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4 Fun Ways to Practice Handwriting

As we all know, practicing handwriting is not a kid’s top pick for a summer activity. Luckily, there are ways to make handwriting fun! Blog-Handwriting-Main-Landscape

Try some of these ideas and see if you can’t trick your kid into becoming a handwriting master:

Use Different Mediums

  • Try practicing writing numbers and letters in shaving cream on a tabletop or tray. Kids love the feel and it adds a whole other element to learning the formation!
  • Other ideas include drawing in sand or dry rice in a cookie tray.
  • You can also make a mess-free activity with colored gel in a plastic zipped bag; you can use your finger to write and draw on the outside of the bag!

Play a Game

  • There are plenty of games out there that you can use to practice handwriting. Try playing Boggle and have your child find a word and then write a sentence with that word in it.
  • Playing Guess Who can become a sneaky secret game, where questions can only be written and transferred across the table to the other player who then writes the answer (Yes/No) and returns it.
  • Hangman is a classic game that already incorporates writing! That is a fun one that can also be played in shaving cream. Other games you can incorporate writing into include Scrabble and HeadBandz.

Try Different Writing Utensils

  • Sometimes kids are just sick of using paper and pencil all day. Adding in the novelty of using a dry erase marker or chalk on a small board can totally change their attitude!
  • Practicing writing on an iPad can also be fun, ideally using a stylus.

Be Creative

  • Try writing a creative story together; take turns writing sentences, trying to create a story. It will likely turn out to be silly! They can even illustrate a picture to go with it.
  • Another idea is to write a letter to their favorite author/singer/actor. There are also lots of websites with creative writing topics that might motivate your child to write.

NSPT offers services in Bucktown, Evanston, Deerfield, Lincolnwood, Glenview, Lake Bluff, Des Plaines, Hinsdale and Mequon! If you have any questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140!

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How to Help Improve a Child’s Pencil Grasp

There are various factors that have an influence on a child’s pencil grasp. In addition to addressing a child’s physical attributes, the environment and tools used can also impact a pencil grasp.blog-pencil-grasp-main-landscape

Below are several strategies to assist in the development of an appropriate pencil grasp:

Increase Core Strength & Postural Control

Having a strong base of support can lead to more refined and controlled movements in the hands and fingers. Encourage play and activities on the ground, belly side down and propped up on the elbows and forearms. You can also incorporate animal walks, wheelbarrow walks, and kid friendly yoga poses throughout the day.

90-90-90 Positioning

During writing activities, set up the child to promote an appropriate pencil grasp. Make sure that the child is seated at a table with his or her feet flat on the ground and that the ankles, knees, and hips are at a 90 degree angle.

Vertical & Slanted Surfaces

Encourage appropriate wrist alignment and grasp by having the child draw on vertical or slanted surfaces.

  • Easel
  • Chalkboard
  • 3-Ring Binder

Hand Strengthening

Various strengthening activities can be implemented to increase the strength in the muscles of the hands.

  • Playdough, putty, clay:  roll, pinch, flatten, make shapes with cookie cutters
  • Rip paper or tear and crumple tissue paper to make a craft with the pieces
  • Use an eye dropper and food-colored water to decorate a coffee filter
  • Pop bubble wrap
  • Use a spray bottle to water plants or form letters on the sidewalk

Short Tools

Have the child use short writing tools to promote increased control. Break crayons or chalk so they are approximately 1-2 inches long or use golf pencils.

Separate the Two Sides of the Hand

The fingers on the thumb side of the hand should be utilized for holding and moving the pencil. The fingers on the pinky side of the hand (pinky finger and ring finger) should be tucked in against the palm and utilized for stability and control. To encourage this separation of the two sides of the hand, tuck a small object in the pinky and ring fingers during writing activities. For example, have the child tuck a small pompom, eraser, button, or cotton ball on the pinky side of the hand.

Both parents and teachers can incorporate the listed strategies within a child’s day to develop an effective pencil grasp and in turn help increase handwriting skills, confidence, and self-esteem.

