Handwriting Help. We Need to Look at Stability and Movement.

When considering the motor aspects of handwriting help for kids, looking at points of stability and movement can give us really good clues as to where to direct our intervention for improving handwriting mechanics.

Controlled movement always needs a point of stability from which to move.  The old example of the crane always holds true: if the crane is not well anchored to the ground, the swinging arm will cause chaos.

A post from The happy Handwriter on exploring handwriting mechanics to assist in targeting handwriting help for kids.Stability of the trunk and shoulder girdle are well known and documented when it comes to handwriting for kids.  But these aren’t the only points of stability we need to consider if we are looking for speed, quality and flow of writing.

Trunk
Our hands are not like those magic hands we see in cartoons where the hand grabs the pencil and writes whatever it wants to with amazing speed and precision.  Like most things in cartoons, it just doesn’t work like that.  Our children have to be able to maintain an upright sitting posture for the hand to be able to work its magic.  Trunk stability holds the body up during sitting.  This co-exists with dynamic balance as subtle postural adjustments occur during writing.  So trunk, or core stability, is a critical foundation and needs to be considered when focusing on handwriting help.

Early in my occupational therapy journey, I was taught that if you worked on the gross motor – the trunk stability – the fine motor would come right on its own.  I bought into this because I was new and inexperienced.  I believed what I had been told.  But with time, as I saw more and more children, I knew this was not true.  We need both the gross and the fine motor for effective intervention for handwriting.

In fact, when it comes to handwriting help for kids, we need everything!   We need to address the trunk stability, we need to address what is happening down at the hand, and everything in between.

Shoulder
The importance of shoulder girdle stability has been well documented, and you probably don’t need me to convince you it is essential.  The muscles around the shoulder joint need to contract to secure the stability for the writing fingers to be able to work optimally.

Elbow
The poor old elbow is much ignored when discussing stability for handwriting.  But it brings a physical point of stability as it rests on the table.

Flying elbows are bad news for motor precision in handwriting.  If the elbow is flying, the wrist will be floating, and you can bet the child will struggle with pencil control.

Forearm
The forearm is an unsung hero of stability in handwriting mechanics.  It seldom, if ever, gets a mention.  But the fact that it rests on the writing surface qualifies it as an area of supported stability.  In the first two stages of grasp development – the palmar supinate and the pronated palmar – the forearm does not rest, which is why movement is initiated from the shoulder and elbow, respectively.  Once our children progress to the digital pronate and the dynamic tripod grasps, the forearm has to rest on the table.  This is something we need to bear in mind when considering handwriting help.

If the forearm is floating, we will struggle to develop good pencil control for handwriting.

Wrist
The wrist usually gets a look in when discussing points of stability for handwriting.  We require dynamic stability from the wrist.  This means it needs to be stable, but not fixed stability, as movement is required over that point of stability.

This point of stability needs to be achieved through the extensor muscles and not through ulnar deviation of the wrist, where the child gains stability by forcing bone on bone with the wrist held off the page despite the hand and forearm resting.  Our efforts to provide handwriting help will be compromised by this.

Hand resting on the page
Stability occurs at the point of connection of the hand with the writing surface.  The pivoting over the point on which the hand rests on the page is where the movement takes place.

Ulnar side of the hand
The separation of the two sides of the hand is not new to us.  The stability of the 4th and 5th fingers provides a stable point for the thumb, index and middle fingers to move to achieve pencil control which is critical when providing handwriting help.  The most powerful intervention for this is getting stuck in scissor skills activities.  There is little that can touch them when it comes to this, and they have the additional benefits of developing hand strength, along with the fingers for pencil control.

Finger Movement
The fingers move independently of the hand and are responsible for achieving pencil control.  Without all the previous movements and points of stability they are not going to be able to do their job effectively.

Heather from Growing Hands on Kids has a post and a lovely graphic which includes handwriting mechanics.

In closing about handwriting help

If we are to help our children with handwriting mechanics, analysing the points of stability and mobility can be useful in directing intervention.  Don’t forget your download!

©Bunty McDougall
Occupational Therapist

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More about handwriting help:

Foundations for handwriting
pencil control for handwriting for kids
Seperation of the two sides of the hands
This social story for kids is about a boy called Bongi. He struggles with messy handwriting. This story helps children to understand that untidy handwriting is not their fault.

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The Muscle Mania programme for developing fine motor activities for preschoolers to develop the handwriting foundations.