Handwriting Games that go BAM!

Adding a game format to handwriting practice increases student motivation.

By Kathryn Mason, OTR/L

On the Handwriting is Fun! Blog

Bam! Is a fun and challenging handwriting game that can be made with popsicle sticks and a jar!
Bam! for handwriting!

As a school-based occupational therapist, I understand that

most of us work in multiple schools and need to haul activities with us from building to building to meet the individual needs of many students. It is important to have activities that take up little space, are easily graded to address varied skill levels, and progress with the students. Limited school budgets heighten the need to find inexpensive activities that fit these requirements. It is also important to find strategies that will keep our students motivated toward participation in therapy and engaged in tasks designed to meet their academic goals. Handwriting mastery continues to be a goal for many of our students; and for this reason and those I’ve mentioned above, I’ve created a number of game adaptations designed to reinforce letter recognition, formation, and proper positioning.

Students became bored fairly quickly with the other activities, such as worksheets, that I had used previously to teach these components of correct printing. By adding a game format, students became much more motivated to work on the requested tasks. I started using them about 3 years ago and gradually discovered other benefits and ways to adapt the use of the games.

I began letting students pick the board and playing pieces they used and discovered that they felt more in control of the therapy session. I always let the students go first and I’ve designed the individual game die so that they were likely to win about 5 out of 6 games. This kept the students feeling successful and more motivated to work on the expected tasks. I was able to gradually grade the expectations required to move the playing piece and never experienced resistance from the students. I have used these games with students from the first to fourth grades, with diagnoses of learning disabilities, neurological conditions, Autism, and ADHD. I’d like to share two game adaptations with you now that I’ve created and that have helped my students build their handwriting development skills.

Bam!Takes On Handwriting Skills!

The first game adaptation I’ve developed is a variation of Bam! The game called “Bam!” is one in which the players are offered opportunities to learn new information through different learning strategies. The game is easily adaptable for any subject or skill. For example, the students can learn by answering science questions; solving math problems; identifying incorrectly spelled words; or, in our case, working on handwriting skills.

Many teachers use the Bam! game to teach sight words, but I could not find a version that addressed printing components. So, I decided to create one of my own! I wanted a sequence of activities that was easily gradable and could be played by students of varying skill levels, with the therapist or with the parent as a home program activity. By adapting the Bam! game for our needs, the strategy could be graded to allow for

verbally identifying upper vs. lower case letters,

verbally identifying lower case letter positions,

copying letters from a model, or

printing the letters using visual memory.

Data collection is conducted simply by counting the sticks showing letters with incorrect answers. The game can also be graded by starting with just “tall” and “small” letters, later adding in “tail” letters. Bam! sticks can also be used without actually playing the game. For instance, they can be placed in a row to form an upper case or lower case alphabet or to sort lower case letters into the three size and/or position groups.

The simple and inexpensive DIY materials needed to create the game can be found at home or at a dollar store and are listed on the downloadable game instructions you’ll find by clicking on the picture below.

Bam! For Handwriting Game Instructions

Generic Game Board Handwriting Games

Another game format I’ve developed is like that of a typical game board. Many homemade game boards are available on Pinterest by searching for “learning board games.” Many offer free printable board games designed to provide a wide variety of learning opportunities. I decided to try my hand at it and came up with several different styles that allowed the students to participate in the selection of the board. The structure is the same on all of the boards, with each consisting of 30 – 1.25” squares, allowing for play that includes the entire alphabet, start and win squares, and 2 “go for one more” squares. Each board progresses to the right, up one, back to the left, and up one until the winner moves to the right across the top row to the “Win” space. The directions provided in the downloadable handout below are given for the vehicle game board; however, the pictures in the slideshow present my other variations. I’ve used a variety of themes to appeal to my students’ interests, as well as different levels of advancement rules to address their individual needs.

Generic Board Games Downloadable Directions

A Game Board Slide Show!

Stickers are used to “theme” the boards for those interested in cars, sports, or current movies. On a more traditional style of board, students are asked to answer questions about letters (“Is this a ‘tall’ or ‘small’ letter?”) or print a requested letter in order to advance to the next space. Here’s a video of one of my students doing just that!

Game boards that are aimed at handwriting mastery can be designed easily and inexpensively.
Click on the board to watch a student playing a handwriting game!

The biggest challenge I was faced with as I created these games was how to compensate for the OT always having the right answer on his or her turn! My answer to that was to create special dice for the staff to use during their turn. I’ve included pictures of the dice and have explained their uses on the downloadable instruction sheet above.

Handwriting board games can include special dice that add to the fun and challenge of the game.

Including dice in the game offers additional advantages.

First, students almost always want to roll the die for the OT staff and this helps to develop the arches of the hand.

A second advantage is the opportunity for the students to practice regulating their movements. I’ve created a rule that has them lose the privilege of rolling the die if it rolls off the table. In some cases where the students needs extra assistance in this area, I will place a small box lid on the table to corral the thrown die.

Having the student throw the die for the therapist’s turn offers an additional advantage in that the child needs to put down the pencil and pick it up repeatedly, up to 26 times, depending on the board. This provides great practice on correct pencil grasp, with or without the use of a rubber adapted grip, and the student never notices this practice!

Also, I’ve selected various types of beads and other small items for the students to select as markers that are small enough to require pinch or tripod grasp. The downloadable directions offer additional modifications to help you grade the activity for your students.

Board game pieces can be found at home or a discount store.
Generic Board Game Pieces should be of a size that will facilitate refined grasp patterns and can be created from items found at home or markers rescued from other games.

And the students love them!

Students will often request that I bring a particular game board for the next session, showing that they are motivated to work on these activities. The games are great strategies to suggest to families for at-home play and practice rather than suggesting somewhat more “official homework.” It is nice to see the children laughing during sessions. They enjoy competing against the therapist or other students in group sessions. If the children in the group are at different levels, for example in different grades or are working on different skills, the challenge can be modified for each one as long as the modification is explained to them. It seems to me that games are a win-win for everyone!

A Success Story!

Comparison of the top handwriting sample with that of the bottom demonstrates the benefits of using an adapted game board.

