What should parents do when they notice their kindergartener or first grader has weak or delayed printing and drawing (sensory-motor) skills? Delayed printing and drawing skills for this age group are often evidenced by inconsistent letter size of upper and lower case letters or with children’s drawings — circles that resemble squares or squares that resemble circles. If one compares delayed printing or drawing to reading and language arts delays, he will begin to see the potential for a struggling student. The review, Research for Children with Writing and Reading Difficulties, examines the literature on how to teach kindergarten children with re ading and writing difficulties how to write, and reports that text production is critical in writing development (Edwards, Journal of Learning Disabilities, V 36, #2, 136-148).
Text production instruction but not drill and kill should include modeling newly introduced letters, practicing letter names while writing letters, tracing letters with numbered arrows or dot-to-dot cues, practicing letters from memory, and asking children to circle letters that represent their best work. Edwards also points out that handwriting is not just a motor process, but also a visual memory process, drawing on the importance of letter recognition. Visual memory skill is a skill that can be enhanced by repeated practice with letter production. Edwards also highlights the importance of explicit spelling instruction for kindergarten children, and goes on to say that there are only a limited number of empirical studies regarding how to teach kindergarten children with reading and writing difficulties how to write and highlights future direction for research.
However, primary grade parents should not panic if their child exhibits weak printing and drawing skills. You cannot expect all four-year olds to ride two wheelers. Therefore, we should expect the same differences in development with a child’s printing or drawing skills. Still, if your child’s printing or drawings continues to be delayed and you also notice delays in reading or language development then you might need to have an occupational therapist conduct an evaluation with your child. Occupational therapists are employed by school districts, county offices of education and/or privately. An occupational therapist can evaluate your child’s printing and drawing development and offer suggestions as to how to address problems before a delay turns into something more serious such as delayed reading and language arts skills.
In the meantime, here are some strategies parents can employ on their own at home: begin with the basic pencil grip. For example, thick pencils are good for students’ little hands and fingers to grip or hold. Furthermore, a child whose pencil grip is claw-like (fingers grip the pencil from the top or at the back of the pencil) places too much stress on the child’s weak fingers, which can affect writing skills. To address the claw-like grip, parents can purchase a pencil grip that works with the body’s natural physiology to gently place fingers in the proper position. Also, large lined paper should be the obvious choice, since it offers the child the space within which to write. Other suggestions could be muscle or finger strengthening, achieved by squeezing a squishy ball 5-10 times, 2x daily, or whatever the parent considers the child is capable of doing and of course clay.
Again, we must remember that not all children will exhibit the same printing and drawing skills at the outset of their school experience. Still, if the child shows little or no improvement by the beginning or the end of kindergarten or beginning first grade, then you need to follow some of the suggestions before weak printing and drawing delays can seriously affect future language arts skills, particularly with reading and writing.
Dr. David Sortino, a psychologist and current Director of Educational Strategies, a private consulting company catering to teachers, parents, students. For additional articles you can go to Dr. Sortino’s blog: davidsortino.com or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.