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Handwriting: Many Paths Up the Mountain

There’s an old saying “There are many paths up the mountain, but the view of the moon from the top is the same.” This is the big takeaway from a recent interview about handwriting with one of LEEP’s Occupational Therapists, Tish Graf. Quite plainly, there are many different tools at an OT’s disposal to guide your child in their quest to the top of Handwriting Mountain, and all are good. Some programs use musical tones to help children hear the shapes of letters, while others focus on tactile sensations, size, and legibility. It’s really about finding the right program and a good, intuitive OT can help your child find his way.chalk

But what’s perhaps more important to note is that handwriting is part of a developmental process and parents have to be comfortable being on the journey vs. focusing on planting a flag at the summit.

In fact, one common request that parents make to Tish is, “Please focus on handwriting.” It makes sense, culturally we value academic success and mastering the written word is the first step on that path. But handwriting isn’t a stand-alone skill. There are a handful of other milestones your child has to master before handwriting should even be targeted.

First of all, a child needs the core strength to support him at the table in a sitting position. He also needs to have the strength in the shoulder to support the weight of the arm and keep it mobile enough for writing. The wrist must be able to support the arm and rotate freely on the page. And that’s just the beginning.

Without those skills in place, you can’t even begin to think about getting the right angle to formulate letters fluidly, exert the correct amount of pressure on the pencil, or coordinate all the tiny up/down/left/right/diagonal movements writing requires.

In essence, focusing on handwriting when other developmental pieces are missing is like building a house but starting with the roof.monkeybars

“If you want your child to be good at handwriting, don’t make him sit at the table with a pencil. Get him out on the playground! Play catch, climb the playground ladders, do crab walks and bear crawls. Get the whole body moving so when the hand is ready, the rest of the body is strong enough to support it.”

If you’d like a more in-depth look at this topic, including a detailed layout of what muscle groups need to be activated before your child can be prepared to write and some ideas for physical activities, check out this great article titled “M is for Monkeybars“.

It’s good to keep it in perspective that academics have a place in our children’s future but they need time to go out their own pace. And that all starts with a lot of time on the playground! Get moving today!


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