August 5, 2020

Handwriting and Motor Memory, What’s the Connection?

Some children may struggle with writing more than others. To achieve fluent and neat handwriting, you need motor memory, or the ability to unconsciously remember how letters are formed.

How to achieve motor memory

Motor memory happens when a person repeats an action over and over until it becomes automatic, and you can do it without thinking.

Think of the old saying, “like riding a bike,” to describe when something is easy to pick up where you left off, even if you haven’t done it in a while. Riding a bike is an example of your use of motor memory.

When a child first learns to ride, it’s awkward and challenging to balance, pedal, and steer at the same time. But, in a short time, you’ll catch them zooming up and down the driveway, taking turns quickly, and riding a bike without overthinking the actions needed. Even if you don’t ride a bike for years, if you hop back on one, your brain remembers what to do.

Handwriting is just like bike riding. At first, it’s awkward to hold the pencil correctly, make letters the appropriate size, and write in a straight line. But with practice, it gets easier, and eventually, you don’t have to think about how to write the letter “A,” you just do it.

Before you focus on handwriting, there are several things your child should know. They should:

  • be able to identify all their letters,
  • recognize that we read left to right,
  • grasp a pencil correctly, and
  • understand the concept of spacing between letters and words.

When you begin working on handwriting with your child, remember to focus on starting points and the direction your child’s pencil should take to write letters.

Example: A capital “C” should start at the top point and curve down to the bottom point. Learning from the beginning how to form letters correctly, is going to help fluidity and neatness, as well as form a foundation for cursive writing.

Tracing letters

Is tracing helpful for motor memory? The short answer is, yes. But probably not how you imagine.

Recent studies have shown tracing letters with a pencil is not as helpful for a child’s motor memory as free writing. If you want to encourage motor memory with tracing, it’s more beneficial to have your child trace letters with their finger. By using their finger to trace, it makes the child more aware of what they are doing rather than focusing on holding their pencil and following a line.

Let’s go back to free writing

When your child is practicing good handwriting techniques, do not focus on the amount that is written. Just a handful of well-written words will do more to improve their skills than pages of poor writing.

The best way to stimulate your child’s motor memory about handwriting is to set aside a short amount of time each day to write a few sentences. As we discussed previously, writing can be awkward and difficult at first. So, keep this in mind and try to find ways to make this activity a fun experience.

Try finding topics your child enjoys writing about, maybe have them pick out a few words to write over and over like “Batman” or “Princess.” Some children love to draw pictures, you can suggest they illustrate their work once they finish.

Remember, reading and writing go hand in hand. Fostering an enjoyment in writing will encourage a child to want to read, and vice versa!

Is handwriting important in the 21st century?

In this day and age of technology, where more schoolwork is being completed on computers, is handwriting even relevant?

The answer is yes. Handwriting is an important skill to learn because, at some point, you’re going to be asked to sign something. Writing also uses an entirely different part of your brain.

Writing has been shown to “light up” certain neurons in your brain. Those same neurons remain dim when only looking at words. This same study explains how handwriting can encourage idea composition and expression. Doctors are even encouraging elderly patients to take up journaling because it’s been shown to help strengthen cognitive abilities.

Concerned about your child’s handwriting?

If your child is struggling with their handwriting, and you believe it’s more than frustration with learning something new, we can help you at Lumiere Children’s Therapy. We conduct full evaluations to determine what, if any, therapy is needed to get your child back on track.

For handwriting and motor memory concerns, you will be working with our amazing occupational therapy department. All our plans are created in collaboration with parents. We will set individual goals for your child to work on at home as well as with our therapist. Contact us for a free consultation today!

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