The expectation for kids to start writing is getting earlier and earlier all of the time. However, the youngest children don’t have the physical development needed to use the small muscles in their fingers and hands to hold and control a pencil. Writing is a foundational learning skill that helps requires visual-motor integration, bilateral coordination, midline crossing, etc. It is correct that it is an important skill to master. But how do you get young children started before jumping in with a pencil and paper? Read on for several ideas to help kiddos get ready to write without actually writing.

 

Strengthen Big Muscles First

 

For a person to write successfully, they need to be able to stabilize their upper arm. If the movement comes from their shoulder joint when they write, they will get tired out quickly. Use play to strengthen the upper body. Wheelbarrow walking, crawling, and animal walks all work well for this. For an extra fun activity, tape a big piece of paper to the bottom of a child-sized table. The child can lie underneath it and straighten their arm to paint.

 

Get vertical!

 

Tape a piece of paper to a wall or find an easel with a chalkboard or blackboard. Let the child color to their heart’s content. Kids enjoy the novelty of this activity, and it allows for practice with grasp and getting the wrist into the correct position for writing. If this feels tricky, tape a sheet of paper to the wall and let them place stickers on it for a similar effect.

 

Draw!

 

Creating simple drawings is a great way to work on visual-motor integrations skills. Sometimes referred to as hand-eye coordination, visual-motor integration involves using coordinated movements to make marks with intention. Start with easy drawings and work your way up. An excellent progression could be drawing a smiley face, then a person, then a teddy bear. First, demonstrate how to make it so that your child can copy you. For ideas and inspiration, check YouTube or your local library for drawing guides.

 

Letter Recognition

 

Letter recognition is a part of learning to write. Point out letters in books, on signs, blocks, and in their name. Focus on capital letters, to begin with since those are the first letters they will most likely learn to write. Alphabet magnets are a popular exploration item. With adult support, kids can start learning the names of the letters and recognize them.

 

Write… But Not On Paper

 

Practice creating letters in new and different ways! Try rolling out play-doh letters, making letters with sticks, lines and curves cut out of paper, Legos, and anything else you have handy. You can make a sensory tray with a box lid and fill it with rice or salt to trace letters. As a bonus, many children are kinesthetic learners, and this activity can help reinforce the other work you do.

 

Kid-Size Tools

 

When the concepts and skills are coming together, and your child is ready to start writing letters, use child-sized writing utensils. This promotes the development of a mature grasp. Start with bits of chalk and broken crayons. For older kids, try golf pencils.

Most children benefit from proprioceptive sensory work built into their day. The proprioceptive system receptors are located in our joints and muscles and tell us about where our body is in space. The benefits of stimulating this system vary for different children but can help children feel regulated, calm, and ready to focus. Unlike the vestibular system , the proprioceptive system cannot be overloaded. The benefits of heavy work last for up to two hours after engaging. Try to build planned activities into your day to support your student or child’s participation all day long.

 

1. Play:

 

Play is a creative and natural method of learning and exploring the world. Encourage running and jumping as part of play, draw a hopscotch game in chalk or offer a jump rope. Indoor and outdoor trampolines provide lots of sensory input to the lower body. If you have monkey bars nearby, try to test how long you can hang on. Create an obstacle course including several of these activities to make a memorable play experience.

 

2. Animal walks:

 

Common in occupational and physical therapy and physical education classes, animal walks are fun and motivating and great for sensory input and motor planning. Try crab walks, bear walks, snake crawls, dinosaur marches and wheelbarrow walks. Get creative and make up a new animal walk!

 

3. Clean up a space:

 

This is a functional life skill that children can practice at any age. Some cleaning activities like vacuuming or sweeping provide proprioceptive input. Younger and older kids can use a towel and wide sweeping motion to wipe down tables or spills. For even heavier input, delegate the task of pushing in chairs or pushing light furniture into place to kiddos.

 

4. Carry:

 

Carrying heavy items can be a purposeful activity where children get a chance to help out. Try letting them bring in groceries, carry books to another room, move their chair by themselves or wear a slightly weighted backpack.

 

5. Get outside:

 

For children of all ages, the outdoors provides lots of opportunities for proprioceptive input. Go on a nature walk. The more challenging the climb, the more proprioceptive input they will get. Using a small shovel to move snow or dig dirt is another way children can help out.

 

6. Snack time:

 

Do you know anyone that chews on a pen or pencil? The jaw has several proprioceptors, and by chewing on something hard, people get lots of regulating input. A more functional strategy would be to eat something crunchy or chewy. Carrots, celery, nuts, and granola work well and can easily work into your usual snack time. Older kids (and adults) can get the same benefit by eating crunchy foods or chewing on gum.

 

7. Use a weighted ball:

 

Try a soft weighted ball for a quick and easy way to get input. Starting at two pounds and increasing to higher weights, weighted balls are versatile and easy to have nearby. Try throwing and catching the ball, rolling it back and forth to each other, or slamming it onto the ground.

The vestibular system, located in the inner ear, gives us information about how our head is oriented in space and is essential for balance. The vestibular system is closely linked to the visual system and postural control. Some children experience challenges related to the development of this system, and it may reflect in their poor balance, frequent movement-seeking behaviors, or reluctance to participate in activities that involve positional changes. Input to the vestibular system is often organizing, and effects of stimulation can last for up to eight hours!

 

Occupational therapists provide interventions that develop the vestibular system to help children fully participate in movement activities, whether they:

 

Seek vestibular input- These children love to spin, swing, and be on the move.

 

Have postural control challenges- Postural challenges are indicated by frequent leaning, falling out of a chair, or a child resting their body on a table surface.
Are over-responsive to vestibular input- Children in this category may be fearful of swinging, get carsick, and dislike climbing stairs.

 

Have perceptual challenges- Children who often appear uncoordinated or have trouble timing the movement of their body to music (such as during circle-time songs) may fall into this category.

 

Since there are a variety of dysfunctions possible within the vestibular system, it is best to get an occupational therapy evaluation when there are concerns. This system can be easily overloaded for over-responsive children, resulting in nausea for a prolonged period. Occupational therapists provide services and ideas for carryover in various settings so that children can be exposed to activities both in and outside of the school or clinic setting.

 

The Playground

 

Playgrounds have built-in structures that are perfect for getting vestibular input. Slides provide an opportunity for children to both climb and descend in a smooth movement. Many play areas have various swing choices, giving children a chance to sit or lay down (as in a tire swing). Both spinning for a short amount of time and pushing back and forth can provide organizing input. Monkey bars work well for both climbing and hanging upside-down- an impactful way to change the position of the head.

 

At Home

 

Are you thinking it may be challenging to carry over vestibular work at home? Try this! Allow your child to sit on the couch and then hang their upper body upside-down off of it. It gives the same impact as hanging off of monkey bars and may even be more accessible to little ones who are not fond of heights. If you have an office chair on wheels, let your child explore spinning on it. Be sure to allow them to turn themselves so that they remain in control.

 

Outside

 

Children naturally work on developing their vestibular system in outdoor spaces. Climbing up rocks or hills, log-rolling down a grassy hill, or practicing somersaults or cartwheels can all be done without special equipment. Jump-roping, riding a bicycle, and rocking on a porch swing, are also organizing activities children can do outside.

 

The Gym or OT Clinic

 

OT clinics have special tools that can target a child’s specific vestibular system needs and build skills in other identified areas of need at the same time. In these spaces, you’ll often find climbing equipment, scooter boards, balance beams, a variety of different swings, spinning boards, and more.

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