Monday, April 18, 2011

Handwriting III

So, Ocular Motor Control and Eye-Hand Coordination.  Hmm...I forgot to talk about Midline Crossing, I think.  Oh, and what about Hand Dominance...and Scissors, but I blogged about that already so won't spend too much time on that subject.  :-)

Really, hand dominance could be still developing at 3 and even 4 years of age.  It is a possibility and one of my students this year, 3 yrs, is still working on what his dominant hand is.  Perhaps he'll be ambidextrous, it runs in his family. He has much more control with scissors with his right hand but still continues to go back and forth many times, in one task, with which hand to hold the writing tool.  So I do encourage him to use the scissors with his right hand but I allow him to pick up the writing tool instead of handing it to him and then we adjust grasp accordingly.  If he switches, I don't say a word, just quietly adjust his grasp on that hand.  Why do I let him pick up his own writing tool instead of handing it to him?  Because I find myself "encouraging" right hand because I'm right handed.  That's just what happens until you are aware of what you are doing.  So better for him to pick it up on his own.  Typically, though, most children have a prominent hand dominance by 2 or 2.5 years of age.  I know Trent, my youngest, was less then a year when I noticed he often used his left hand. A few months later is was very obvious that he's a lefty.  We don't want to push them one way or another. Studies have been made about its effect on the brain if a person is "forced" to use a hand that naturally they would not have as their dominant hand.  We see less of this now but a generation or two ago, that happened more often than not.  A thought about hand dominance...really, if a child uses both hands equally, then they are getting equal amounts of exercise.  Isn't that good?  I really don't have the answer for that.  I'm not an expert in this area.  But here is my opinion...I find that those that do not have a strong dominance have mediocre to poor handwriting.  Why?  Again, my opinion, when there is a dominant hand, that hand naturally is exercised more and becomes the hand that does the work (strong hand) and their other hand becomes the helping hand.  And really, that works best for handwriting, scissors and so on.  Isn't that how our body is made?  All parts of our body work together...some have more seemingly important tasks...but without the "helping" body parts, then the task isn't done quite as well. 

So, with the reminder that hand dominance is still developing, we want to encourage midline crossing.  So if you picture your body, a line down the center of your body from head to foot...that's the midline.  Reminder also that children work from trunk to extremities.  So children who do not have good trunk control are going to have difficulty crossing the midline.  Also, if a child is unable to cross that line, putting shoes on (as an example of a practical skill) may be difficult.  Think about what you do when you sit down to put shoes on.  The foot that you are putting a shoe on often goes out in front of you on an angle (crossing the midline).  One reason why putting shoes on "correctly" is difficult for toddlers and preschoolers.  They are still developing that midline crossing.  I've seen where some children start to do a task but have to switch hands and of course that doesn't allow for fluent task completion.  And something that we don't often think about, because it's not so obvious, is that if a child can not cross the midline, they will have difficulty tracking print without moving their whole head to see the sentence.  That will effect development in reading and writing.  So our goal is to facilitate children reaching  across their body.  One simple way of doing this is to set up the work area so that the paint and paint brushes or cup of crayons or bowl of tissue paper is on the left (or for my kiddos that are dominantly left hand, I often put it on the right).  They will naturally use their more dominant hand to reach for the materials and then they are crossing that midline.  For those that do not have a hand dominance, you may wish to vary which side the materials are placed on.  However, another benefit from placing the materials on the left is to help ingrain that left to right movement.  So you decide.  There are many other ways to encourage midline crossing.

*  Bat balloons.  You can have a target but that doesn't work as well as it does with balls.  But you can encourage a child to put one hand behind their back and bat with only the other hand.  Position yourself so that they are aiming for you and allow for the natural crossing of the midline. 

*  Have a few minutes waiting in line?  Hhave children copy you.  Make an X with your hands across your chest.  Or exaggerate I (pointing to yourself) Love (x across chest) You (pointing at the child).  Encourage them to do it back to you.  Cross your ankles one over the other.  Show them how to give themselves a hug by wrapping their arms around themselves.

* Bean Bag toss.  I found that if I'm working specifically with this skill, it's good to place a bucket/container in two areas, one in front and on the left of the child and one in front and on the right.  Then provide 2 bean bags and have them use one hand to toss toward both containers. Then switch to the other hand. 

* Similar to the bean bag can have a child kick a ball with one leg toward two different targets placed in opposite directions (left of center, right of center).

