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An Occupational Therapist's Approach to Handwriting Instruction: Playapy Founder Amy Baez

By Erin Flynn Jay August 2, 2016

In her career as a pediatric occupational therapist, Amy Baez, MOT, OTR/L, noticed a trend toward teaching children to write at increasingly early ages. She believes this has led to more children being referred to therapy for poor fine motor and handwriting skills.

Children who learn to write before they’re ready are likely to experience difficulties

“Teachers and parents are ignoring what are the expected development skills for a child,” she said. “If this trend continues, children are going to need more support and instruction to compensate for decreased skills.”

In 2012, Baez founded Playapy (a combination of “play” and “therapy”) to offer education training and therapy services. “Playapy hopes to make handwriting more enjoyable and successful for children and teachers,” she said.

Playapy handwriting instruction books won ‘Educational Activity Book of the Year’ from Creative Child Magazine

In 2013, the company released two handwriting instruction books, “Heads, Tummies, & Tails: A Smart Guide to Printing Lowercase Letters” and “Treasure CHEST: A Smart Guide to Printing Uppercase Letters.” Both publications won “Educational Activity Book of the Year” awards from Creative Child Magazine.

Playapy’s handwriting workbooks are available in both paper and digital formats and were designed to engage young children without distracting or overstimulating them. The book’s mascots, a parrot and a monkey, are friendly companions that reward a child when he or she completes each page but also help him or her grasp the overall concept of the letter groups, allowing for greater retention.

Kinesthetic, multisensory handwriting instruction is easy for young children to learn

“It is recommended that children start the workbooks around age five when it is developmentally more appropriate,” said Baez. “However, the action words and concepts can be introduced at earlier ages to form shapes, letters, and numbers on a larger scale without the guidance of lines.” She said the response from teachers, therapists and parents is that they see great results and children take to the books easily.

In addition to being informed by her training and experience as an occupational therapist, Baez believes that Playapy’s kinesthetic, multi-sensory approach to handwriting differs from others with simple action words that provide fun, easy instruction for young children to follow. Letters are instructed based on formation and alignment in groups instead of in alphabetical order. Uppercase and lowercase letters are also separated to encourage greater success and efficiency.

Teachers who took a Playapy handwriting workshop would recommend it to students and other teachers

Teachers can use Playapy concepts and worksheets in the classroom to instruct students on the proper formation and alignment of letters. Some teachers use it in conjunction with other curriculum; others use it independently.

When surveyed after taking a Playapy workshop, 100 percent of teachers answered “Agree” or “Highly Agree” to whether they would recommend the program to teachers and students.

Initially, Baez focused on introducing her company’s program directly to parents or through occupational therapists. Moving forward, she said the company plans to work with teachers and schools to expand options for children who require a simple and efficient approach to handwriting. In addition, Baez said her company works to ensure that workbooks are affordable, modern, and friendly, and easy for parents to purchase so students can practice at home as well.

In the age of touchscreens, it’s important for children to write by hand

Increased technology use is changing culture and creating norms for young children that can slow down the development of social and motor skills needed for fine motor and daily living tasks.

Research shows that the physical act of writing supports the development of language and reading skills. Incorporating handwriting into a child’s daily life is also important for developing motor skills.

Schools put formal learning pressure on students at earlier ages

As schools put more academic learning pressure on young students, teachers are fighting to maintain focus on learning through play. The preschool years are now cutting back on the playtime necessary to develop the sensory and motor skills needed prior to instructing handwriting. Baez worries that this is having psycho-social consequences on children that could lead to a generation of students who don’t enjoy learning.

Baez also said that teachers don’t realize that most children with handwriting difficulties have difficulty with coordination and strength of the body’s large muscles.

Teaching handwriting: Classroom tips from a pediatric occupational therapist

To help students learn handwriting, Baez said that teachers should:

  • Build foundational skills beforehand
  • Ensure teaching methods are age-appropriate, simple and consistent
  • Include multisensory techniques in handwriting instruction

In conclusion, Baez also encouraged teachers to incorporate gross motor activities like yoga poses as a warm-up, especially poses that include bearing weight on their hands.

Erin Flynn Jay is a writer, editor and publicist, working mainly with authors and small businesses since 2001. Erin’s interests also reach into the educational space, where her affinity for innovation spurs articles about early childhood education and learning strategies. She is based in Philadelphia.

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