What Parents Should Know About Handwriting In Prep Year
Handwriting is not just a motor skill, but a very complex skill using visual, auditory, vestibular, kinaesthetic and proprioceptive systems as well as cognitive, language and executive functioning (Dr. Dian Jones, 2014). Writing is not a mirror image of reading; it is a more complex skill to learn. Throughout the school system, a lot of learning support goes into reading but not handwriting. Children are exposed to the explicit teaching of handwriting in their Prep Year. It is important therefore that a child has a functional pencil grip, reasonable hand/finger strength, and satisfactory pencil control and fine motor endurance for engaging in pencil/paper activities. In the lead up to and during Prep Year, a child should be encouraged to
- Play with toys such as Lego and Duplo, squirt bottles and stress balls to build hand strength
- Sit at an appropriate sized table and practise tracing, drawing, colouring and simple dot-to-dot and maze activities to develop pencil control/accuracy, visual attention and sitting endurance
- Spend an increased amount of time doing these fun pencil/paper tasks to further develop their endurance for doing fine motor activities at a table.
During Prep Year, a child will learn to write lower case and upper case letter formations using explicit multisensory instruction. It is important to reinforce to the child that “letters only go one way, like cars on a road”. ‘Rainbow writing’, as seen below, is an enjoyable activity for children where they learn this skill. Using many different coloured pencils or paints, children can practise the correct letter formations. Researchers, such as Dr. Dian Jones, stress the importance of the automation of letter formations. Automated skills occur as a result of “specific, deliberate and meaningful practice to establish neural networks” (Dr. Dian Jones, 2014). Therefore, the correct motor plan for each letter needs to be repeated over and over to develop the neural pathway. Dr. Jones stresses that writing from memory is needed to create neural pathways (orthographic memory), not just copying letters or tracing over tracks or dotted letters. This has important implications for therapists working with Prep Year children on their handwriting skills. After instruction and practise, a child should be able to retrieve a letter of the alphabet from memory and produce that letter on plain paper, using the correct formation, without any visual prompt. The expectation is that by the end of a child’s Prep Year, the student should be able to write all lower case letters in order of the alphabet, using correct letter formations, on plain paper, in one minute. This is very important to ensure that the child has a good base from which to work in Year 1, when Year 1 lines are introduced. At this point, the child is thinking about positioning the letters in the lines, spacing between words, thinking about what to write and how to spell words that they wish to write. It is therefore important that parents of a Prep Year child are given information about Queensland Beginner’s Script (print script) which details the correct way to form all upper and lower case letters. This information is available from occupational therapists and Prep teachers. As an occupational therapist, I teach children how to write all letters correctly from memory, in order of the alphabet, to automate this skill. I reinforce to Prep Year parents that one of the best ways to assist their child during this important year is to encourage them to practise writing all lower case letters and then upper case letters, from memory, on plain paper, in alphabetical order. This should be done at least 3-4 times per week so that correct letter formations can become automated prior to entry into Year 1. Putting time and effort into this simple activity will give a child a very strong platform from which to further develop their handwriting skills in Year 1. Debbie Swain Occupational Therapist – LETS TALK Developmental Hub www.letstalk.org.au