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.