Handedness is the property of using one hand more than the other. Children develop handedness (a definite hand preference) at different ages. Handedness is usually established by the third year of life. By this age most children tend to show a hand preference for activities such as throwing, writing, drawing, painting, picking up objects etc.
The dominant side of the brain determines the hand a child uses for clutching a rattle or spoon and later for holding crayons, pencils and scissors. These days, it is not considered appropriate to encourage left-handed children to ‘try’ the other hand. Left-handed children may take a little longer to master a skill. This may be the result of trying to imitate the movements of a right-handed parent which are inappropriate for them and difficult to copy. Another contributing factor is that many appliances and items are designed especially for right-handed people. This is particularly evident with scissors.
Where a young child has not yet established a preferred hand, it is recommended that paint, pencils etc, be placed centrally in front of them or scattered evenly around them so that they are free to choose either hand and try out which one feels most comfortable for them. They should then be encouraged not to swap hands in the middle of an activity, but to stick with the one they chose. This process can be repeated with each new activity. Hand preference should not be forced.
Doing a lot of bilateral activities (i.e activities using both hands or sides of the body equally) helps handedness develop. The following are some suggestions:
• Trampolining, including bouncing on hands and knees.
• Push toys, Eg wheelbarrows/wagons.
• Catching and throwing large balls.
• Clapping hands to music.
Use activities where one hand holds or stabilises the toy and the other manipulates. These give the child the opportunity to decide which hand they prefer to use. The following are examples of such activities:
• Posting boxes.
• Screwing toys, Eg barrels or Unscrewing jars or bottles.
• Stirring cake mixes or ‘pretend’ cake mixes using sand and water.
• Holding a food packet in one hand and taking out food items with the other, eg eating sultanas from a box, feeding birds or ducks from a bag.
• Washing toys, plastic food containers etc, using a sponge or wash cloth, then drying them.
• Lacing Cards and threading.
If your child is due to start school and is still not showing a hand preference, you may need to consult an occupational therapist. She will assist you to determine your child’s dominance as well as work on crossing the midline which is often delayed in children that have difficulty establishing dominance. Difficulties with learning to read and write can occur when dominance is not established prior to starting school.
The ability to interpret what we see.
Visual perceptual skills are a prerequisite for learning to read and write. There are 7 main areas of visual perception:
If you feel your child may be having difficulty with these skills, you may want to contact an Occupational Therapist, who can formally assess these skills using standardised tests.
There are many activities that we can do with children before they start formal education that can help to promote these important skills: