Letters, numbers and your child

Learning to write, recognize letters and numbers and eventually read is a skill that many of us adults take for granted, but for many children these skills are incredibly difficult to master.

Let’s break it down. In order for a child to learn how to recognize letters/numbers, read and write, they need the following skills:

  • Attention and concentration to attend to the task

  • A functional pencil grasp

  • Good hand strength and support from their shoulder and core

  • Hand dominance

  • Crossing the midline

  • Visual perception

  • Visual motor integration

... and this isn’t even an exhaustive list!

If you look at the above list, it’s easy to see how handwriting can be so difficult.

As an Occupational Therapist, I often see children with some of these issues related to handwriting:

Size awareness and placement on the line

There might be tall letters (b, d, h, k, t…) and upper case letters that are the same size as lower case/small letters like a, c, o, m, s, or v, etc.

A great resource for developing size awareness and placement on the line is the visual prompt “Sky, Grass, Ground”.

Letter reversals

Reversals are age appropriate up until 7-8 years of age! Yes you heard me. Letter reversals are normal up to a certain age range. And when kids write letters backwards it is actually typical development in handwriting skills. It’s normal development up until this point because it takes our brain that long to combine all the skills needed for creating the letters (this include phonetic awareness, ability to imitate pre-writing strokes, automation of letter formation, and higher level cognitive skills for multi-tasking).

Children with handedness issues (those who have not yet developed a dominant hand), whether it’s mixed dominance or delayed development of dominance, are more likely to struggle with left versus right tasks. This plays into reversal concerns as many of these children cannot consistently discriminate left from right, leading to b’s and d’s, p’s and q’s being flipped.

Letter formation issues

Often the first letters a child learns to write are the letters in their name. This is often problematic as developmentally they may not yet be ready. There is a developmental progression of when a child is expected to learn to draw “pre-writing shapes” such as \ / | + X O, so when their name includes shapes they aren’t yet ready for then it’s hard for them to really get started.

KidSense have a great list of when we can expect a child to draw pre-writing shapes and patterns here.

If your child is heading into or already in Kindergarten and struggling with drawing or writing their name, it’s important to think about what age they are and what skills they might need to help them get where they’re going.

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