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From the Occupational Therapists - May 2015

From the Occupational Therapists - May 2015
Posted on 05/18/2015
We thought we’d take this time to tell you about the handwriting program used here at the Peabody School, why it is so wonderful, and why structured, multisensory handwriting instruction is such an important part of the curriculum. It is particularly important to reiterate it’s importance given the fact that it is occasionally misrepresented in the media as a quaint relic from the past that is no longer essential in this technological age. We couldn’t disagree with this sentiment more adamantly. Handwriting is an essential foundation skill that can influence a child’s reading, writing, language use, and critical thinking (Saperstein Associates 2012). It has an important role in brain development, and is necessary alongside technology in the classroom. Also, the act of handwriting exercises and refines precision fine motor skills, visual-motor integration, visual memory, and ocular motor (eye muscle) skills that are used during many activities throughout the lifespan.

For many years, The Handwriting Without Tears program has been used here at the Peabody in grades pre-K through 4. The program, developed by an occupational therapist, is based on solid research, and consists of different, developmentally appropriate workbooks for each grade. The activities are multisensory, and make handwriting easy to teach, and easy to learn. The activities are appropriate for all children, and a broad range of learning styles. The unique physical approach also addresses posture, pencil grasp, and paper positioning. The program is well suited to classroom use, and is simple for you to use at home, should you choose to.

As occupational therapists, we are acutely aware of the broad range of foundation skills a student must master to succeed in school. Many of those foundation skills both contribute to, and are prerequisites for, handwriting ability. Even in this age of technology, where keyboarding (also an essential skill) is used more and more frequently in the classroom, handwriting remains the primary tool of communication and knowledge assessment for students in the classroom. A 2013 study of K–5 classrooms showed that students spend the greatest part of their classroom instruction time (24 to 58 percent) on handwriting based activities. With the adoption of the Common Core State Standards, the emphasis and expectations placed on classroom note-taking and expository writing in grades K–5 are greater than ever. Also, with more handwriting practice, writing speed increases, and greater writing speed “lessens the burden on working memory,” enabling children and adults to “create good reader-friendly prose” (Peverly, 2006).

References for further reading on the importance of handwriting instruction and the efficacy of various handwriting programs can be found here: http://www.hwtears.com/hwt/why-itworks/research/references

Also, if you feel that your child would benefit from a little extra handwriting practice over the summer, there are many resources at the Handwriting Without Tears website. Here is the link to the Handwriting Without Tears homepage: http://www.hwtears.com/hwt

An extra note about ocular motor skills: As mentioned earlier, ocular motor skills are one of the important foundation skills needed for and developed by handwriting practice. Ocular motor skills include eye teaming and visual tracking. Eye teaming is the ability of the eyes to work together to focus on an object. Visual Tracking is the ability of the eyes to follow an object in space, or follow along a reading passage or correctly place letters on a writing line. Typical visual acuity testing does not look at eye teaming or visual tracking skills. These skills can be observed through following an object in all visual fields while only utilizing eye muscles. Issues with eye teaming and eye tracking are diagnosed by a developmental ophthalmologist. Difficulties with eye teaming and tracking can lead to some academic problems. These issues include short attention span, frequent loss of place on the page when completing work, inaccuracy or difficulty copying from the board, appearance of words moving on the page, difficulty concentrating while reading, eyestrain and headaches.

There are many activities that can be done to “exercise” the eye muscles used for eye teaming and visual tracking. Some of these activities include: hidden picture games, mazes, word searches, coloring, memory games, connect the dots, puzzles, peg games, board games, building with blocks, beading activities, and tan-o-grams. Exercise has never been so fun!

We hope this has been informative.

–Cathie Marqusee and Christine Parks
Occupational Therapists