NSPT offers services in Bucktown, Evanston, Highland Park, Lincolnwood, Glenview, Lake Bluff, Des Plaines, Hinsdale and Milwaukee. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates!

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handwriting

A Teacher’s Guide To Helping Students Of All Ages With Handwriting

Handwriting is a very important skill that can affect a child’s ability to learn, keep up with class, and ultimately express themselves. However, learning and honing that skill can be a stressful experience, for students and teachers alike. There are many factors that affect this (assumedly simple) skill of writing. The position of the paper, chair, and desk along with the paper and pencil used all can positively (or negatively!) affect a student’s writing. Below are suggestions to help make children of all ages beautifully legible writers!

Handwriting for Students Ages 5-6:

  1. Make it a (fun!) multi-sensory experience: Learning letters can be difficult (how to formA Teacher's Guide To Helping Children With Handwriting them, which direction they face). Help children learn with more than just their eyes by practicing letters in shaving cream, sand trays, gel-filled bags, Play-Doh, and Wikki Stix. Using songs can help as well!
  2. Teach uppercase letters: Children’s brains at this point are made for learning how to draw shapes, followed by uppercase letters. If children learn lowercase too soon, they may be forming them inefficiently, which could affect their legibility and speed later on.
  3. Check formation: Formation of letters (i.e. where to start and stop writing letters) is important for efficiency, especially when kids will be learning lowercase letters in the near future. Imitating the teacher writing a letter a certain way is also a great visual motor integration activity that is good for their sequencing of movements and attention to task.
  4. Use thick utensils (ages 5 and younger): Pencils can be difficult for these young ones to hold on to without an adaptive gripper, so give them the thick markers and crayons to help develop those hand and finger muscles needed for holding pencils when they get a little older.

Handwriting for Students Ages 6+:

  1. Use a writing checklist: This can be a list you and your students make for what to remember when writing (e.g. capital letter at the beginning of a sentence and names, punctuation, are my letters on the line? etc). This is a great tool to help students self-monitor their writing and know what is expected.
  2. 90-90-90: This refers to the ever-important 90 degree angles of the ankles, knees, and hips. Make sure your students are able to sit at their desks in this position, so they have the right amount of proximal stability to allow their arm and hand do he intricate fine motor movements required for writing at the end of their pencil.
  3. Check the position of the paper: For right-handed students, make sure the paper is tilted slightly up to the right, and the opposite goes for left-handed writers. This gives kids the optimal angle for their arm and wrist for writing smoothly. Also make sure they are stabilizing the paper with their non-writing hand.
  4. Type of paper: Some students may have difficulties with visual-motor integration or visual perception, which could make writing on standard wide-ruled or journal paper difficult. If the student’s spacing between words and/or sizing of letters are poor, try having them skip lines or give them triple-lined paper (with the dotted line in the middle) to help with overall legibility.
  5. Grasp (ages 5-7): Children ages 5 and up are expected to use a dynamic tripod grasp on their writing utensils (pads of the thumb and index finger on the pencil, pencil resting on the last knuckle of the middle finger). If your students have something other than this that seems to be affecting their writing and they are 7 or younger, it is not too late to change their grasp to help with legibility. Using a pencil gripper or a referral to an occupational therapist might be warranted.
  6. Environment: Help make the environment conducive for writing by limiting distractions. This could be anything from helping a visually distracted student move to a desk that faces a blank wall, or allowing a student block out auditory distractions use noise-canceling headphones. Give a particularly wiggly student a structured movement break during long writing assignments (e.g. at 1:10 you can go get a drink of water).

If you have students who continue to have great difficulty with writing, an occupational therapy evaluation may be appropriate.

NSPT offers services in BucktownEvanstonHighland ParkLincolnwoodGlenview, Lake Bluff and Des Plaines. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates today!