A very verbal first grade student with Autism transferred into our school. It was difficult to determine his true functional level because he appeared to demonstrate a lack of motivation towards classroom activities that were presented to him. Questions were raised as to whether it was motivation or skill level. I decided to use a game board strategy to help me tease out the answer. The top sample of his handwriting (above) was completed in the morning in his classroom. The bottom sample (a section of the completed alphabet) was completed the same day in an occupational therapy session using adapted paper and an adapted game board designed to increase motivation with a handwriting activity. Impressive, wouldn’t you say?

Kathryn Mason, OTR/L, is a graduate of Tufts University 1977, BSOT. She was previously the Director of the OTA Program at J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College, Richmond, Virginia. Currently she is working in the Chesterfield County Public Schools in Virginia. She can be reached at Kathywmason@yahoo.com

All photos are the property of the author and cannot be used without her permission.

Disclaimer: The information shared on the Handwriting With Katherine website, blog, Facebook page, Twitter page, Pinterest page; in the Universal Publishing Handwriting Teachers’ Guides; on any guest blog posts or any other social media is for general informational purposes only and should not be relied upon as a substitute for sound professional medical advice or evaluation and care from your physician/medical team or any other qualified health care providers. Therefore, the author of these links/posts take no responsibility for any liability, loss, or risk taken by individuals as a result of applying the ideas or resources.

The Handwriting is Fun! Blog is published and is the property of Handwriting With Katherine.

Directive Drawing: A Handwriting Tool

Author Jason Gonzales, OTR/L, discusses why drawing is the most consistent strategy he uses to improve a student’s fine motor skills, attention, and most importantly self-confidence. He finds that combining drawing, writing, and academics into the same activity aids in increasing these skills.

Directive Drawing: A Handwriting Tool

By Jason Gonzales, OTR/L

on the Handwriting is Fun! Blog

WHERE DID IT ALL BEGIN?

It is now my 19th year as a school-based occupational therapist. I have worked in five states, in at least 15 school districts, and I’ve lost count of how many schools. I have worked with children from the islands of Hawaii to the urban areas of New York City and have treated a variety of diagnosis including dysgraphia, autism, dyslexia, and ADHD. When asked during a job interview what materials I would need, my answer was always “pencil and paper.” And it wasn’t to practice copying the letters of the alphabet, but to draw. Drawing is the most consistent strategy that I use to improve a student’s fine motor skills, attention, and most importantly self-confidence. From my experience, handwriting needs are the most common reason why a student is referred for occupational therapy. The quality of the student’s handwriting can be impacted by a variety reasons including poor letter formation, line orientation, and spacing and size, possibly due to decreased fine motor strength, endurance, motor coordination, posture, motivation, or visual perceptual skills. Drawing can address all of these areas and it’s one of the easiest activities to grade based on a child’s abilities. And there is research to back this up.

WHY IS A PICTURE WORTH A THOUSAND WORDS?

Teachers are beginning to use drawing as a problem-solving tool with the feeling that the pictures students create

help them to keep track of information that is difficult to process and help them to “see concepts from a different perspective, giving [them] ideas on how to proceed with a problem. (1)” Considering that “drawing (scribbling, actually) is the first step in the development of the graphomotor skills necessary for handwriting mastery (2 p. 16)”, it makes sense to include it in a plan to enhance a student’s handwritten work. The process of creating a picture using colors, shapes, and elements correlates with the process of learning handwriting skills. Each process “combine(s) the arrangement of shapes, elements, and sometimes colors into a language that sends a message considered important to share with someone (2, p. 16).” In addition, art offers children with an opportunity to develop visual-motor and visual-perceptual skills that will benefit their handwriting practice.

A research study conducted by Fernandes, Wammes, and Meade (3) was designed to explore whether drawing the information that they were expected to learned enhanced the memory of undergraduate students. The findings revealed that:

• The students realized greater gains from drawing the information than from “other known mnemonic techniques, such as semantic elaboration, visualization, writing, and even tracing the to-be-remembered information (3 abstract)”.

• It was believed that “the benefit arises because drawing helps to create a more cohesive memory trace that better integrates visual, motor and semantic information. (Wammes quoted in 5)

• “Participants often recalled more than twice as many drawn than written words. (Wammes quoted in 5)”

• These benefits were realized across learning styles and artistic talent levels and included note taking as well as the understanding of complex concepts (3 shared in 4, p. 2-3).

The researchers believed that drawing provides an opportunity to take an active role in learning where we “must elaborate on its meaning and semantic features, engage in the actual hand movements needed for drawing (motor action), and visually inspect [the] created picture (pictorial processing) (3 as cited in 4, p. 2-3).”

And that appears to hold true for elementary school students as well. A study by Norris, Reichard, and Mokhtari titled, “The Influence of Drawing on Third Graders’ Writing Performance (6),” “compared the writing products of 60 third grade students who drew before writing a story on a self-selected topic (Experimental Group) with the writing products of 59 third grade students who simply wrote without drawing (Control Group).” The results showed that students who engaged first in a drawing activity,

• “tended to produce more words, sentences, and idea units, and their overall writing performance was higher;”
• “seemed to be much more enthusiastic about the visits from [the] researcher;”
• at times “independently drew about and composed extra stories, according to their teachers;” and
• demonstrated pleasure with writing experiences (6, p. 25).

In contrast, those students who were not afforded the opportunity to draw first before writing:

• were less enthusiastic about the writing task; and
• appeared to be “stymied completely after writing only a few lines,” seemingly “suffering from lack of confidence in their writing ability,”
• with some stopping their writing “well in advance of the required time limit (6, p. 25-26).”

Another significant finding was that these results were consistent for both boys and girls, regardless of group membership (6, p. 26).

(Click on The Grinch picture at the top of this article for a free downloadable resource containing these research results.)

Directive Drawing as a Tool

Armed with that research, we can now take a look at how drawing activities work with my students.

