Have fun while learning the building blocks to better handwriting

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 16 December, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 15 December, 2012, 11:22pm

My son's teacher has suggested I encourage him to play with Lego more because his writing is not very good. I have a handwriting book and make him practise cursive writing every day. Surely this is more helpful?

I assume from your comment that she means the shape of his letters. This would be to do with fine motor control. Control of the small muscles in the fingers usually develops a bit later in boys than girls. This can cause problems with pencil skills, holding the pencil correctly and at the proper distance from the point, as well as shaping the letters correctly.

Your teacher is trying to get you to find a fine motor activity your son enjoys, instead of writing letters over and over in a copy book.

Engage him in creating a Lego model. If he is school age he is probably using the smaller bricks, the larger ones can be used to develop fine motor control in younger children as well.

Boys love to build things and placing blocks carefully, aligning dominoes in rows and pushing sticks into holes to create structures all help develop their fine motor skills and they are a lot more engaging and enjoyable than practising joining up letters.

If you know of other activities your son enjoys, then sit and play with him to encourage him to do them more often.

Origami is another great activity. Making the tiny folds and shaping the small figures really exercise the finger muscles and help to develop the information the eyes send to the brain and the brain sends to the hands strengthening the neural pathways.

Play dough and Plasticine are also wonderful for fine motor control. Rolling it into snakes and coiling it, or shaping it into letters, the clay massages the hands as the muscles are working. The rolled balls and snakes can then be pinched together to form more complex shapes as the fine motor control develops.

Board games with small pieces are also helpful. Chinese checkers (with marbles put in small indents on the board) is great for repeatedly picking up small round objects and moving them bit by bit. This slow but repeated activity gives the eyes, brain and hands a great work out.

Puzzles are another excellent tool for fine motor work. The eye and the brain have to "see" the piece in its position. As children grow and develop, puzzles can become more and more complex and a wonderful family activity.

If you cook together ask your son to decorate the cakes with M&M's, placing each one carefully. Use tongs to move vegetables on to plates. Moving food items around with chopsticks is a great fine motor developer.

Challenge him with a snack mix of things you both like (Cheerios, chocolate chips, raisins, chopped apple, and so on) and share it, but only eat with chopsticks. When I was little one of my favourite things was picking the peas out of fried rice with chopsticks. Find out what he likes and work with it.

It is important to remember that fine motor control does not just involve the hand muscles. The eyes and the brain need to work together to feed information to the hand, so those neural pathways also need to be developed.

By focusing on fun activities that build creativity as well as tone finger muscles the neural pathways in the brain are getting a better workout.

The brain is having to consider options: do I place the coil on this side or that side; higher up or lower down? And then it has to evaluate. Will it look better this way or that way? Thinking first and then pinching, pushing or folding it into place, and being proud of the outcome: all of this engages the mind as it processes information and sends out commands to control the hands.

I hope these give you some ideas. These are much happier activities that achieve the same outcomes as copy books full of letters. Art, music, games and toys - select carefully and you will be giving your son what he needs.

Kris Gienger teaches at an international primary school