psychologist's jargon for the level of skill, with which children use ordinary, everyday things like a spoon or fork, crayons, plastic scissors, glue brush, paintbrush, etc. Can they tie their shoe laces, clean their teeth properly, get a top to spin?
These are skills that can be developed. For those of us old enough to remember, there was junior mechano and the progression to the even smaller parts of the regular mechano, with the tools to join parts together. Most boys had a set of some size to make all manner of wonderful inventions. There were even small motors, that moved parts.
Then there were those kits with tiny pieces to build model, ships, cars and many other things. Hours were spent in this way and these were wonderful for creating exceptional manipulative skill with hands and fingers.
For girls, who had kind brothers, the mechano sets were often a favourite, but I also remember making pictures with tiny beads, learning to sew with tiny stitches, making little tea sets with clay, colouring, drawing, painting, or french knitting. I remember my brother was addicted to french knitting for a while. He ended up with a length that stretched all the way from the front fence to the back fence. We ended up making a mat with it.
And now the good news - all these things, including some great mechano are still available today, plus many more activities to get little fingers nimble and clever with manipulating tools - large and small - and increasing the strength of those tiny muscles needed to successfully guide a pencil.
Before we go any further, I want to stress, really stress, the importance of your prospective writer being given the thicker, three sided pencils to use. You can get them in plain lead and colours. I know they are more expensive and need sharpening more often, but they encourage the tripod grip and are much easier to manipulate than the thinner ones.
As in any kind of tool manipulation, there is a way to hold a pencil which has been proved to cause the least stress on hand muscles and help writing to flow more evenly. This is called the dynamic tripod grip. Children develop the habit of holding their pencils in ways different to this, for a variety of reasons. The most common reason, is participating in lots of writing before their hands are developmentally ready for it.
Other than forming a habit for the wrong pencil grip, the most common problem is how much pressure your young student is putting on the pencil. Some children press too hard, writing slowly and deliberately and putting great stress on the muscles in their hands and fingers. Obviously, this will prove to be very uncomfortable for them and they won't be at all motivated to practice their writing. To help them realise how hard to press, put their writing paper on a thin foam board. When they press too hard, their pencil will go through the paper into the foam. Make a game of it, to see if they can write without the pencil going through, but heavy enough to make the writing clear.
The opposite problem - not pressing hard enough - can be helped if you use paper with a carbon backing or just a piece of carbon paper stapled between two sheets of paper. If the writer doesn't press hard enough, the copy won't be seen on the sheet beneath.
Other ways to improve manipulative skills are:
1. String plastic, ceramic, glass or even beads you make yourself from paper mache etc, and decorate them.
2. Sew with wool to make felt hand puppets, pillows or clothes for dolls, little purses, marble bags or whatever your little creative genius desires.
3.Weave placemats with craft foam, coloured paper, craft ribbon, crepe paper or anything else you discover will work.
4.Make flower necklaces out of real flowers or the small craft ones.
5.Make pom-poms from two cardboard donut shapes and wool.
6.Make paper flowers from tissue, crepe or ordinary coloured paper. If you've used the type of paper, on which you can use glue, sprinkle with sparkle or decorate in some other way.
7. Check out a library book and learn to make origami animals. Best to check one out from the children's section if possible. Some of the designs can get very complicated.
8. Make paper chains as decoration. These can be used also to hang up and write the name of each book you've read together on a separate chain. It can cause great excitement and even motivate children to ask to have books read to them, to fill up the chain completely. Try having a blank chain for each month with a do-able number of links.