Why you shouldn’t worry about your preschooler’s handwriting skills
If you’ve ever worried about your preschooler’s handwriting skills and whether or not they’ll be able to write their name or their ABCs by kindergarten, let us (a pediatric Occupational Therapist and a former teacher with a Masters in Early Childhood Education) put your mind at ease. You might be shocked to realize that some of the expectations placed on kindergarteners and young learners isn’t actually backed by evidence.
This episode will give you insights into how handwriting is actually developed, what underlying skills we should be focusing on and how to start that conversation with your child’s school or teacher.
Susie is a former teacher with a Master’s in Early Childhood Education and a mom to 3 kids. She taught kindergarten and first grade for 8 years, and was also a math and reading curriculum specialist for a large school district outside of Seattle. Her mission is to bring hands-on play and learning back to childhood, support others in their parenting journey, and help everyone make it to nap time. Susie’s parenting book “Busy Toddler’s Guide to Actual Parenting” is available on Amazon and she also created Playing Preschool– a homeschool preschool curriculum.
In this episode, you’ll learn:
- Why there’s such a huge discrepancy between natural childhood development and what schools are expecting of early learner
- Why we shouldn’t force preschoolers to practice handwriting too early
- What we should be focusing on instead
- The sequence of underlying skills that need to be mastered before even attempting to form letters
- When is the right time to start practicing handwriting?
If you want more of the facts and insights behind this episode in a sharable, readable article, click here to go to the companion blog post.
FREE Conversation Starter/ Email Template
If you want help having the conversation with your child’s preschool team or admin at a local school distract regarding handwriting not being an appropriate priority for preschoolsers, feel free to copy and paste the template below replacing all underlined words with the applicable information:
Dear Teacher M,
I appreciate you bringing to my attention that Liliana has been struggling with some of the fine motor tasks like writing her name and some letters of the alphabet.
I am aware that, compared to some of her peers and the standards that are set for the classroom, Liliana may be considered behind in her performance (or you could say “I know your intent is to help ensure Liliana is ready for kindergarten”). However, I’ve recently learned that the underlying sensory-motor processes that contribute to a proper grasp and letter formation is not something that fully develops until kindergarten (closer to age 6).
Additionally, “rushing into handwriting before a child has truly mastered and developed all the skills needed to successfully print letters and numbers can often lead to a frustrating process and potential problems (Faguano, 2019).”
Considering that Liliana is only X years old, we would like to honor her natural hand and visual motor development, so we are not prioritizing letter formation and grasp at this time. Instead, we are trying to focus on building the underlying skills that are known to develop handwriting, which I learned from this article (written by an Occupational Therapist and Ms.Ed).
We will continue to meet her where she’s at and offer a lot of pre-writing hands on play activities that we hope will enhance her natural visual motor and fine motor abilities to shine and develop by kindergarten.
I would love to check back in with you towards the end of the year and re-assess her skills at that time.
Thank you again,
Companion blog post https://busytoddler.com/learning-handwriting/
Susie’s instagram: https://www.instagram.com/busytoddler
Sharable instagram post on handwriting
Susie’s PlayingPreschool program
The OT Butterfly Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/theotbutterfly
Work with Laura: https://www.theotbutterfly.com/parentconsult
Susie (00:00): What’s really important for parents to understand is, number one, teachers didn’t do this. We were handed a set of standards, and in many states, our livelihood depends on teaching to those standards. We do not have a choice. Number two, these standards were not written by anyone who had any expertise in early childhood education. Not one person who wrote these standards had ever sat next to a child and helped them learn to write or learn to read. Speaker 2 (00:30): Welcome to the Sensory Wise Solutions podcast for parents where parents can get real actionable strategies to support kids with sensory processing disorder. I’m Laura, OT and Mom To Liliana, a sensory sensitive kid who inherited my anxiety and my love for all things Disney. Consider me your new OT mom, bestie. I know my stuff, but I also know what it’s really like in the trenches of parenting a child with sensory processing disorder. Speaker 3 (00:59): Okay, mom, enough about me. Let’s start the podcast. Laura (01:05): Hello everyone. Welcome back to the podcast. I am really excited about this episode. It’s not my typical content that I’ve focused on in a while, so not really heavy on sensory. Still very, very applicable to all kids, neurotypical and neurodivergent, but it focuses more on motor skills, particularly handwriting, and this woman needs probably no introduction at all. I could probably say some buzzwords actually. Let’s play a game. Well, if you’re listening to this episode, you already know who’s in it. You saw the title, but just play along. I could say some buzzwords and most of you, if not all of you will probably already know who I’m talking about. Sittervising, Beach carrots, Popsicle baths. (02:05)Do you know who I’m talking about? It is Susie Allison from Busy Toddler. She’s got 2 million followers on Instagram, so chances are you’re already following her, but if you’re not, give her a follow. She is at Busy Toddler, and you can find all of the links beneath the show notes. But a little bit more about Susie. She is a former teacher with a master’s in Early childhood education, and she’s a mom to three kids. She taught kindergarten and first grade for eight years and was also a math and reading curriculum specialist for a large school district outside of Seattle. Her mission is to bring hands on play and learning back to childhood, support others in their parenting journey and help everyone make it to Naptime. Susie’s parenting book, busy Toddler’s Guide to Actual Parenting is available on Amazon, and she also created playing preschool, which is her own preschool curriculum. All of the links again in the show notes. All right, I’m not going to put it off any longer. Let’s get into the