I typically use directive drawing activities which can be completed at a pace that allows the children to draw based on their capabilities, whether they can draw simple shapes or only prewriting strokes. It is important to know the children’s baseline so that you don’t overwhelm them. When a child is working on prewriting strokes or simple shapes, tracing or copying lines can be boring for both the child and the therapist. Incorporating the drawings into something functional, especially if it’s an interest of the child such as Pokemon or Thomas the Train, is an essential element in order to improve participation. Through directive drawing, I showed a 5-year-old child how to draw Optimus Prime using only squares. Using a variety of square sizes, the child was able to work on visual perceptual skills; spatial terminology such as next to, above, below; fine motor endurance; and pencil grasp. Once a drawing is complete, the children can work on coloring and/or handwriting. Usually children are pretty excited about their work. At that time, you can say “Let’s show your (teacher, mom, dad, etc.)! But first we want to (write your name, the name of the character, or a quick sentence on the bottom). Let’s make sure we write neatly so that they can read it.”

Drawing activities work on pencil grip and attention skills.
“Mickey” – This drawing was done by a first grader whose goal was to hold a pencil and participate in a pen-to-paper task for 8 seconds. He had difficulty writing his name, coloring, and drawing.
(Photo is the property of Jason Gonzales, OTR/L)

Directive drawing activities can work on attention and impulsivity.

For children who have difficulty focusing or attending to pen-to-paper activities, I can move them at a desired pace designed to slow them down because they have to wait until the next step. I have done whole class drawing activities in both general education classrooms and special education classrooms from kindergarten to high school. The most successful drawing activities are the ones that are interesting and have an element of surprise, such as not telling them what they are going to draw. This strategy improves the children’s attention to the task and decreases their impulsivity to move ahead. Watching a whole kindergarten classroom pick up their pencils to draw and put their pencils down waiting for the next step at the same time is a sight to be seen. Also, the students liked trying to guess what they were drawing.

Drawing activities can work on increasing attention skills, handwriting, and fine motor skills.
“Balthazar Bratt” was done by a 4th grade student whose goal was to improve fine motor skills, improve handwriting, and increase attention to tabletop activities. He was able to attend and complete this activity for 25 minutes.
(Photo is the property of Jason Gonzales, OTR/L)

Directive drawing activities can include academics which makes learning fun and interesting.

Here are some examples of how I was able to incorporate the students’ interests with their academics in a grades 2-3 special education class while working on their IEP goals.

This drawing activity included measuring and drawing lines with a ruler.
“Steve from Minecraft”
(Photo is the property of Jason Gonzales, OTR/L)

“Steve from Minecraft” was a math activity. The class was learning Perimeter and Area. I started the activity by handing students a ruler and a pencil, as well as a piece of paper that included only the square for his head and the lines for writing. The class practiced using a ruler to draw straight lines, coloring within the lines, copying the words “perimeter” and “area” from the board, and writing a sentence or two based on the character. They also had to use the ruler to calculate the area and perimeter of “Steve’s” head, arms, and legs.

Drawing activities can include literacy skills such as math.
Pig Activity
(Photo is the property of Jason Gonzales, OTR/L)

In another strategy, I was able to use the above “Pig” activity and modify it by adding math. In addition to the skills involved above, this activity also included working on scissor skills; coloring; generating sentences on a given topic; letter spacing, sizing, and line orientation.

Drawing activities are the most engaging activity that I have found that improves both handwriting and attention, but most importantly it boosts self-confidence.

When children are engaged and have self-confidence, they are open to learning. The best part about drawing is that it is subjective, which means that the drawing doesn’t have to be accurate as long as the student is satisfied. And who doesn’t like a Picasso-looking picture? Remember the purpose of the activity is not to draw perfectly but to learn the academic-related activity such as math, writing, and handwriting. So as parents, therapists, and teachers, it is essential that you provide positive feedback especially when that child is proud of his or her work. And when a child is not satisfied or appears frustrated that one eye is larger than the other eye, this is a good time to mention that that’s why Edward Nairne invented the eraser in 1770. It is also a good opportunity to work on visual perceptual skills and have the student identify the differences and determine how can they can be fixed.

Kids learn to draw before they write.

It’s their early form of telling stories and from my experience it can push a child towards or away from pen-to-paper activities. One thing to remember when working with children, especially when they are really young, is that our external words become their internal words. Give them the freedom to be creative and make mistakes; and most importantly provide them with positive feedback, because the bottom line is that they want you to be proud of them. When a child constantly hears that their drawing, writing, coloring, etc., isn’t good enough, they will believe it and start to disengage from those activities and even demonstrate task avoidance behaviors. I have found it much easier to increase self-confidence, attention, and fine motor skills when I combine drawing, writing, and academics into the same activity. And remember, it’s never too late to introduce drawing to your students or children.

Jason Gonzales has been practicing school based occupational therapy for 18 years. He graduated from the Ohio State University in 2001. Jason is married and has two kids and a chihuahua. He has worked in Hawaii, California, Massachusetts, New York, and New Jersey. He is the CEO and Co-Founder of Double Time Docs and founder of The Better Grip. He has been on several occupational therapy podcasts including OT Schoolhouse, OT4Lyfe, and Ontheaire.

All photos, with the exception of one, are the property of Jason Gonzales, OTR/L, and their use is prohibited without his permission. The photo of the children drawing is the property of the owner at the link provided; and if it is shared, his information should be included with the photo.

References:

  1. “Building Your Child’s Problem Solving Tools: Drawing.” ExSTEMsions, June 24, 2019. Retrieved from https://exstemsions.com/blog/drawing?utm_source=facebook.com&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=want-to-help-your-child-to-be-a-better-p
  2. Collmer, K. J. Handwriting Development Assessment and Remediation:  A Practice Model for Occupational Therapists.  2016 ed. Waymart, PA:  Universal Publishing, 2016. Print.
  3. Fernandes, M.A., Wammes, J.D., & Meade, M.E. (2018). The Surprisingly Powerful Influence of Drawing on Memory [Abstract]. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 27(5), 302-308. Retrieved from https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0963721418755385
  4. Terada, Y. (2019, March 14). The Science of Drawing and Memory. Want students to remember something? Ask them to draw it. Edutopia. Retrieved from https://www.edutopia.org/article/science-drawing-and-memory
  5. Study International Staff (2016, April 26) University study finds drawing can improve memory. SI News. Retrieved from https://www.studyinternational.com/news/university-study-finds-drawing-can-improve-memory/
  6. Norris, E. A., Reichard, C., & Mokhtari, K. (1997). The Influence of Drawing on Third Graders’ Writing Performance. Reading Horizons: A Journal of Literacy and Language Arts, 38 (1) September/October 1997, Article 2 (13-30) Retrieved from https://scholarworks.wmich.edu/reading_horizons/vol38/ iss1/2

Handwriting Help for Floating Hands

Handwriting Help for Floating Hands

by Katherine J. Collmer, M.Ed., OTR/L

on the Handwriting is Fun! Blog

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just recently, I received an email from an occupational therapist that I’ve been working with for quite some time.  She had a question concerning an issue that is very familiar to me.  She wrote:

I have a couple of students whose hands “float” off the tabletop (ulnar side of hand is not in contact with tabletop).  They tend to write with shoulder/elbow movements.  If I make them keep their hand on table, they then use wrist rather that finger excursion movements.

