Hand Skills, Precisely: To Improve Handwriting Skills

How to Improve Your Child’s Handwriting Skills: Part 2.

In the first part of this series, I wrote about two-hand use and handedness, which are very important areas for handwriting skills readiness.  ICYMI, read it here.

Fine motor skills or hand skills is a vast topic.  The hand may look small but deep within, it is a complicated network of tendons, bones, veins and nerves.  It should be since we use it for manipulation of things around us and we need accuracy and fine movements to achieve that.  Just imagine doing a precision task without your hands. In this part, I am covering coordination and prehension patterns, which takes us closer to developing handwriting skills in our children..

Fine Motor Coordination

If you and I belong to the same generation, I am sure you remember playing “Nanay, Tatay” with one or more of your playmates on the street.  ‘Coz that’s how we rolled back then.  It’s the Filipino version of Patty Cakes, the one they played abroad. Participating in this game demands a good and sound coordination.  Yes, from Part 1, you remember it right, bilateral coordination is when both hands are used for the task.  It can be that both hands are moved the same way.  This is called symmetrical bilateral coordination.  If they are moved in the opposite direction, then its reciprocal bilateral coordination.  If they just move differently while occupied in a task, we call it asymmetrical bilateral coordination. 

Examples and activities that you can give your child to improve in this area includes:

For symmetrical:  clapping, high 10s, pushing and pulling using both hands, carrying a large object using both hands

baby, happy, birthday

For reciprocal:  walking, running, crawling and swimming.  As some activities involves bilateral coordination of both upper and lower extremities.  For hands alone, rolling fists (as in action for “The Wheels on the Bus”), and building (gesture) fists

swimming, child, kid

For asymmetrical:  activities where one hand stabilizes the object while the other does the main task such as slicing food or clay (fork stabilizes and knife cuts), opening jars or boxes (one hand holds while the other turns or flips), and other similar activities. If you are right-handed, in writing, your right hand holds the pen and writes (main task) and your left hand holds the paper you are writing on (helping hand, stabilizing surface).

cake, banh gato, breakfast

The arm and hand are supposed to be helping one another.

Then, there’s arm-hand coordination, where the arm and hand are supposed to be helping one another to make sure that you reach your playmates palm in the proper distance and position (Nanay, Tatay game).  Without these two (let’s say,) type of coordination, your child will neither be able to play this popular 80-90’s game with you, nor cross mary shake, appear-disappear, crocodile crocodile shiwak-wak, and other games of this sort.

To further arm-hand coordination, reaching and transferring games are the best.  These can be done while sitting or standing.  Level up and do it while moving!  Have him or her get an object and shoot in wide-mouthed container, or maybe stack cups, blocks (big) or cones, if you have them at home. Objects are ideally large enough so your child holds it in his hand, instead of just the fingers.  This brings us to the next one which is eye-hand coordination.

You see, the hand is a very busy body part!

As with the arm and hand talking with one another to ensure good reach and position, in eye-hand coordination, the eye and the hand communicate with one another to warrant finer and dexterous movements.  A very challenging example is putting thread through a needle.  Imagine yourself doing it and you know how it should be done:  seated, preferably task on table, arms stable, elbows not moving, fingers, wrists and eyes are the main characters.  And in this particular task, your mouth can also do a cameo, when you feel you need to lick the thread to straighten it.  But in other tasks, no cameo please!

children, playing, school

To help your child with eye-hand coordination, give small-toy tasks such as shooting marbles in a narrow-mouthed bottle, coin banking, beading, threading or spooling, building blocks (small), coloring, writing and cutting. The latter three tasks requires a large participation of the eye to guide what is being colored, written or cut, otherwise, you find yourself going beyond the lines or writing alien letters! This is then, very important to improve writing skills.