interview. Susie Allison, welcome to the podcast. Hi. Susie (03:13): Oh, thank you. I feel like I’ve been waiting for this invitation for a while because we’ve been friends for so long, so I feel like I got called up to the Cool Kid Table. Laura (03:21): I was waiting until your 40th birthday to invite you, so it could be the first. Susie (03:27): I specifically asked you if we could record this before my 40th birthday, but now you asked. We had to move it, and now here I am and I’m 40 plus two days. Laura (03:37): Oh, well, you look amazing and oh, Susie (03:40): Thank you so much. Laura (03:41): I’m so excited to have you here. It has been a long time coming. I think that we’ve been collaborating on this post since, I think it was last year, right? Susie (03:52): It was last year, Laura (03:53): But every time you repost it, it reminds me how much this message still needs to be talked about. Yeah, Susie (04:02): We’re just barely scratching the surface on this topic with this post, and we just need to keep trying to reach as many people as we can. Laura (04:10): So today I really want to unpack what that post was. If anyone doesn’t know what we’re talking about, I’ll put the link to all of the Instagram post to the blog post on the show notes. But what really prompted this was, well, so Susie, you asked me to help give my OT perspective yes behind this, but I would love if you told me more about your inspiration behind the blog post in question, the post in question, which is should we be teaching three and four year olds how to hand write? Susie (04:42): Yeah, so this came up in my q and as over the course of the last five years, and I mean that as this was this and some other questions, but this one specifically always struck me as one of the most consistently asked questions that I would get in the q and a constantly. How do I help my toddler develop handwriting skills? How am I helping my preschooler trace their letters or write their letters or pencil grip and things like that? And what I was noticing was not only were these very legitimate questions based on where we’re at in education and based on just general parent concern, but there was a big disconnect with what parents were understanding about handwriting and what is developmentally appropriate for a child with handwriting. And they just became, even as I’ve talked about this issue for the last few years, the disconnect and the discrepancy has grown and continues to grow. (05:36)And so I reached out to you and I said, I need help with this because I’m not an OT and I never want to talk out of place or out of turn, and I always want to be backed by research and experts, and I can only be the lady on the internet so much. I needed help from those beautiful OT initials you have next to your name. And I knew that sitting and talking with you about this, that we could try to reach people on a really deep level, a level more than just this woman I follow on Instagram who was a teacher. She says this, that then it becomes this person I follow who also collaborated with an ot. They’ve presented this research and this is the talking point. And now I’m maybe as a parent understanding a little bit more about what is developmentally appropriate for a preschooler when it comes to handwriting, which again, I think is become such a big discrepancy. It’s just so broad right now. And so that’s really what I want to talk about today and this blog post and really lay it all out there so people have a better idea of how to support their child and support their child within a realm of being developmentally appropriate Laura (06:45): To that. And we’re going to get into the nitty gritty of why it’s not appropriate and the actual skills that go into it. But I want to hone in on really what it means, why it’s so important for us to correct this message for parents, what we’re giving back to the parents for this, why you care so much about setting the record straight about this. Susie (07:06): What I want for parents to come out of this understanding is what the pathway is to handwriting, because I think what ends up happening with handwriting is this is just such a basic thing for us as adults. We pick up a pencil, we start writing, and we don’t remember what went into us learning that skill We have. Some of us remember a little bit about reading education. That’s something that people can kind of sometimes a little bit remember, but I don’t think I have ever come across anybody who goes, oh yeah, I remember learning to hold a pencil and do pen, pencil grip, and I remember writing my first sentence. For some reason, that just seems to be this skill that we have completely forgotten what went into it when we were children. And so then when we are looking at our own children and we’re hearing what’s going on in education and we’re hearing about the rigors of preschool and kindergarten and the very heavy academic focus, and so it becomes this, well, handwriting is kind of this really easy thing for me, so it should be really easy for my child, and they should just start learning that. (08:06)And what ends up happening is we end up kind of building a house on sand, and if we look at education from the perspective of building a house, we need to have an unbelievably beautiful foundation for this unbelievably beautiful foundation house of this child to be built on. And so instead, if we just start throwing up walls without these foundational skills and without all of the legwork that goes in that we as adults have forgotten, then we end up coming to a position with our children where they’re either being forced to do something that they’re really not physically ready for or not developmentally ready for, or they end up creating workarounds or handwriting issues or fundamentals don’t, fundamentals don’t develop. And it just where we think, well, I can just hurry my child through this skill. It’s pretty easy. We end up sometimes making more work and causing more problems than we ever anticipated and never wanting to put guilt on a parent or blame on a parent. It’s just what happens when we try to force and rush a skill like this. We can accidentally create workarounds that don’t serve the child later in life. Laura (09:16): And then there’s all that parental stress and the stress on the child before they’ve even entered the real academic years where we don’t want to send them in with already this hate towards this pencil and paper that they’re only going to see more and more and more for the rest of their academic career. So I know there’s a lot of things different in these days versus when Susie (09:41): We were kids, you sound old, we sound old when we were Laura (09:43): Kids back in the day, back Susie (09:44): In the day when we were in