Handwriting and Its Ill Effects on Classroom Behavior

I find it ironic that the tool that is used to measure school success (for tests, quizzes, reports/compositions, math computation, etc…) gets little attention in the early years of school and less later on. The tool I am referring to is the “pencil”. 

Using a pencil well and executing the movements necessary to write with minimal effort are not the mark of most of today’s students. There are a number of reasons; I believe that the biggest culprit is that when we ask the average kindergarten student to write 3 sentences in the first semester of kindergarten we are asking something that is not neurophysiologically feasible. We don’t give 13 year olds driver’s permits for good reason and I feel expecting a child to write fluidly at age 5 or 6 is much the same. 

I work as a pediatric occupational therapist with a number of kids who have sensory processing dysfunction. Their problems often include poor writing proficiency. When I have been in their classrooms I usually observe their peers and although they are not receiving services many have what I consider poor writing habit patterns. 

When a child has poor or perceived poor written production they may demonstrate a host of behaviors including but not limited to:  bite their pencil, sharpen their pencil for 5 continuous minutes, ask to use the bathroom, spend endless time erasing their first sentence, pick their skin, mouth their shirt, look out the window, squirm in their seat, stare out the door, feel helpless/ embarrassed, say they don’t like that class (the one that has a written volume expectation) and when they get home they will drag out the start of homework to the point of frustrating the best of parents. 

What can one do? Acknowledge that this is a problem. Then, take action.  I hear that teachers are stretched/stressed, as well as the parents. I can say that holds true for the students as well. Kids need to know the sensory motor fundamentals for pencil use. I am proposing the use of a very quick (52 seconds) and simple (5 easy to remember finger/hand exercises) to be used only when our students are asked to use their pencil (that is multiple times a day). I call the exercise “ZOOM” and you can see it in action here.

I feel passionately that this simple fundamental exercise (“ZOOM”) can make a huge impact helping teachers do what they were trained to do, teach and reduce the amount of time that is squandered dealing with behavior issues.