What do you recommend to help correct this?? More wrist work??  Finger mobility excursion work??

I though I’d share our conversation and the ideas that I have found to work in this situation.

 

Planning is Important!

 

Our time with students is precious and there’s always so much to do.  I’ve found that a schedule of activities helps me to keep on task and accomplish the goals that we’ve set for that session.  Also, a written or visual schedule helps the student follow and understand what his or her work will be for that day.  In the case of “floating hands,” I typically follow a strict schedule of tasks that will help both me and the student recognize progress and to uncover continued needs.

 

 

  1. Begin the session with gross motor work.    Although the students are using their shoulders to manipulate the pencil and negotiate the task, that doesn’t mean that they have strong upper body and/or core strength.  In fact, it could mean the opposite.  It takes strong muscles in those areas to maintain the arm and wrist positioning needed for a fluid and legible handwriting style.  Writers who use their shoulders and elbows in this way often benefit from lots of upper body and core strengthening activities.  I’d suggest starting each session with 10-15 minutes of upper body workouts: wheelbarrow races; wall pushups; yoga exercises such as the the plank and the warrior; and floor pushups if they are strong enough.  I even work on arm wrestling at the table.  Of course, be careful – lots of these students can take you down on that one!

 

Yoga Exercises

 

 

 

  1. In the same session, I’d move on to vertical activities.  These can be completed on papers taped to the wall or white board (but not completed with marker on the whiteboard, please*), a window pane, or an easel.   The activities I provide include drawing, doodling, word search, crossword puzzles, coloring, tracing, or any type of activity that places the wrist in the slightly extended position that is preferable for handwriting at the desk.  I usually take my students through another 10-15 minutes of this, making sure that I explain why the wrist needs to be placed just so and why it is important not to lean on the forearm to steady oneself or to rest against the wall.  The arm and hand need to move fluidly as they do while producing handwritten work at the desk.  During this segment of the session, I will provide the students with a break periodically to give the upper extremity a rest.  For example, after each 5-minute span, I offer a break that might include playing an ongoing game such as Operation, blowing a cotton ball across the table or floor at a target, putty exercises, or any board game that interests the student.  The type of break offered would reflect the student’s needs at that time, taking into consideration whether a fine-motor, vision, or simple “fun” activity would best suit his or her needs.

 

An important note:   During the vertical activities, the students should have their wrists and forearms in light contact with the wall and paper, allowing them to glide across the paper with a fluid movement as they perform the task. (Be sure to attend to the non-dominant hand, as well, ensuring that it is placed appropriately on the wall and paper.)  To help with the correct positioning, I may add a very light weighted wrist band on each wrist, draw a highlighted line where their wrist should maintain contact, and/or place light pressure on their wrists with my index finger to guide and remind them.  It takes time – lots sometimes – so be patient.

*And it is also important to avoid using markers or pens for these initial stages.  Pencils provide important tactile feedback that gives the student an increased awareness of his or her hand placement using the appropriate writing tool, of a sense of pressure on the pencil, and a feel for the movement of the hand.

 

 

Graph Drawings (You can find more resources in the Needs and Strategies Tool Box included with my book.)

Wikki Stix Activity

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Cotton Ball Game helps build efficient visual skills.

Doodles and Drawings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  1. Next, I’d move on to a fine-motor activity.   Exercises that include wrist work and finger mobility are excellent choices.    But,  before I asked the student to do too much fine-motor work, I would take into consideration the level of finger and hand fatigue the student is experiencing after the vertical surface work that has been done.  If they are very fatigued, I’d alternate the sequence of the vertical work

    Fine Motor Activities From Dollar Tree

    and the fine-motor in different sessions.  For example, on Monday I’d do the fine-motor first, then go on to the vertical.  Then on Wednesday, I’d begin with vertical and then move on to fine-motor, increasing the amount gradually relative to the fatigue levels.  The reason I do this is because it makes it easier for me to assess the fine motor before and after using those muscles in the vertical position.  Then, when the fine-motor is improving, then I might keep that portion for after the vertical.  It sounds like that is contrary to the way we typically conduct a session, and it is.  But in the case of floaters, we are mostly working on keeping the wrist and forearm in the appropriate positions.  So, I alternate the order for the tasks to keep me informed about those particular needs.  Sometimes, the student doesn’t really need much fine-motor strengthening.  If he or she is not gripping the pencil too tightly or loosely, then the floating may simply be a case of upper body and core strength.

Putty exercises on a slightly vertical surface to enhance awareness of the appropriate wrist positioning. (Picture is the property of Handwriting With Katherine.)

 

  1. At the end of the session, I would transfer the vertical task requirements to desk work, explaining that the same wrist positioning and movement applies to handwritten work performed at the desk.  At first, it is best not to work on handwriting in this portion of the session.  Bring down the drawings, doodling, or coloring activities that the student was working on and have him or her practice on those.  This eliminates the need for the student to monitor his or her handwriting quality.  As the student progresses with the vertical activities, then handwriting can be introduced here in the final stages of the session.

 

Now, I would most definitely check sensory skills.  Sometimes students simply don’t like the feeling of having the side of their hand moving across the paper. In that case (which I’ve only come across rarely in children without other sensory needs), I begin their work on the vertical surface by adding a piece of felt or soft cloth layered on the bottom portion of the paper.   This provides a “gentler” surface that allows them to move their hands over that portion of the paper.  I gradually remove the amount of time this strategy is included in the task.  If they don’t like smooth surfaces, then I would put a fabric such as a softer burlap there that will provide some texture and scratchiness to the surface.