horse drawn carriages going to school Laura (09:47): In the late 19 hundreds when we were, oh my Susie (09:50): God, don’t say it like that. Please don’t. That was horrible Laura (09:54): In the late 19 hundreds when we grew up in the school in the schoolhouse. Oh gosh, there’s so many different ways that we played. And so we can hypothesize a lot on play looks different. And so of course development has changed, and of course, in a very specific timeframe, the pandemic and how that’s impacted. But I want to know, I’m curious if, because I know you used to work in the classroom, if you were able to pinpoint or understand when did the expectancy for this, how did we get here? How are we in this place where they’re putting worksheets in front of three year olds? How did that happen? Who, yeah, who’s in charge of this? Susie (10:32): Who’s in charge of this? A lot of people are in charge of this and they’re not really teachers, just really fun. Really? Laura (10:36): Okay. Susie (10:37): Yeah, they’re not. So the path that we’re on right now and how we got to this spot in education, it honestly started back in the eighties and we talk idyllically about our educations in the late eighties and into the nineties, but people before us would say that we were already doing too much and that we were already developmentally out of whack. So these kinds of issues started really in the eighties, and they took hold in the nineties, and then by the time we hit the two thousands, now we’ve really hit the ground running with things like No Child Left Behind, race to the Top and the Common Core state standards. And I think what’s really important, one of the things that I always want to talk about is that this is a bipartisan issue. We can’t look at one political party. No one party messed this up. So this isn’t something where we can say, well, they didn’t do it right and they would’ve done it different. No, everybody’s messed up. Everybody’s okay. Everybody’s equally to blame on this one. But really what we had is we had no Child Left Behind come out, and then we really doubled down with Race to the Top. And within that was created the Common Core state standards, and those were adopted by a majority of the states in the United States pretty unanimously in the 2010, 12 ish range. (11:52)That set of standards in a lot of states is still in place, or the state uses standards that really mirror the common core. They might not say they’re using Common Core, but they’ve really mirrored it. Those standards were not created by people in education. Those were created by people outside of education looking in. It’s a very difficult process to explain, but it has to do with a lot of big money and a lot of big names coming up with ideas for what they thought could fix education. And unfortunately, that education took hold of these ideas and decided to push them out. When they wrote the Common Core State Sanders, they wrote them from a top down model. They started at senior year of high school, and they said, if we want a child to be ready to exit the school system as a senior in high school, what do they need to know? (12:35)And then they started from there and they started working their way backwards. And by the time they got to kindergarten, they had left themselves so much ground to make up that the pathway, in order to make it make sense, they had to shove all of this learning into the really early years, the kindergarten and first grade years, which then pushes stuff down into the preschool years. What’s really important for parents to understand is number one, teachers didn’t do this. We were handed a set of standards, and in many states, our livelihood depends on teaching to those standards. We do not have a choice. Number two, these standards were not written by anyone who had any expertise in early childhood education. Not one person who wrote these standards had ever sat next to a child and helped them learn to write or learn to read. And that’s a really dangerous position for us now, even a decade later, we’re still using these standards and we’re still using these standardized tests that were created out of this era. (13:35)And they were created with absolutely no regard to early childhood education and the development of these children. And it is a sad place that we live in now within I know it is. It’s shocking and it’s shocking that in my head, I’m so old where I look back at things and I’m like, well, a couple years ago. And so for me, I keep thinking, well, this just all happened a couple years ago. I’m like, no, this all happened 10, 12 years ago, depending on what state you live in. And when that adoption process happened that these standards changed so rigorously, and they changed for so many of the wrong reasons, and they changed without research, and they changed without any scientific backing to say that a child should be able to do this or a child can be able to do this. And so when we’re looking at something like handwriting and we’re looking at the expectations of a kindergartner and a first grader, and we’re trying to shove stuff down into the preschool age to kind of make these pathways make sense in learning, we’re doing it all from a place that has no backing in science, has no backing in research. (14:39)And it is, it’s hard. And it’s hard because the messages that have been sent to parents and the messages that are being pushed out really don’t align with what we know as professionals about how children learn and how their bodies develop. Because really when we peel this back, especially in early childhood, we’re talking about physical body development. And I know that’s something you and I are going to talk about a lot. And so you can’t force a child to develop faster just to make a pathway, make sense, to get them to a spot when they’re a senior in high school. But that’s essentially what we’ve been asked to do, and that’s what we’re being asked to do right now, and that’s really what we need to be pushing back on. Laura (15:20): It’s hard. I’m appalled. I know. Susie (15:23): I Laura (15:23): Did not realize that that’s, that’s how it works if people, you can’t see me, but every time she was mentioning that, I was like, I got more flabbergasted as she kept going do. You might not know the answer, but this made me think, are other countries experiencing the same thing? Have you heard from teachers around the world who have similar standards being there Susie (15:44): Are some countries that have similar standards to us, but then there’s a lot of countries that outpace us in education, and they have vastly different educational, I think about Germany. Kids in Germany don’t start learning letters until age seven. Finland is kind of on the same. There’s a lot of European