Evaluating Efficient Pencil Grasps

Evaluating Effective Pencil Grasps

As a pediatric occupational therapist, I receive a lot of questions inquiring about children’s pencil grasps from parents, teachers, and other professionals. According to Tseng (1998)[1], pencil grip development follows a predictable progression of skill that evolves as the child ages and matures. However, this does not always occur, as some children experience great difficulty maintaining an appropriate pencil hold on their writing utensil. Past research suggests the ability to hold utensils or writing tools is one of six prerequisite skills children need before handwriting instruction should begin[2]. There are several pencil grips that are considered efficient and mature, including the gold standard dynamic tripod pencil grasp, the lateral tripod grasp, the dynamic quadrupod grasp, and the lateral quadrupod grasp (Schwellnus et al., 2013[3]). However, there are some pencil grasps that are considered age-appropriate, but only up until a certain age. Read below for pictures and a detailed description of different types of efficient pencil grasps.

Dynamic Tripod Marker Grasp- This grip is considered age appropriate for all children beginningpencil 1
between the ages of 4 to 6 and a half. A dynamic tripod marker grasp uses the index and middle finger to hold the pencil. It requires the thumb to be placed in opposition, with an open web space, as pictured. This is considered the gold standard grasp, as it utilizes intrinsic muscles of the hand to control the pencil. An open web space allows for the writer to have more precision and control over their utensil. In addition, it places less fatigue on the joints, and allows for the writer to write for longer periods of time without fatigue, as compared to some of the other functional grasps.

Dynamic Quadrupod Grasp– This grip is also considered age appropriate for all children beginningpencil 2
around ages 4-6.5. It is similar to the dynamic tripod grasp, except for the fact that it enlists the ring finger to help support the writing utensil, thereby eliminating the extra support the ring finger would give if it were resting on the table, as in the dynamic tripod grip.

Lateral Tripod Grasp– This grasp is considered an efficient pencil grasp in which the pencil 3thumb is adducted (pushed closer to the index finger) and lacking the web space described above. In addition, this grasp requires the wrist to maintain its position in more extension as compared to the dynamic grasps. Research shows that this grip tends to contribute to premature fatigue, as compared to the dynamic tripod marker grasp due to the fact that it “restricts the pencil’s movement, eliminates thumb opposition, and compromises balance” (Schwellnus, et al., 2013).

Lateral Quadrupod Grasp– This grasp is also considered an efficient pencil grasp. It is similar to thepencil 4 lateral tripod grasp described above, however also incorporates the ring finger to grasp the pencil, thereby eliminating the support it would give if it were resting on the table, as in the dynamic tripod grip.

 

These grasps are important to be able to recognize because they allow the hand to rest in an anatomically correct position, place less stress on the joints and ligaments, and are using the intrinsic muscles of the hand to support the pencil for writing tasks. When a pencil grasp is inefficient (i.e. a static tripod marker grasp), the student is relying on the proximal muscles of the elbow and shoulders to control the pencil which can cause the child to fatigue quickly, and may also result in decreased handwriting legibility.

Click here for tips on helping your pre-writer develop his pencil grasp.

NSPT offers services in BucktownEvanstonHighland ParkLincolnwoodGlenview, Lake Bluff and Des Plaines. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates today!

[1] Tseng, M.H. (1998). Development of pencil grip position in preschool children. Occupational Therapy Journal of Research, 18, 207-224.

[2] Schneck, C., & Amundson, S. (2010). Prewriting and Handwriting Skills. In Occupational Therapy for Children (6th ed., pp. 555-580). Maryland Heights: Mosby Elsevier.

[3] Schwellnus, H., Carnahan, H., Kushki, A., Polatajko, H., Missiuna, C., & Chau, T. (2013). Writing forces associated with four pencil grasp patterns in grade 4 children. The American Journal of Occupational Therapy67, 218–227. http://doi.org/10.5014/ajot.2013.005538

 

How to Help Your Child With Handwriting

According to the American Occupational Therapy Association[1], handwriting is, “a complex process of managing written language by coordinating the eyes, arms, hands, pencil grip, letter formation, and body posture. The development of a child’s handwriting can provide clues to developmental problems that could hinder a child’s learning because teachers depend on written work to measure how well a child is learning.” To improve handwriting skills, it is important to consider the child holistically to help determine where the underlying problem lies.

