Handwriting: Body, Mind and Hand Working as One

How to Improve Your Child’s Handwriting Skills: Part 4

I know I promised that this is going to be the final part of this series, but I realized I still want to share with you the nitty gritty so I decided to add one more part – the Legibility part.  This post, then, is going to be the second to the last of the series.  Catch the first three parts here:  Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

I am hoping that, by this time, you have identified if your child has problems in the different areas of handwriting and have also given activities to address them.  You are sure if your child is a lefty or righty (handedness); can use both hands and one hand appropriately in tasks (coordination), use different prehension patterns and manipulate objects within the hand properly (in-hand manipulation skills) as well.

Pencil Grasps

Let’s look at how your child holds a writing implement.  Give him the regular pencil.  There are various ways to hold a pencil, or what we call, pencil grasps.  Broadly, it can be typical or atypical. 

Typical pencil grasps are considered functional ways to hold a pencil and these are proven to be more efficient, in that it provides the writer the utmost mechanism of the muscles at work during writing so he does not tire easily or hurt his hands in the process.

Atypical grasps are those that do not look like typical grasps and these may contribute to your child getting easily tired during writing, leading to whining or avoidance of writing tasks altogether.

The milestones I will discuss here is the evolution of pencil grasps and all these are considered to be typical pencil grasps, depending if your child is at the particular age ranges when these grasps develop.  I will also be mentioning the marks that your child can make within the different age ranges.

To make it easier to remember, I have included whole numbers for ages. These are based on growinghandsonkids.com and empoweredparents.co.

Palmar Supinate Grasp

From its name, we can gather that that the pencil is held in the palm, instead of the fingers.  Supinate, (root word, supine) describes a palm up position.  We see this at around 1 year old, when your child tries to copy how you write with a long cylindrical stick. 

kid, boy, child
Palmar Supinate Grasp

If you give him a pencil and paper or a magic slate, she can probably and inconsistently make random scribbles.  This improves within the year, where she would learn how to make definite lines (vertical or horizontal).

Digital Pronate Grasp

Here, it’s the digits that hold the pencil, however, fingers are quite extended, sort of clipping the pencil between slightly-bent fingers and the thumb.  Pronate (root word, prone) describes a palm down position. 

Digital Pronate Grasp

We see this at around 2 years old, where your child also starts to make circular scribbles.  You will see a lot of curves, loops, in addition to the lines that she has learned to draw when she was 1.

Quadrupod Grasp

Shortly after learning to hold the pencil with her digits, with a digital pronate grasp, your child begins to mimic how you do and assume the quadrupod or the 4-finger grasp.  With palm facing downward, she uses her thumb, index and middle fingers to hold the shaft of the pencil as it rests on the ring finger.

child, boy, paint
Quadrupod Grasp

Knowing how to form lines and circles, your child begins to draw shapes during this time.  Closures and orientation may still be crude and sizes, very inconsistent. 

Static Tripod Grasp

At 3 years old, your child moves the shaft of the pencil to rest on the ring finger while holding it with the thumb, index and middle fingers.  Tripod grasp used to be the only acceptable pencil grasp.  The quadrupod has been considered to be functional recently.  The word static describes the wrist and fingers movement – minimal to none.  The fingers, hand and wrist moves as a unit when writing in this grasp. 

At this time, our child can make better shapes especially circles.  They also start to draw figures during this stage.  I have seen kids who can draw a stick person and a house.  It would probably depend if your child is interested and has a lot of exposure with these tasks.

pen, child, write articles
Tripod Grasp

Dynamic Tripod Grasp

At around 4 or 5 years old, your child continues to use the tripod (or quarupod) grasp but with more isolated movement in the finger joints and wrists to support writing. 

Hence, there is better control so she can form more figures like squares, crosses, triangles and diamonds.  After this, she will spontaneously start to draw letters.  Her stick person also develops to include details such as face parts, trunk, neck, etc.  She will also learn to draw a lot of other things better such as plants, flowers, animals, etc.

How to Help with their Pencil Grasp

Our ultimate goals is the tripod grasp for our kids but please pay attention to the age-appropriateness of the grasps.  The best practice is to let them hold it in their preferred manner, unless you think that it is impeding with tasks expected of his age. 

You can aid by modifying the writing implement.  For example, your 4-year-old still uses the digital pronate.  Try giving him a short, broken crayon so he is force to hold it in between his fingers.

