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Why Is Learning To Write Such A Challenge?


Learning to write is very complex. If your little one is struggling with it, you are not alone.


Grasp: If we can’t use and efficient grasp on a writing utensil then we will struggle to have good control to make lines/curves and keep our letters the right size. Efficient grasp means you’re able to hold the pencil with the pads of your thumb and first 1 or two fingers. It also means that your fingers and wrist can move independent of the whole arm. This is a “dynamic” grasp.


Visual Motor Skills: This involves a lot but in a nutshell it is being able to coordinate the work we do with our eyes and hands together.


Visual Perceptual Skills: This is our vision center being able to process all the visual input and make sense of it. For example: being able to pick one item out of a busy background is called “figure ground”, being able to look at the board or a word/shape and recall it to write it is “visual memory”.


Ocular Motor Skills: This is how our eyes move and work together.


Sensory Skills: Can we focus and attend to sit at the table, can we focus on what the task at hand is, can we sense when we are using too little or too much pressure on the pencil during writing.

There is much more in each area and more that impacts learning to write. If you’re little one is really struggling look at each area individually and work on one at a time.


Let’s talk about a few activities that can be done to help each area.


Grasp: Put small items or snacks in an ice cube tray to promote using thumb and first finger, allow scribbling and drawing with tiny broken crayons (this will promote/force use of thumb and first two fingers). We can not have control of the little muscles in our hands without good strength and control through our shoulders and arms. You need this first. Practice wheelbarrow walks, laying on stomach propped on arms during TV time or a game, animal walks, wall push-ups, push full laundry basket to each room in house to help with chores.


Visual Motor Skills: Use craft sticks, blocks, cut shapes out of cardboard or paper and play “copy me”. What every you make your little one tries to copy. Give your little one a chance to be in charge and make the design for you to copy. Make errors on purpose and see if they can find them (“did I do it right?”). This way it is still working to progress their skill, while they get to be the “teacher”.


Sensory Skills: Work on sitting at the table separate from working on writing if this is a challenge for your little one. Bring a favorite toy/snack/activity and work on staying at the table until it’s all the way done. Help their body get ready to be sitting by doing some heavy work first (push/pull baskets, carry groceries in, do animal walk back and forth to the table). Use a box or step stool to give their feet support and help them know where their body is in space. Increase the feedback they get when writing: Use a different media to write in such as using finger to draw in salt inside a tray, use sandpaper either directly or with paper over it.


** Remember school expectations are high. If you’re child is entering Kindergarten and they can draw simple shapes and are beginning to write their name, they are likely doing o.k. ** They should be able to hold their pencil like a grown-up (dynamic tripod grasp) by the end of Kindergarten.


These are just a few tips and tricks. If you have worked on learning to write for a while and are still concerned you may want to talk to your child’s doctor and request an evaluation from an occupational therapist.

Thanks for taking the time to read and please reach out to us if you have any other questions. We’ll be doing a handwriting class soon!


Angela Bender, OTR/L

Owner/Operator/OT of TODAY AND BEYOND Pediatric Therapy

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