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  • Michelle Mason, Ph.D.

Improving Handwriting and Fine Motor Skills

Lately, I have found that a lot of children are having difficulty with handwriting. It seems that teachers are just not focusing on teaching handwriting anymore. This is concerning because research indicates that people’s abilities to write stories and essays are negatively impacted by poor fine motor skills, including handwriting ability. This makes sense; if you struggle to form letters, it makes writing stories and essays more difficult. Moreover, if you have to think about how to write letters (as opposed to it being automatic), working memory is being used on writing the letters, not on what you want to communicate in your stories and essays.

So, I did some research, and found a great book called “The Sensory Processing AnswerBook” by Tara Delaney. It has a lot of strategies that help with fine motor skills, some of them focused specifically on handwriting. I am going to list quite a few, but I highly recommend that you take a look at the book if you suspect your child may have dysgraphia, Sensory Processing Disorder, or have gross or fine motor skills issues. There is a lot more in the book than I am sharing. In fact, these activities are just in one chapter. There are many chapters to read!

Pre-Writing Skills

  • Attach a large piece of paper on a wall, have your child:

  • Make an outline of one figure at a time. Have your child trace over your line from left to right or from top to bottom. Trace each figure ten times or more. Then have your child draw the figure next to you model several times.

  • Play connect the dots.

  • Trace around stencils. You may need to hold the stencil.

  • Have your child write shapes and letters with their eyes closed.

  • Use your finger to draw letters on your child’s back, and ask what letter it is.

  • Use a chalkboard instead of a whiteboard—the chalkboard gives more input.

  • Paint at an easel.

  • Have your child practice drawing shapes or letters in rice or shaving cream.

  • Use chalk to draw very large letters and then walk the letters.

  • Use a spray bottle to make letters or shapes on the sidewalk.

  • Use a Magna Doodle to write vertical, horizontal, and parallel lines.

Visual Skills and Visuo-Motor Skills

  • Use a flashlight on the ceiling and have your child track it with their eyes as they are lying on the floor.

  • Find hidden pictures in books (e.g. Where’s Waldo?) or on apps (What’s the Difference? Hidden Pictures Puzzles, Where’s the Unicorn? Where’s the Meercat?).

  • Catch balls while running, walking, or swinging.

  • Blow cotton balls across the table with a straw.

  • Blow bubbles and try to catch them at the end of a wand.

  • Maze activities.

  • Play “I Spy”

  • Practice watching toy cars go down a track without moving the head, only the eyes.

  • Take hikes—look at the horizon then look at something close.

  • Play table tennis.

  • Throw bean bags or koosh balls into a hula hoop on the floor.

  • Play hit the balloon with a paddle.

Strengthening Shoulders and Hands—Having adequate strength in your hands and shoulders can really help with handwriting. Here are some activities to try:

  • Push-ups against a wall.

  • Hide coins in playdough, and have your child find them.

  • Give your child bubble wrap to pop.

  • Encourage Wheelbarrow Walking—hold child by hips or knees or ankles and make a game to see how far they can run on their hands.

  • Practice tunnel crawling.

  • Cut Play-Doh with scissors.

  • Use a plant sprayer to spray plants.

  • Pick up objects (cheerios, small cubes, small marshmallows, pennies) using large tweezers, tongs, or children’s chopsticks.

  • Use small screwdrivers.

  • Lacing and sewing activities—stringing beads, Cheerios, macaroni.

  • Use eye droppers to pick up colored water for coloring or mixing designs on paper.

  • Roll small balls of tissue paper, then glue balls onto construction paper to form pictures.

I hope this is helpful. These activities can be fun for the whole family! Enjoy!

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