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Struggling 6 yo writer (boy)


Jen Becker
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I'm looking for recommendations for something to help a kindergarten boy who struggles with writing. His fine-motor is fine (he's great with Lego and model-building), but pencil control is very hard for him (he never draws or colors by choice, and cannot stay within lines). I'd like to back off of formal handwriting (we've been using Handwriting Without Tears pre-K and K) and retreat to something with basic pencil skills.

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Try Developing The Early Learner books.  They are asked to trace, go through mazes, etc. to build the writing skills.

 

However, I'd probably recommend using chalk on a mini-chalkboard if you are looking for letter development.  The chalk provides enough traction to make the letters slowly and carefully, helping them develop a looser grip while maintaining control.

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There are different areas to fine motor skills so even though he has good fine motor control for certain things that doesn't mean he doesn't have issues with fine motor control in other areas.  Are you saying that the issue is with the physical act of writing itself?  Or getting thoughts on paper?  Or both?  

 

At 6 there are a lot of kids, especially boys, that are still not developmentally ready for a ton of handwriting.  They may turn around and be just fine with handwriting at 7 or 8 or even 9.  They just needed more time.  

 

For others, this is not going to help.  They may have dysgraphia or developmental vision issues (different from visual acuity and many eye doctors don't screen for these things) or something along those lines.  There are MANY processes that go into hand writing, most of them at a mostly subconscious level.  If someone has a glitch in any of those processes it can make handwriting hard or even nearly impossible.  Sometimes it takes Occupational Therapy.  Sometimes it means switching to typing or speech to text for most output.  Sometimes it just means a bit more targeted practice.

 

Your child is really young.  Back off on handwriting output for everything except a bit of handwriting practice each day.  Do oral work, or scribe for him so his cognitive growth in other areas is not held back by a weakness in handwriting (and I use the term "weakness" lightly since there are a lot of 6 year olds that do not have good handwriting yet).  Maybe get rubber grips for the pencil or get fatter pencils for now.  What size are the lines on the paper are you using and does it have the guided doted line in the middle?  If you are using regular notebook paper switch to tablet paper with the guided dot in the middle and the bigger lines for now.  Maybe work on trace work to build up some hand strength and muscle memory.  You could get the Start Write software and print out your own trace and copy pages that will include the dot guide in the middle.  Create things for him to practice on that are based on topics he has an interest in.

 

If over time he still struggles with handwriting look at things like dysgraphia and developmental vision issues.

 

Good luck.

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Yes, we're having him tested for ASD soon (he would likely be high-functioning Asperger's), so it's not unlikely that he might have some underlying struggle.  But we're having a very hard time fighting with insurance, so I'm hoping to find things to do at home. 

 

I've effectively dropped formal handwriting (I ask him to draw for a couple of minutes some days), because he was just so bad, I could tell he needed something earlier than HWoT.

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How's his grip when he does hold a pencil?  If it's difficult at all, try Crayon Rocks (buy them or melt your own at home, whatever) as they force a tripod grip with no suggestion required.

 

Also, how's his *large* motor development?  His core muscle stability?  Can he run well?  Ride a bike?  Balance on one foot?

 

It turns out that writing isn't just fine motor, but also a whole lot of other things playing together.  A child who struggles to *sit* well in a chair can't write easily, no matter how good the fine motor control, you know?

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Lots of colouring, little cut and paste worksheets. The first book or 3 in the R&S preschool series are ideal for this if like me, crafty is not your thing, but you can find this stuff for free easily. Don't aim for their standards of neatness. HWOT suggests colouring with regular crayons for hand strength. Threading beads, play doh are all good. My kids typically do little writing other than the printing book or copybook until age 8 or 9.

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How's his grip when he does hold a pencil?  If it's difficult at all, try Crayon Rocks (buy them or melt your own at home, whatever) as they force a tripod grip with no suggestion required.

 

Also, how's his *large* motor development?  His core muscle stability?  Can he run well?  Ride a bike?  Balance on one foot?

 

It turns out that writing isn't just fine motor, but also a whole lot of other things playing together.  A child who struggles to *sit* well in a chair can't write easily, no matter how good the fine motor control, you know?

This is a good point.  Does he have motor skills issues in other areas?

 

And FWIW, one of my nephews has absolutely illegible handwriting.  He has dysgraphia.  Nothing, not one thing, ever improved his handwriting.  However, once he was able to type and use a livescribe pen and text to speech he did great academically and is in college now with a 4.0 average.

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Is there a writing activity he likes? Coloring, mazes or dot to dots? With DS he did the Kumon fine motor skills books like letters, numbers and mazes. I actually think the Kumon letter and number books were better than the HWT series (he did pre-k-1st) because it had so much more practice. He went through phases of loving maze books and then dot to dots. I'm sure the more practice the better so maybe look at different things he might want to do.