How to Improve Your Child’s Handwriting Skills:

  1. Evaluate her posture and body position. Encourage your child to work while sitting upright,Help Your Child With Handwriting
    with back straight and supported by the seat and two feet on the floor. Provide a footrest, or a cube chair with lateral support, if needed. If your child has a difficult time sitting still in this position (i.e. holds her head in her hands, lies down on the desk, or slouches prematurely), it may be due to a decrease in muscle tone, impacting core strength, postural control, and endurance for table work.
  2. Improve pencil grasp. Promoting a dynamic tripod pencil grasp is one strategy used by occupational therapists to improve handwriting success.  Children who use an inefficient pencil grasp fatigue quickly because they are enlisting the larger muscles groups to work overtime on small, finite tasks. Improving control of the distal muscles of the wrist and hand may improve overall fine motor development and legibility. Games such as Operation, Don’t Spill the Beans, Ker Plunk, and activities that require tongs and chopsticks are all helpful in strengthening these muscles, improving arch development, and facilitating the tripod grasp.
  3. Work on a vertical surface, such as a binder or an easel. This will help to stabilize the wrist and the hand, improve visual attention, and facilitate better eye-hand coordination.
  4. Facilitate multi-sensory engagement. For children who struggle with letter formation, including top down letter formation, line adherence, directionality, and overall legibility, practice working across multi-sensory writing apparatuses. Tracing bumpy letters, writing their name in shaving cream, sand, or finger paint, or using a stylus to trace, copy, or write letters on an iPad can improve motor planning, visual motor integration, and fine motor coordination. (Check out some handwriting app recommendations from our OT here.)
  5. Create a writing checklist. This is very motivating for grade school children and helps them to begin to edit their own work independently. Include simple, 1 step instructions (i.e. all of my words have enough space between them) along with a check box so that they can follow along and correct their work at their own pace.
  6. Adapt the paper. For children whose letters appear to be floating in the middle of the paper, or have a difficult time with placement of their words, adapting the paper itself can be a helpful tool. Often, I will create paper that has a blue line on top, a yellow line in the middle, and a green line on bottom and refer to them as the sky, the fence, and the grass, respectively. Using this visual, it is easy for children to see whether or not their letters fall on the grass, touch the sky, or pass through the fence.

Click here for 4 ways to better handwriting before pencil hits paper.

 

NSPT offers services in BucktownEvanstonHighland ParkLincolnwoodGlenview and Des Plaines. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates today!

Resource:[1] http://www.aota.org/aboutoccupationaltherapy/patientsclients/childrenandyouth/schools/handwriting.aspx

the best handwriting apps

Handwriting: There’s An App For That!

In this day and age, there really is an app for everything! So why not use technology for educational purposes, especially for the fine motor skill of handwriting? Believe it or not, handwriting development begins as early as 12 months of age, as your child begins to first scribble with markers or crayons. Further development of handwriting occurs with an emphasis on fine motor control and precision, along with the development of a functional pencil grasp. With advances in technology, there are now fun, interactive methods to promote handwriting skills.  The letters are presented to children with various colors, sounds, animals, and even rewards. Remember, apps are a great supplement to handwriting, but be sure to keep using a multi-sensory approach. Read on for four current Handwriting apps used by your occupational therapist.

 Occupational Therapist Approved Handwriting Apps:the best handwriting apps

Ready to Print

$7.99 google play store

$9.99 iTunes store

A fine motor app created by an OT. The app assists in the development of fine motor skills, including fine motor precision, visual motor tracking skills, visual-perceptual skills and fine motor skills. The app progresses through activities that develop handwriting, including tracing, drawing paths, developing pinch, matching connecting dots, and ultimately writing upper and lower case letters! A great app for building skills that lead to handwriting.

Writing Wizard

Free demo google play store

$4.99 iTunes store

A colorful, customizable letter tracing app! The app provides children with a multisensory approach, using colors and sound effects throughout the tasks. It also provides your child with a reward system for completing each letter. The app itself also allows for extended customization, allowing you to enter words or even names for your child to trace.

Touch and Write

$2.99 iTunes store

Help the monster eat his cupcakes! The tracing app provides your child develop letter formation skills by controlling his fine motor movements. The app asks that your child stay within the boundaries of the guided path, moving the monster with their finger to collect the cupcakes along the correct path. Trace upper and lower case letter in consecutive order, numbers, and words.