countries that are kind of on a, about Finland that are on a same trajectory where kids things, skills that kids in America are learning at age four and five are being held off in those countries until age seven and eight, and they still see huge amounts of success and in many cases more success, I bet, than we see. I Laura (16:18): Bet. And let me guess, none of the common core standards really place emphasis on learning in the younger years, at least Susie (16:26): They do. In the older core standards, were primarily focused on English and language arts, so reading and writing, and then on mathematics, those are the big focuses on them. Laura (16:39): Yeah, Susie (16:40): Okay. I know it’s an It’s not not good. It’s Laura (16:44): Hard. Okay. Okay. So now that we’ve got, we know we’re not blaming teachers, we want to help teachers. No, we want to help parents, at least this is every time I talk about one of these big topics, and it’s like it starts at the topic. It’s a systemic issue, but then it makes us feel like we can’t have any change. What can we do? Vote with your dollars, vote for this person. Don’t vote. We’re not going there. It starts with at home, and it starts with a conversation with your teacher, and it starts with educating yourself so that you can take the pressure off of yourself and then your child, and then that can just open up so much more potential. How I can’t believe how many daily battles I’ve solved just by actually taking the pressure off. Yes. It just figures it out. Yes. I’m like, wait, I’ve been taking it harder this entire time, and I just needed to stop. Susie (17:39): Just need to sometimes, not always, but sometimes nature just really does need to take its course. And that becomes really hard in the generation that we’re parenting in, where we want things to be quantifiable and we want data and we want the facts, and we want to be able to test because we were raised in an era where testing was really important to our education. So then when we’re looking at something that is essentially untestable (18:04)Really, really hard because to just let nature and play and child development take its natural course really puts us in the backseat or in the passenger seat as opposed to where we’ve been told we should be with parenting is we should always be in the driver’s seat. We should always be driving. We should always be pushing and helping them be the best version of the person they can be. And that’s true, but so many times we can do that from the passenger seat and we can just let natural development again, not always, yeah, it’s not always going to be the case, but often there is a real time where we can just set aside and let biology and let natural child development that’s been progressing. These kids for generations and generations just do its work. Just do its work. Laura (18:54): So let’s zoom in then when we’re talking about what natural development looks like to help parents understand how we even get to handwriting. And I think one of the biggest light bulbs that I set off for parents is you need to have a solid, when you’re talking about building your house on sand versus on a solid foundation, sensory supports so many all motor skills, but beyond that, you need to have good gross motor skills in order to properly access your fine motor skills. So that’s why when we’re talking about natural development, we’re talking about, yes, tummy time eventually will translate to being able to write letters, believe it or not, because that is the natural part of development. You develop your core, your postural muscles, and if none of this middle part of your body is stable to hold yourself up, there is absolutely no way you’re going to be able to control these little tiny muscles at the end of your arm to form a sequence of strokes to write your name or a letter. That’s not going to happen. Susie (19:57): And I think that goes back to what I was mentioning in the beginning where we think that handwriting is this very singular, oh, well, they pick up a pencil and they start writing and we see it all as something happening within their hands in a very, we simplify it as well, this is so easy for me, and it is just kind of a natural thing. They’re just going to just pick it up and do it. But really it is so much, I mean, they have to have that core strength. They have to have that stability. They have to be able to do the pincho graph. They need the arm strength, the hand strength. They have to be able to cross the mid lights. It’s like there are so many things they have to have learned to do, and these aren’t things that you can say, well, their core strength is there. Check the box. We move on to the next thing. It’s like these are developing all together and they’re developing over years. This isn’t something you say, well, they crossed the midline once, so now they’re ready. Laura (20:48): Check, done. I saw, check it off, Susie (20:50): Sorry. And we’re ready to move on to the next thing. It’s like these are developing and these take years to develop. These are not things that we can rush them into developing. Laura (21:00): There’s a difference between emerging skills and mastered skills, right? And you’ll see things emerge, emerge, and you’ll see things like one day they’ll do this, but then the next day can’t, it’s still emerging. It’s like when your kid takes their first few steps, they’re still going to probably crawl in between when they’re still learning and then you can’t teach them to run before they walk. All of these things depend on a lot of practice, but really when you hear professionals and therapists and educators talk about meeting kids where you can still support their natural development, but that understanding, I think for parents to know that you can meet them where they’re at and still support their development without rushing to the next milestone. Susie (21:47): Yeah. I think one of the analogies I always use is bike riding and kids are going to learn bike riding on different spectrums. Some, yeah. I mean, we’ve had kids in our neighborhood start two wheel bike riding at age three, but that is, I know it’s wild. But again, that was that child and that was their gross motor development and great, cool sounds awesome, but that doesn’t mean we’re going to suddenly start asking all three-year-olds to ride a two-wheel bicycle. That would be wild of us. And then at the other side, that there’s kids that if they don’t pick up and start riding a two-wheel bike until they’re six years old, seven, eight, that doesn’t mean that when they’re 25, they’re a worse bike rider because their body developed at a different pace or that the three-year-old then becomes a better bike rider. And then again, keep it with this analogy. (22:32)Once