Handwriting Without Tears
In this technological age, it’s easy to overlook the importance of handwriting. Pen and paper are no longer the primary means by which most people write. Instead, we favor keyboards and touchpads to communicate. While these modes are certainly less messy and more convenient, studies show that children who do most of their reading and writing on the computer have a harder time retaining and processing information. (American Journal of Occupational Therapy, July/August 2006). For this reason, educators and occupational therapists alike are encouraging children and their parents to make building handwriting skills a priority.
However, some students have a harder time writing by hand than others, in which case, it is best to consult an occupational therapist. While teachers are trained to provide handwriting instruction, occupational therapists determine underlying factors that may affect one’s handwriting such as posture, motor skills, or perceptual difficulties and design exercises to help patients improve their hand strength—and thus, their handwriting. What children need the most during the occupational therapy process is support. When it comes to developmental stages for handwriting, the child’s "readiness" must be taken into account. If children are pushed too hard to write before they are developmentally ready, they may develop bad patterns or habits that are hard to reverse.
To create a sustainable perception/strength-building program, occupational therapists can develop a home program to support the carryover of skills worked on in a clinic setting. These exercises are usually fun for children and include activities like playing Connect Four to develop a child's visual perceptual skills and playing with Play-Doh to strengthen hand muscles. Exercises specifically cater to each child's needs as does the length of time for which a child receives therapy. Each child improves at their own pace, so it is important to be patient during this essential process.
Despite the prominent role technology plays in our lives, handwriting remains an essential learning and communication tool. “Both handwriting and typing are tasks that children are expected to learn. The motor and visual processing skills needed for handwriting are not the same as the skills needed for typing,” says Ingrid Kenron, Occupational Therapist with Integrated Pediatric Interventions at JCFS. “An occupational therapy evaluation is key to determine if more emphasis should be placed on improving handwriting skills or developing typing skills. The goal of efficient handwriting and/or typing is to be able to increase focus on the content of what is to be expressed. This gives a child the best chance to thrive both in and out of the classroom.”
Asher, Asha V. "Handwriting Instruction in Elementary Schools." Handwriting Instruction in Elementary Schools. The American Journal of Occupational Therapy, July-Aug. 2006.