Discover a Multisensory Approach to Penmanship

One of the most important skills all kids need to develop is an ability to write. Writing is used in every school subject, higher-education, employment, and personal life. Penmanship – or the ability to create automatic, legible letters – is the first skill that needs to be taught. Students then learn to write words, sentences and paragraphs. Using a multisensory approach is an effective and fun way for kids to master penmanship skills so they are set up for success with future writing activities! 

The terms “handwriting” and “penmanship” are synonymous – they refer to the production of letters on paper. There are two basic forms: cursive (abc), which is the loopy, continuous style of writing, and manuscript (abc). Most classrooms focus on manuscript. Regardless of which style your child’s educational setting uses, structured, multisensory support is often required to refine penmanship skills. 

How Does Symbols Multisensory Learning Centers Support Penmanship Development? 

Dedicating a small amount of time each lesson (3-5 minutes) to stabilize a student’s ability to produce automatic, legible and consistently-formed letters can have far-reaching positive impacts on their speed, confidence, ability, and willingness to write. Both literacy and math lessons at Symbols Multisensory Learning Centers have a penmanship component for those students who will benefit from this support. Keep reading to learn more about how you might identify if your child is struggling in this area and learn tips to support them! 

How Would Your Child Experience Multisensory Penmanship Support at Symbols Multisensory Learning Centers? 

Instead of just showing your child an image of a letter or having it displayed visually (perhaps on a poster on the wall for reference), multi-modal learning at Symbols Multisensory Learning Centers is a very different approach. Each letter is explicitly taught and supported to stability using four main modalities: visual (seeing), auditory (hearing), tactile (feeling) and kinesthetic (moving). 

Here are a few things your child might experience:

  • Listen to the letter’s sound – what does this symbol represent? 
  • Visit a multisensory mirror, listen for and practice reproducing the sound the letter represents – What is happening with my mouth? What is happening with my vocal chords? How does this sound ‘feel’ for my muscles? 
  • Use a colour-coded sheet – see where this letter goes compared to the other letters I already know. 
  • Visit a rice-tracing-tray, discover the formation strokes while making gross-motor movements and verbally name my actions, say the letter’s name, sound or a key word, and connect the sound, shape and key word to an embedded mnemonic picture within the letter’s shape. 
  • Write the letter on colour-coded paper using different sized scales (moving from large to small) while I name my actions, say the letter’s name, sound or a key word, and connect the sound, shape and key word to an embedded mnemonic picture within the letter’s shape. 
  • Use this new penmanship formation within other activities that lesson, like spelling or writing, and continue practice at home 

How to Know if Your Child Needs Penmanship Support? 

How tricky is writing for your child? Are they willing to engage in writing activities? Can they hold their pencil properly and comfortably? Are they quickly frustrated by remembering letter formations, keeping things legible or using the lines on the page? If you answered yes to any of the above, support would be recommended to ensure frustrations don’t grow leaving your child discouraged about engaging in written output activities. Taking a multisensory approach to writing has several benefits for teaching kids foundational writing skills, like penmanship. 

Top 3 Strategies to Support Your Child’s Penmanship Skill Development at Home 

Fine-motor Skill Development

Like anything, there are developmental steps to mastering a skill. Penmanship is no exception. Developing fine motor skills can help your child to have the muscle tone needed to hold and manipulate the pencil for optimal use. Engaging in activities that help refine their fine motor finger movements like cutting, gluing, lifting things with specific fingers one-at-a-time (like beads from one cup to another), or learning finger-focused skills, like piano, can help to develop finger muscles and overall control. 

Watch that Grip

We mean that literally! Take a look and check how your child holds their pencil prior to starting any writing practice. Supporting your child’s ability to hold their pencil properly can make a huge difference to their comfort and ability to write easily with increasingly longer amounts required in each grade. Encourage a proper grip by showing them and encouraging this grip to be used throughout writing activities. Use a pencil grip for additional support to develop a proper kinesthetic memory for an optimal grip. 

Letter Formations 

Group letters into formation groups based on their similarities in starting point and initial formation stroke direction. For example, ‘c’, ‘o’, and ‘q’ all start at the same place and include the initial shape of the ‘c’… plus something new. Focusing on similarities can reduce the amount needing to be learned and reduces the weight of the learning and time needed for mastry. 

My Child Reverses Letters – ‘b’ is often ‘d’… How Do I Help? 

Reversals can be a normal part of a child’s development in learning printed language. It’s also totally normal for a child to not have this happen at all. If your child is struggling in this area, like reversing ‘b’ and ‘d’, these tips below will help. 

Never start ‘b’ and ‘d’ at the same place (these letters can both start at the top). Instead, give a different starting point to ‘b’ and ‘d’. Start the ‘b’ at the top (like l, t, and h) and start ‘d’, lower (like a c, o, or q). Different starting points accentuates the differences, can reduce confusion, and result in the proper production of the letter intended more often than not. 

Once a letter is produced (it is printed on the page), always assess it from left-to-right to ‘check’. Using a toy car is a fun way to reinforce this! 

Driving the car from left-to-right, What do I see first? The car ‘sees’… 
… the circle part first – it’s a ‘d’, like in the word d-d-doughnut. 
… the line part first – it’s a ‘b’, like in the word b-b-bat. 

Teaching students to assess their printed word from left-to-right is a game-changer for kids who struggle to ground the differences between similar-looking symbols like: b, d, p, q and sometimes even 6 and 9. Differentiating between these symbols is a matter of interpretation. 

Why Can a Focus on Penmanship Be So Important for Children with Learning Differences? 

Students with dyslexia, dysgraphia, ADHD, and other disorders need extra practice to stabilize foundational skills, like penmanship formations. Without effective multisensory strategies and continued practice many simply won’t have sufficient exposures to reach stability, hindering their abilities in other areas requiring writing. 

Once penmanship formations have stabilized, students are free to shift their thinking to what is being written or how well it’s being written. These things are not stalled by trying to remember how to produce individual letter symbols. They can now share more quickly and effectively what they know about a given topic! 

Homework Writing Sheets and The Symbols Multisensory Home Kit

 For students registered in our online program, a Symbols Multisensory Learning Home Kit is mailed to your home address. Under the guidance of their instructor, students use the reusable writing templates & pen, and colour-coded scales provided in the kit. They practice letter formations and writing tasks while their instructor demonstrates during their lesson. In-person students have access to these things at their center’s location. Students always receive immediate feedback on their work to build a strong foundation for the correct way to draw a letter. 

All students also receive a tailored homework sheet after every class designed with exercises specific to their learning needs including continued review, and practice with what was most recently taught. Current research supports the benefits of giving home practice specifically to those with learning disabilities. These students often require many more exposures to stabilize than their peers. Work sent home is also tailorable. For some families, completing homework is not a realistic expectation or can be a negative experience for a variety of different reasons. If home practice is not right for you or your child, our review-heavy, Orton-Gillingham format aims to make up the difference during the 1-to-1 sessions with thoughtful, cumulative review activities each time. To learn more about how Symbols Multisensory Learning Centers can help your child improve their writing skills, book your first class today.

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Rob Wahl