There are several underlying components that influence legible handwriting. Below, we’ve broken down the different components of handwriting and included strategies for supporting these skills:
- Proximal stability: Students need to have control over their core or proximal parts of their body, in order to be able to control the distal parts of their body (i.e. wrist and hand muscles). Because of this, difficulty with postural control can impact fine motor skills. You can work on improving proximal stability through weight-bearing activities, such as animal walks (i.e. crab walk, bear walk, etc.). Further, your student may benefit from use of a slant board or writing on a wall to stabilize their arm in a neutral position and facilitate wrist control while writing.
- Fine motor control: Students need to have strong wrist and finger muscles to assume a functional tripod grasp (thumb, index, and middle fingers) with an open web space between their thumb and the palm of their hand. You can work on this skill by stringing beads on pipe cleaners or string, crumpling tissue paper, and manipulating resistive putty.
- Spatial Awareness: Students must be able to appropriately determine line placement of letters, letter sizing, and spacing between words, and spacing between letters within the same word. Every time they pick the pencil up, they have to figure out where to put it down in space. Visual supports such as a presenting visual model for text or the use of adapted paper (highlighted, lined, or graph paper) can help with this.
- Letter formation: Does your student begin writing letters from the bottom of the line or sequence them from right to left? These strategies are inefficient and will lead to slower writing as they move through school. Optimal writing sequencing for printed letters follows a top-down, left-right pattern. Students need to practice top-down and left-right letter sequencing to promote efficient handwriting and prevent letter reversals. You can work on this skill via iPad or phone applications, with tacs in a corkboard, or with different tactile mediums such as play doh, sand, or shaving cream. Some students may benefit from being given a visual for starting points for each letter. Check out the Handwriting Without Tears curriculum for more information on appropriate letter formation (lwtears.com).
- Force Discrimination: Is your student pressing their pencil to the paper so lightly that you can barely read their writing? Are they pressing so hard that they fatigue quickly or rip the paper? Force discrimination is the ability to determine the appropriate amount of pressure to use. For handwriting , this requires accurate interpretation of tactile and proprioceptive feedback. Ways to work on force discrimination include shading activities with pencils or crayons, or trialing a weighted pencil grip.