Pencil grips can also help.  But since they are not readily available here in the Philippines, you may use items available at home such as the clothespins.  Fat and triangular-shaft pencils can also help and they can be purchased at our local bookstore.

writing, children, learning
Pencil Grip inserted in a regular pencil

Mark the pencil to remind your child where to hold it.  Sometimes they don’t hold it near the tip and has difficulties forming figures.  You may also practice her in-hand manipulation skills here, specifically, shifting.

Drawing, Coloring and Tracing

These are what we refer to when we say Pre-writing Tasks.  With improving pencil grasp, comes improved drawing as noted above. 

Coloring also develops gradually.  Your child will start by using just one color for a couple of images.  Deviations from the lines are common.  At around 4 or 5, she may learn how to color within the lines; and with details on her drawings, she also explores the use of different colors for her art work.

To aid in drawing and writing, school teachers usually give tracing activities.  The broken-line type is easier than the connect-the-dots kind.  The closer the guiding marks are, the easier for your child to follow them.

How to Improve Pre-writing Skills

Give enjoyable tasks where these three are incorporated such as card making, simple art, and simple crafts.  You may also make pencils and other writing tools, a sketch book or plenty of scratch papers accessible so your child is encouraged to use them.

Some parents I know allow their children to make marks on their walls and floors.  They say, it is just a phase.  If you also want this opportunity for your child but don’t want the hassle of repainting, cover your walls with manila paper or cartolina and let your little one know of your designated writing spaces. 

A white board is actually a good investment, but please be aware that the dynamics of writing with a whiteboard marker and a pencil considerably is different.  We do not want your child getting used to the feel of the squeaky marker on surface.

The same precaution is given when we utilize Write-on-wipe-off books or any other laminated materials for tracing and writing.

Writing

Writing is forming letters.  If you paid close attention to the ages, you will find that your child will be ready to have a try at writing her name at around 4 to 5 years old.  There is no need to haste, then.  What you can do is to make sure that she goes through the process naturally.  Let her take the lead.

Posture

We may not have been introduced to it, but there is such thing as a good posture for writing, which is shown below.  Try to achieve this posture when drawing or writing to prevent strains and help improve your child’s writing experience.  You can also apply it to yourself and see amazing results!

Credits to blog.allaboutlearningpress.com for this image

Motivation and Interest

Some kids are more inclined to enjoy writing than others.  It is a common belief that girls are better at writing than boys, but this is not the case I have seen as an OT.  I have had male students who excelled at writing and female students who really hated writing.

Sometimes, there is no problem in the other areas, i.e. hand musculature, in-hand manipulation is good, grasp is okay, posture is well, but still, handwriting is an area of difficulty for the child.  It might be that she has a different interest. 

To increase motivation in writing, consider the following:

  1. Harness writing with liked tasks.  If she likes butterflies, write about them:  their names, colors, shapes, etc.  If he likes robots, go ahead and write robot names to practice.
  2. Use different kinds of writing implement.  Don’t just use pencil.  If she likes colorful markers, let her practice writing with markers, colored pens, even paint brush!
  3. Write short words or phrases each time.  Don’t think that since he writes poorly, he needs bombardment.  That will not help him.  Celebrate little successes!  If he wrote 3 words willingly in a day, praise him for it.  Level it up in the next 3 days, and have him write 5 words.
  4. Alternate writing tasks with activities she enjoys.  If she likes dancing, then dance in between writing tasks!
  5. Do functional writing tasks like writing letters or creating cards with short notes to friends and family.  You may opt to just give your child “Fill in the blanks” if a letter or a note is too long for him.  He might appreciate this better than his usual writing drills.
pencils, color pencils, pencil

If you feel like nothing works, go back to pre-writing tasks, or to the other fine motor areas (earlier parts of this series).  You might be missing something that needs to be addressed first before writing.

It may also be that she has concerns unrelated to writing, altogether.  She may have difficulties in reading and does not appreciate what she is writing.  You can ask her school teachers or consult a reading specialist to rule out this problem.

Last Word

Handwriting, is undeniably, a vital skill for all of us, especially for our growing children.  It is considered one of the major academic skill.  With heaps of writing tasks at school, they will definitely get the hang of it, whether they like it or not.  As parents, we can help them in their journey by providing useful materials that might help them cope better at any given age. These will make writing easier and fun for them.

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