Teaching handwriting to kids with dysgraphia involves modification, remediation, and accommodations. This is how I teach my kids with dysgraphia handwriting.
I should have known something was wrong when my 6-year old struggled for weeks to scratch out the 3 letters that made up his name. But as with many first borns, with no other siblings to compare to, I didn’t really know what to expect. I pushed and pushed him to write. I didn’t even know that dysgraphia existed.
Never heard of dysgraphia? People with dysgraphia, for a variety of reasons, have trouble processing what the eye sees or what the ear hears and transferring that information into letters and words.
Dysgraphia effects much more than handwriting alone.
Dysgraphia also affects:
- drawing (and coloring in the younger years)
- grammar and punctuation
This struggle is affected by a variety of skill deficits including:
- poor motor processing skills
- poor fine motor skills and
- visual spatial weaknesses
How I Teach Handwriting to my Kids With Dysgraphia
Many years have passed since forcing that 6-year old to write his 3-letter name and I like to think that I’ve learned a thing or two. I have found the best way to teach kids with dysgraphia to write is to start with modifications.
Start With Modifications
Modifications are essentially that. I modify how much and what kinds of writing my kids do. In a traditional school, 5 and 6 year olds are expected to write extensively throughout the day. Handwriting is a part of most classes. It helps a teacher to keep track of assignments and progress.
In the homeschool, this is not necessary.
So in the early years, I limit handwriting primarily to during handwriting instruction. During this time, I start with a salt tray. Create a multi-sensory writing surface by pouring an inch or two of salt into a shallow pan. As I review my early learners phonograms (letter sounds), I have them draw as many letters as they can, without becoming overwhelmed, into the salt. Mistakes are easily shaken away and the multi-sensory component helps aid memory.
When there is a certain level of mastery here, I move on to a small dry erase board, preferably without lines. This one with lines on one side and is blank on the other. Get some low odor dry erase pens in fun colors and have your child write his letters here for some time. At first, during review time, I would call out a sound and have my child write the corresponding letter. Note: I review letter sounds for a looooooong time so that my dyslexic kids know them automatically.
Next we graduate to a composition book and fat pencils. During spelling, I dictate between 5-10 words or phrases for my child to write in the book. Let your child choose what size letter is the most comfortable for his or her hand. Not all kids with dysgraphia prefer to write large letters. At this point my kids’ handwriting is still often full of reversals and sometimes a mix of upper and lower case. My goal up to now is to strengthen their hands and not completely overwhelm them with handwriting.
When I feel that my child is fairly comfortable writing his spelling words into his composition book, I transition to cursive instruction. The best program I’ve seen for this is from Logic of English and is called The Rhythm of Handwriting.
This program is highly multi-sensory, beginning with the types of strokes that make up each letter. While writing, the verbal cues for which stroke is being used are spoken.
Read this post to learn more about How and Why I Teach Cursive to my Kids With Dysgraphia.
Remediation for Dysgraphia
I know some of you have been groaning as you read about the modifications that I make for my kids with dysgraphia. Lest you fear that our instruction is too light, all the while we are teaching the early stages of handwriting, we are also focusing on remediation. Remediation is strengthening the foundation that any set of skills are based on. For dyslexia, this would be teaching and reviewing with an Orton-Gillingham based reading program.
For dysgraphia, this involves improving:
- motor skills: both gross or large muscle and fine motor skills
- motor processing skills
- and enhancing visual-spatial awareness
Remediation is the main focus of helping kids with dysgraphia from kindergarten through middle school. Because dysgraphia can be affected by motor skills, visual-spatial skills and processing speeds, there are a wide variety of methods for remediating dysgraphia. If you are looking for ways to remediate your child’s dysgraphia, I highly recommend taking my Parent Class: Teaching Handwriting to Kids With Dysgraphia.
This class takes an in depth look at:
- what dysgraphia is,
- how it affects learning,
- how to modify instruction for kids with dysgraphia
- how to remediate dysgraphia, including:
- ways to enhance visual perception,
- ways to strengthen gross motor skills and motor planning skills
- how to strengthen fine motor skills
- how to strengthen working memory, and
- how to teach kids to organize their writing
- how to implement the best accommodations for kids with dysgraphia
- an extensive list of resources for teaching kids with dysgraphia
Accommodations for Dysgraphia
The last phase of my handwriting instruction involves introducing appropriate accommodations into my kids’ learning.
Accommodations are tools or procedures that allow kids to complete assignments at their grade level at their intellectual ability.
For dysgraphia, this might be:
- dictating written work to a scribe (parent or sibling)
- using some form of speech-to-text program
- allowing school work to be typed
- if in class, allow student to have a designated note-taker
- allowing student to choose cursive or print
- using graph paper for organizing written work
- allowing the use of spell checkers
Accommodations are a big part of helping kids become independent learners. As my kids get more and more fluent with their reading and writing, I transition them into any and all needed accommodations so that they can keep up with their studies and maintain a level of independence in keeping with their age and maturity level.
What You Need to Know About Dysgraphia
Dysgraphia doesn’t reflect a lack of intelligence. Like dyslexia, dysgraphia is not outgrown and varies in severity. Every child is unique and every child’s modifications, remediations and accommodations will be different. You know your child best. The goal of your instruction is to make sure your kids are competent writers and able to express themselves well.
How about you? How have you taught your kids with dysgraphia?