Tips for Improving your Handwriting: Stabilise the Page!

When looking for tips for improving your handwriting and the mechanics of good handwriting, there is one thing that WILL improve handwriting.  Every time!  And that is stabilising the page for handwriting.  Find out more and get your page stabilisation activity download.

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Tips for improving your handwriting: the working hand must be allowed to do its job

When the page is not stabilised with the helping hand, it is going to move around and make handwriting difficult.  So, our children who are inherently problem solvers, are going to find a way to hold the page still.  And they do that with their writing hand.  This causes a big problem!  If you are trying to achieve the handwriting motion which includes the movement of the thumb and fingers, the subtle wrist movements, and the progression of the hand across the page; while at the same time the hand is trying to hold the page still, it is going to cause a problem.  The child is not going to be able to achieve the natural handwriting movements, and compensations that creep in are going to compromise speed and quality of handwriting.  The hand cannot be still and move at the same time – it is one or the other.

Components of handwriting: bilateral integration

So many of our children neglect to stabilise their pages while writing.  Mary Benbow, one of the great researchers into handwriting and on whose principles occupational therapists base so much of their work with handwriting intervention, said that the greatest indicator of bilateral integration is that a child displays an inherent ability to stabilise the page while writing.  Poorly developed bilateral integration is one of the reasons why children avoid stabilising the page.  The assisting, or helping hand, seems to sit there like it has no idea that there is a job that it could potentially do – a very important job!

Handwriting tips: neck stability

Another reason for a lack of page stabilisation is poor postural stability – but neck stability in particular. Heads are heavy and if the muscles are not working well to hold it up, the child is going to have to find a way to support it.  And the helping hand is the one that comes to the rescue.  We are so familiar with children who support their head in their hands while writing and this becomes a problem for the development of handwriting patterns. This compromises stabilising the page for handwriting!

Neck stability does need to be addressed but that will have to be a subject for another day – it belongs in Part 2 of The Wall which so many of you are “gently” reminding me to get published!

If the supporting or helping hand is not holding the page still during writing tasks, the preferred hand is going to be in trouble.  Not only will it have to control the pencil for the formation of letters for handwriting, but it is going to have to stabilise that page as well.  As amazing as our hands are, there is a down side if the hand has to perform two tasks.  If the hand has to stabilise the page, then it compromises the development of pencil control and bad patterns are developed that will almost certainly compromise legibility of handwriting.  So, when it comes to tips for improving your handwriting, this is one to pay attention to.

Tips for improving your handwriting: focus on bilateral skills

We need to focus on bilateral skills.  These are activities our children will not be able to master unless they have two hands available, working together co-operatively.  We need to start on the gross motor level – the large body movements that require the co-operation of both sides of the body.  Our children need to climb, run and spend time exploring playground equipment.  These gross motor activities cannot be done without using bilateral skills.

Then we need to move to the more refined bilateral tasks – the bilateral hand tasks, which will prepare the foundations for page stabilisation during handwriting.  We are looking for activities that engage and drive participation but cannot be done without using both hands.  Scissor skills activities are the bomb for this but when it comes to pages stabilisation, stencils will always be one of my favourites.  They do not work without the co-operative use of both hands.  They take bilateral skills to the functional level we are looking for: stabilising the page.  A stencil requires the child to stabilise their page if they want it to work properly.

To promote page stabilisation, I prefer a cutout stencil the child has to draw inside, rather than a small shape they have to draw around.  With the draw-around option, the child will, in all likelihood, place a few fingertips on the shape.  For page stabilisation, we are looking for a flat hand which holds the page firmly.  A cutout stencil, as in the picture, lends itself to the child stabilising it with a flat hand.

Emoji stencil activity

  1. Make a circle cut out 4cm by 4cm in the middle of a piece of cardboard.
  2. Print the face download sheet.
  3. Position the circle so one of the faces is visible within the cutout.
  4. Hold the stencil still with a flat open hand.
  5. Draw the heads around the faces. Your child may just draw the outline or colour the circle to create yellow emojis.
  6. If you want to up the challenge, you can position this on the vertical.  It is quite a challenge to keep the template still on the vertical!

Tips for improving your handwriting: our teachers are our friends

Stabilisation of the page also comes down to habit.  In just the same way as the teacher reminds the children to put their feet on the floor and tilt their books to get a Crocodile Mouth®, holding the page with their helping hand needs to be on the list.  Research studies have shown that it can take more than two months for a new habit to become automatic!  That is a long time for our weary teachers to keep on reminding our children, but it does show that we need to take a long term view on establishing good handwriting patterns.

Joanna over at Kid Sense Development looks at handwriting performance and the role page stabilisation plays in that.

In closing about page stabilisation

Stabilising the page for handwriting really is a critical aspect to achieving fluid, legible handwriting, so we need to put it up there as one of the priorities for the early phases of learning to write.  Habits take time to be established and we thank our teachers who are at the forefront for this.  Our children need constant reminders to stabilise their page with their helping hand.

When our children stabilise the page during writing it can have a dramatic impact on handwriting speed and quality.  Don't forget your page stabilisation emoji activity download!

©Bunty McDougall
Occupational Therapist

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