Foundational skills are often overlooked when talking about handwriting. Neat, legible handwriting does not come overnight. There are many prerequisites that need to be acquired before a child’s handwriting performance can improve. In order to build a solid foundation for handwriting, a developmental progression of hand functioning and hand skills must be reached.
We all need adequate core muscles for everyday activity. Children need stable cores to maintain upright postures in their seats, develop shoulder stability and adequate fine motor skills. Going hand-in-hand with core muscles is trunk control. To understand the importance of a strong and stable trunk, just think about a fishing rod. Imagine a rod made of rubber. Try casting a line - it simply wouldn't work. With a floppy rod your control of the line and hook would be non-existent. A child's trunk is like the fishing rod. A strong and steady trunk provides the base of support needed for delicate fine motor tasks like writing (Handwriting Help for Kids, 2001).
Did you ever think that postural stability could have an impact on your handwriting? It is critical to have proximal stability in order for the more distal muscle groups to perform fine movements. Many muscles around the shoulder work together to hold this joint stable when performing fine motor tasks. If a child has poor shoulder stability, then he/she cannot hold this joint stable, impacting fine motor control. If this joint is loose, then fine motor control needed for writing is impossible to achieve. A strong upper body and shoulders are necessary for controlled movements of the hand and fingers. Without a stable base of support it is difficult to guide the eyes and hands to work together.
Each hand is divided into two separate sides: the precision side and the power side. The radial (thumb) side of one’s hand is important for precision with manual dexterity such as threading a needle or buttoning a shirt. The ulnar (little finger) side of the hand is important for power such as opening a jar. Together these two features of the hand comprise the necessary prerequisites for fine motor control. Writing, coloring, and scissoring require stability of the ulnar side of the hand while the small muscles of the radial side of the hand produce small precise strokes/snips for proper motor control.
As a child’s strength and control develops, the movement of writing will move from the whole arm, to the wrist, and finally to the fingertips. Intrinsic muscle movement can be seen when the ulnar side of the hand is stabilized on the table while the fingers move a pencil to write. The intrinsic movements are best observed in activities that require the tips of the thumb, index finger, and middle finger be touching while they are performing flexion with the thumb is in extension.
Motor planning involves spontaneously sequencing and organizing movements in a coordinated manner to complete unfamiliar motor tasks. Timing and sequencing are essential to motor planning, as well as ideation (how to approach a novel task) and execution (how to follow through with a novel task). Adequate motor planning abilities are needed for writing; some examples are: knowing how to form letters and where to start the letter, spatially planning a sentence and knowing when to move to the next line, coming up with an idea for a story or sentence, and knowing the relationship or part to whole.
There are so many different pieces and components to handwriting that go unrecognized. Every piece to this ‘puzzle’ is equally as important as the next and has its own impact on the puzzle as a whole. Until all the pieces comes together, functional and successful handwriting is much more difficult to achieve!
Rachel Durante, MS OTR/L