Fine motor skills milestones check:

You can now sort your child’s toys better and as you observe him playing, assess if he has a good coordination since this skill develops early in life.  At 4 months old, babies lean on both arms and start to play at midline.  This is the emergence of bilateral coordination.  By 7 months, they learn to transfer objects from hand to hand (asymmetrical) then bang objects together or clap (symmetrical).  At around 10 months, when they learn to crawl and cruise (walk supported), they continue to develop coordination (reciprocal).  Then at 14 months, they start piling and stacking cubes, as well as, scribble spontaneously (eye-hand) when given a marking implement.  All these skills will improve until they are able to master coordination and use it for more challenging tasks while playing or doing school work.

RGCR and Prehension Patterns

Prehension patterns are very important area of fine motor skills. These are descriptive terms describing how the hands assume and maintain shapes to wrap itself around different objects we hold, big or small.  Before I go deeper into prehension patterns, I just remembered the basic pattern of hand use, which is the RGCR or Reach, Grasp, Carry and Release pattern.  As was mentioned above, reaching and releasing are tasks dominated by arm-hand and eye-hand coordination.  Now, the grasp and carry parts, how good they are will be dictated if your child has functional prehension patterns.  Let’s dive in.

Power Grasps

Also called Gross Prehension Patterns, these are used for big objects or objects that would occupy most your child’s hand, should she decide to grasp it. To hold a ball or any round object, she would use spherical grasp, as in a sphere.  A dowel or a glass, she would use cylindrical grasp.  Both these grasps are easy to remember and look for as the hand just wraps around the object being held.  To carry bag handle or hang from monkey bars, she should have a strong hook grasp, where only the four fingers are doing the job and the thumb is not included.  Disk grasp is used for holding a circular, sometimes, flat objects such as a compact disc or jar lid.  The fingers are straight and spread apart to accommodate the size and shape of the object being held.  Less familiar is the intrinsic plus grasp, where all fingers are extended or straight for holding large flat objects such as a book or a plate.

Precision Grasps

AKA Fine Prehension Patterns these are used for smaller objects, objects that can be held only with the use of fingers.  Finger opposition, or the thumb meeting one of the other fingers, is always seen here.  As their (first three) name implies, pad-to-pad grasp pattern is for small flat objects such as a coin.  The two pads of your fingers meet to hold the object.  Tip-to-tip grasp pattern is for small, thin, narrow objects such as a pin.  You place the object between your fingertips to grasp and carry it.  Tripod or three-jaw chuck grasp pattern is for medium-sized objects such as bead or barrel.  You can actually hold the object with pad-to-pad or tip-to-tip but it would be unstable and awkward, thus needing a third finger for a more stable object grasp.  And the fourth pattern is lateral grasp pattern, where thumb rests on the side of the pointer or index finger such as when holding and turning a key.

Fine motor skills milestones check:

We can expect reaching, batting or swiping in a baby as early as 3 months. Midline play starts and so does grasping (bilateral) at 4 months.  The need to look at the object more closely motivates the baby and so, at 6 months, unilateral palmar grasp can be observed.  Crude raking of objects is seen by 7 months until he is able to hold a tiny object between his fingers at 9 months.  Voluntary release also starts around this time.  These are improved further when the baby shapes his hands around objects he grasps and letting them go.  At 12 months, the more sophisticated prehension patterns surface, as well as, releasing objects into containers.  Overall, we can expect the above-mentioned prehension patterns by 3 to 5 years old. 

These are, but nice-to-know information, but I’m here to tell you that these pre-requisites of higher skills and are very useful when your child plays with toys, does self-care tasks, eventually, writing skills tasks and household chores.  So give your child the objects stated above and see if he assumes the correct positions and is able to maintain enough for them to use the object with it.  I am guessing there’s gonna be a lot of ooohs and aaahs on your part.

ambulance, doctor, medical

Then again, if you note of any difficulty, the key to improve most motor skills is practice.  Give him toys mentioned above and practice using appropriately.  Incorporate it in a game so it remains fun for him and for you as well.


Case-Smith, Jane. O’Brien, Jane Clifford. (2010) Occupational Therapy for Children, Sixth edition. Maryland Heights, MS.

Molnar, Gabriella E. (1992) Pediatric Rehabilitation, Second edition. Baltimore, MR: p. cm.

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