Handwriting is a combination of perceptual, sensory motor and cognitive skills that are mastered and defined as children get older (Young-Seok Kim, Michael Collins, William Bulmer, Sidhant Sharma, & James Mayrose 2013). Dysgraphia is a problem with visual motor integration, visual, perceptual, and motor skills. These are the skills needed for successful handwriting. The HAT system is a handwriting haptic training program for young children struggling with handwriting. It is used to supplement the role of the occupational therapist, for practical use in a regular classroom, and for students with special needs.
The program is set up like a 3D game to keep the students’ interest. This study includes two different haptic devices. The Phantom OmniTM (now the Geomagic) vs. Novint FalconTM (similar to the Geomagic. First, it focuses on handwriting that included multiple strokes that required lifting the pen. Second, it takes into account the force the students put on the pen at the right time (think of all the times students break their pencils while writing). Third, it takes into account how to make the activity engaging and sustainable.
Feedback force to the pen stylus includes a few components of haptic clues. It provides a combination of five different effects: Lead, Follow, Jump, Surface, and Friction. The Lead, Follow, and Jump effects assists the user in tracing the paths, while the Surface and Friction effects define the virtual surface that the user writes on (Young-Seok Kim, Michael Collins, William Bulmer, Sidhant Sharma, & James Mayrose 2013). The students practice writing in the form of a video game featuring “Penboy” and “Pengirl”. Students’ controlled the paths of their characters while learning fine motor and handwriting skills.
As an educator of young elementary children, handwriting is an important skill I practice with my students. This is a very relevant activity. This activity has a lot of promise. I thought about how this would work with my students. I think for some of my students it would be perfect. For my low functioning students, and perhaps for much younger students with sensory difficulties or attention deficit, this might be too over stimulating with the 3D game. I added a few of my own ideas.
Hand over hand help
Educators of children with cognitive delays will tell you, the key to building handwriting skills starts with hand over hand practice. This means, teachers will put their hands over the child’s and guide their hands and grasp. As the child learns, the teacher lets go of some of that hold. This handwriting program could include that. The student could hold the stylus. The stylus does the work at one level. The next level requires a bit more work from the student and so on.
Characters make the letters
I agree the task of handwriting should be motivating. For many students, it’s not. Combining a game and the task of handwriting is too much for some students. It requires focusing on multiple tasks. Some need simple one step instructions. I thought it might be fun if “Penboy” slid with the letters. In teaching basic handwriting, there are points of reference students draw their lines to when making letters. The character, Penboy, could slide, walk, or skate etc. to on the lines of the letters from one point to another.
Young children learn when there is a young involved. Music that illustrates the activity of handwriting and the instructions (slide to the right, curve to the left etc.) can be helpful.
Learning disabilities and sensory issues
For some students, all the extra stuff is going to make the activity of handwriting impossible. The program should have an option to turn off the sound, and the game and focus on the handwriting itself. What might be most beneficial for a student with a severe learning disability is “Read it, Build it, Write it”. Students can practice handwriting and build with letters after writing a word. Students can have some engagement and build the word with simulated clay or another material with texture. This is a multisensory approach often used with students to learn new words.