Handwriting: Handwriting is the integration of a series of complex fine motor movements, visual-perceptual skills and language comprehension needed to accurately control a pen or pencil to produce representative patterns that form letters and words as a means of communication.
Let’s begin with breaking down fine motor development.
Fine motor and grasping skills are important as a child gets closer to kindergarten. There are many factors that play into grasping skills and possible delays in this area:
Integration of reflexes
Distal Control vs Proximal Control
Attention to task
It is important to look at a variety of factors when looking at a child’s grasping patterns.
Let’s Look at the development of a child’s grasp and how they build handwriting readiness skills.
The Palmer Reflex is how babies first use and build hand muscles.
The palmer reflex is how a baby begins to “hold hands”. This is that sweet gesture of a newborn when something is place in the palm of their hand, they close their fingers around the input. This seems like an intentional form of connect but this is a reflex.
The palmer reflex emerges around 11 weeks in utero or in the womb. It continues to develop when the baby is born, and it remains active until the infant is around two to four months old. The Palmar reflex is activated whenever something causes pressure, touches, or strokes the infant’s palm.
Once a child begins to integrate their palmer reflex around four months old, the baby also learns that his or her hands belong to themselves, and they start reaching for objects. During this stage, reaching and grasping occur at the same time and that is why a child will reach for an object and close his fingers at the same time. Around the sixth or seventh month of development, the baby’s reach and grasp understanding improves, and the child will try to grasp the object when it reaches a toy. This sets up the development of the Pincer grasp, which is essential to fine motor development, handwriting and pencil grip.
When first grabbing for objects they use a whole fist grasp and the transition into the pincer grasp as they get closer to 9 months. The pincer grasp uses the fingers with the thumbs to hold objects without it touching the palm of their hand.
It is important that a child has an integrated palmer reflex before working on more complex handwriting task. The palmer reflex will hinder a child from developing a proper 3-point grasp.
Radial Palmer Grasp – 6 to 8 months
This is when the thumb starts to get more involved in their grasp. The object is often still against the palm of their hand just allowing the thumb to close along with fingertips.
Radial Distal Grasp – 8 to 10 months
This is when a baby or young child can hold an object away from the palm of their hand. They can grab an object with their fingertips and thumb often beginning in a grasping motion.
Pincer Grasp – 12 months
This is an important steppingstone for handwriting. This is the ability to grasp smaller objects with their thumb and index fingers such as foods (cheerios) and toys. This is also the time when a child starts to develop finger isolation skills. Therefore, instead of a whole hand grasp they can use 1 or 2 fingers with their thumb to grasp items.
Palmer Fisted Grasp - 1 to 2 years old
This is often referred to as a “gross grasp” when trying to hold a crayon or writing objects. They often hold the crayon very tight and don’t have very much finger isolation or finger movement with the task. Children will often move their whole elbow or shoulder when grasping a writing utensil.
Pronated Grasp – 2 to 3 years old
This is when a child starts to move the writing utensil out onto their fingertips for writing. They start turn their hand from thumb up to pronated or a neutral wrist with fingertips holding the crayon. They begin to use finger movements but mostly use their wrist, elbow and sometimes still their shoulder for moving the crayon. This is an important time to work on pressure of writing utensil and graded force.
5 Finger Grasp – 3 to 4 years old
This is often referred to as static finger grasp. A child begins to move their hand into a neutral position more often and tries to use finger movements as opposed to wrist and elbow. Children at this age are beginning to develop hand dominance; it is still typical to switch hands and fatigue quickly.
Static Quadruped Grasp – 4 to 5 years old
This is when child begin to use mostly their thumb, index, middle finger with some use of their ring finger to stabilize. They are often still stabilizing through their fingers and using their wrist and elbow to move movement pattern.
Dynamic Quadruped Grasp – 5 to 6 years old
This is what we refer to as the tripod grasp. This is when children can use their 3 “Go” fingers to move and make letters, numbers and pictures.
When to begin to work on Handwriting: Until a child shows consistency with static grasp it is not appropriate to work on handwriting. We often get worried about age and push handwriting sooner than our children are ready. Once your child has developed proper grasp their handwriting will make much more rapid progress.
Resource: Expressive connections