Parents hire handwriting therapists

Affluent parents are hiring occupational therapists to help children learn handwriting, reports the New York Times.

In affluent neighborhoods in and around New York, occupational therapists have taken their place next to academic tutors, psychologists, private coaches and personal trainers — the army that often stands behind academically successful students.

Many grade schools no longer teach children to write legibly, reports the Times.  Teachers assume children can use a keyboard to write, but parents worry they’ll have trouble taking tests or doing math problems.

Some say children are asked to do more writing at earlier ages, but others say more children lack the fine and gross motor skills that used to be the norm.

Anthony DiCarlo, a long-time principal in a New York City suburb, blames changes in the way kids play.

“ in the last five years, I’ve seen a dramatic increase in the number of kids who don’t have the strength in their hands to wield a scissors or do arts and crafts projects, which in turn prepares them for writing.”

Many kindergartners in his community, he said, have taken music appreciation classes or participated in adult-led sports teams or yoga. And most have also logged serious time in front of a television or a computer screen. But very few have had unlimited opportunities to run, jump and skip, or make mud pies and break twigs. “I’m all for academic rigor,” he said, “but these days I tell parents that letting their child mold clay, play in the sand or build with Play-Doh builds important school-readiness skills, too.”

Delayed development of fine-motor skills can make schoolwork arduous. The problem runs in my family, at least for males. My father almost had to repeat kindergarten because he couldn’t cut with scissors. He could read, so they let him go on. Writing letters or numbers was difficult and exhausting for both my brothers, who went to grade school before the personal computer — but, thankfully, also before the ubiquity of arts projects.

The computer keyboard is liberating, but it’s hard to do everything on a computer, at least with today’s technology. Maybe in the future kids will get tablets that can interpret their handwriting.

As with reading, there are some kids who will learn handwriting easily and others who need more instruction and practice. You’d think elementary teachers could be trained to help kids without having to call in occupational therapists.

About Joanne

Comments

  1. Handwriting has become like so many other basic skills that were taught explicitly to prior generations. Worksheets are thrown at the kids willy-nilly with little practice time and no expectation of mastery or excellence. Those that pick up on it easily are fine; those that need extra help muddle through.

    I disagree that kids have few opportunites to exercise their fine motor skills. Computer and video grames require quite a bit of fine motor development.

  2. I disagree that kids have few opportunites to exercise their fine motor skills. Computer and video grames require quite a bit of fine motor development.

    But not the right ones for handwriting.

  3. Michael E. Lopez says:

    Good for those parents.

  4. Homeschooling Granny says:

    Isn’t this part of a disturbing trend? Where schools don’t teach phonics, math algorithms, or penmanship, some parents take it into their own hands, either teaching it themselves or hiring it taught. This leaves children whose parents lack the personal or financial resources to do the same in the lurch. No closing the gap.

    Isn’t this yet another reason why value added merit pay would be unfair? Homes where parents will cover gaps in curriculum are not evenly distributed among classrooms.

  5. 1. I was kept out of a gifted and talented program at my school on the advice of a teacher who claimed I needed to work on my handwriting instead.

    2. They sent me to a special handwriting tutor. I was pulled out of class one day a week and made to do what amounted to remedial work.

    As you can imagine, like ANY difference in American public schools, the other kids seized on it as an opportunity to torment me. Particularly the fact that I was in “remedial handwriting,” and therefore, must be, in the un-PC word of the schoolyard, a “retard.”

    Yeah, I’m still kind of bitter about it. And my handwriting is still pretty terrible despite it all.

  6. “…trouble taking tests or doing math problems”

    Neither of which requires answering in “longhand”

  7. You have to keep in mind who these parents are. When it says New York, we are not talking about Buffalo or Albany. We are talking about NYC, which is full of very rich folks who “have” to spend money to “improve” their kids as much as possible so that they can get into the fanciest private pre-kindergarten school that has a wait list of 100 kids and costs more than most people spend on college. These families have the time and money to worry about this non-sense. Just because they do does not mean that we have to look at it as an indication of a greater problem in our school system. It is not.

  8. Michael E. Lopez says:

    Doing extended math problems requires that you be able to read your own numbers from four minutes ago.

  9. Math Teacher says:

    We are talking about NYC, which is full of very rich folks who “have” to spend money to “improve” their kids as much as possible so that they can get into the fanciest private pre-kindergartens.

    And also to insure that their children are shining reflections of themselves.

  10. I’ve had to sorta train myself to print comments on essays as some of my kids have a hard time reading cursive — although most of the time I have them submit electronically and I use Word’s comment function.

    I do have to train the kids a bit in terms of stamina for the writing portion of the AP exam, but their handwriting is largely quite legible despite a complete lack of formal training in our district. I certainly don’t see it as any worse than the variety of handwriting I see among my generation, which did receive formal Palmer Hand training (and yes, ricki, I confess that I too was a remedial student in handwriting… makes me laugh now, of course).

    New York parents are just neurotic.

  11. Yes, Math Teacher, perfectly put! Shining reflections of themselves. I like it!

  12. I feel really glad for the occupational therapists, who get to play with the kids and get paid (hopefully) a good deal of money for it. I feel sorry for the kids whose parents are oblivious to what’s really important – they should be the ones playing with clay and making mud pies with their kids.

