Phew! Parent teacher meetings over this week, and so far so good! I was struck by the focus on handwriting and reading, even in Junior infants in the first term. Therefore I thought I would talk about some ideas for improving handwriting (none of which involve a pencil!).
If your child, is struggling with handwriting in school, or seems to have poor attention when looking at a page, they may have a difficulty with hand-eye coordination (visual motor integration) . Hand-eye coordination is a skill that the brain learns through practice. The practise is play. As the baby watches the parent whilst feeding, they learn to focus their gaze and use both eyes together. Later on when they start to move, they learn to time their hand movements to reach for a toy or food. Then they may follow moving objects such as balls or people. As they begin to get mobile themselves they learn to time their own movements as they negotiate their environment with both static and moving objects. In order for the child to see clearly through all this, the two eyes need to work and move together. [wp_youtube_gallery category_slug=”visual motor integration”]
If the child does not get enough practice i.e.- enough play opportunities that involve themselves moving, or playing with things that move (like balls), the eyes will not learn to move and focus together, making the image the brain receives, unclear, blurred or double. Naturally, the coordination of the body will be difficult if the message from the eyes is unclear or inconsistent.
As children tend to spend more time now than in the past, engaged in stationary activities e.g. t.v. watching, many are missing out on play opportunities that develop this essential foundation skill. This is often a huge factor in poor handwriting as the eyes need to be able to focus on the page and move across the page together in time with the hand movements whilst writing. The child may also need to shift their gaze from the teacher, to the page.
So, before you begin with handwriting drills, try some simple throwing and catching activities. If your child struggles with this, it is likely they may have a hand eye coordination difficulty. Of course rule out any actual visual difficulties such as short or farsightedness first. There also may be other contributing factors leading to poor handwriting and you may need to consult an OT on this.
However, a positive step you can take is to reduce screen time and increase ball and movement games (this will also help with your 60 minutes of exercise a day). Try some games where the eyes are still and the child is moving (like egg and spoon races), and some where the child looks up (like basketball) and where the child looks down (like stopping a ball with their foot) . If the child finds balls difficult- you can start with a balloon which is slower moving and therefore easier to catch. Here are few specific other game in the youtube clip attached.
If the child finds it hard at first, motivate them by taking turns or a point system with kids versus adults with a prize at the end. If the child finds it fun, they will naturally make the activity more challenging for themselves.
And as always, have fun!