From developing fine motor skills to building sufficient core strength, the early years are an important window for development when it comes to handwriting. Here Jennie Adams, Primary Education Specialist and founder of Jennie Adams Teaching and Learning, discusses how handwriting starts and how you can help your child to build a strong foundation for their developing handwriting skills.
‘My child’s handwriting is so messy’…
‘We’ve been doing lots of writing practise but it’s just not getting any better’…
‘It’s neat one minute and then looks like a spider has crawled across the page the next!’…
These are common concerns for many parents.
It’s more complex than you think
At face value, the process of handwriting can appear to be an easy task to master. But is the art of handwriting as simple as it seems?
Well, no. In fact, it’s far from it. To really understand the process, we need to break down the three Ps – Pace, Posture and Pencil grip to help a child confidently put pen to paper.
So, here’s everything that you need to know about how handwriting really starts and some expert advice on helping your child to develop a strong foundation from which to build their handwriting skills.
The crucial thing to remember is that every child develops at their own pace and the skills that they need to hold a pencil, mark make and eventually form words and pictures develop at different times. These skills are referred to as pre-writing skills and essentially there are two of them: posture and pencil grip.
It has a huge effect on the development of handwriting and all stems from good core strength. When writing, a child needs to sit and maintain their balance without using their hands. They also need to control their trunk and shoulder muscles so that they can reach forward in a controlled way. It seems easy but when we consider that this stage begins in the first few months of life, it puts the complexity of doing all those things simultaneously into perspective. Developing postural control is essential and without it, handwriting will always be a laboured process.
There are several ways to develop strong postural control in pre-schoolers and primary children. The most effective activities are also fantastic for supporting the use and development of gross motor skills (larger movements made by the body).
• playing on playground and park equipment
• ball play
• wiping or cleaning surfaces such as tables or windows (winner!)
The more a child participates in these sorts of activities the stronger their core will become, leading to great postural control.
Children must have well-developed hand use to allow them to accurately control a pencil. Initially, they’ll learn to grasp objects with their whole hand, manipulate them and move them around. When you see a baby grabbing blocks or rattles, this is exactly what is happening. As hand strength and dexterity improves this develops into a pincer grip where they pick up objects using the tips of the thumb and index finger and finally the tripod grip begins to make an appearance where the thumb, index and middle fingers are used to grasp objects.
Getting to the stage of a well-developed tripod grasp is no mean feat and when broken down like this, we can understand that even for children with good fine motor skills, holding a pencil is a not as simple as it first appears and begins way before school age.
• playing with construction toys
• using buttons and zips
• using keyboards
Using these activities to generate and engage children in play are the most effective ways to develop the co-ordinated fine motor skills required for writing.
What to look for
The photos below are simply a guide to development and we need to remember that children won’t necessarily fall neatly into the age phases. They are based on principles of grasp and pencil grip development (Erhardt, 1994)
If your child is holding a pencil in relaxed way without too much pressure between the tips of their thumb, index and middle fingers, it’s a good indication that they have mastered the tripod grasp. You’ll also see that the pencil will be resting on their hand between the thumb and index finger with the ring and little fingers held away from the pencil bent slightly into the palm.
This can make a world of difference. It’s important that any chair and table is the correct height. A good seated position will mean a child’s feet will be flat on the ground, their bottom right back in the seat and their knees and hips bent to around 90 degrees, with the table just above the height of their elbow.
If your child is not yet at the stage where there is fluidity to their handwriting – don’t panic! You could try using a Pencil Grip, such as the Soft Pencil Grip to help them get used to what a good grip and hand position feels like. Understanding the development of handwriting is vital as it begins at such an early age– don’t rush them. Perseverance and engaging them little and often in the activities mentioned is the key and will strengthen and develop the skills needed. They WILL get there in the end.
Jennie Adams is a mum, Primary Education Specialist and founder of Jennie Adams Teaching and Learning – a unique educational service providing outstanding teaching, guidance and support for children, parents and educators of the primary age phase.
She has 18 years’ experience of working with children from Early Years Foundation Stage to Year 6 across local authorities in the Midlands and South East. Teacher and former Deputy Headteacher, she is passionate about education and believes that all children, taught in a way that suits their needs, have the capacity to be the best that they can be. You can read more of her articles HERE.