Handwriting Heroes by Cheryl Bregman OTR/L of AppyTherapy is a developmentally dynamic learning to write app, where the emphasis is on a kinesthetic progression of letter formation rather than a more traditional linear A-Z format. Every teacher, parent, and clinician need an arsenal of learning to print apps in their toolbox to keep motivation high, and Handwriting Heroes is sure to be a favorite. The app begins with teaching lowercase letter formation through the use of animation, song, and stories featuring lively characters. It is the stories that make the proper letter formation stick by bringing in multiple sensory systems in the learning process. Because of the greater variability in lowercase letters, handwriting heroes addresses recognition and control through learning lowercase letters first so that the skills can be later transferred to uppercase letters when needed. Current thinking indicates that capital letters are used only 5% of the time when writing and the strokes needed for correct letter formation of capitals are more easily generalized.
How the App is Organized
Letters are sorted into five groups based on the use of similar strokes. The pairing of letters with similar strokes reinforces the motor movement patterns used and helps to automate their use. Handwriting Heroes has done a fabulous job in how they categorized the letter groups through a kinesthetic approach. This helps build a foundation to work from as more advanced strokes are introduced. On opening, there is an information page for teachers and parents, and also stellar supplemental worksheets and other motivators to download for off screen practice from the appytherapy.com website store. One outstanding feature is the settings option which allows for kids to control the sensory input of using or not using the music, sound effects, and/or voice/narration as well as choosing the level of difficulty - keeping the pace at just the right challenge level to complete the given lesson with as much independence as possible. The fun begins once one of the 5 groupings has been selected. Best practice would be to select the groupings in order as there is a definite spatial progression where learning from one group flows into acquiring the skills needed in the next grouping. The letter stories are whimsical aliterations of just pure silly fun that appeals to both kids and adults. Each letter can be practiced up to three times for beginners, and once for kids to review and refresh information. Letters can also be practiced individually if a child is having difficulty with any particular letter. Prompts are faded to increase independence, help maintain attention, and retain motor sequencing through visualization.
There are three levels of challenges:
- In the Easy level, kids do not need to form a continuous line but can lift their fingers off the tracing line to meet the goal
- In the Medium level, the prompt returns to the start of the stroke if a child does not form a continuous stroke
- In the Hard level, kids have to restart at the beginning of the letter if their lines are not formed with one fluid stroke
The graphics are endearing and well executed. AppyTherapy surely has a hit on their hands as the material is an excellent way for kids to learn to write. As an OT, I like to work on the iPad first so that kids get a sense of proper formation without the hassle of crayon or pencil drag that comes with writing on paper. Issues of tone, grasp, and crossing midline can also be addressed through positioning. Using gravity in acting on the body in a prone or belly position provides additional support before having to start in a seated position and handle all the manipulatives needed as well as having to grade force and maintain visual focus. Once a child is ready to practice on paper, AppyTherapy has dynamite supplemental materials to transfer skills in the classroom off-screen.