    The best advice I ever received when I first became a mother was to let the children have access to things like clay, Play-Doh, crayons, markers, pencils, scissors, and paper as soon as they were ready. My mother-in-law also gave the girls their own personal chalk boards and dry erase boards (she was a preschool teacher).

    I must admit, though, that this is the first time I’ve ever heard that making mud pies, breaking twigs, or playing with Play-Doh develops the muscles needed for handwriting. Maybe someone needs to tell the hoity-toity parents in New York before they leave the hospital with their little trust fund recipients?

  13. Teaching how to correct poor handwriting is an interesting skill.

    There are a lot of misconceptions about it.

  14. Mike Lopez nailed it; many of my freshmen have difficulty with their calculus and statistics homework because their handwriting and notation are so sloppy that what they write is either nonsense or uninterpretable, even by them. And Greek letters? Fuggedaboutit!

  15. Mama Steff says:

    “You’d think elementary teachers could be trained to help kids without having to call in occupational therapists.”

    They can be. But who is paying for appropriate handwriting materials? And where do they find the time to teach handwriting? There are NCLB tests to prepare for, after all. And handwriting is not evaluated on those tests.

  16. Cranberry says:

    My children span almost a decade. In that time, I’ve seen formal handwriting training drop almost entirely from the elementary school’s curriculum. I quite agree with, “For some grade-school children, occupational therapists are also filling the void left by schools, many of which no longer provide instruction on the mechanics of handwriting.”

    There was no lack of art projects in school, and our kids played with playdough at home, although as they’re boys, they were never enchanted with coloring. Passing down the hallways of the school, most of the students’ work shows the need for old-fashioned instruction in handwriting. It’s illegible. I’m not pleading for cursive, although that is easier for longer essays, but for legible print.

    Just as the existence of the calculator has led many educators to de-emphasize fluency in math facts, the existence of the keyboard has led many to believe that handwriting is a thing of the past. By the way, this attitude started at the time of the invention of the typewriter, according to Diane Ravitch’s _Left Back_.

    We do supplement at home. Many parents do. What other options remain to us? Look at the math wars–parent complaints about gaps in the curriculum encounter ridicule, i.e., “hoity-toity parents…with their little trust fund recipients”, but no constructive engagement.

    This generation will encounter the handwritten SAT writing section, and math homework is handwritten. Parents who care will correct the schools’ nutty neglect of basic instructions. Parents who trust the schools will not. At some point, some of those children will need expensive OT, most likely at public expense. That is, if they haven’t dropped out of school due to poor grades from illegible work.

    A large part of the problem is the lack of vertical integration so pervasive in our education system.

  17. Since I was in ES, public schools appear to have stopped teaching phonics, grammar, composition, spelling, arithmetic, geography and handwriting. History, government and science get short shrift and classic children’s literature seems to have been replaced by mush and drivel.

    I’m sure some of this is being driven by the full-inclusion, mainstreaming, heterogeneous-placement movement. Group projects and discovery learning enable the pretense that all are learning, but actually requiring kids to learn the above subjects means facing the facts that all cannot master the material at the same time, in the same classroom and that some will never be able to achieve proficiency.

    It’s no wonder that there’s an achievement gap; those parents who know what kids should be learning provide it at home (parent,Kumon,tutor etc) and those kids whose parents don’t know and/or can’t provide it just keep falling farther and farther behind.

  18. Handwriting may not be evaluated on state tests, but writing is. If kids don’t have writing on the same automatic level as math facts, then they won’t be able to successfully write all those extended response questions that are on the tests starting in grade school.

    And then there’s the SAT/ACT essays which are still handwritten with no help from spellcheck or Google.

    And where are they supposed to learn it? In the classroom where they’re supposed to be learning arithmetic and reading, as well. It’s a foundational skill that won’t just happen by osmosis.

  19. Aardvark says:

    Mama Steff

    You provided us a classic false choice. The elementary school with the highest scores on the “NCLB tests” in our state teaches cursive writing beginning in kindergarten.

  20. There are so many fun activities you can get your child to do to improve their fine motor skills – play dough, cutting, picking beads with tiny tongs etc etc

  21. Since I was in ES, public schools appear to have stopped teaching phonics, grammar, composition, spelling, arithmetic, geography and handwriting. History, government and science get short shrift and classic children’s literature seems to have been replaced by mush and drivel.

    Since I was in school in the sixties, public education has improved significantly. Your turn.

  22. I was in ES in the 50s. My kids span 12 years and attended schools in affluent suburbs where most kids had at least one, often two, parents with graduate/professional degrees. My small-town school (admittedly with a very stable population) did a better job of covering the referenced areas, particularly in the grammar/composition area. Over my kids’ ES years, I could see the decline accelerate as older teachers, accustomed to direct instruction and content across the disciplines, were replaced by recent ed school grads. There was a lot of parent teaching – probably now more tutors/Kumon because fewer moms are at home.

    At the HS level, my English classes, complete with full research papers in 11-12, were stronger than those of my children. All other subjects were much worse, but it was significantly an issue of scale. A HS of 120 which typically sent less than a handful of kids to 4-year colleges cannot compete with a HS of 1500+ where almost all go to college; many to Ivies, Duke etc. Their HS honors and AP classes were excellent, especially in foreign languages, history and math/science; the school is nationally known for the latter.