 

 

These are my tried and true suggestions.  But, I’m sure that you have your own strategies that have worked for you and your students.  Please share them with us so that we can all learn from your experiences.

 

 

 

 

The Handwriting is Fun! Blog is published by and is the property of Handwriting With Katherine.

 

Katherine J. Collmer, M.Ed., OTR/L, owner, Handwriting With Katherine
Katherine J. Collmer, M.Ed., OTR/L, owner, Handwriting With Katherine

Katherine J. Collmer, M.Ed., OTR/L, is a pediatric occupational therapist who specializes in the assessment and remediation of handwriting skills. In her current book, Handwriting Development Assessment and Remediation: A Practice Model for Occupational Therapists, she shares a comprehensive guide and consistent tool for addressing handwriting development needs. She can be contacted via her website, Handwriting With Katherine.

Collmer Handwriting Development Assessment and Remediation

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pictures above are the property of the author and their just must provide a link back to this article or her website.

Pictures that are the property of the photographers at Pixabay and their use should include the link provided with the photo to give proper credit to their owners.

Use of the bubble wand picture should include a link back to the blog author.

Disclaimer: The information shared on the Handwriting With Katherine website, blog, Facebook page, Twitter page, Pinterest page; in the Universal Publishing Handwriting Teachers’ Guides; on any guest blog posts or any other social media is for general informational purposes only and should not be relied upon as a substitute for sound professional medical advice or evaluation and care from your physician/medical team or any other qualified health care providers. Therefore, the author of these links/posts take no responsibility for any liability, loss, or risk taken by individuals as a result of applying the ideas or resources.

 

Pencil Grasp Repair: Strategies 101

Pencil Grasp Repair:  Strategies 101

by Katherine J. Collmer, M.Ed., OTR/L

on the Handwriting is Fun! Blog

Research results indicate that “the number of children who experience handwriting difficulties can be upwards of 27% in the primary grades (Volman, van Schendel, & Jongmans, 2006, as cited in Collmer, 2016, xiii).  Experts have identified a current trend that may result in handwriting difficulties and an inefficient pencil grasp:  presenting toddlers and preschool children with pencils and pencil activities before their motor muscles are ready for this complex fine motor task. (Collmer, 2016, p. 28)   Proper development of the muscles of the hand, both intrinsic and extrinsic, assist the writer in maintaining his grasp without pain or fatigue, with grip strength correlating with handwriting legibility in typically developing children. (Collmer, 2016, p. 29)  As occupational therapists, we play a key role in alerting educational staff about the hazards of pushing children into forming inefficient handwriting habits.  However, what do we do when we are presented with a student who has been struggling with his handwriting skills for quite some time; and who now, at the age of 9, is attempting to keep up with his peers in handwritten assignments?  Where do we begin?

I recently received a note from a seasoned occupational therapist who was striving to provide the best services to her young client.  She wrote:

“I have recently begun working with a student who is 9 years 4 months old. He is quite inefficient in the classroom due to the speed at which he completes his classwork.  This is concerning to the team as he approaches 4th grade.  His OT Evaluation revealed that he continues to use a static tripod grasp for all of the handwriting tasks.  I am curious about your experience with the static to dynamic transition for handwriting.  I am wondering if you have any thoughts on why some children do not transition to a dynamic grasp.  My assumption in this scenario is the lack of transition is related to poor postural control. For some reason, this one is just throwing me off a bit more than others to see an nearly nine and a half year old doing writing assignments from his shoulder.”

I did agree with this therapist that a common reason for a static tripod grasp is poor postural support.  Taking that assumption a step further, inefficient posture can also be an adaptation for the underlying reasons for his inefficient pencil grasp.  Poor shoulder, arm, wrist, hand, and finger muscles may cause the writer to grip the pencil tightly, brace his arm and elbow against his body, and produce movements from the shoulder instead of fluidly moving his hand and arm across the page.  I was excited about helping this therapist and her young man and I dove right in with a suggestion or two.  Since I had not seen this student’s grasp, I provided a strategy that I felt would help in most cases, discussing it as a step-by-step process from which I’d typically work.  Of course, we’d work on more than one strategy in the list at a time, with those presented close together complementing each other.  Both she and I thought it would be a nice idea to share it with you, too!

Step-by-Step:  Proximal to Distal

At this age, I turn to a very basic assessment that looks at shoulder, arm, wrist, and finger strength.  If it is determined that the grasping problems result from strength issues, then I begin there.  Experience has shown me that most times it will be!  At the start, I tend to do very little handwriting practice or paying much attention to changing the child’s grip during handwriting tasks, as most likely that is like trying to get blood from a stone.  Often, there’s been lots of practice and there’s been tons of hours spent on tips and tricks to change his grasping pattern with little success.  The frustration meter at this point has been pegged out for everyone concerned.  I’ve found the most success comes from working strictly with strengthening activities designed to address the child’s particular areas of concern.

  1.  I’d begin by concentrating on palmar arches and separation of the two sides of the hand.  There are plenty of exercises and activities that concentrate on these skills and can be adapted to his developmental level, helping him to open his web space and attain flexibility in his fine motor movements.  It’s important to be sure that he can perform thumb opposition efficiently, as well.  If not, include activities for that in this step.  This sets the stage for the following strategies.
  1.  At the same time, I would work on shoulder stability with upper body exercises or yoga activities.  Select activities that allow you to monitor progress with repetitions or quality of production, such as the plank, wall pushups, and indoor volleyball between you and him.  Work on drawing, sketching a map, or visual perceptual copying tasks on a vertical surface (such as a wall or window or chalk board – no dry erase please!), working with his wrist extended to 20 degrees and about 10 degrees of ulnar deviation. You won’t have to be as vigilant on correcting his positioning if he is working on these types of vertical surfaces since they will most often position his wrist and arm correctly by default!

Working on wrist extension on a vertical surface before tackling the thumb positioning. One step at a time!

Designs with Wikki Stix on a vertical surface to promote optimal wrist extension.

