The development of handwriting starts in a newborn. During the first year of life a baby grows and develops skills exponentially. In this stage, gross motor development, motor planning, and eye hand coordination are three skills that are engaged and will contribute to handwriting skills later in life.
In typical development, a baby will master gross motor movements such as rolling, sitting, pulling to stand, and crawling before 12 months in age. These gross motor skills help to strengthen the trunk, shoulders, and neck. When these muscles are proficient, the child can further develop his fine motor skills since the center or proximal part of his body is stable. The control extends through the arm to the elbow, wrist and hand. For example, a baby will first swat at a toy. Then he will learn to reach, grasp and manipulate a toy such as grabbing a rattle to shake it. It is important for children to develop strength and control proximally (the center of the body) through gross motor movements with tummy time, rolling, pulling to stand, rocking on hands and knees, crawling, standing, and walking for optimal function of the distal (away from the body) muscles. Good gross motor control provides the core stability and strength necessary for hand and finger muscles to do their work.
During the development of gross motor skills, kids begin to motor plan. Motor planning is the ability to develop a plan and execute the movement in sequence. Motor planning is important in handwriting. Handwriting requires several muscle groups to work together to sit upright at a table, grasp a pencil, stabilize paper, formulate what one will write or draw in his head, and using the hand and fingers to move the pencil. Children with decreased motor planning may have handwriting deficits. Motor planning is important for overall handwriting to transfer an idea from one’s head to paper.
Oculomotor skills, eye hand coordination and visual perceptual skills also develop in the infant years. Oculomotor control comprises of the ability to focus one’s eyes, move them accurately, and use them together as a team. Eye hand coordination is the coordinated movements of the eye and hand together to accomplish a task. Visual perception is where children obtain and organize visual information from the environment and interpret what they see. Developed visual skills helps children to imitate, copy, then write letters and numbers from visual memory.
Suggestions of Activities to Contribute to Handwriting Development
Gross Motor Activities:
Hanging activities: play on the monkey bars, trapeze bar, chins ups, pull ups or swing from the tree limbs to increase the muscle strength in the shoulder girdle muscles.
Climbing activities: climb the ladders and ropes on the playground or an indoor climbing wall.
Pushing and pulling activities: pull a heavy wagon or push a child on a swing, play tug of war with a rope or push of war with your hands pushing against another’s hands.
Weight bearing activities: animal walks, wheelbarrow walking, crawling, push-ups, planks.
Large art projects: hang some paper on a wall, use an easel, or chalk/dry erase board. Use window markers on glass doors. Children can reach up, left and right while painting, writing and drawing.
Sky Writing or Drawing: Use a wand, shortened pool noodle, ruler, or have the child to hold a tennis ball in his hand. In the air, using their object, write letters, words, and numbers or draw pictures. Play a game where the other person has to guess what they are writing or drawing.
Motor Planning Activities:
Obstacle courses that involve a variety of body movements and directions
Riding a toy such as a push toy, bike, or trike along a path in the driveway. Use cones, cups, or draw a line with chalk to follow.
Jigs jaw puzzles
Building toys from a design such as legos
Seek n Find such as Where’s Waldo, I Spy, Hidden Pictures, Spot the Difference
Games such as Memory Matching, Jenga, Pick Up Sticks, Connect 4, Battleship