 

Handwriting Without Tears: Wet-Dry-Try Suite for Capitals, Numbers, and Lowercase

$6.99 iTunes store

The well-known academic writing protocol became an app. The app follows HWT structure, teaching your child to start his letters at the top and write them fluidly. You can follow the app through the traditional sequence of letters in the HWT program in which letters are taught by similarity in formation, or complete letter learning in sequential order. This is a great app if your child is already learning the program and would like more practice or for a new writer having a little bit of difficulty.

Want to read about more handwriting apps? Click here! Are you concerned about your child’s handwriting? Schedule a consultation with one of our occupational therapists.

NSPT offers services in BucktownEvanstonHighland ParkLincolnwoodGlenview and Des Plaines. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates today! 

 

Child writing

Developmental Milestones for Pre-Writing and Writing Skills

Our children use their fine motor skills countless times throughout the day. Anything from picking up the small pieces of cereal that fell to the floor during breakfast, to writing their name at the top of homework, to strumming the strings during guitar class, to painting a Picasso masterpiece incorporate different fine motor skills. Below is list of fine motor milestones to make sure that your child is up to speed with their skills:

Pre-Writing Skills

12-18 months: Children should typically be able to imitate spontaneous scribbles on a piece of paper with a thick marker.

19-24 months: Children should typically be able to imitate vertical strokes, horizontal strokes, and circles on a piece of paper.

2 ½ – 3 years:  Children should typically be able to accurately copy vertical lines, horizontal lines, and circles.

4-5 years: Children should typically be able to copy a cross, square, triangle and ‘x.’ This is also the age to begin practicing the formation of the letters in your child’s name.

5 years: Children should typically have their hand dominance established for fine motor activities.

Writing Skills

6 years: Typically, children should be able to copy or write their name. By 6 years of age, they should also be able to write the alphabet without omitting letters. Children should be able to write the alphabet in uppercase and lowercase letters without switching forms throughout.

7 years: Children should no longer reverse the letters of the alphabet while writing (example: ‘b’ versus ‘d’). They should also use appropriate capital letters and punctuation to write complete sentences.

Children develop their fine motor skills at different rates. If your child is delayed, it is not necessarily cause for concern but an occupational therapy evaluation may be warranted. Try to incorporate hand strengthening activities into your day to day routine (examples: swinging on monkey bars, coloring, playing in play dough) and offer your child a lot of praise for any attempts at novel or challenging fine motor activities.


 

Strategies and Resources for Your Child’s Writing Disorder

Writing disorders can make every day school tasks like taking notes, writing assignments into a planner, and completing written work very challenging for students.  Nonetheless, this does not mean that it should hold a child back from learning to be a great writer.  There are many resources available to help assist students become proficient writers and the following is a list that children and adolescents in our clinic have found helpful:

  • Assistive Technology Devices that may be available in your child’s school:

    • Word Processor
    • Dictation (e.g., Dragon Naturally Speaking programs)
    • Co-Writer Word Prediction Software
    • Inspiration Software http://www.inspiration.com/
  • Classroom-based accommodations:

    • Reduce overall written work load
    • Copy of teacher notes and outlines
    • Focus on one writing skill at a time until the child masters it
  • At home:

    • Encourage free writing about your child’s favorite topic
    • Help them talk out key points to cover and reinforce the organization format taught in school
  • If legibility of writing is a concern, a trial of Occupational Therapy can help with fine motor control and coordination.

Writing is a vital skill that should never be out of reach for any child.  For additional strategies, please visit: http://www.ldonline.org.  For information about your child’s rights and standards in public education, please visit: Idea.ed.gov.



5 Ways to Improve Fine Motor Skills with Valentines

It’s that special time of the year again. Bags of candy and cards adorned with hearts and kind messages line the aisles of our local grocery and convenient stores. Our kids wait with great anticipation for their classroom Valentine’s Day parties when they are allowed to pass out and receive cards; play games, and eat delicious sugar-filled treats. While this time of the year can be difficulty to enjoy as we’re trudging through the snow covered streets, try to take time to enjoy the season and help your child to spruce up her fine motor skills!