  1.  When he begins to experience some progress with No. 1 above, I’d include some bilateral fine motor activities such as molding clay or those that include cutting or putting things together.  This will begin to include his wrist and fingers of his dominant hand with help from his non-dominant.  Be sure he is resting his arms and hands on the table at first.  If he is performing everything “in the air,” chances are he’s using his shoulders to brace himself and he is less likely to move his hands and arms fluidly across the table (even in small bits) during the task, which is the goal in handwriting tasks.  Be sure that during these tasks, you are reminding him of the postural “must do’s” that you have been working on so far – back slightly bent toward the table so that he can see his work, elbows on the table, knees in front, feet flat on the floor.  I have to confess, I’m not as strict with every part of this as I used to be.  If the posture is working for the task and the child is not experiencing discomfort due to it, then I let it go and move on to the other things I’m working on.  If the posture is hindering the task, I have the student remind me what he needs to fix.  It helps to have a sign on the wall or a note on the desk that he can refer to during the activity.
  1.  Along with this, I’d begin to include core exercises in his routine (No. 2) above.  Alternating toe touches, modified sit ups, or yoga poses such as rocking the boat are great ways to add abdominal muscle work that is quantifiable and allows the student to monitor his progress.  (There are quite a few examples of exercises in the downloads included with my book.)

My favorite set of yoga exercises!

  1.  After some more progress is achieved with 1 and 3 above, which will be demonstrated by less dependence on his shoulder for movement and increased flexibility in his arm and wrist,  I’d add fine motor exercises – not tasks or activities. Strictly the same types of exercises that we would do with adults in a rehabilitation setting.  (I’ve included a handout for putty exercises in my downloads for my book.) They are simple to demonstrate and easy for him and his parents to follow at home….and they work.  I am leaving this until he has some upper body improvement because, as you know, development is proximal to distal.  Once we can get him to stabilize his shoulder and begin to move his arm in tandem with his hand, then he can begin to include fine motor movements to tie it all together.  The exercises are static, however, and do not involve much arm movement.  I try to mix the exercises in with some of the other activities above to add movement.  For instance, I might have the student perform one upper body exercise and then move over to the table for a fine motor, sequencing like that until both sets of exercises are completed.  Or I like to have them play a dice game where each number is attached to an upper body or fine motor exercise.  The student checks off which ones he’s completed and we roll the dice until they’ve all been done.  This way, the arm is working as well as the fingers.  It works to enhance flexibility.  You can also have the student perform the exercises standing up when his fine motor skills begin to get stronger.  This allows him to move his arms without support.  But be sure he’s not using his shoulder to stabilize too much!
  1.  When the above strategies are moving close to his final goals for those skills, I’d move on to adding about 5-10 minutes at the end of the session to work on activities that include handwriting – slowly at first.  I begin with a reminder of the appropriate ways that the shoulder, arm, wrist, hand, and fingers work together toward efficient handwriting skills.  Handwriting program workbooks often have great visuals to remind students of the placement of these parts.  (I know Universal Publishing’s books have great ones.)  I keep a checklist on the desk where the student can self monitor his positioning.  We work with tasks such as copying spelling or vocabulary words from the board in therapy to take home for study.  Even if this is a repeat of what he’s done in class, the task completion is being monitored by you and the student can actively practice his self monitoring techniques for use at home or in the classroom.  I like to have them write down directions to their home or the park or movie theater, make a list of items that they will need for their next camping trip or for what they want for lunch, or draw a picture and write a short, short description of what is happening in it.  It depends on what the child likes to do for fun.

Be sure to continue to include upper body exercises in his program to keep the muscles toned and ready for fine-motor work.  Most children love to continue with the putty exercises, too.  And that’s good because the fingers continue to need work at this point.  If he tires of them, there are others on line that he can try that use other materials or exercise tools.  It’s up to you and him.

  1.  Finally, when all of this is working, I shift from exercises to activities that concentrate on handwriting mastery.  We remain on vertical surfaces at first, moving to the table bit-by-bit as the student demonstrates transference of the skills he developed in the exercises and small tasks to specific handwriting activities.  If the quality of my student’s letter formation and alignment are good, then I’d work on speed and accuracy.  (Otherwise, I’d begin with those basics.)  I have some speed and accuracy activities in my downloads for my book; but I put a really effective one on my blog that’s not in there.  Here’s the link:

Minute Mania: Turning Handwriting into a Functional Tool by Katherine J. Collmer, M.Ed., OTR/L, on the Handwriting is Fun! Blog

I would work very slowly with students such as this guy.  I know sometimes that frustrates teachers and parents who want to see results right away for grading purposes.  However, slow but sure wins the race!  Posture is a problem for them.  But most of the time, their posture is poor because they are using their shoulder to stabilize their arm; and their wrists, hands, and fingers are too weak to form and maintain an appropriate grasp.  It is important to remember, too, that a functional grasp is not necessarily a pretty one.  If the grasp isn’t the traditional dynamic tripod grasp but his fingers aren’t white with pressure and he isn’t complaining about pain or fatigue in the hand, then it just might be an appropriate grasp.  In this case, to address speed and accuracy I would assess his shoulder and back muscles to determine their need for strengthening.  Just for fun, I’ve included a blog I wrote on functional grasping patterns.  If you have purchased my book, you may recognize parts of it, as some of the information is included in there:

Should we worry about pencil grip? by Katherine J. Collmer, M.Ed., OTR/L, on the Handwriting is Fun! Blog

I am pretty consistent in the method of my delivery, moving from gross motor, to vision skills, to fine motor, then function in my sessions, as I’m sure you all do.  I didn’t include any vision in the above, but these skills could easily be addressed in both types of exercises.

I really enjoyed working with this therapist and am looking forward to hearing her feedback about her student’s progress toward handwriting mastery!

As always, thank you so much for reading and sharing my work!

The Handwriting is Fun! Blog is published by and is the property of Handwriting With Katherine.

Katherine J. Collmer, M.Ed., OTR/L, owner, Handwriting With Katherine
Katherine J. Collmer, M.Ed., OTR/L, owner, Handwriting With Katherine

Katherine J. Collmer, M.Ed., OTR/L, is a pediatric occupational therapist who specializes in the assessment and remediation of handwriting skills. In her current book, Handwriting Development Assessment and Remediation: A Practice Model for Occupational Therapists, she shares a comprehensive guide and consistent tool for addressing handwriting development needs. She can be contacted via her website, Handwriting With Katherine.

