Research has proved the importance of learning handwriting and we touched on the necessary pre-writing skills that learners need to acquire to allow them to become fluent and successful writers. So let us look at these pre-writing skills, or writing readiness skills.
There are 10 pre-writing skills that we are going to look. Successful writers master these pre-writing skills:
It seems rather daunting looking at all these skills and wondering how you are going to help your learners master these skills, but for some good news…all of these skills are (or should be) developed through play.
The ability to use the muscles in your hand and fingers to manipulate and control the movements of a pencil. We know that writing can be a very tiresome activity, especially for young or weak writers, and when learners do tire out their handwriting becomes messy and illegible which can discourage the learner to persevere. It would be like trying to run a marathon without training. Learners need opportunities to strengthen their hand and finger muscles so that they can write longer passages and colour in, and as they get older they can write their answers, ideas and thoughts down. Let’s look at some ideas to develop learners grip strength. Getting learners to use tweezers to pick up objects or paper, learners take small pieces of paper and have to make small balls; getting learners to use pegs; playdough is a great resource as learners can roll and manipulate the dough to make balls and sausages into shapes and pictures; Building with blocks, sharpening pencils. You want to choose activities that require the learner to use their hand and fingers.
The next prewriting skills is crossing the midline. Crossing the mid-line means that the body part can spontaneously move past this imaginary midline to the other side of the body to work there. Such as reaching with your right hand for an object on the left side of your body. When a learner can do this they can comfortably reach across to the other side of their body. Writing requires learners to move across their midline (from the left side of the page to the right), and as simple as it sounds it can be a challenge for learners – instead of crossing the midline they change hands and start writing with their other hand. The easiest way to help learners to develop this skill is to get them to do movements that require them to cross their midline – like certain dance or exercise movements, or using a simple figure of 8 patterns for learners to trace, opposite hand to knee/foot patting, playing Simon says or an obstacle course– kids learn when they are having fun.
Pencil grip refers to how the pencil is held, but in this context, we want to know how effeciently the pencil is being held. Pencil grip we know is very important, and we need to get it correct right from the beginning as it can be difficult for learners to break bad habits. There are different pencil grip expectations for different ages, but the aim is for learners to write with the correct grip and become more efficient writers. Later on, during the course, we look in-depth at different pencil grip expectations for different ages, and there will also be a downloadable summary of these grips.
This refers to the learner’s ability to use their eyes and process information to help guide their hand movements when they write letters and words.
This refers to the learner’s ability to extract, interpret and organise visual information such as strokes, shapes and letters. Now visual perception could be a course on its own as it as so many skills that fall under this umbrella, such as visual discrimination – the ability to classify object, shapes, stokes and letters. In handwriting, learners need to be able to distinguish between different letters through their similarities and differences.
This refers to the learner’s ability to coordinated both sides of their body at the same time in a controlled and organised manner. Such as using your leading hand to write and using your other hand to support and steady the paper while writing.
This refers to the strength in the upper body or trunk that supports the controlled movements for writing. Such as your shoulder girdle strength and stability and your back, neck and arm strength and stability. These all support a more efficient way of writing. A child with a weak core may have sloppy handwriting. They might slump to the side when writing or slouch back, their knees and legs might stick out under their desk. They might lean on one hand while they are writing.
Hand division refers to the learner’s ability to use just the index, middle and thumb fingers for manipulation of the pencil. The 4th and 5th fingers are tucked under the palm to help stabilize and support. They do not get used for writing.
We know most of us have one dominant hand that we use to do the majority of tasks such as brushing our hair and teeth, doing up zips and buttons. So hand dominance refers to the consistent use of one hand to perform the task of writing. Using one hand for writing allows for mastery of the skill.
The last skill that we are going to look at is object manipulation. And this refers to the learner’s ability to skilfully use or manipulate the pencil (or any tool) with one hand without using their other hand. So using the three fingers successfully to control and move the pencil to write letters. Object manipulation is very important for a number of different skills such as using scissors, a knife and fork…and when learners struggle with this they can often become very frustrated. You will see a learner using both hands to complete tasks such as cutting with scissors. A great way to help learners develop this skill is to place a marble in the palm of their hand and ask them to use their three writing fingers to move it till they holding the marble with the tips of those three writing fingers. The smaller the marble the more difficult it is. Pick up a coin or marble with their hand, and then hide it in their palm, and then ask them to pick up another one. Posting the coin bead or marble into a container. Another activity could be to practice twisting on an off lids and caps of bottles.
Now we have looked at some of the pre-writing skills that learners need to master to achieve successful and fluent handwriting. Learners who struggle will become frustrated and unmotivated to preserver, so the best way to help is to encourage learners to participate in fun activities that develop these skills. We need to make learning fun for our learners to engage them.