Our current series is on ‘Developing Writing Skills in Young Children.’ Last week, we talked about what makes writing a means of communication and introduced the skills children need to develop writing skills. Today, we’ll look in greater detail at the first of these skills, postural control.
During Parent-Teacher meetings, do teachers talk about how they spend a considerable amount of time and energy coaxing your child to begin their work with the rest of the class and complete their writing assignments? Do the teachers go on to show you samples of your child’s writing? They are concerned because the work is quite sloppy. The size, spacing, and positioning of letters or artwork are messy and disorganized. Besides the appearance, the classwork shows many errors, may be missing letters within words, repetition, or even missing words in a sentence.
Not too long ago, all this was blamed on the child being ‘careless’ or ‘lazy.’ Now, with more research and awareness, we know that other factors contribute to their difficulties in writing.
Walk into any LKG or UKG classroom, and you’ll see a few kids slumped over their desks, their arms hanging down. Why? Because they can’t sit upright for the length of time needed to complete the writing task. Again, why? To sit, walk, run, maintain any position, or to shift positions, we need postural control. Postural control is provided by core stability.
Strong core muscles allow us to maintain a posture for an extended period and shift from one position to another. Children with poor core strength cannot keep their bodies stable while sitting or moving. So when they sit down to write, they slump or slouch using the other surfaces to support their trunk against gravity. Because they are not stable, these children try to right their position to find the best way to stabilize themselves. They fidget and shift weight to see what works for them. As there is so much going on internally, these children can’t pay attention to what is happening around them. When they are busy righting themselves, their arms and hands are not free to be fully functional. As a result, these children will not use their non-dominant hand to keep the paper in place. This, in turn, impacts how the writer controls the organization of letters- the size, spacing, and positioning.
When copying letters, words, or sentences from the board, children must constantly shift their attention from the board to the paper on their desks. It is a repetitive movement. A child slouching in the chair must look up each time to follow the sequence of the letters correctly, without losing track of the place. At some point, fatigue sets in because it is such an uncomfortable position. Not surprisingly, the child’s work shows many errors!
The skills necessary to develop handwriting begin way before children come home with lines to trace. We don’t look at babies’ play as they reach for their toys or as they crawl as stepping stones to good handwriting skills. But that’s precisely what these are. One of the most critical developmental stages is tummy time. When babies are on their stomachs, their neck and shoulder muscles strengthen. Their arms are free to reach for toys and to crawl. Tummy time works on their postural stability and visual-motor skills.
Can you work on your child’s core stability? Absolutely! If you’d like to know more about core stability, here are some excellent blogs and sites with information from developmental occupational therapists: I’ve no affiliations with the following sites, but I refer these a lot to parents because of the clarity of the information. If you google https://www.ot-mom-learning-activities.com and https://www.theottoolbox.com/, you can find plenty of relevant information on writing skills. If you suspect your child may have core stability issues, please see a developmental occupation therapist for an evaluation.
Now we come to the second requirement that enables a child to sit—the ability to attend to the task at hand. A child who cannot focus and understand the teacher’s directions misses out on information on how to trace lines, form shapes, or write letters. An average classroom in our schools has about thirty kids to a teacher, and there is only so much ‘individual attention’ this teacher can give each child.
This leads us to a bigger question. Is it developmentally appropriate for young children to write as much as our schools expect them to? Because three and four-year-olds can’t sit for thirty minutes to trace lines or shapes or write letters. When children learn the foundations of letter formation, they need more support and guidance than a lone teacher can give in a class of thirty. But the systemic change may take time. Granted, some schools follow age-appropriate practices, but the average parent cannot afford to send their children to those schools.
So what can parents do? Don’t fall into that trap of worksheets for half an hour or an hour after your children return from school. Instead, give them plenty of opportunities to move and play. Take them to the park to climb, pull, push, hang upside down, and chase. A parent once asked me, “What if my child gets addicted to playing in the park?” I have to say that is the best kind of addiction your kids can ever have.
When children engage in active play, they improve attention, develop core stability and social skills. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t work with your children on their writing skills at home. Instead of starting writing practice soon after they get home, let them engage in active physical play after they get back from school. That is the best brain break they can get before you ask them to sit to practice their writing. Work on handwriting practice for not more than twenty minutes, three to five times a week. If you need to, break it up into smaller chunks of time
If there is a lot of homework, have your kids change positions, maybe even lie down on the floor to write. When your kids sit down to work at the table, check their posture:
- The feet should be resting on a flat surface and not dangling.
- Hips should be at 90 degrees and not curved.
- Elbows should be at 90 degrees, and the non-dominant hand must be on the paper to stabilize it.
This is the end of today’s episode. Next week we will look at Fine motor skills in greater detail.