Collmer Handwriting Development Assessment and Remediation

Reference:

  1. Collmer, K.  Handwriting Development Assessment and Remediation:  A Practice Model for Occupational Therapists.  2016 ed. Waymart, PA:  Universal Publishing, 2016. Print.

Pictures are the property of the author and must provide a link back to this article or her website.  Those that provide a link to the originating source should include that link when they are shared.

Disclaimer: The information shared on the Handwriting With Katherine website, blog, Facebook page, Twitter page, Pinterest page; in the Universal Publishing Handwriting Teachers’ Guides; on any guest blog posts or any other social media is for general informational purposes only and should not be relied upon as a substitute for sound professional medical advice or evaluation and care from your physician/medical team or any other qualified health care providers. Therefore, the author of these links/posts take no responsibility for any liability, loss, or risk taken by individuals as a result of applying the ideas or resources.

10 Must-Haves in your Handwriting Tool Box

-----My OT Tool Box-----
——————-My OT Tool Box——————-

10 Must-Haves in your Handwriting Tool Box

by Katherine J. Collmer, M.Ed., OTR/L

on the Handwriting is Fun! blog

Helping students work on their handwriting development skills is fun and exciting!  And there are so many cool games, gadgets, toys, and widgets out there to gather up and hoard in our OT Tool Boxes.  Unfortunately, too much of a good thing leads to….well, too much of a good thing!  It’s often necessary to weed out the extraneous (no matter how many you were able to buy at The Dollar Store!) and pick out the tools that will serve the needs of your diverse groups of children in the most efficient manner.  Those are the gadgets and widgets that can be used in multiple ways to address a variety of developmental skills for children within a wide age range and who have many types of diagnoses.   Yes, it can be done!

My OT Tool Box has traveled with me from Maine to Maryland to Massachusetts and finally to Arizona.  It has held basically the same items for all these years, beginning in the days when I was new to the pediatric scene until these times when I’ve got the thought of retirement tucked away in the peaceful, relaxing spot in my mind.  I’m sure you have some type of box or bag that holds your treasured items, as well.  I thought I’d share my must-haves in the hopes that you will share yours, too!  Here goes!

My OT Tool Box

All of my sessions are organized in the same way:

  • Gross Motor Warm Ups
  • Vision Skill Warm Ups
  • Visual-Perception Work
  • Fine-Motor Work
  • Functional Handwriting Tasks.

So, I’ve organized my tool box outline in the same manner.

Gross Motor Warm-Ups:

  1. Balls and balloons are indispensable to me! A foam ball or two and a bag of balloons can carry us through balance and movement actions that

    In Toys and Games on Amazon.com
    In Toys and Games on Amazon.com

    also provide a touch of vision challenges.  Reaching, throwing, catching, kicking, and juggling are great ways to warm up the large muscles and to prepare the body’s core for fine motor work.  These are the muscles that help children sit appropriately and quietly while they work on handwritten assignments.

 

  1. Yoga – can you beat it for covering just about every muscle group need there is?  While balls and balloons provide action movements to wake up the muscles, yoga positions help the muscles pay attention to the commands directed at them.  Sitting with appropriate posture requires both strong and coordinated muscles.  And best yet, yoga is a double-duty activity.  Performing yoga exercises at the beginning of a session helps to prepare the large muscles, as well as the brain, for the precision work ahead.  Including yoga positions at the end of the session gives the large muscles time to reenergize with oxygen and provides the student with a cool down period before reentering the classroom.

Yoga

There are many free downloadable yoga charts on the internet with moves designed just for children.  It’s important to choose ones that provide easy-to-understand directions in case you want to include them in the student’s home program.

Vision Skills Warm-Ups:

  1. The Cotton Ball Game* has been a favored vision skill assessment and remediation tool for both me and my students for quite some time now. It’s a great way to warm up the eyes and the visual system for both close and distance work.  Blowing on a straw addresses divergence, or the ability of the eyes to move outward simultaneously and focus together on an object in the distance to produce a single picture.  This skill is especially helpful during copying-from-the board activities.  Convergence, or the ability of the eyes to move inward simultaneously during close work, is addressed by sucking on a straw.  Just a cotton ball or two and a few straws can be magically turned into target or carry games that address these important vision skills.

The Cotton Ball Game helps build efficient visual skills.
The Cotton Ball Game helps build efficient visual skills. (Photo is the property of Handwriting With Katherine.)

Cotton Ball Game
(Photo is the property of Handwriting With Katherine.)

Have your students create and produce a target as part of their fine-motor work and then use it in the next session to warm up their eyes in the Cotton Ball Game.  They can move the cotton ball along a track (created with masking tape) by blowing through the straw or carry it across the table toward the target by sucking on the straw to keep it stuck there.  Your students will love creating the track on the floor or a table, making intricate maze designs that will challenge their vision skills.

  1. Word Search Books (or free downloadable puzzles) come in very handy for vision skill warm-ups. It is important to prepare the eyes for fine motor work, especially scanning and tracking, to set the students up for achieving their personal best in your session.  These activities also serve double-duty as they can be included in your visual perception portion of the session!  If they are not completely finished during the session, they are simple to include in the students’ home programs.

Visual-Perceptual Work:

  1. Tangrams are terrific! I know that there a lot of expensive kits you can buy with plastic, colorful tangram pieces.  But, there are also free downloads that will provide you with tangram kits that you can cut out, ask the children to color them if you’d like, then laminate them to preserve them for use year after year.  I was fortunate to have purchased a Getting It Write **  book by LouAnne Audette and Anne Karson that provided a great group of tangrams (shown below).  The answer keys are separate and that helped me a great deal when BOTH the student and I were having trouble figuring the picture out.  Of course, I got to peek at the answer; they did not!  (But I did give them hints!)

Tangrams
(Photo is the property of Handwriting With Katherine.)

Tangrams work on visual closure, visual discrimination, and visual spatial relationships skills, while they enhance visual attention skills.