a child starts to ride a bike and is riding a bike, we don’t then put the bike away and say, cool, you mastered that skill. Let’s go to the next thing. That’s right. We keep letting them ride the bike and we keep watching and allowing this to kind of develop. And I think the same is so true about handwriting in these early years. I think a lot of this can just happen really naturally. And if you have a child that naturally picks up the pencil and just kind of starts writing letters, just let it happen, you don’t need, that’s not an invitation for you to come over and say, oh my gosh, you just wrote your name for the first time. Now you’re going to learn every letter. And I’m going to hover it’s, Laura (23:06): Write me five sentences, Susie (23:08): Write me five sentences. And I’d like a thesis statement. I want to summary, no, just if you have a child that’s like that, and some kids are going to just naturally be like that again, because we know with child development that we’re going to develop at all different speeds and all different times. And I think one of the most important things you can do with handwriting is to honor the child and where the child is at in these preschool years by saying, you’re not interested in this, so why would I make you sit down and start doing this when it’s not necessary? Conversely, if the child is interested and is doing it, just let them do it. You don’t need to intervene. You can let child’s natural development happen and just let them naturally start writing their letters and figuring things out. And then those kind of skills on specific letter formation and specifics, that’ll happen later, again, when they’re really ready for it. (24:01)And they’re more at a point where we do want to intervene, and we do want to start as teachers being like, okay, well, let’s make sure we’re forming the letters in the appropriate way. But so much of it comes down to just honoring the child and looking at the child and saying, it’s okay if my three or four year old is not interested in writing letters. Also, it’s okay if they are, but in both scenarios, I don’t need to insert myself. I don’t need to insert myself and either make them more or make them something that they aren’t. Yeah, I can just let them be exactly who they are. Laura (24:37): I think that’s a really, really good message for parents to hear over and over and over again. And again, keeping in mind that what you said earlier is that even these expectations that are placed on kids, not necessarily from the teacher, but from higher up, from higher up, and these teachers are just, I don’t make the rules, I just follow them, and this is what’s expected. But I think that sometimes we see by kindergarten, your child should be able to write their name and okay, oh my gosh, my kid’s four and we’re in pre-K and they don’t know yet, so let me start now. A lot of the time it will happen naturally, honestly. And I think parents have a hard time understanding this because it doesn’t seem, it feels like a very concrete task, but a lot of age appropriate, developmentally appropriate play will eventually lead to that. And it’s not the first day of kindergarten if they can’t write their name on their name tag, they’re kicked out. Susie (25:32): That’s it. They failed, gone, Laura (25:34): Gone from kindergarten. It’s not that. But they will be spending more time actually teaching letters and writing letters, and they still have time to catch up and learn in kindergarten. And a lot of that does happen in the first few months. Now, of course, my audience, I have a lot of divergent learners and kids who might be of the developmental track where they need a little bit extra support, which we can talk about too. But just in general, I don’t worry or start flagging or really, really intentionally working on actual pen to paper, handwriting letter formation until the child is late latent kindergarten, and if they’re showing C can’t trace letters a lot of things because we want to give them time to catch up, whether that’s homeschooling kindergarten or in the traditional classroom setting at that age towards the end of age five, age six ish. Yeah. Susie (26:28): Would you agree with that? I think that’s so important to say the ages that this isn’t difference because different countries and even different states start kindergarten at different times. Late kindergarten can mean vastly different things. And so I think if we look at it more and say, I’m not worried about this until they’re six and struggling. And one of the things I often say to parents when they’re looking at that pre-K year and they’re looking ahead to kindergarten and maybe it’s March and they’re starting to fill out the forms for kindergarten, kindergarten’s getting very real to them. That’s six months from now or that’s five months from now. And if you could rewind in your brain backwards five months or six months and think about what your child has developed in the last five or six months, you don’t even know who this kid is going to be walking in the door at kindergarten because there is so much time between this moment and kindergarten or even if they’re starting their fours program and you’re like, whoa, kindergarten’s a year and a half away, or, that’s a lot of time. (27:20)And I always ask parents, whatever this time period is that you’re worried about whatever it is from this moment until the day kindergarten starts, would you just go backwards in your mind for just a second, grab your phone, go back whatever amount of months you need to, and look at the pictures of them and think about the things that they were coloring or drawing or how they were speaking, how they were handling their emotions, just different things like that. I mean, you will be stunned at what your child has accomplished in that time, and it’s only going to get more, only going to get more in this span. I think the other thing that’s really important that I’ve learned from you and other OTs that I’ve talked about is really this kind of timeline that kids are on when it comes to letter writing and that we’re often in this rush to push them into these letters, but biologically and developmentally, we know that kids aren’t making what a diagonal line until between age four and five. (28:13)So then you think about how many letters need a diagonal line, and if they can’t even form the diagonal line until between four and five, why are we pushing it at three? It doesn’t make, it does. Yeah. What are we doing here? That’s what we mean when we say we’re following this kind of developmental path that has been in place for hundreds of years with kids as they’ve learned to write. Let’s watch that and let’s let that happen. But I think it is just so important to add an age