Handwriting is an amazingly complex and demanding activity which requires excellence in numerous skills and abilities. For one, there are fine and gross motor tasks to master before one can sit down and use a pencil and a paper to produce shapes and letters. The communication between eyes, brain and hands needs to flow flawlessly in order to give proper form and meaning to the script. All these skills need to be highly trained to produce smooth and painless handwriting practice.
Why are strong muscles of the upper body so important?
But even before a kid can be taught proper pencil grip and letter design, you need to make sure his core muscles and shoulder strength enable him to sit upright and have control over his arms, hands and fingers.
Children with weak trunk muscles and poor shoulder stability lack a steady support for hand activities, experience movement difficulties, tire easily and find fine motor tasks exhausting and boring. Slouching further shifts the child’s attention from writing or following a lecture to maintaining a comfortable seated position.
Correct posture allows flexibility and good coordination between shoulders, elbows and wrists and lets the child focus on the task at hand instead of dealing with a painful back.
Developing strong shoulders
I already presented some ideas for improving trunk control in the previous post on development of writing skills.
Most of these exercises, at least the ones that involve supporting your body on your arms, also work to strengthen and stabilize the shoulder girdle.
Children in general like physical activities and what they like even more is doing them together with their parents.
If your kids seem reluctant, make it fun and playful. Turn the exercise time into a preparation for a circus act, a visit to an imaginary zoo or an adventure featuring them as the fearless main characters.
My kids are totally into working out as the Tigress, Viper, Crane, Mantis and Monkey from the Kung Fu Panda series.
Before you start, don’t forget to warm up a bit, either by dancing or running, in place or from one end of the room to the other, or just play tag if there’s enough space.
Proper breathing is really crucial here, so make sure your kid is breathing as she does the exercises. Holding breath is a way to compensate for the effort involved, and it means the muscles are not working as they should.
Exercises at home
The wall, apart from being useful for the warm-up part, also plays a role of support for a handstand or an opposition for pushing. In both exercises, be careful to have the palms in line with the shoulders and fingers facing just very slightly inwards.
Have your child place her feet next to the wall and hands down in front and walk up to a handstand.
Alternatively, the child can stand against the wall and try pushing it away, as if doing push-ups. Again, make sure that palms are in the same line with the shoulders.
The floor. There are numerous activities, such as jigsaw puzzles or different board games (or counting candy), that can be done either on all fours, or lying on your belly with elbows, shoulder-width apart, supporting the body. Both positions are very effective in exercising the shoulder girdle.
Large surfaces. Drawing, painting or doing homework on large vertical surfaces, like a chalkboard, is an excellent way to strengthen the shoulder muscles. In one of the previous posts, I showed how you can quite easily make your own cardboard easel to step up any pencil/marker/brush’n’paper activity.
Another useful exercise is letting your kid clean the windows. I usually give mine a plastic window cleaner and an eco-friendly cleaning agent, and don’t hold my hopes too high. It is fun and stronger shoulders that really count.
In or out
Ballon, ball or beanbag. All three can be used for playing catch with a parent, sibling or a friend, or by oneself. Or, you can try to keep it in the air. Balloon is by far the best choice here, and a light, beach ball comes a close second. It may be a bit tricky to do it with a beanbag, though not impossible. You may set your own records by counting and thus play against yourself instead of competing against each other.
Animal walk. Be it a bear, a crab, leopard crawl (while lying on your belly, lift the upper body on the elbows and use them to move forward or backward. Remember to keep them tucked in next to the body, in line with the shoulders) or donkey kicks (find a steady support for the arms, lean forward and lift your legs to kick back), animals are always fun to do. Just be mindful and careful not to strain yourself.
Cartwheel & wheelbarrow. My older kid still hasn’t learned how to do a cartwheel and land on her feet instead of her knees, but she’s working on it. Practice makes perfect. As for the wheelbarrow walk, make sure the child keeps her back straight and bottom slightly lifted, and opt for holding her legs at the knee rather than the ankle to prevent any back injury.
Yoga, again, is really good for strengthening the body, as long as the kid is breathing properly and not holding his breath to compensate. I already explained some asanas beneficial for both core and shoulder muscles, so let me stress those again, and add some new one.
- You can do cat, cow or sunbird on all fours, as explained in the previous post
- Camel, on the image to the right, is very good for shoulder flexibility
- Snake: lying on your belly, put your palms under the shoulders and lift your upper body, paying attention to draw the shoulders away from the ears and keep tall. Try to relax the thigh muscles.
- Sphynx: similar to snake, only place your elbows under your shoulders and keep the forearms on the ground. Keep the upper body lifted on the elbows, the shoulders down and away from the ears. Breathe.
- Upward facing dog: from the snake pose, lift the hips and knees along with the upper body, staying on top of your feet.
- Downward facing dog: from all fours, lift your knees to make an inverted V shape with your body. Keep the head between the extended arms and your gaze downwards.
- Warrior: my kids love this one, mostly because of its name. Legs wide apart, one foot facing forward, the other slightly to the side. With the body facing forward, lift both arms up (warrior 1) or to the side (warrior 3, as shown on the image), or rotate the upper body to align the extended arms with the legs (warrior 2).
On a playground
We love the playground. It is a perfect spot for boosting your kids’ development in all sorts of ways, promoting softs skills, creativity, proprioceptive and vestibular system, gross motor abilities and sensory processing.
Playground is also a place to improve handwriting proficiency. Apart from using colourful chalks to draw and write, it provides numerous structures for developing the core muscles and strengthening the shoulder girdle.
You can mount rockets and other vertical equipment, climb up the slide, hang on monkey bars.
You can also use a rope to skip or pull. Or pull to climb. Tug-of-wars is a great game for building strong shoulders and arms that can support the hand engaged in writing.
So, if the weather and current state of viruses permit, go out for an academic performance boosting adventure!