07 March 2008

Writing Difficulties

Many children with writing difficulties have dyslexia and / or dyspraxia (developmental coordination difficulties) − these conditions often occur together and affect all aspects of a child's life, both in school and outside. It is vital therefore, that schools and early years settings are able to identify difficulties in this important area and put in place appropriate interventions where necessary.

Some things to look out for are children who difficulties with:
  • throwing and catching
  • dance/music and movement
  • manipulating small objects (building bricks, jigsaws)
  • getting dressed/undressed
  • using cutlery / scissors
  • handwriting
  • organising themselves and their work
  • sequencing
  • laterality (knowing left from right)
  • following multiple instructions
Children with motor coordination difficulties may also have poor posture and limited body awareness, moving awkwardly and seeming clumsy; this can be especially noticeable after a growth spurt. They may also tire more easily than other children.
For children who find writing difficult the following things should be thought about:
  • the sitting position: ideally both feet on the floor with the table and chair at an appropriate height
  • the possibility of using a sloping writing surface
  • anchoring the paper / book to the table to avoid slipping
  • providing a 'cushion' to write on can be a help, for example, an old magazine, used paper stapled together
  • the writing implement − try triangular pencils or different pencil grips, for example standard triangular pencil grips, Tri-go grips or Grippy grips
  • avoid the use of a hard-tipped pencil or pen
  • providing opportunities for practising handwriting patterns and letter formation in alternative mediums for example sand, cornflour gloop or playdough
  • providing lines to keep writing straight
  • limiting the amount of writing required − think of other ways information can be recorded including making use of computers
The formation of letters is a very specific area of skill development and providing opportunities for practising, without making it a chore is important. Precision teaching is a good example of distributed practice and may include exercises such as a one-minute daily exercise to see how many b and d words the child can successfully write. This type of exercise provides the child with instant feedback and always focuses on success. Progress can be easily monitored by keeping a daily count or by using a weekly probe sheet.
Practising holoalphabet sentences, for example 'the quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog' or 'the five boxing wizards jumped quickly' are useful, as these contain the 26 letters of the alphabet and make it easy to monitor progress on letter formations.

Other ways of encorporating writing are drawing / painting patterns (a wet paintbrush on dry concrete slabs) and encouraging incidental writing for example writing names in birthday cards, writing shopping lists, keeping a diary, writing out recipes. It is important that these activities are fun, and always praising the child for effort.

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