With the return to school comes the dreaded routine of homework for some families. For children who have difficulty with handwriting, homework can be especially stressful. It is estimated that 30 to 60 percent of an elementary school student's day involves handwriting. Research indicates that difficulty with handwriting contributes to an overall lower school performance.
An occupational therapist can help determine the reasons for difficulty with handwriting and provide therapy to address these concerns. While an occupational therapist can determine specific strategies to help a child experiencing problems, here are some basic suggestions from Good Shepherd Occupational Therapy for parents to help their children excel during homework time.
- Select a consistent, appropriate place for homework.
- For pencil and paper tasks, position your child at a table or desk with the feet flat and supported, and with the hips, knees and ankles bent to 90 degrees.
- Your child should be able to place both elbows on the table comfortably with the table top at mid-chest level. He or she may need to sit on a few large books or a cushion with a stool under his or her feet.
- Have your child “wheelbarrow” walk to the table, do pushups against a wall or lie on his or her belly on a large exercise ball with the hands propped for a minute or two.
- Your child can also warm up the arm and hand muscles by helping to tote some heavy items.
- For children with a weak or light grasp on a pencil or writing tool, doing some resistive hand activities may be helpful, such as rolling out modeling clay on a flat surface. Your youngster can use a wooden spoon or marker to draw letters in the clay, being certain to use the thumb, index and middle fingers to hold the tool.
- Using a modeling dough press to make a line of dough that can be used to form the letters may also be a fun way to "work" the hands before writing.
Other Strategies for Success:
- Another helpful strategy is to have your child use the non-dominant hand as a "helper" to stabilize the paper while writing. Making a game by calling the hand a silly name – such as “Henry the Helper” or simply “Joe” – takes the pressure off the child. Saying "Joe needs to do his job to hold your paper while you make your letters" can be a less threatening way of reminding your child to stabilize his paper while writing.
- For younger children, a thicker pencil can be helpful. There are a variety of pencil grips commercially available. It is critical to encourage your child to use the proper grip involving the thumb, index and middle fingers.
If you have concerns about how your child is holding a pencil or if your child is complaining about his or her hand being tired, it is important to consult an occupational therapist to evaluate his or her grip. Because handwriting is a significant factor in school success, handwriting difficulty is a primary reason for referral to occupational therapy for school-age children. Good Shepherd's occupational therapists can properly evaluate your child and help make the school year a success for your family.
For more information on Good Shepherd’s Pediatric Occupational Therapy Program , call 610-776-3578.