* Maybe I'll include a little segment from Jump Into Literacy by Rae Pica.  Check this book out if you haven't already.  I found it at our local library.  The game is "Follow the Leader".  Oh my!  We all know how to do that!  But here is her little blurb about why this is a good activity. 
   "The ability to replicate physically what the eyes see is essential for writing.  This is what children do when they make their initial attemps at copying letters form a poster, chalkboard, or book.  Follow the Leader is a fun, familiar way for children to practice this skill." 
So there you have it.  :-)  You can lead the children around first being sure to do some arm crossing above the head or for older preschoolers you can teach them the "grape vine".  That's so fun to watch them try to do.  But also let the children lead also.  When you play this little game, you have not only helped them cross the midline, you can also remember that you are helping them learn to copy...because they must first do it with their body, using large movements, before they can do it with a pencil.

*  Similar to Follow the Leader, remember Simon Says.  :-)

*  Sometimes I have a task for the child to do before they really get into their open ended/creative art.  One task that I encourage younger children (or those who are still having difficulty with crossing the midline) is to give them a piece of paper at the easel and encoruage them to make one long line across the entire paper.  The letter X is a perfect example.  And make it fun by saying "X marks the spot!"  Then of course, give them another unmarked piece of paper for their own artwork if they wish.

*  Playing with cars or trains.  Make masking tape or block roads that have a lot of turns. Make a figure eight out of the train track.  :-)

* Flipping coins, cards or double sided manipulatives.  Actually, I did this with Trent today, now that I think of it.   We were waiting for Aaron to finish an AR test at school and the teacher had a bucket of double sided manipulatives on the table still.  I pulled out 6 and put them in a line and encouraged him to flip them.  He did well for his age.  With an older child I'd put a longer line out and position the child so that he/she was directly in the center.  Then using one hand only, I'd have them flip the card/manipulative from left to right.  Then switch to the other hand.  That is an example of a "task" before play.  It is short and sweet but serves a purpose then the children know they can work with the manipulatives how they wish afterwards.  The Cracker Barrel checkers are a great for this because they have a crown on one side.  Or you can make cards with stickers on one side, facing down, so when they flip the card they see the sticker (which the,  of course, you can reinforce a concept---patterns, alphabet, vocabulary, numbers, shapes, what have you.)

*  As part of my assessment, I often have children copy a circle and a cross after me.  That was from my Head Start days.  Part of the evaulation.  If a child can not make a closed circle, or if they can not cross the cross from left to right (you'll often see them start at the center and go right and then go back to the center and go left) then these children are not ready for letter and number formation yet.  And really, it's mainly because they haven't mastered crossing the midline.

*  Sidewalk chalk outside...make large ovals and circles.  This requires them to reach over if they continue to use one hand.  Indoors, you can have an oval or circle available or if they are capable of drawing them, fine.  Then give them stickers or stamps to use around the oval/circle and encourage them to use one hand.  Stamping makes it easier to reinforce using one hand then stickers, FYI.

*  Arranging puzzle pieces across the top or around the border encourages the child to reach for the pieces.  This is a good way to see if they are using their dominant hand or still using both hands (reaching with their right hand to items on the right and left for items on the left).  If you have the child lay on their belly, this also works the muscles in their shoulders and back.  :-)  I'm not sure about you all, but I find that the only place to store my puzzles is under our toys shelf.  Well, out of sight, out of mind.  Puzzles are great for so many different reasons (Hey, there's a blog for another day LOL).  What I've done these last few weeks is leave my 12 piece alphabet puzzles out as that is where most of my students are at.  But I also put out a peg puzzle, all by itself at a child's sized desk.  Wow!  It's sure gotten a lot of use!  And hmm...better not get into the benefits of a peg puzzle right now.  But, I've been encouraging them (or for Trent-22 months) I do it for him, to place the puzzles pieces across the top.  That encourages order/organization as well as reaching across the midline.

*  Here's an easy one for you... encourage your child to give their siblings (or you) a big wave across the yard.  Really exaggerate it.  They love exaggeration.  And guess what, in this instance anyway, so should you!  Because if they are making a big wave from left to right...they are crossing the midline. 

I really need to stop.  I'm not getting very far into the rest of the topics, am I?  :-) But I do want to make one more comment (or comments).  Cross lateral movements go hand in hand with crossing the midline.  So an example of cross lateral movement is crawling.  Left arm up, right leg up.  Right arm up, left leg up.  Or vice versa if they are crawling backwards. :-P  Actually, if we want to get's creeping not really crawling.  :-)  Anyway...we are all familiar with using the term "crawling" so I'll use that.  Studies show that if a child skips that stage in does not crawl...but goes directly to standing and walking...there is a possibility of problems with reading and writing.  Interesting, eh?  Ever hear of those stories about going back and making a person crawl?  I'm not sure if I'll go that far...but I do encourage my own children and students to crawl and if your baby has skipped that just incorporate more of those types of movements as they grow older.  :-) guess we'll continue Handwriting blogs for a bit since obviously there is a lot to say. :-)  Hope it's "food for thought!" 

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