to these because those age limits can vary depending on where the listener is at or where your child is going to go to kindergarten. So really we’re talking about we’re not intervening until they’re six. And right now what we’re talking about is the push for people trying to help their kids write at ages three and four. And so that is so much time. There is so much difference in a child in those years. Laura (29:02): And if anyone listening is just curious, one of my first sort of assessments are just to see what strokes your child can’t do without just saying, can you draw a diagonal line? Can you draw a triangle? Ask them to draw a person and just see what their person looks like with, don’t even give them any. Don’t forget eyes. Don’t forget. Just draw me a person and see how they pick up the crayon. Doesn’t even have to be a pencil. Could be like chalk on the sidewalk. Just see what their kind of strokes look like and see where they’re currently at. And then use that. Ask them six months later to draw a person without any specific tutorials. Step by step tutorial to that is one of our common first screening measurements of fine motor and visual motor as an ot. I love that. (29:49)How do they draw a person? Because, and it’s one of the popular handwriting formation like preparation type curriculum is drawing a person because it comes with all of the strokes. So what Susie was talking about, we’re going to break down just so people have a more concrete structured understanding of the development. So if we’re thinking of handwriting as pencil to paper, writing your name or writing letters A through Z or whatever alphabet, your child and culture follow, it’s made up of diagonals horizontals curves, right? Yes. Yes. And so the first step to this is the visual perception piece. Can the child actually recognize and perceive what they’re seeing appropriately? Yes. The visual perception, not labeling, rectangle triangle, are they actually perceiving it as the shape and the symbol or whatever is in front of them? We can’t expect, as you put in the blah, you can’t expect them to draw what they don’t like know or are visual Susie (30:53): Perceiving. If they don’t know the letter A, we can’t ask them to write a letter A, right? I mean, that’s a whole other post I have about not worrying about the ABCs yet. So that all goes together. But again, we can’t ask them to draw a circle if that isn’t a skill they know yet. Laura (31:09): And it starts don’t have that down. It starts even if you have a non-speaking child, if you’re holding up a circle and ask them to point to the other circle, we’re not asking them to trace the circle. We’re not asking them to verbally label it. Which one of these matches this thing over here? That is how you can quickly, informally sort of assess. Are they visually perceiving some things? Yeah, some Susie (31:30): Shapes. And then we go from that into tracing letters. Laura (31:35): That’s right. Yeah. Not tracing letters yet. Tracing the shapes, Susie (31:38): Tracing the shapes, tracing the Laura (31:39): Shapes, tracing the shapes. So we’re talking like a straight line square. Yeah. Triangle circle doesn’t even have to be a heart yet. But can they trace these primary, very one curve, two diagonal type shapes, a plus sign? Can they trace it? And it again, does not have to involve the writing utensil yet? Can they visually track it with their finger? Susie (32:06): With their finger Laura (32:07): Or whatever they’re tracing. There’s so many fun traceable activities that you have on your site. What is it? The toy parade, right? Put a piece of that’s tape on the ground, and if they can put the animals or the figurines on it, that is tracing, they’re able to visually perceive that there is a diagonal line on the ground and I can make a motor output to place the animals on this line. That is visual motor integration at a preschool age level development. Right? Yeah. So that’s tracing. That’s just tracing. The next step is being able to imitate a shape or a pre-writing stroke or a letter. So imitating is different from copying and imitating is a visual one-on-one, like step-by-step demonstration. So I’m in front of the child and I am making a line down, and they would see the motor action and they would imitate it right after. (33:05)And if your child can’t do that yet, then you’re not going to get them. You’re not going to be able to put a shape in front of them and then say, copy this shape, or even worse, say, draw a circle without any visual demonstration. These are all the tiny little steps in between. And then after imitation, it’s copying. So you show them a picture of a line and they can just, from the visual representation, make a line. Again, doesn’t have to be with a pen or paper. If I make a line of Paw Patrol figurines on the ground, can you make a line of paw patrol figures on the ground? If I make a circle of cars on this track, can you make the circles of cars on this track? And then only after you’ve reached that stage of confidently copying shapes and or letters, I would start with shapes. Honestly. Then we can start to build on that an independently drawing from memory from recall, which includes the sequence of strokes, all of that to say, right, draw me a triangle. That’s so many steps that Susie (34:07): I, it’s so many steps, and that’s so many years. I think that’s what people don’t understand is what you just went through was four years of not like, yeah, four days. It’s not, and again, it’s not, okay, you trace the triangle today, tomorrow you’re going to imitate it, and then Thursday you’re going to be copying, and then Friday’s going to be like, we’re talking Laura (34:29): And you graduate college just two weeks later and you’ll have your entire dissertation completed and we’ll have one. Susie (34:35): Oh, no, it’s so much more time in this than we remember again from being kids and that than we’re giving credit to it. It is so much, and you just think about when you’re talking about what you said independently drawing the shape, that means that’s coming from their memory. Laura (34:55): Yep. Susie (34:56): Oh my gosh. The brain power and development to remember something and translate it onto paper. Yeah. I mean, I’m just trying to imagine what all is happening. It’s from the brain to the arm out through the hand, and then I’m remembering the, I mean, it’s like, and Laura (35:13): This is Susie (35:14): Not even mind blowing. Laura (35:15): This is not even, again, this is not even taking into consideration holding an extra object in your body. Susie (35:21): Oh yeah, no, let’s not even opening that can of worms right now. Yeah. Laura (35:24): Not even talking about the grass, which is a whole other thing. But if you’re even saying