Therapist Thursday: Handwriting Struggles in Older Children (part 2)

Today’s Therapist Thursday post is the second of the handwriting struggles in older children series by Katherine Collmer from Handwriting With Katherine. While Fundanoodle products are designed for preschool and early elementary students we are passionate about playing the “write” way at all ages.

Hello! And welcome back to our discussion about handwriting struggles for older students. In Part 1, we looked at a bit of research about the importance of legible handwriting, as well as the role that posture plays in an efficient handwriting style. Let’s continue with a look at Pencil Grasping Skills.

And as we are perfecting a child’s body positioning (feet, trunk, arms, shoulders, hand, wrist and fingers!), we are providing him with an efficient platform from which to utilize rhythm and movement to produce fluid handwriting strokes. With this in place, we can begin to focus on the “reinvention of the wheel,” so to speak, with pencil grip! Children with weak muscles in their upper extremities have often adapted their grips to compensate for that by grabbing hold of the pencil for dear life and pushing it into the paper! Some, on the other hand, have no idea that their grip is too loose and are frequently having to pick the pencil up off the table (or floor) as it “seems to fall out of my hand all of the time!” I’d like to say that all you need to do at this point is to find the right pencil grip. However, I’m not going to say that because…well, then we would be using a Bandaid fix right away when we should first see if we can correct the underlying cause of the problem.

Learning a new hobby is fun, too!

Learning a new hobby is fun, too!

As with any other muscle development program, exercises that are designed to address specific muscle groups are the foundational elements of a fitness plan.

But, not all fine motor skill exercises are as exciting as others!  For younger children, Theraputty, playdough, picking up pennies, or rolling pieces of paper to make a collage can be enticing and fun.  Older children…well….I’ve learned over the years that it still boils down to what they are interested in!  Ask them!  Is it Art?  Music?  Sports?  Gardening?  When you have that information in hand (excuse the pun), then you can offer activities such as modeling clay, practicing the guitar, improving his/her baseball game, or building up their gardens.  As you observe the areas where they can use improved upper extremity strength, then gather some exercises that relate to the skill and include those in their daily routine.  They won’t even know they are working on grip strength!

But what about those “gross” ways that some children hold their pencils?  Well, it’s important to first look at the practical side of things.  Not all pencil grasping patterns are created equal.  Some are efficient even if they are, well, ugly!  So, as they say, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”  However, if they are experiencing handwriting challenges, and their preferred grip appears to be one of the culprits, then it is definitely important to address it. A tripod grasp, where the pencil is held between the thumb and index finger, resting on the middle finger about an inch from the point, is a reasonably comfortable one for most writers.  One of the ways that I encourage the switch to this grip is by challenging my older students to tuck a cotton ball into the palm of their hand and to hold it there with their ring and little finger, while grasping the pencil in a tripod grasp.  They can do this in school with a penny to be more discreet.  However, either way, it does two things:  it reminds them to keep those fingers OUT OF THE WAY and it strengthens the motor memory for a tripod grasp.  Left-handed writers should hold their pencil back a bit further from the tip to encourage an appropriate wrist position.  There are other ways to reinforce a tripod grasp, such as the Rubber Band Trick, that can be used at home or in treatment sessions that are effective but might be a bit more embarrassing for a student to bring to the classroom.  But, they are worth a try!

Inconspicuous but effective!

Inconspicuous but effective!

I hope you’ve enjoyed this second segment in our discussion of handwriting struggles for older students.  Please stay tuned for Part  3, as we take a look at Some Solutions!

Katherine J. Collmer, M.Ed., OTR/L, is a pediatric occupational therapist who specializes in children’s handwriting and offers profession development training in the assessment and remediation of handwriting skills.  She can be contacted via her website, Handwriting With Katherine.


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