What to look for
As we have already explained handwriting is very complex which requires a child to develop a wide range of skills. A weakness or delayed development in any one of them can affect a child’s ability to develop a good handwriting style.
By taking a closer look at how the child: sits, holds their pencil, positions their paper and forms their letters/joins or general layout of their work on a page, can help you to identify the areas which may be causing them an issue. Then you can work on these areas rather than trying to work on everything at once.
An easy and effective way of assessing a child is to just watch how they tackle drawing and writing activities. Here are some examples to help you:
- Sitting – When sitting for any length of time: do they fidget about, start to rest their head on their hand or the table or kneel on the chair rather than on their bottom? You may need to work on their gross motor skills related to posture base/core strength
- Pencil grip – If you have identified that they have a poor, inefficient grip then you may need to work on their fine motor skills related to hand and finger strength.
- Paper position – If they are having difficulty in writing with the paper tilted correctly and keep moving to one side or straight on, you may need to work on their gross motor skills related to bilateral coordination.
- Letter/join formation – Are they having difficulty in forming their letters correctly or cannot remember what the letters look like or how to form them, after being taught them correctly over a period of time? You may need to work on their fine motor skills related to hand and finger strength; visual and motor memory skills.
- Layout/presentation – Do they find it difficult to go back to the margin, miss out lines, letter size is too big or small or they are pressing too hard with the writing tool? You may need to look at their gross motor skills related to bilateral coordination; fine motor skills related to hand and finger strength and sensory perception; spatial awareness and eye tracking skills.
Tips on assessing a child’s strength for handwriting
- Try not to do the assessment all-in-one go. The best way to start is to watch the child when they are playing, getting dressed or sitting, eating at meal times. Does anything stand out that suggests the child is find some tasks more difficult than you thought. This way the child is unaware of what you are doing and they are behaving naturally; a much better way of seeing what they can really do!
- If you set up a task for the child to do, so that you can watch how they tackle it, and they quickly become frustrated, or it looks like they are getting upset, then stop the activity as it is a clear sign something is wrong. It may be they are just not in the mood and trying another time may be better. It may be that they really can’t do the task, highlighting it might be an area that require further support.
- Some activities will have to be set up and done with you, model the action or activity you would like them to try and see whether they can copy you successfully or find it tricky, this will give you all the information you need.
- Do not spend too long on an activity as the child will become bored and not want to try others.
- Do not worry if a child cannot manage a task, it may be that they have not learnt the skill required, or that they are not developmentally ready. For some it may be that they need to specifically build up these key strength areas. Whatever the reason, pick games and activities to play at the appropriate level for the child and have fun!
- Learning and developing new strengths and skills takes time, patience, praise and encouragement. After 6 months it can be really helpful to do the assessment again to see how the child has improved and which areas may still need your support.
It is always a good idea to have a child’s eyes tested if they haven’t had them checked recently.
It is surprising how often this can prove beneficial; children, especially younger ones, will not realise they are seeing the world differently from their friends and so would never think to mention it. It is usually adults who notice something first; and then only because it has become very evident that there is some sort of problem.
Some children with good eyesight can still struggle with reading and writing as they find the words and lines constantly move and swap places as they try to work. Coloured tinted glasses have proved to be very beneficial for some children. Research into their effect on particular cells that support eye function shows that the movement of the letters and lines on the paper, often a problem for dyslexic children, is much reduced. This can also have a positive effect on children’s handwriting ability.
Some of the larger optician chains have an Optometrist or Orthoptist who can perform a coloured overlay test for a child to assess whether coloured lenses would be beneficial. The test can be difficult for children under the age of 8 as they may choose their preferred fashion colour rather than the one best suited for them.