Between the Lines

Handwriting in Motion

 If you want to improve your students' handwriting, get them moving.

Several studies, including a recent one conducted by Michigan State University*, confirm what teachers and therapists have always known—that movement makes for better learning.

That’s because kinesthetic learning (jumping, dancing, crawling, building, etc.) addresses the child as a whole. Movement stimulates the muscles and the brain, so that children are primed for learning.

Candice Mullendore, OTR/L and Stephanie Adam, OTR/L, co-founders of Pediatric Therapy Center, P.C., in Nebraska, agree. “Bodies learn through movement—rolling, falling, running, balancing, and so forth. Such movement helps refine skills used for handwriting, including tactile and visual perception.”

The two explained that movement helps improve attention, which is necessary for the complex skills children need to succeed in and out of school. Their philosophy emerged from their experiences using Handwriting Without Tears as well as working with children of different learning abilities in school systems and in private practice.

“When we see students with fine motor deficits in general education, we find that they often lack spatial awareness, body mapping, and knowledge of how to use their muscles. That’s why, we incorporate movement as part of a more holistic approach to improve handwriting skills.”

In the school setting particularly, you have to consider bodies in space and using body parts in unison. You can’t just look at handwriting; you need to look at the big picture. The Handwriting Without Tears curriculum has proven effective just for that reason—it’s all about movement and multisensory learning.

“We always try to educate the teachers and help them understand the value of a multisensory approach,” they said.

 The two explained that every child benefits from motor-based activities. Moreover, because it’s not always possible to conduct a full evaluation in a school setting, an instructional method that incorporates movement can address issues that may not always be apparent at first glance and identify problems before it’s too late.

Take the case of one little boy who was referred to Mullendore and Adam from a school system because he couldn’t sit and focus to do handwriting activities. “We had him jump on a trampoline and then run an obstacle course. This exercised his muscles and his mind, giving him the focus to sit down. As a result, he has now made great progress and his handwriting is improving.”

“HWT makes a big difference for kids because it is multisensory and because it makes so much sense.” It’s all about hands-on physical learning that reaches different children in different ways.

It’s easy to incorporate movement in the classroom. Start by introducing warm-ups to grab students’ attention and stop the jitters. This doesn’t have to take very long—just a few minutes. Then you’re ready to go. Use the multisensory lessons in Handwriting Without Tears workbooks and get students stomping, clapping, diving, dancing, and miming their way through letter and number lessons.

Teaching with movement is about doing things that children enjoy. It’s just plain fun, so they learn easily. They are mentally and physically stimulated and ready to learn because activity during the school day increases alertness and reduces boredom.

When children are engaged, they are focused and learning. This translates to better writing and better behavior.

* Effect of Physical Education and Activity Levels on Academic Achievement in Children, Michigan State University, Departments of Kinesiology and Epidemiology

Comments (6)

Hi, I need suggestions for movement breaks that can be done in an elementary classroom. This is my first year working with students with behavioral problems.

There are a million things you can do in an elementary classroom. Try having your students stand up and push against their desks or squeeze their legs against there chairs. Push against the wall are great. Try the "stomp game" from HWT, they are still in their chairs, but they are moving and alerting. For individual students, ask one that's having a problem to pass out/collect papers, or run an errand to the front office. For the class as a whole they can play follow the leader around the room. Or play Simon says. They can jump in place. Depending on how old, they could play "ring around the rosie" or other fun games. Also, check out the music from HWT. They have lots of great music that encourage movement and playing one song usually only takes a couple of minutes. An important thing to remember is that any activity that requires "heavy work" such as carrying books or pulling a wagon, or pushing/pulling activities is usually very calming. Ask your OT at school to give you more ideas for your specific class. Hope this helps.
This is a great article. I have adapted activities for handwriting instruction for several years with good results. Activities used in Responsive Classroom programs fit nicely before handwriting sessions in the classroom.

(also, check your spelling on there/their)
Getting the kids moving is such a great thing to do - how about having the class stand all at once for a 'pass the nubby ball'/school mascot (or something fun of your choice) from row to row, you decide. Of course, you'll need to keep the focus on the goal you want, not letting the ball (or whatever you chose) become the object of another game. Playing the HWT CD in the backround adds another sensory component and can help you start and stop the activity., Just a thought...
Recess and movement breaks are taken away when a child misbehaves. All too often these are the very children that need to move the most. Any other ideas for consequences to bad behavior?
I have some problems with some of my children, lacing their shoes. So I have a pair of shoes, where one is black and the other is white. This makes it much earsier for them to see how the process goes. They seem to have a better understanding with the laces being 2 different colors.

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