without supervision, they often form the letters incorrectly, which can lead to bad habits. Providing feedback after the work is completed, is definitely not as effective.

LOWER CASE

The next important principle regards focusing on lower case letters. Uppercase letters can be harder to form. The majority use two or more strokes which requires multiple pencil lifts and continual visual monitoring to ensure accuracy. Upper case “E”, for example, uses four separate strokes, whereas lower case “e” uses one continuous stroke, making it more efficient to form.

When students are taught upper case first, they tend to write in upper case; which makes their writing hard to read. This is often a hard habit to break.

Lower case letters account for about 95% of all letters in reading and writing.  It is, therefore, essential to teach students the letters that they need the most, and not to overwhelm them with learning both upper and lower case simultaneously. Once students have mastered all their lower case, only then should uppercase be introduced. The next practice, that of grouping letters by their common stroke, makes handwriting instruction very efficient.

GROUP LETTERS BY COMMON STROKES

The Handwriting Heroes program sorts letters into five groups based on their first stroke.

  • The letters in the skydiver group all start by skydiving down.
  • The Bouncers drop down, up and over.
  • All the Cannon-Pops start like c.
  • The Skiers ski diagonally down.
  • And the Surfers surf the wave, meaning, they have no common stroke.

For the four groups that do share a common stroke, the repetition of the same movement from one letter to the next, builds motor memory and promotes rhythmic writing.

MULTISENSORY TEACHING

In addition to grouping letters by their first stroke, there are several other multisensory teaching strategies that enhance memory and learning. Handwriting Heroes provides visual models in the form of workbook illustrations; digital animations that explain WHY the letters are formed the way that they are; large wall cards which can be displayed in the classroom, and alphabet desk strips for easy reference.

Tactile-kinesthetic strategies use movement to teach the letter strokes, before requiring students to put pencil to paper. Using whole arm movements, students write the letter in the air, first with one hand and then with both hands together. Students also love using touch screens to trace, copy and write the letter, dry-erase surfaces, playdoh letters, and rainbow writing.

For auditory learners, songs help to reinforce the common stroke among the group’s letters, and stories incorporate the letter sounds. Encouraging students to say the action words in the story, while they are making the letter, helps them to recall each stroke. All these strategies together, decrease the need for visual guidance and lead to more automatic letter production; as demonstrated by the following video:

DAILY PRACTICE

The last principle that is of great importance when implementing a handwriting program is to practice these skills daily. Plan for five short lessons per day, over 5 weeks. Teach one new group per week, and then review the letters already learned. Thereafter, students can continue to practice using a summary worksheet. Graph the time it takes to complete the worksheet to motivate students to improve their speed and build fluency.

Teaching handwriting to children in small groups is one of the five core principles for making handwriting instruction highly effective and engaging. Click here to learn more about this and the other four core principles that teachers can implement for their students in the classroom right away!

Teaching Handwriting: Don’t Forget Your Lines!

Many students struggle with where to start their letters! Sound familiar? Using three-lined paper makes it easier for your students to know where to start and end their letters. In fact, the use of lines is critical to handwriting development! These easy-to-understand classroom tips and strategies demonstrate how you can use three-lined paper to help students with letter formation, spacing, letter size, and correct placement of letters on the writing line.

Video Script

Hi, and welcome to the first edition of Teaching Handwriting. Today, I’m excited to talk to you about the importance of using three-lined paper when writing.

I refer to the top, dotted-middle, and baseline as the sky, clouds and grass.  The area below the grass is the dirt. This structure helps children to visualize the lines in more relatable terms.

STARTING POINTS

Three-lined paper is exceptionally effective in providing reference points for where to start the letters. Letters b, h, k, l, and t start at the sky-line. Letter e starts under the clouds, and f starts a tad below the sky-line. ALL the other letters start at the clouds. Showing students that there are really only two options, makes the question of where to start the letters much easier.  Also, notice that “b” starts at the sky-line, while “d” starts at the clouds.

For students who confuse these letters, say: b is very bossy; he starts at the top, while d is a dreamer whose head is always in the clouds! And for students who start their letters, such as l, t, and i, from the grass, tell them that these are skydiver letters, they skydive down. They are NOT trees that grow up.

LETTER FORMATION

The writing lines are also excellent reference points for proper letter formation. Letter p, for example, starts at the clouds, drops down into the dirt, bounces back up and around. Letters that start like c, including a, d, o, g, and q are often poorly formed, primarily because students fail to make the top part of the curve long enough. Consistently cueing students to “tap two clouds” as they make the c, is a great way to avoid this pitfall.

SPACING

The clouds are also a useful visual cue for spacing between words. Tell your students to leave three or more clouds between words, and have them check their own work by circling the three clouds. Addressing letter size, and the placement of words on the writing line can have a big impact on legibility.

Letters can be organized into three groups, namely small, tall and dirt letters, based on their size and how they relate to the baseline. If one covers the letters with blocks, it is easy to see the space and place that the letters occupy.

For children who struggle with letter placement, I like to play an adapted version of hangman.  First, draw letter blocks to represent each letter in the word.  Then, as your students guess each letter, ask them: Is it a tall letter, or a small letter? Does it sit on the grass or go into the dirt?

As students develop a more refined pencil grasp and master the letterforms, their letters get smaller in size. It is important to match the students’ letter size to the width of the line. To assess the best fit: have students write their name, a short sentence or the alphabet on small, medium and large lines; and observe which one produces the most legible letters.  This is probably the easiest way to instantly improve legibility.

