Ugly Handwriting? Hand Therapy to the Rescue!

A physiotherapy student of UD will compete with astrophysics, cancer research and marine biology students in the final of the SCIndicator scientific communication mentoring programme. Ivett Szalóme Horváth has developed a unique hand therapy that allows the improvement of handwriting skills.

- Children today write less and their handwriting is becoming increasingly ugly. Yet, writing is a wonderful thing, one of the highest-level human-specific activities. It requires complex operation of the nervous system, and considering how many areas it activates in the brain, it should not be lost or underestimated. In our hectic lives it is obviously faster to type a 10-page essay than write it down on sheets. However, it is like classic and electric guitars: both are useful but for different purposes. And they are not mutually exclusive – explains the senior physiotherapy student of the Faculty of Public Health of UD.

Ivett Szalóme Horváth began to study the handwriting skills of children in 2016, based on her personal experience. She tutored a little girl in 2nd grade, and observed how  cramped and strikingly ugly her handwriting was. Following a series of consultations with elementary school teachers, they drew the conclusion that the phenomenon was typical among children.

- As I studied kinematics at the university, after I learned the structure of the hand and its highly complicated operations, I decided to approach the problem as a physiotherapist. In the first year I worked with a 1st grade class. I assessed their fine motor skills and explored possible ways to develop these skills. In order to gain experience, I visited the kids every week to work on the improvement of their manual skills, using various physiotherapy methods. We were looking for the most suitable and effective technique – the young researcher recalls the beginning.

In the second year two more primary schools were involved in the programme with one class from each. Again, the sessions were led by the physiotherapy student. Based on the results it became clear that the method researchers were looking for was one that could be used by teachers independently and successfully in the framework of classes. Discussions with teachers revealed that children liked nursery rhymes they learned in kindergarten, so it seemed practical to base hand therapy on these rhymes. In the school year that started in September 2018 the senior physiotherapy student started to teach her own rhymes with the associated motion sequences to teachers and children. She says that it would be wise to study the effect of therapy on fine motor skills as early as in kindergarten. At the same time, she would involve high school students as well to learn until what age handwriting skills can be developed.

- So far we have received only positive feedback from every school involved, which is especially promising considering that handicapped children also went to the classes concerned. According to teachers' reports, the method is definitely able to develop manual skills: the children's handwriting became more refined and conscious. Several teachers from the schools involved in the programme indicated their will to participate in the programme – says Ivett Szalóme Horváth.

A special feature of the research programme is that its methodology uses results from a couple of fields of science, as it is based on physiotherapy, but also makes use of basic pedagogical tools and methods.

- It is a unique technique, a real novelty in schools. Of physiotherapy techniques only spine exercises were taught in the framework of PE classes. So far the results are very promising, teachers involved in the programme are looking forward to the next stage. I hope that after the publication of our results the method can even be integrated in the curriculum – adds supervisor Ilona Veres-Balajti, head of Department of Physiotherapy of the Faculty of Public Health at UD.

With her research programme Ivett Szalóme Horváth has made it to the 2019 final of SCIndicator, the first scientific communication mentoring program in Hungary, where she will compete, among others, with radio and marine biologists, and Mars researchers. The initiative supports bachelor, master and PhD students who run research programmes in fields like natural science information technology, engineering or mathematics, and would like to become professional presenters. Horváth provides a short description of her hand therapy at the website of the programme video. People can vote at the website until 6 March, when it will be announced who out of the 14 finalists has won the SCIndicator Community Award this year.

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