on the shower door, draw me a square, and they can’t form what a picture of a square is, they can’t have the stability to pull their pointer finger out and then create the stroke from memory. How can we then put a writing utensil in their hand at a table with a piece of paper and say, with no, and draw me a square and they can’t do it. And then, oh, they’re so behind. It’s really, they’re so behind, really. It’s really, really depending on so many of these foundational pieces. Susie (36:00): And what I’m seeing from my point of view, talking to so many parents each day is I’m seeing three and four year olds being asked to have this whole set down and mastered, and that is, that’s where we’re seeing this is just not developmentally appropriate. And so if you’re getting information back from, say, a preschool that your child at three or four is behind, or they’re not making their shapes, they’re not doing all of these yet. Yeah, they probably aren’t. Right. I would question if you probably weren’t at that age either, because the set of standards was just so different. And one of the things that we highlight a lot in that blog post is the bones of the hand. And again, when we’re talking about this development and saying, this isn’t developmentally appropriate, it’s like, look at all the things you just listed, the visuals, the gross motor, the being able to recall the working memory needed, and then if we add in the fact that their little tiny baby hands aren’t even bone developed yet to do all of this, they’re so soft Laura (37:09): And squishy still Susie (37:10): What that is. They’re so fluffy. And again, it’s never coming at this from a point where we’re trying to scare you or make you feel guilty, but it’s just Laura (37:27): These Susie (37:27): Can lead to problems if we start to really force these and it can lead to resentment with the child and anxieties within the child about their riding and different things like that. Again, no different than if we took a three year old and said, today you have to learn how to ride a bike. And you think about the anxiety and the sadness and the trauma and the disappointment that would cause that child towards bike riding. And again, we wouldn’t do that. We would not just take it at a child and arbitrarily say, well, we’ve decided that today you have to be able to do this, and if you don’t, we’re going to label you as behind and we’re going to keep pushing this skill until you catch up. We wouldn’t do that with bike riding. It’s such a funny thing that we would never do that, and yet we do it all the time with pencils and shapes and letters. We do it all the time. Laura (38:20): So understanding that the standards and these requirements come from somewhere beyond the teachers if parents want to. So if parents are getting the message from teachers, Hey, your kid’s really behind, we’re worried he is not going to be ready for kindergarten. You should be working on this. Or even worse, which I’ve heard from some parents at schools where we won’t accept unless they do X, y, Z skill or teachers who are keeping them in at recess because they didn’t color appro. Some pretty extreme cases. How do parents and teachers navigate this where teachers are like, oh, well, it’s not my fault. I’m just doing what I’m told, but then parents are left with this, so what am I supposed to do if my child doesn’t have that skill? I don’t like the way that this is being placed on them. I don’t have the resources to homeschool, which would sometimes a lot of people are just just homeschool, which would be great if we all could, which would Susie (39:12): Be great, but that’s not going to happen. So Laura (39:14): What would you advise people who are stuck in this where they parents are hearing this and they’re like, yes, I agree. I understand. How can I advocate best for my child to make sure that they are supported in the proper way knowing that all of these things are kind of set up to work against them? Yeah. Susie (39:30): I think the first thing I would do is understand what the development of handwriting is. Read our article, go through the things on my website, on your website, and educate yourself on understanding what the development of handwriting looks like. Schedule a conference with your child’s preschool teacher and head in for a meeting. Come at it from a place of genuine interest, curiosity, kindness. We approach things with respect and just let the teacher know, Hey, I have a different belief in how handwriting develops than it seems like is being pushed in this classroom. We’re going to de-emphasize that for our child, and we’re going to emphasize other things. And then I would list out things that you’re emphasizing. We’re emphasizing being able to zip. We’re emphasizing shovels, we’re emphasizing sensory bins. We’re going to emphasize all sorts of gross motor development, and we’re going to emphasize all these things that support the child eventually learning handwriting, but for right now, we’re going to deemphasize that with our child, and this isn’t the priority, so we’re not going to be held in at recess and we’re not going to hold back from play times and other things because what we value for our child is their development in play and in recess that we know will support the handwriting. (40:45)And you wrote up such a beautiful letter that parents can download off of my website and insert their child’s name and their name and use it as really a template for how you can approach this. You could either send in this letter to your child’s preschool or use this as talking points to just say, this is the research, this is what we’re emphasizing, this is what our family values, and we’re going to move forward just in a more productive way that we feel honors the whole child and the whole child’s development rather than this one tiny piece of pencil to paper. Laura (41:19): Yeah. I think it’s really giving parents the confidence to go no to that. You have the right to speak up, but like you’re saying, go into it with respect and benefit of the doubt that you’re the teach, that it’s not the teacher is doing this out of nowhere. It’s really just where we’re at right now with the standards. Susie (41:41): And I think one of the things I was talking about with a lot of parents this morning on my Instagram is there are a lot of things that are being done in preschools and preschool teachers are making choices to do them, and it honestly comes from two points. It comes from the standards that have been handed down and the current climate of parent expectations. And when you get a lot of parents expecting their child to be handwriting at three and four years old, and this is a private preschool that needs attendance, they’re going to react to that. And