Reading and Writing in the Classroom

Most educators view reading and writing as crucial skills for all Foundation Phase learners to master. For children with physical disabilities, this is the same, and in some instances even more important, especially if verbal communication is a barrier. So what do we need to be aware of and what can we do to improve reading and writing? Over the next few issues we will be looking at practical things we can do to help develop fine motor skills for learners with physical disabilities in the classroom.


To start, we will be looking at the impact correct postural and shoulder girdle control has on fine motor skills. While most of us think that handwriting has to do with pencil grip and correct letter formation, if a learner doesn't have adequate postural and shoulder girdle control they won't be able to keep their body stable allowing them to move their arms in a controlled way. If you notice a learner continuously slouching their body across their desk or chair, laying across their tables, hooking their feet around the legs of their chairs, flopping to one side when standing, or resting their heads in their hands they may have poor postural and shoulder girdle control. What can we do to assist them in the classroom?

Make sure of the following:

  • The desk and chairs should be at the correct height;
  • Their whole back should rest against the back of the chair (not just shoulders);
  • Their feet should rest comfortably on the floor in front of them; and
  • Their elbows should sit on their tables without having to raise their shoulders. Many classrooms do not have the appropriate tables or chairs. If you have access to an occupational therapist or physiotherapist, ask for their support and input. If there are no therapists available, depending on the learners needs, you might be able to modify them in the following ways:
  • Use the correct sized chairs and tables for the learners' size or height-adjustable ones which can be moved up or down to accommodate differing learners body measurements. These may be costly initially, but are worth it in the long run as they can be modified as the learner grows or as their needs change;
  • Rather use a chair that is too large for a learner than having them seated with their knees positioned above their hips (see tips below);
  • You may want to use some cushioning (e.g. old foam) which can be secured to the back of a chair with Velcro. Depending on the learners needs they may require specifically customised postural support;
  •  If you do not have height adjustable chairs or the chairs are too large for the learner place telephone books, bricks or wooden blocks under their chairs so that they can rest their feet comfortably on them. If a learner's feet cannot touch the ground, they often swing them, which can prevent them from concentrating too;
  • If the learner makes use of a wheelchair, ensure that the desk height is correct and that they are able to manoeuvre their chairs under their desk. If this is not possible you may need to look at giving them a lap-tray which they can place across the armrests of their chair. Where possible contact a therapist to customise accordingly. We will be looking at some practical, fun exercises that can be done to improve postural and shoulder girdle control in the next issue.