THE BOTTOM LINE

It is important to use these strategies with consistency. If a student is successful with a certain line width or color, try to provide the same paper across all writing tasks. If a student is successful with a certain line width or color, try to provide the same paper across all writing tasks.

On worksheets that have black lines, use highlighters or markers to draw attention to the appropriate lines. For “popcorn” letters that pop above or below the grass, highlight the grass line to encourage students to “touch down on the grass” when writing. When “dirt letters” fail to go below the baseline, color the area in-between the lines brown, and tell students, “dirt” letters like getting muddy”!

And finally, if a worksheet only provides two lines, use a ruler and marker to add a dotted-middle line.

Did you know that using three-lined paper is critical to handwriting development? Learn about some easy-to-use classroom tips and strategies that demonstrate how teachers can use three-lined paper to help students with letter formation, spacing, letter size, and correct placement of letters on the writing line.

Handwriting and Literacy: How Handwriting Influences Reading

I once saw a little pin with a picture of a hand holding a pen. The pin read “Palmer Method”. This pin was a penmanship award that was given out to children long ago for perfect handwriting. The days of awards for perfect handwriting are long gone and today’s children are lucky to receive any handwriting instruction at all. With the increased emphasis on literacy in our schools, however, it is very important to emphasize that handwriting plays a huge part in learning to read. This article will discuss how writing and reading interact to improve literacy.

The Interaction of Writing and Reading in the Brain

As children learn to write, they develop the skills necessary for learning to read as well. Here are a few ways writing supports reading:

  1. Children learn to write letters from top down. This follows the same visual movement pattern as reading since people read text starting at the top of the page and working their way down. When children learn to write, using proper top-down letter formation, it reinforces the visual organization necessary for reading.
  2. Children also learn to align and sequence the letters they write from left to right on the writing paper. This reinforces the left to right visual tracking that is required for reading.
  3. Writing is rhythmic and predictable. Because of its rhythm and repetitive nature, writing practice facilitates writing fluency. This fluency leads to an automatic motor response, allowing a child to think less about the actual motor actions of writing and more about what he or she is writing. The ability to focus on reading the letters while writing them leads to more proficiency during the act of reading.
  4. As children learn to write letters, the movements are stored in what is called “kinesthetic memory”. These are the memory centers in the brain that are related to movement patterns. It is the first memory center to develop and provides for the longest lasting memories – for example, the memory of the movement patterns for how to sit or walk. This memory center allows writing to become an automatic motor response, as stated above. When a child learns to read, he or she can draw upon this memory center to remember how the letters on the page are formed and to draw conclusions on what those letters are.
  5. Both reading and writing use the same temporary working memory system to take in information, analyze it, and use it. Working memory takes what the eye sees and interprets it based on what is stored in a person’s long-term memory. Letters and words are processed through this same system no matter what their source. If working memory can draw upon kinesthetic memory to identify letters, then the brain will respond to the letters and words on a page faster. Reading and writing also interact through working memory during spelling and composing written work.

Why Keyboarding is Not a Substitute

The influx of technology into daily life has placed the emphasis on typing to produce written work, rather than handwriting. Children are learning to type at younger ages than they ever did before. The motor patterns used for keyboarding are different than for writing, however, and draw upon different parts of the brain. Keyboarding emphasizes visual-spatial memory. This means that the brain learns the location of the letters on the keyboard and the finger movement patterns necessary to strike the keys. The brain does not learn how to form each letter or what the letters look like during keyboarding since the letters are already formed and just appear as they are typed. Children must already know what the letters are before the letters that they type will mean anything to them. You can see this when young children who have not learned to read yet try keyboarding – they just strike random letters with their fingers because it is fun, but they do not know what they are writing.

Keyboarding also utilizes both hands, so it draws from both sides of the brain to complete the activity. Handwriting, on the other hand, uses one hand to complete the action, causing the parts of the brain that control writing to fire. These brain centers are located in the same parts of the brain as the language centers that manage language comprehension, including reading comprehension.

Is a Handwriting Curriculum Important?

While some children naturally develop the ability to hold a pencil with a perfect tripod grasp, they do not naturally develop the ability to know what to do with that pencil once they are holding it. Handwriting must be taught, and the consistent use of a handwriting curriculum throughout the early elementary school years will ensure that children learn the processes required for correct handwriting. Research supports structured handwriting instruction. Children who learn handwriting from teachers who have undergone training in handwriting instruction show greater improvements in handwriting skill and better abilities to transfer handwriting skill to the task of composition (Berninger, 2012).  Handwriting instruction should not occur in isolation but should be an integrated part of the overall literacy program to allow for more consistent practice and carry-over of skills. The more children use reading and writing together, the more fluent they will become in both.

Teachers and parents can work together to review how children are being taught handwriting and how a handwriting curriculum can improve the literacy of children overall. If your school does not use a handwriting curriculum, do some research on the effects of writing and reading and work to promote handwriting instruction. The children you care about will benefit greatly from your efforts, and maybe they will even come home with a handwriting award!

Reference:

Berninger, V. (2012). Strengthening the mind’s eye: the case for continued handwriting instruction in the 21st century. Principal, May/June, 28-31.

The influx of technology has placed emphasis on typing to produce written work rather than handwriting. It is very important to emphasize, however, that handwriting plays a huge part in learning to read. Read on to find out more about how writing and reading interact to improve literacy.

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