Students with dyslexia frequently struggle to have legible and fluent handwriting. In a world surrounded by computers, it can be easy to let handwriting slip through the cracks or decide it is unimportant. However, there are several good reasons to spend some time on cursive handwriting practice, whether you are a classroom teacher, support teacher or tutor with an Orton-Gillingham lesson plan to follow or using a different method or program for reading intervention.
Research has shown a link between manuscript instruction and learning letters and sounds. Even more surprisingly, there is also a link between learning cursive and fluency. Students may be embarrassed by not being able to write legibly or have a cool looking signature. Spelling is hard enough for those with dyslexia, but having things marked wrong because the teacher couldn’t tell if a letter was an “a” or a “u” is that last thing they need.
Also, whether or not it is fair, the appearance of a written product often makes a powerful impression that can lower a grade even if the content is sound. Finally, learning cursive is a big deal to kids and they are going to try to write in cursive, whether or not they are taught. Better to build patterns that are correct right from the start. Not all work to improve handwriting needs to be time consuming or frustrating.
Here are some ways to incorporate engaging activities that will build fine motor muscles and prepare children for written tasks.
Building hand muscles: An important step in improving handwriting and reducing fatigue, particularly in younger students is to strengthen the muscles used in handwriting. If you have access to an OT, they are full of wonderful tips to help develop the writing muscles.
Using tongs or tweezers to pinch and pick up small objects is a great way to hone the writing muscles. This could be a homemade pompom game or a commercial game such as Sneaky Snacky Squirrel or Operation.
Using Play-Doh or clay is a popular activity in preschools because it is so good for developing hand muscles. Rolling balls, making snakes, squishing the Play-Doh flat are all stretching and building stamina in the hand muscles. Making letters out of the Play-Doh even allows the reinforcement of letters and sounds.
Clothespins are a great strength builder. They are typically more difficult to squeeze than tongs, but have a billion and one purposes. From hanging clothes on the line or keeping a bag of chips closed to clip cards or silly games, there are no shortage of ways to build this into your day or lesson. Clipping clothespins to the back of someone’s shirt without them noticing is a delightfully rascally activity. The more clothespins they wear, the harder it is for children or adults to keep from giggling. A basket of clothespins and a timer is all you really need for a minute-to-win-it type challenge. How many clothespins can your student clip onto poster board in 30 seconds or a minute.
2. Practicing Handwriting without Writing: Since handwriting is made up of lines and curves and different kinds of pencil strokes and reliant on fine motor skills and the eyes and hands working in concert, there are some fun and sneaky ways to improve these skills in even the most reluctant handwriting student.
·Learn to Draw Activities: Learn to draw worksheets or books with step by step instructions not only are fun, but build skills with fine motor control.
·Mazes: Kids LOVE mazes. They are super easy to fit into an Orton-Gillingham lesson because they take only a minute or two. As a teacher, it is fascinating to see how our students approach this task. Many find the path completely with their eyes far quicker than I am able to. Others work deliberately or employ strategies such as starting at the end or working from both the start and finish. In addition to finding the path, challenge the student to get through the maze without bumping any walls. For students that really struggle, I may have them complete the maze first and then try to follow the line with a marker or pen smoothly without bumping the walls.
·Using a light box to trace a picture: This is a fun and engaging way to turn anyone into an artist and practice fine motor skills at the same time.
·Spirograph: Making pictures with a Spirograph promotes fine motor skills and visual motor development as well.
·Pencil control worksheets/Adventures: If you are creative, you can design a pencil control adventure in which the child needs to trace within a highlighted line, complete certain tasks and shapes and have a story to go along with it. There are pencil adventures that have been created by OTs available online.
3. Writing in a different way
Practicing traditional handwriting skills such as stroke practice, letter formation or connecting words can be made a bit extra exciting by varying the how and where.
·Sensory writing: For Orton-Gillingham teachers, it makes a lot of sense to practice handwriting with the same sensory techniques we use for mastering phonemes and graphemes. Writing on a squishy bag filled with paint, practicing cursive in shaving cream or writing in beads or rice are all ways to make the patterns of letter formation not only more interesting, but more memorable.
·Change of scenery: Writing on a clipboard while lying on one’s belly on the floor is one way to shake things up as is taping the paper to the underside of the table while the child lies on her back to write. These can be particularly helpful techniques for children that become quickly fatigued from writing.
4. Writing with a Purpose
Nothing makes practice quite as meaningful as having a genuine purpose for writing. Letters to Santa, thank you notes, lists or messages for a friend or parent are all real reasons for kids to be writing and doing so in such a way that it can be easily read. Creating secret codes or solving secret messages that others have made is similarly motivating.
5. Practice makes Permanent
A little bit of practice every lesson makes a big impact. Direct modeling, instruction, practice and feedback in letter formation, placement, size and connections done for 5 minutes during every lesson is going to have a much bigger impact than an hour long handwriting lesson once in a blue moon. By committing to that practice with students and eventually carrying over those techniques and skills to SOS and dictation, we can make a real impact on student writing.
While learning keyboarding is a lifeline for many students with dyslexia, there is value in giving students the confidence to read and write handwritten materials as well.
If you are seeking a cursive handwriting resource with a multisensory approach which will provide fine motor practice, my Introduction To Cursive Handwriting Practice will provide you and your students with the tools they need to begin basic penmanship. I’ve been receiving requests for manuscript writing practice, so I will work on that in Winter, 2018.
Feedback so far with one customer on this resource:
“This product is absolutely amazing and thorough! I can’t wait to use it! Everything you need to teach penmanship is there. In addition, I think OTs would find your product extremely helpful.”