5 ways to turn Valentine’s Day into a platform for improving fine motor skills:

  1. Cutting: This year, instead of buying pre-made cards from the grocery store, help your children cut their own cards from their favorite colored construction paper. For the younger kids, cutting straight lines for a square or cutting across a piece of paper to create smaller squares is the first place to start. For kiddos who are older (4 ½- 6), try to encourage them to cut simple shapes including circles or hearts. If your child is up for the challenge, encourage her to cut out the shape using a hole-puncher. The resistance that the hole puncher provides and repetitive motion to cut the entire shape will surely improve your child’s hand strength. Cutting is an excellent way to improve hand strength, bilateral coordination, visual motor skills, and fine motor planning.
  2. Writing Name: Making Valentines cards is an excellent way for your child to practice writing her name. Practice and repetition is key in building new foundational skills. What a better way to provide repetition than asking your child to sign a card for all of her classmates? If a child needs more help, try to show her how you would write her name, letter by letter, on a separate piece of paper. In your child’s handwriting skills are advanced, encourage her to write a short message to her best friends. The more she practices, the better her handwriting will become!
  3. Gluing: Gluing is another way to promote fine motor skills and hand strength. If your child chooses to use a glue stick, encourage her to use her dominant hand with the same grasp pattern that she uses for writing and coloring activities with her pencils and markers.
  4. Stickers and Stamps: Placing stickers on cards can also help your child to improve her fine motor control. Bending and manipulating a sheet in order to peel the desired sticker from the page and manipulating the sticker to place it on her Valentine takes a lot of patience, bilateral coordination, and fine motor planning.
  5. Folding: Folding is a very challenging activity for a lot of kiddos. Practicing manipulating paper so that the sides match up while folding and stabilizing the two ends together to create a crease in the middle of the paper requires a lot of visual and fine motor planning.

Valentine’s Day, as with many other holidays, affords children an opportunity to practice their fine motor skills. There should not be any limits to their creativity in making cards for their friends. Encourage them to practice new and emerging fine motor skills this season as they’re creating their cards!

Apps to Enhance Fine Motor Development, Prewriting, and Writing Skills

Ever hear the saying, “There’s an app for that?” Well there is, and they’re a great way to tap into your child’s motivation while developing fine motor skills and handwriting.  Look at the chart below for exciting, kid-friendly apps!

Apps for developing fine motor skills and handwriting:

Name Function Description Price
Dexteria-Fine Motor Skill DevelopmentDexteria Jr. -Fine Motor Development -Handwriting-Strength-Coordination and Control

-Dexterity

-Set of therapeutic hand exercises including letter tracing, pinching, taping, etc.-Tracking feature makes it easy to note progress $3.99
Letter Tracer -Pre-writing/Handwriting skills-Letter identification and formation-Finger Isolation

-Fine motor coordination and control

-Learn shapes, signs, and sounds of lower and upper case alphabet-Learn number formation  $0.99
Lego Creationary -Motor planning-Visual perception-Finger isolation -Match lego designs to a picture-Great single and multi-player game Free
Paper Toss -Motor planning-Visual perception- Hand-eye coordination

-Finger isolation

-Bilateral Coordination

-Stimulate crumpling a piece of paper and tossing it into a trash can.-Levels of difficulty-Single finger flick control Free
Bugs and Buttons -Fine motor precision-Finger Isolation-Pattern Formation

-Distal Manipulation

-18 games and activities  covering a variety of learning skills including counting, sorting, pinching, letters, etc. $2.99
Draw Animals -Fine motor control-Finger Isolation-Visual Scanning

-Letter and Number Identification

-Fine motor coordination

-Following a pattern and verbal directions to recreate a picture. Free
LetterReflex -Motor Planning-Right and Left Discrimination-Visual Perception

-Distal Manipulation

-Finger Isolation

-Bilateral Coordination

-Sequencing

-Helps with letter reversal problems and letter discrimination skills $1.99

Co-author: Kelley Balmer