Helping Hands: Tips for Finding Strength at Kids’ Fingertips

Third grader Sam Bertele has found writing on the tiring side in past school years. This year, he’s looking forward to tackling essays, descriptions and other writing assignments with bolstered stamina. All summer long, in addition to getting out mountain biking, swimming, and generally being active, he’s been focused on a fitness plan of sorts for his hands. It’s called Handwriting Club, and it took place in his family’s garage, on long carefully arranged tables surrounded by walls of alluring of bikes and tools. These enticing garage accoutrements didn’t serve as a distraction, however. Handwriting Club was too much fun.

When SVVSD Occupational Therapist Kim Bertele learned that several of her sons’ friends were interested in learning cursive, wheels began turning. She couldn’t resist an opportunity to help build upon their initiative, supporting their skills throughout the summer months at the same time. Casually throwing out the idea of a handwriting club as a possibility, she quickly gained volunteers. It soon became clear that the concept had “two thumbs up” appeal, and Handwriting Club was born.

Throughout the summer, eight students ranging from 2nd to 6th grades gathered in Bertele’s garage once weekly for a total of eight sessions, aka ‘club meetings’ of two hours. There, they refined pencil holding technique, developed fine motor strength, practiced tracking exercises, cultivated focus and imagination, and worked on Brain Gym® exercises. Their hands received regular weekly workouts, but it didn’t feel like it. It felt like fun, and it was. After all, who would suspect activities like cake decorating, cool crafts, and hanging out playing games with your friends as secretly being “work’? “It’s been really fun getting to hang out with friends while learning something new,” says Eli, in 6th grade. Bertele’s sons also acknowledge learning with their mom as teacher is fun. “I’m not even worried about getting into trouble,” says Max, in 5th grade.

“So much goes into the process of writing,” Bertele says. “Fine motor skills, visual motor skills, tracking, focus. Children improve by developing muscle strength, hand eye coordination, and focus. Handwriting skills reveal a lot about potential strengths and limitations, too, and offer opportunity for academic improvement in a wide variety of ways.” Highly conscious of how precious and short-lived the summer months are, Bertele got creative and industrious when it came to planning for each week, prepping a varied range of activities and fun materials for students to explore. “You get to play with a lot of stuff while you’re learning new things,” says Sammy, 2nd grade. Max says his favorite was playing Boggle, while tasked with writing down the words in cursive. And of course, cake decorating was easily a top hit.

Over the course of the summer, Handwriting Club participants found themselves gaining in skills and confidence. “I’ve gotten stronger,” says Asher, 3rd grade. Brae, a 4th grader, and John, 6th grade, developed a new, confident pencil hold. “I used to do a thumb wrap, and that tires your hand out,” each say. Now they have perfected the more efficient tripod grip. All in all, Handwriting Club participants have had the kind of fun that fits summer, and they have all learned to write in cursive. It was easier than expected, the boys all say, and worthwhile. “I can know how to read my grandparents’ cards now,” says Gage, 5th grade. “That’s something really special.”

Thank you for sharing, Handwriting Club! Pardon the pun, but you’ve got the write stuff.  

Want to give your hands some fun fitness routines? Here are a few tips, thanks to SVVSD Occupational Therapist Kim Bertele:

Take a look at your games.  Modify the rules to get your kids playing, having fun, and writing.
  • Put all of the Bananagram letter tiles into a bowl and take turns picking a letter.  Have everyone practice writing each letter that is picked, in upper case, lower case, print and cursive (depending upon their level).  Playing makes you a role model. Add to the difficulty and have everyone write a word that starts with that letter.
  • Pull out the Boggle Jr letter cubes.  When you child creates a cup with their hand it supports the development of the arches in the hand, which are important for the process of writing. Take turns rolling the letter cube.  Everyone must write the letter in lower case, upper case, print or cursive.
  • Play traditional Boggle and allow kids to find the two and three letter+ words while grown-ups find words with four or more letters.  Words can be written in print or cursive, focusing on producing legible writing with speed.
  • Play Hangman but have your child do the writing while you do the guessing.  Remember how to play?  Each letter you guess must be written, either in the blank space of the word you are guessing or to the side so you don’t guess it a second time.
  • Play tic-tac-toe and instead of using X and O vary the letters you use so that your child gets to practice the letters while you’re there to help them (in cursive or print).
Have fun with functional writing tasks.
  • Ask for some help writing the grocery list because it is helpful to have it written really neatly.  Copying is easier but if you have an older child, dictate the list while they write.
  • Have your child write a sticky note to each person in the family, then sprinkle the happy and encouraging notes around the house.
    Address an envelope together.  Have your child write a note, put a stamp on it and walk it to the mailbox.
Find the fun in everything!
Dice, spray bottles of water to spritz the plants, hiding things in putty that must be pulled out, rolling putting and creating letters or rolling and cutting then making “cookies”, coloring on a flat table or taped to a wall or window (a larger piece of paper behind the one they are coloring on will protect your house), drawing in sand, pea gravel, shaving cream  or pudding.
Your laughter and attention+shared focus and fun with your child= a healthy way to support your child’s fine motor development.  

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