Guest Blogger: Justine Huszczynski, Occupational Therapist
One of the benefits of being an Occupational Therapist is seeing a client reach, and sometimes surpass, their goals. One of my favorite moments as an OT came this past December, when my paediatric client, Joshua, made my heart melt with how far he had come in therapy.
When I first started seeing Joshua earlier in the year, he was unable to print much more than his first name. He had a lot of difficulty holding a pencil and his fine motor strength was minimal. His mother, Connie, and I made a plan for Joshua to receive OT treatment twice a week for six months, with the help of President’s Choice Children’s Charity as the funding source. Joshua’s goals involved working on underlying fine motor skills that were needed for the skill (or occupation) of printing. For months we worked on strengthening Joshua’s fingers and hands. We used a pencil grip to help him learn where his fingers needed to be placed to hold a pencil. We worked endlessly on learning letter and number formations, through the use of the Handwriting Without Tears programs. Eventually, by the time Christmas time rolled around, I was seeing Joshua once a week because he had made so many gains.
During one of our sessions leading up to Christmas, I challenged Joshua to write a letter to Santa. He was going to the Santa Claus Parade that weekend and could hand deliver his letter. Joshua’s face lit up at the thought of this and his little hands got to work. After 15 minutes of writing, Joshua finished his very first letter to Santa at the age of 10 years old!
Occupational Therapists are taught to break down tasks into components in order to properly assess where difficulties with that task may lie. Therefore, when assessing a child’s printing skills, we have to look at the whole task from the moment the child sits down in their chair until they put down their pencil and have completed writing. More specifically, an Occupational Therapist will assess and observe the following aspects during a printing assessment:
- Workstation (e.g. desk height, chair size, classroom or home environment)
- Postural control
- Attention to task
- Pencil grasp
- Pressure on pencil
- Angle of paper
- Handwriting speed
- Size of letters
- Spacing between letters and words
- Formation of letters
- Use of punctuation
- Formation of ideas for written sentences
- Ability to copy words or sentences from a near and far point position
Treatment for printing difficulties often will target different aspects from the list above, depending on each specific child’s needs. However, one of the biggest contributors to a child’s success in any printing program is parent and teacher involvement. Parents and teachers are key support systems that can remind a child of their printing strategies at home and school, which often leads to an increase in generalization of the skills a that the child may have learned in session with their Occupational Therapist.
Here are some basic ideas for parents and teachers for working on printing skills:
- Make learning to print a multi-sensory experience! Use trays of rice, sand, shaving cream, or cornmeal to write or trace letters with the child’s index finger.
- Incorporate printing (and drawing) to bath time with bathtub markers.
- Use various writing utensils such as pencils, markers, crayons, and chalk.
- Little crayons for little hands – use smaller writing utensils for younger children to promote the use of a more mature grasp.
- Teach a maximum of two letters per week so that a child can focus on properly learning and printing those letter formations.
- Hide the eraser! When a child is in the process of learning to print, do not point out every mistake. Instead, have them look at their finished product and ask them what they like about their work, and what they would change. This will keep the learning process a positive one.
If you have concerns about your child’s printing skills, contact our office to discuss these issues with an Occupational Therapist who can guide you through the next steps for your child.