When people think of pediatric occupational therapy, handwriting is often one of the first things that come to mind. I believe this popularity was developed by others observing how occupational therapists help children at school with their academic needs and, as we all know, handwriting is a very prominent academic skill for our early learners. Since this tends to be an area of interest, I wanted to give you my favorite tips and tricks for handwriting skill development at home.
When should my child be writing?
For children not yet in Kinder, your focus should be on developing pre-writing skills. This means developing appropriate hand strength, grasping skills, pre-writing shape drawing, visual skills, etc. Here are some activity ideas for children 4 years old and under:
Play-doh: There are endless possibilities with this medium. It’s great for hand strength, tactile input, and motor planning. Something as simple as pulling the play-doh out of the container and forming different shapes helps build intrinsic (muscles inside the hand) hand strength. Encourage pinching off various sizes of play-doh. You can even add a sorting activity to this (ex. Should that piece go in the big or small pile?). Roll the play-doh into various shapes. Use cookie cutters to encourage more strength, spatial awareness, motor planning, and problem solving (all of which you need for writing!).
Dot Markers: This is a great activity to build on a child’s creativity and love for colors. There are plenty of dot marker worksheets online, but why not foster that creativity by painting together? Model creating a dot marker rainbow and see how your child follows your lead. What creative ways can they build the parts of their picture using circle shaped paint markers? You could also put stickers on a paper and see if the child can “catch” the sticker in a “bubble” with the marker. This helps develop the visual and coordination skills needed for writing – and it’s fun!
Pinching Activities: Speaking of stickers, this is a great fine motor activity to build those foundational writing skills. Using the first two to three fingers in isolation to peel stickers from a page and placing them somewhere is wonderful to facilitate grasping skills for holding writing utensils. This also fosters coordination of both hands as well as hand eye coordination – both of which are important to holding a paper and writing on it simultaneously. You can challenge your little one by using clothespins and placing them on a string or piece of paper. Perhaps you can give an animal you drew clothespin legs!
My child can’t keep letters between the lines!
This is a common issue and, depending on your child’s age, is developmentally appropriate. My first line of defense for a child that has significant difficulty with this – outside the developmental norm – is to use consistent line sizes. There are millions of worksheets and papers out in the works, and often they have varying line thickness, spacing, or other formatting inconsistencies. The constant changes can make it difficult to find consistency in letter sizing, therefore shifting placement to under/over provided lines.
Colors are your friend. Some children benefit from visual supports. You can highlight the top line blue for the “sky” and the bottom line green to represent “grass”. This gives the child visual cues to adapt their letter sizing to fit the margin provided. Try our grass and sky visual here!
Bump, bump, bump the line! This is one of my favorite tips, especially for kiddos that need more than just visual feedback. It does take some prep, but is totally worth it! Use a hot glue gun to trace over lines/boundaries that your child will be writing on. When this dries, they will have a nice “bumper” to run into when writing/drawing/coloring. Providing this feedback can bring attention to the physical space and eventually be weaned out once your child is more independent and can predict where the line or “bump” would occur. This can be used for little pre-writers and developing writers alike!
My child hates writing, they just refuse!
Make it fun! Research shows that children learn through PLAY! The more interested and engaged they are in the activity, the more they will learn and actually RETAIN. For younger kids – don’t be afraid to bring a game! Have your child write down each player’s name and keep score! Have them write out a “Winner’s Declaration” to announce who won the game! For your older children, what special interests do they have? Can you make a TRAIN FACTS book? What about a poster with all things insects or dinosaurs – whatever your child loves! Take turns writing one sentence to write a wacky story. Research as many “Dad Jokes” as you can and have people vote on the best ones! The possibilities are endless! The key is to get your kids bought in. You can thank me later.
I hope these tips and tricks help! Please feel free to download some fun writing templates for Santa, service people, and more by clicking here! You can also download our envelope folding tutorial here to facilitate fine motor and visual motor skills needed for handwriting!
Remember, make it fun and get in on the action! If you find that your child is continuing to struggle with writing skills, it is worth your time to at least get them evaluated by an occupational therapist. There could be underlying visual motor, sensory, or coordination difficulties that are inhibiting their ability to be successful in that area. Occupational therapy can evaluate those areas and provide an individualized plan to help your child.
Caitlin Sanschagrin, M.S., OTR/L