By: Laura Van Zandt, MS, OTR/L
There are many reasons children are referred to occupational therapy, but one of the most common, especially for school-age children, is because of difficulties with handwriting. Expectations for handwriting increase quickly between grades.
In most preschools, handwriting is done through more hands-on activities (think playing with play dough or using a paint brush). Then in kindergarten, children are expected to be able to write. By first and second grade, they are expected to write for longer periods of time with accuracy.
Many of the children we see as Occupational Therapists are able to write, but might have concerns with proximal stability (think core and shoulder strength), endurance, or have an inefficient grip on their writing instruments that may lead to messy handwriting. Other reasons might also be related to vision or sensory processing.
Below are a few tools for children to help their hands for strength, endurance, and grasp.
Some things to keep in mind when picking out writing tools for children:
- The smaller the writing instrument is, the more likely it is to encourage a tripod-like grasp (you may need to build up the handle to encourage)
- For kids with decreased grasp strength, drawing and coloring with markers or gel crayons may be easier and decrease frustration when presented with more challenging activities
- Work on a vertical surface whenever possible. It’s not only great for working on increasing upper extremity and core strength, it encourages wrist extension which is important for proper grasp on writing instruments
Who doesn’t remember this pen from their childhood!? The Squiggle Wiggle Writer is a vibrating pen that produces squiggly lines. It comes with 3 interchangeable pens which slide in and out of the tip of the pen (which is great for working on bilateral coordination). The vibration is great for providing children with sensory input while drawing or writing which helps with focus and attention.
I am a huge fan of using mechanical pencils with children because it helps them work on grading the pressure they use when writing. If you press too hard, the tip will break which gets frustrating after a few tries.
Twist and Write Pencil
This pencil was designed for a child’s hand. The Y design not only encourages a child to utilize a tripod grasp, but it also forces them to use less pressure allowing them to write for longer periods of time without tiring.
Small Pencils, Broken Crayons
I always have a collection of 1/2 pencils to use with the kids. The shorter a pencil, the more likely they are to use a proper grasp.
Crayola has launched a handful of new products meant just for little hands. These egg-shaped crayons are the perfect size and shape for your little artist. There are many benefits of children drawing at an early age including developing fine motor and grasping skills, encourages creativity and imagination, improves hand-eye coordination and bilateral coordination.
If you have an easel, I highly recommend having even the youngest of artists to use that because working on a vertical surface is great for kids of all ages. Working on a vertical surface helps increase core and upper extremity strength while encouraging proper wrist position, head and neck position, promotes bilateral coordination, and crossing midline skills.
For a variety of reasons, kids spend more time on tablets these days. As with all things, as long as you don’t overdo it, working on the iPad can provide a lot of benefits. One of the things I recommend to all parents is that if they are going to let their kids use an iPad or other kind of tablet, be sure to have them use a stylus as much as possible to help develop fine motor and grasping skills. I think this is especially important if your child is doing any kind of handwriting or drawing apps. There are a lot of different stylus’ to choose.
Sidewalk Chalk or Small Chalk Pieces
One of my favorite outdoor activity is drawing with chalk.
Learning Without Tears Flip Crayons
This is one great product. The crayons are already nice and small to encourage a tripod grasp and having a different color on each end encourages in-hand manipulation skills.
Triangle shapes are perfect to encourage the use of just your first three fingers.
Who doesn’t like the power of doing something forbidden like writing on windows or in the bathtub! These special items from crayola are designed to encourage writing and creativity is a fun way but also keep mom and dad’s sanity with easier clean up!
For more information on occupational therapy services at Easterseals DuPage & Fox Valley, visit: http://www.easterseals.com/dfv/our-programs/medical-rehabilitation/occupational-therapy.html.