Handwriting makes up a huge component of the school day. We regularly receive reports from parents saying: “Homework takes forever”, “His teacher says that he never gets his work done”, “She has difficulty getting her thoughts onto the page”. Does this sound familiar to you?
Efficient writing becomes more and more important as children progress through the school years. Many people assume that handwriting speed will naturally increase, however this is not always the case, for many children focused practise is essential.
3 foundation skills to work on before tackling handwriting speed:
The first step is to develop a functional pencil grasp so that pencil control can be achieved. Here at Synchrony OT we use an aeroplane analogy:
- Imagine that your pencil is an aeroplane.
- Your thumb is the pilot and your pointer finger is the co-pilot. They sit up the front and fly the plane.
- Your middle finger is the landing gear. It goes underneath the plane.
- Your 4th and 5th fingers are the passengers. They stay tucked up the back.
- The plane has to rest on the soft clouds (the webspace of the hand).
Secondly, children must develop consistent letter formation. This is referred to as graphomotor automaticity, the ability to form the letters of the alphabet without having to cognitively think about their formation. Check out our blog post for ideas on how to improve letter formation.
Once letter formation is consolidated, the third step is to focus on legibility, specifically being able to accurately place letters within the lines and space out words. Check out our blog post for ideas on how to improve handwriting neatness.
Only once these foundation skills are achieved is it possible to switch the focus to improving handwriting speed.
What handwriting speed is age appropriate for my child?
Dr Diane Jones has gained the following data for average handwriting speed in Australian students:
- Grade 1: 26+ letters/min
- Grade 2: 35 letters/min
- Grade 3: 45 letters/min
- Grade 4: 60 letters/min
- Grade 5: 65 letters/min
- Grade 6: 75 letters/min
- Grade 7: 85 letters/min
Strategies to improve handwriting speed:
- Write the alphabet on a daily basis. Use a timer to track progress. Encourage your child to try and beat their time each instance that you practise.
- The top 100 high frequency words make up almost 50% of all written text! Practise being able to write high-frequency words from memory. I often call these 3-second-words, aim to reach a stage where your child can write them automatically in 3 seconds flat.
- Practise copying motivating blocks of text. Exploit your child’s interests. They could write about their favourite computer game, favourite sport, a page from their favourite childhood book or even song lyrics. Time your child and repeat the same sentence or paragraph on consecutive days with the goal to beat their score!
- When copying, encourage your child to spell the whole word from memory. If there is a cluster of familiar words, see if they can remember a string of words at a time without having to look back. Eventually they can work up to remembering the whole sentence.
- Most importantly, provide heaps of encouragement and praise. To start with you might reward your child just for establishing a consistent practise routine, then slowly you can set higher targets as they improve their times.
-Kate Kleinau, Occupational Therapist
Please feel free to ask questions or give me your feedback. I am always more than happy to answer any emails personally.