As a teacher and educator, I am very concerned about the push down of handwriting. It is scary to see the wide spread practice of teaching three and four year olds to write before they are physically ready. I wanted to share a few developmental pieces I have regarding the development of the hand grip.
As you look at the physical developmental picture of a child's capacity to hold a writing instrument, think of the practices in your classroom or with your child. While we all know every child's readiness is individually based – for most four year olds, the fine localized movements required to write effectively have not developed. Looking at Stage Four, we see that many children will not develop this until age 6. In countries like Finland, Switzerland and Sweden, children are not formally taught to write until seven years old. This allows for the vast differences in readiness.
Additionally, I think it is vital we remember the child in a holistic picture. Not only is there the development of the hand grasp – there is the development of visual motor perception, cognitive capacity and the ability to attend to the task.
STAGES OF PRE-WRITING SKILL DEVELOPMENT
Fine and Gross Motor Skills, Body Awareness, Physical Health
Stage One Palmar-Supinate Grasp (1 to 1.5 year olds)
Held with fisted hand
Wrist slightly flexed
Wrist slightly supinated away from mid-position
Arm moves as a unit
Stage Two Digital-Pronate Grasp (2 to 3 year olds)
Held with fingers
Wrist slightly ulnar deviated
Forearm moves as a unit
Stage Three Static Triposture (3.5 to 4 year olds)
Held with crude approximation of thumb, index, and middle
Continual adjustments by other hand
Ring and little fingers only slightly flexed
No fine localized movements of digit components, hand moves as
Stage Four Dynamic Tripod Posture (4.5 to 6 year olds)
Held with precise opposition of distal phalanges of thumb, index
and middle fingers
Ring and little fingers flexed to form stable arch
Wrist slightly extended
MCP joints stablized during fine, localized movements of PIP
joints (test by drawing tiny circles)
Tripod Grasp (efficient)
Quadropod Grasp (efficient)
Palmer-Supinate Grasp (inefficient)
Digital-Pronate Grasp (inefficient)
Photos from www.elmbrookschools.org
Interestingly, many researchers have found that the dynamic tripod grasp is not the only functional pencil grip. In fact, a grip called the lateral/dynamic quadrupod and four finger pencil grasp were nearly equal to the dynamic tripod grasp for functional writing. There are efficient and inefficient grasps.
I have seen in many kindergarten classrooms, the practice of using adaptive pencil grips for a large number of the students. Hello! Is this not a huge wake up call?! Adaptive pencil grips are not the answer. These devices can help a student achieve a tripod pencil grasp but that does not mean the quality or timeliness of the student’s handwriting will improve.
What we know is that handwriting readiness involves not only the hand grasp but such things as visuomotor skills, proprioceptive-kinesthetic awareness & handedness. There is a development moment for teaching handwriting (that includes writing the name, tracing letters, etc). I am concerned about the current trends.