Your child struggles to properly hold a pencil. His handwriting is messy and he has trouble with letter spacing and spelling. Writing a paragraph is a completely daunting task. If your child experiences these challenges, he may have dysgraphia.
Dysgraphia is defined as a specific learning disability that affects writing. Children with dysgraphia often struggle with forming letters and words correctly, have trouble spacing words properly on a page, and generally have difficulty expressing their thoughts on paper when writing. Yet with the right strategies and tools, your child can learn to tackle the increasing writing demands of school. Try the ideas detailed below:
Feel the letters!
Many kids with dysgraphia have trouble learning to form letters and numbers properly when writing. To build this skill, try creating a multi-sensory experience. Have your child trace letters in a tray of salt or colored sand while she says the formation of each letter aloud. For instance, as she traces the letter “A,” she might say “around, up, and down,” or “down, up, and around” for p. You might also have her trace letters on your back or palm, or you can do the same to her while she closes her eyes to better experience the sensation of each letter’s formation. For gross motor exercises, try having her sky-write each letter or number while standing up, or squirt some foam on the shower door and have her write letters and numbers, using large hand formations.
Children with dysgraphia often struggle to organize their ideas into well-constructed stories and paragraphs. To help build this skill, teach your child to tell stories aloud in an organized fashion. For instance, when you return from a vacation, ask him for an opening line by saying, “We did so many fun activities on our vacation!” and then ask him to discuss his three favorite activities and why he loved each one. He might say one of his favorite activities was playing on the beach, since he built a giant sand castle, jumped the waves, and swam in the ocean. He may say another favorite activity was eating every meal with his family and enjoying special treats, like Belgian waffles, chocolate ice cream, and frozen lemonade. Finally, he may say that his third favorite activity was spending time with his cousins, which included swimming with them, sharing stories, and laughing. Then have him end his story with his overall thoughts on the vacation, like “I had so much fun on my vacation and can’t wait for the next one!” You can try this exercise with just about any experience—a day at school, a play date, or a meal he just ate. The more you practice helping him organize his ideas orally, the easier it will become when writing.
Learn to type
The physical act of writing involves so many components: Letter and word formation, spacing, spelling, sentence construction, written organization, and so many other challenging tasks, especially for kids with dysgraphia. Typing can ease some of these challenges. It eliminates letter formation and spacing challenges, and computers can help with spelling with the use of spell check. When the physical challenges of writing are reduced, ideas often flow much more easily. If typing is not an option, though, learning to write in cursive, rather than print, can help your child with letter reversals, spelling, spacing, and the overall flow of writing.
Many kids—even those who don’t have dysgraphia—have trouble getting started with their writing. Brainstorming can be very helpful in easing this challenge. Encourage your child to start by creating a brainstorm web with her ideas. If she wants to write about why she loves math, for instance, before she begins writing, she should draw a bubble in the middle of the page and write “why I love math.” Then, branching out from the middle bubble, she can add details on why she loves math, like “It helps with problem solving,” “It’s fun!” and “It plays a role in everyday life.” Then branching out of those detail bubbles, she may even add supporting details on why each of those reasons make her love math so much. Once her brainstorm web is complete, it becomes a much easier process to translate that information into an organized written format. Computer programs like Inspiration and Kidspiration are great tools for creating electronic versions of these brainstorm webs.
As students progress through school, they will inevitably be required to write longer and more complex stories, paragraphs, and essays. Help your child with dysgraphia build his writing skills with these ideas, and he will be well on his way to academic success!
Dr. Emily Levy is the founder of EBL Coaching, a local tutoring program that specializes in one-on-one home and on-site instruction for students in grades pre-K-12. She is also the author of the workbook series Strategies for Study Success and Flags and Stars. To learn more about Emily Levy and EBL Coaching, visit eblcoaching.com!