Following on from the topic of handwriting in the digital age, let’s explore further with Oak Hill into why writing can be such a challenge for so many primary school age children. Starting school can bring up lots of different emotions within children; excitement, nervousness, unease. These are all normal feelings but when is it time to pay more attention to a lack of confidence in their writing skills?
There are three areas to look at:
- Motor skills
- Letter shape/letter sound knowledge
- Attention and memory
Children develop at different stages and writing may be difficult if a child’s fine motor skills are not yet fully developed. Manipulating their wrist, hand, fingers, or thumb with accuracy may be challenging. As a parent, you may have noticed that your child needs extra help when they eat with cutlery, cut paper with scissors or unbutton/unzip clothing themselves. Gross motor skills (using the large muscles of the arms, legs, and torso) and sensory motor difficulties with balance, posture and hand-eye coordination may also explain why your child finds writing demanding.
Continuing to work on these skills at home will develop their confidence and ability. It may also be useful to visit an occupational therapist for added support.
Letter shape/letter sound knowledge
By the time children are 5-6 years of age, many of them can:
- Generate a rhyme sequence
- Recognise alliteration
- Identify syllables in a word
- Segment words into sounds or match letter names to sounds.
However, for some, these key phonological and phonic skills are not yet developed and they do not have the knowledge needed to transfer oral ideas to print. Spelling will probably be inconsistent too.
To assist, look for opportunities to work on these foundation skills at home. Using Kinaesthetic materials such as plasticine or plastic letters to make words, essentially manipulating and touching the materials to learn.
Attention and memory
Writing can be challenging for anyone who is easily distracted, whatever the age! For children, feelings of impulsivity and lack of focus may result in spelling difficulties, poorly planned work, illegible handwriting or a difficulty getting started in the first place.
In class, students with working memory issues may also find the many automatic processes required to compose a piece of text too demanding. These include organising ideas, recalling spelling, grammar and punctuation, etc.
Children’s confidence can easily wane, contributing to or resulting in unsuccessful writing experiences.
What can help?
- Students often benefit from short, highly structured tasks to help them ‘stay on track’ and complete an activity successfully.
- Giving students a set amount of time to write, without focusing on their handwriting or spelling, can give some students the freedom they need to express themselves.
- Using word banks on their page/white board can also provide support to a child when they are unsure of the vocabulary/spelling they should use.
- Modelling how to start a sentence is another useful scaffold for students, ensuring greater ‘take up’ and understanding for them.
Finally, using a variety of activities, stationery and technology will help keep their interest fresh. Showing empathy, understanding and regularly praising the effort students give to writing can really help them develop skills at their own pace.
What else can I do as a parent?
If your child has consistently had writing issues since starting primary school, now may be a good time to have an assessment about why this is the case. There may be ADHD/ADD considerations to address, different instructional methods to benefit from or specific motor support and guidance that they need. Alternatively, your child may have reading/writing challenges or dyslexia.
Identifying the causes, whilst also working with the school to further develop will only help your child on the journey to find their ‘inner author’.
For parents looking to find out more about how they can help their child improve their writing skills, why not attend one of Oak Hill’s regular Open Mornings or seminars? Meet the team, visit the school and observe a lesson. The next Open House is Wednesday, March 15th 2023 14:20 – 15:30. You can visit their website to register.