that may not be the teacher’s choice. It may be the climate of the area you’re living in and sending your child to preschool in. And having said that, again, that’s why we come at this to the teacher with respect and understanding their expertise and try to find out why is this the idea for this preschool and how can I make this work for my child? Because again, it may not be necessarily that this was the teacher’s choice or the path the teacher wanted to take. It often comes from the expectations of the elementary school being kind of pushed down onto that. And then again, by way of that, the expectations that parents are pushing. (42:54)And so if we can all as parents, educate ourselves and understand, then we have the ability to really impact preschools because if we’re not asking for a four year old to be writing a sentence, then they’re not going to be asking necessarily. So it really, there’s so many things at play, and that’s why it’s so important to just look at this as we’re all here to support this child. We’re all here to value this child. I want to look at this child and figure out how to help them develop in a way that’s appropriate and going to support their whole education, not just their education as far as being ready to walk into kindergarten. Laura (43:31): Yes. I think that is the perfect place to end this episode on as that takeaway point to parents and your post today, which at this point of the publish of this episode will be a few weeks behind, but it is about kindergarten readiness. Yeah. I think that if you’re hearing this and you want to know where to start, if you go to the blog post, Susie already highlights, there’s a lot of just daily tasks that just naturally support development and in terms of fine motor, visual, motor, all of that. But then, like I said, she is the queen of the easy to set up activities that we sort of handpicked together and thought about for this blog post. If you want to look towards supporting their handwriting skills down the line, there’s a bunch of activities there. Susie (44:12): I think it’s just so important in the culture and climate that we’re at right now in education that we as parents remember that getting a child ready for kindergarten is not a competition. It’s not a competition to see whose child is the most ready to get into that classroom. It’s not a competition for whose child goes in with the most number of skills. We have to deprioritize our feelings about how our child looks against another child and how our child maybe stacks up against another child. We have to be okay with honoring where that child is and no different, as you know, four years ago when you sat at the playground, oh, when did they learn to walk? Oh, cool. Mine learned to walk at this age. And for some reason it was really okay back then if your child walked at 10 months or if your child walked at 15 months, but then we zoomed forward five years and it’s no longer, okay, if your child maybe didn’t learn handwriting until they were five, but another kid learned at four somehow, then it becomes this really big competition on whose child is most ready to be in kindergarten, and that’s just not the way we want to be looking at kindergarten. (45:16)We need to be looking at kindergarten as the first step for this child taking an independent walk into their education and into their education path, and what is that foundation going to look like for that child as they grow, and is that going to be a foundation where we’ve just thrown up some academic walls, but there’s really nothing for them to stand on, and are they having a sour taste in their mouth because they’re being pushed into a set of academic skills that maybe isn’t right for them? Or are we valuing that child and valuing the individual path that they’re on the path that we valued up until the point that they hit school? Were really, really good at understanding that all kids develop differently and they’d all develop on different times, but for some reason the second they hit kindergarten, then we go, no, they should all be on the same path. (46:02)They should all be developing the same, and they should all be hitting benchmarks at the exact same time, and it becomes a competition. So if you’re listening to this today and your child is nearing these kindergarten ages and you’re looking at handwriting, you’re looking at reading, you’re looking all these different things, take a deep breath, look at that child. Look at six months ago. Look at ahead to six months from now. They are growing, moving forward, and yes, it is going to be on their path. It is not going to be on your neighbor’s path. It’s not going to be on your friend’s path. It’s not going to be on the kids’ path that sits next to them. And one of the best and nicest and most amazing things we can do as parents for our child is to be willing to say, I am so excited about the path that you are on, and I’m excited to be on this path with you, and I’m not going to ask you to be on a different path, and I’m not going to ask you to move to a different way of learning. I’m going to honor you as you are, and I’m excited to be here with you, so please try. I know it’s, it’s easier said than done. Please try. Laura (47:05): Wow. Susie Allison Vizi, toddler for president. Oh, Susie (47:09): Please. Laura (47:10): We just, all of that was amazing. I don’t even have a follow up to that, but yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. I hope that parents hear this episode and feel, I hope that this episode took pressure off of maybe a me too, a plate of full of things that you feel like, okay, at least I don’t have to worry about that. We have so many things that we can be worrying about these days, but also maybe if you were already thinking that, and this just gives you the emphasis that you’re doing the right thing. Yeah, so definitely check out the blog post if anyone wants to see this written out. The visuals are there, the activities are there if you do want to support your child, and then at the bottom of the blog will be a copy and paste. Yeah, email template or talking points like you said, to start the conversation with whoever needs to hear it in terms of how you’re going to deprioritize handwriting in your three and four year old, or I love it at a younger age. Yes. Thank you so much for being here, Susie. This, Susie (48:06): It has been my absolute pleasure. Thanks for having me. This is great. Laura (48:10): All right. Thanks, Susie. Of Susie (48:11): Course, anytime. Speaker 2 (48:16): If you enjoyed this podcast, please consider rating it and leaving a review, which helps other parents find me as well, want to learn more from me. I share tons more over on Instagram at the OT Butterfly. See you next time.