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My dd is an OTA and this is an activity she uses with with her clients:


 


Write whatever you want practiced in permanent marker on a piece of foil.  (She tapes hers in place to avoid frustration.) Have the child trace over top with a dry eraseboard marker.   After they trace over top, rub with a paper towel and wherever they went over top of  with the marker disappears.  The kids love it.  :)  (hint: use a fine tip Sharpie and a wide tip dry eraseboard marker)


 

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My DD started working with an OT in Kindie and later a PT. During that time, she performed wheelbarrow walks, crosbody movements, balance, and core exercises using a slightly deflated yoga ball. She used to perform push-ups with her feet on the ball and her hands on the ground. I feel like swimming helped.

 

We used the HWT IPad app and the LOE dry erase board. I love that thing. Ensure that your DS sits properly at his desk with his feet flat on the ground. I picked up an adjustable writing desk from Ikea for my DD. DD also dictates her narrations by speaking into her IPod or my Android phone. We edit using Evernote on the PC.

 

Difficulty with handwriting is typical with spectrum issues. Since you suspect that he is aspie, maybe schedule a one hour OT evaluation to look at developmental motor, visual perception, pincer/core strength, verstibular, and motor planning.

Edited by Heathermomster
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This is helpful. I have a newly 7 year old with terrible handwriting. He's going to a classical school in the fall and they said we must work on it before he starts. One suggestion was we stop D'Nealian and switch to ball and stick. He's great with Lego and loves mazes. Can't do monkey bars. We're going to work on strengthening those muscles over the next few months. See if it helps.

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Jen, it's probably dysgraphia.  My ds was like that, where it just was NOT WORKING, and yes he has the SLDs plus the ASD.  

 

What I've done is focus on super small amounts of writing and do paired activities using pen/pencil/marker/crayon together.  We did paired coloring last year (K5).  This year (1st) we're doing hidden pictures.  One page, maybe 13 pictures to find, and he's circling and drawing a line through.  We also do dot to dots.  He has SLD math, so that for him has been hard.  If your ds is a whiz at them,  you can get more complex ones with 200-400 dotes.  I also have him do mazes.  I put the mazes and dot to dots along with other things into his independent work station bins.  https://flic.kr/s/aHskmyxzcN

 

That link has pictures.  I try to put a variety of things, so he's getting something for fine motor, something for visual processing, etc. etc.  We just added a sand timer to the work station, so now he uses it for breaks.  He works with me, then when he hits a break card in our visual schedule he goes over to his work station, flips the sand timer, and works.  Good stuff!

 

So your insurance is balking?  Oy, that's horrible.  You want evals pronto.  Good long evals that will dig in and change how you teach him and work with him.  You want language testing, pragmatics, an OT eval, IQ and achievement, etc.  

 

Don't forget you can also come over to LC to gab!  Not everyone from LC comes over to K-8.  I only come over occasionally.

 

Adding: My ds doesn't qualify for OT for fine motor, at least right now.  It's just dysgraphia.  He is low tone, so yes we do sit-ups, wheelbarrow, etc., like Heathermomster is saying.  The SINGLE MOST FABULOUS thing I've done with him is putting him in gymnastics at the Y.  If that's in reach for your ds, it's something to consider.  It has made him stronger, built his confidence and resilience, decreased his INCREDIBLE sensory-seeking, given him social opportunities, etc.  You really can't go wrong with adding a sport, if you can find the right one.

 

The paired coloring was because he would just scrawl if given a page by himself.  So we'd pick sections and color.  It would help him to keep going.  Try doing it with a timer and build up.  Not something with big sections.  You can find little things to color in the craft section of stores, like the little dollar kits that come with short markers.  He might enjoy those.  

 

Reality is, if it's dysgraphia you have to know so you can accommodate and not frustrate.  I have some little dry erase 2 line boards I got at Target in the dollar bin.  He'll write a few words with those with models.  But for longer writing, we've moved to dictation.  I'll be talking with the IEP team to decide how far to take that, but the writing (haha) is on the wall.

Edited by OhElizabeth
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This is helpful. I have a newly 7 year old with terrible handwriting. He's going to a classical school in the fall and they said we must work on it before he starts. One suggestion was we stop D'Nealian and switch to ball and stick. He's great with Lego and loves mazes. Can't do monkey bars. We're going to work on strengthening those muscles over the next few months. See if it helps.

You can take him to the park every day and get him to climb, do the monkey bars, etc.  There's a lot of good therapy built into a high quality playground!  My ds gets OT, and I also put him in gymnastics at the Y.  Gymnastics is FABULOUS for this.  

 

That's a lot of pressure to put a kid under to put him into a situation where he's not prepared to succeed.  Some programs, like VP, are really skewed in ways that some kids are NOT READY FOR.  It could turn him off to academics forever, where he might have been fine with more gentleness and accommodation.  Without evals you don't know what is disability, what needs accommodation.  But to put him into a situation where they WON'T accommodate, that's questionable.  Private schools do NOT have to follow the law and can be very hurtful to kids with disabilities.  If you haven't been able to get his writing legible and appropriate with 2 years of work, you could consider an OT eval to see what's going on.  From watching kids at the Y, I would say *most* boys of that age come in and *can* skitter across and do something using upper body.  Your ds could be low tone and need evals.  Your pediatrician could screen for it at his 7 yo well check.

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