Occupational Therapy Handwriting Homework.  Yes or No?

I have a folder on my computer for OT home programmes.  It is overflowing with written programmes and guides for the countless numbers of children I have seen over the years.  Going through it is a little like a trip down memory lane.  I wonder how those children are doing now, and if their handwriting skills supported them through their educational journey and into their work lives, or if they continue to struggle?  An occupational therapy home programme for a handwriting difficulty could be called occupational therapy handwriting homework.  And that brings us to the subject of homework.  Some schools are doing away with it and there is research emerging saying that we shouldn’t need it.  So should we really be adding to it?

occupational therapy at home activities, occupational therapy activities, occupational therapy handwriting

But back to the home programmes.  It wasn’t that I didn’t have enough reports to write already.  It was just I believed that by working at home we could support the therapy process, thus reducing the time spent in active therapy.  It just makes sense.  If you practise something twice a week versus four times a week, so long as it done properly, the four times a week child is going to improve faster.  So long as it is fun.

I do think that it depends on how it is packaged.  If it is lines of uninspiring writing the child has sit at a desk and copy, then it is probably not going to crack it.  It is just going to be another task your child will probably resist participating in.  But if you can make it fun, if it can feel like special time with you, then maybe we are on to something.

Occupational therapy handwriting homework

Our anonymous friend over at The Anonymous OT wrote about occupational therapy handwriting homework:

“…like one parent that asked every session- “What are we supposed to do at home this week?”  I loved it, and felt like she was really on board.  I copied handwriting sheets and sent home fine motor ideas each week.  We were a team, therapist and parent, conquering letter formations! …

…That was until one week that the mom was running late.  She had to pull up really quickly as her son jumped in the front seat.  And that’s when I saw them – weeks and weeks of homework sheets, crumpled, stepped on, uncompleted, and strewn about the car floor.  What should I have done? Pointed my finger accusingly, “Hey! You didn’t do those worksheets!  Liar liar pants on fire!”  Or what I actually did – avert my eyes and pretend to see nothing.”

A 2011 study of South African occupational therapists about treating handwriting, stated the following:

“67% of therapists indicated that they always develop a home programme as part of their intervention plan.  Considering the emphasis on incorporating parents as an important team member not only in the context of paediatric therapy services, but also within the educational system, it had been expected that home programmes would have been utilised more frequently with every referral as a means of actively involving parents in the therapy process.”

Why don’t we always give OT homework?

So why don’t we always provide homework for our children and why don’t they do it?  One critical factor is that life is busy.  Parents are overwhelmed with all the demands they have to keep up with.  Having parented through the foundation school years myself, I remember feeling constantly overwhelmed even though I didn’t believe my children’s programmes to be over-scheduled.

Another reason is that, as with the Anonymous OT, they don’t always do the homework.  So why would we spend hours and hours putting it together if we don’t believe the children are going to do it?  We do need to try and get parents on board.  But we also need to get children on board.

Occupational therapy handwriting and fine motor homework

I put together the Fine Motor Fun kit for exactly this reason.  I was tired of sending children home with pieces of crêpe paper in a plastic bag in the hope they would do some scrunchies.  I had one delightful child who openly confessed he only ever did them in the car on the way to OT!  But he did them!  Another told me not to bother to tell him how to do his grid picture for promoting finger movement, he was just going to scribble over them all anyway!

I targeted the muscle groups and movement patterns that are so often shaky in our children with handwriting difficulties.  And I used the tried and tested winners for each of these.  And these tried and tested activities are approved by the OT as achieving the goal, and approved by the children as being fun activities they actually wanted to play.  Well except for the scrunchies.  Not the scrunchies!  For the most part, I found the way to promote scrunchies was to choose a picture of a character that was popular and meaningful to the child.  They may not want to make scrunchies for Simba’s coat, but they may be happy to do them for Forky or a unicorn.

Recruit some villagers!

Some children can work with their parents and some can’t.  It is not a value judgement on you as a parent – it is just about whether there is a goodness of fit.  If doing the activities together is going to cause unhappiness, then it probably isn’t a good idea and you are going to be looking for Dad, Grandma or some other person who does work well with your child.  They say it takes a village to raise a child, and this would be a good time to recruit some of the villagers!

It takes a commitment

If you are serious about improving the supporting fine motor skills and motor patterns for handwriting, you do need to make a commitment.  Your child’s skills are not really going to improve if you unpack the bag of goodies on the first day, dig through them and kind of play with most of them once, a few twice, and then never again.  And if you keep it in the cupboard so you can get to doing it perfectly at some point, (that would so be me!) that is not going to help either.

But if you have a plan and a time, where you can put it in, you are probably going to get good results.  If you play a 10 minute game of flick ball every evening for two weeks, you are going to develop the wrist muscles.  And if your child has a go with the Twist ‘n Turn every evening while you are getting supper ready, you are going to improve those muscles.

Make the activities fun, set up a championship, a mini Olympics, or slot it into Dad or Grandma time.

If you want to work with your child at home, that is what we at The Happy Handwriter® are all about.

An occupational therapy assessment can reveal a host of foundational areas that need to be addressed.  But our children are sitting in the classroom with the presenting difficulty that is causing them to struggling in real time.  And if that problem is a fine motor or handwriting problem, there are things we can do to start working on the fine motor while the OT is getting stuck in with the foundational issues.

When it comes to improving fine motor foundations or handwriting in children, it is what we do, how we do it, and how often we do it.

We need the following for OT home programmes:

  1. Regular.  We know this from signing up for the gym.  It doesn’t really help unless we go regularly.
  2. Fun.  No one wants to do boring things.
  3. Space.  It needs to have a space where it fits into your day.  Once your child has learned how to do scrunchies or the Twist ‘n Turn properly, they can do it in the car on the way to school.  Would it be better if your child was seated with the optimal posture and you could monitor what was going on?  Of course!  But would you be doing it then?  If you can’t get the first choice, then go for a good second choice.
  4. Repetition.  The activity needs to provide the opportunity for repetition.  Doing the movement once is not really going to bring about a measurable change.
  5. Oh, and did I say regular?!  Occupational therapy handwriting homework needs to be regular.
occupational therapy at home activities, occupational therapy activities, occupational therapy handwriting

I have come full circle from being single without kids, passionate and certain that each child should get a home programme, to a mom who has come out the other end of schooling.  Maybe it is too easy for me to say working at home is non-negotiable because I am not in the thick of it.  But if we have specific fun activities that target the exact muscles and movement patterns we are looking for, I do believe we can wind that Twist ‘n Turn up in the car or just before we learn our spelling words.  I believe home programmes or OT homework can work and can help.  And we have put the resources in place for you.

©Bunty McDougall
Occupational Therapist

Occupational therapy at home activities, occupational therapy activities, occupational therapy handwriting
Occupational therapy at home activities, occupational therapy activities, occupational therapy handwriting

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