  1. Small playing cards are a dream tool to have on hand. Small ones help to develop fine motor skills and can work on so many visual-perceptual skills at the same time.
  • They can be used for memory games such as Concentration, where the cards are placed face down and then two are turned over to expose their faces.  If they are not a match, then they are turned over again and the next person reveals two more.  As the card faces are revealed, the object is to remember where you saw that one before and turn it over for a match!  Concentration games are wonderfully fun ways to enhance visual memory, visual attention, and visual discrimination skills.

how-to-play-concentration-1

  • Playing cards can be used for sequencing games such as those that teach math (1) to encourage the enhancement of visual attention and visual sequencing skills.  War, the ever popular two-person game, is great for visual attention and visual memory.  To change this game up a bit, I made small playing cards out of cardstock that each had a letter of the alphabet on them, then laminated them.  We played sequencing games and war by ranking the letters according to their placement in the alphabet.  Just think of all the ways you can then include handwriting practice in the game?  (Hint:  The student can write the letter or words that begin with the letter on his handwriting paper!)
  • My favorite small playing card game of all is The Number 10 Game!*  A long time ago, I found a small card game called that in a dollar-type store in Canada.  The cards had simple numbers on them from 1-10.  I still have those cards, although they are pretty worn out.  I wasn’t ever able to find the game again; so I use small playing cards now, removing the face cards and using just the number cards.  The goal is to find all the matches that add up to 10.  It’s simple to set up and a fun way to address both fine motor and visual-perceptual skills.  First the cards are set up in 4 rows with 4 cards in a row.  As the students make a match, those cards are put off to the side.  When there are no more matches in that set up, the removed cards are replaced to fill in the rows and the student continues to find more tens.  You can decrease the number of rows depending on your students’ strengths and needs.  If your students have difficulty with math concepts, post an addition chart by the table or next to the game so that they can reference it.  However, if your students are proficient in their addition skills, then you can set up the game as a race to beat their personal best.  Of course, I’ve played it with them as a race; but most often the scales are tipped unfairly – with them beating me every time!!!

Number 10 Game
(Photo is the property of Handwriting With Katherine.)

Fine-Motor Work:

  1. Putty, Always Putty!!! Therapeutic putty maintains a permanent place of honor in my tool box.  I don’t leave home without it.  Pegs, golf tees, marbles, tweezers, and coins are staples that come along for the ride, giving my students a fine-motor workout while they play.  Both the younger and older students enjoy creating objects out of the putty, rolling it out again, and setting their creative juices to work on it once more.  I do have a set of putty exercises* we work on, too, which often becomes part of their home programs.  For the more advanced students, I bring along clay especially for them so that they can warm up their fingers before beginning handwriting tasks.

Fine Motor Tools
(Photo is the property of Handwriting With Katherine.)

  1. My collection of fine-motor sundries make hand and finger warm-ups fun. Small sponge pieces, blocks, paper clips, and pegs match up with tweezers and tongs to exercise the arches of the hand and the fingers and wrist.  These pieces can be combined to outline the directional concepts of a letter formation, to place along the pathway of a maze, or to stack and create an object.  Pickup Sticks work the pincer grasp, shoulder and arm control, and visual attention and figure-ground discrimination skills.  Patience and critical thinking are added bonus skills that are touched on in this game!  Dice are wonderful tools to enhance in-hand manipulation skills.  They can be used during board games or activities that you design to address the handwriting development skills your students are working on.  For instance, you can play BINGO with them using the numbers they roll to determine what the students will write in the boxes.  In the example below, the die is rolled twice.  With the first roll, a 1 would indicate that the student would write a lower case “u.”  With the second roll, a 4 would indicate that the student would write that letter in the first box in the “G” column.  I always play along with the student so that we could compete to win.  The game would continue until the first person had BINGO!

Bingo Rules for Site

I’ve also used dice with the small playing cards, changing the Number 10 Game rules just a bit.  After the cards are set up, the student rolls the dice and selects the cards that add up to that number.  When all of those matches are made and the rows are filled in with additional cards again, the student rolls the dice again for a new number.  This adds to the suspense!

Functional Handwriting Tasks:

  1. I always carry a supply of postcards, sticky notes, children’s stationery, and lined and blank paper with me. The blank paper comes in handy for the younger children to draw a picture and then write a short story on handwriting paper describing what their picture shows me.  The older children can draw a directional map to guide me to their favorite place in town or a room diagram to show me what their living room or classroom looks like.  They label the items in their best handwriting and then write directions to the place or a provide a description of it.  To practice writing in small spaces, the students can write a postcard to a friend, their sister, or the teacher and hand deliver it; write the teacher or their parent a message on the sticky note; or write a recipe on an index card to share with me (they usually do this as part of their home program).  Handwriting practice that doesn’t look like handwriting practice.
  1. The most functional tool in my tool box doesn’t actually come with me to the session.  I often ask the students to bring in a homework or classwork assignment that addresses their particular handwriting need.  They will bring in their worksheets that include small, unlined spaces; book reports that are not quite completed; or math and spelling sheets.  These provide us with opportunities to work on spatial and editing skills, as well as discuss the areas that give them problems in class and at home.

Last but not least.

Other Tools
(Photo property of Handwriting With Katherine.)

Chalk Board
(Photo property of Handwriting With Katherine.)

I also carry a stash of supplies that will come in handy when the need presents itself.  A roll of blank paper and masking tape are two essentials to have on hand to practice letter formations skills (with drawings, doodles, mazes, or tracing) using large motor movements on a vertical surface.  Of course, sand paper, aluminum foil, and tissue paper are must haves for tactile feedback tools for pencil pressure.   I never leave home without my small chalkboard (have had this one for years!), tons of chalk, Q-tips, and a paper cup for water!  There is simply nothing that can replace these tools for the development of motor memory skills.  Writing the letters with chalk and then tracing over them with a Q-tip dipped in water is my all-time favorite disappearing act trick!  I usually have a bunch of construction paper on hand, too, to use as a substitute for the chalk board.  We write the letter in chalk on the paper and then trace it with the wet Q-tip.  (PS:  I never use white boards or markers.  Not enough tactile input to make the activity beneficial.  I like to get the most out of every minute the students are with me!)

So there you have it!

Well, I guess if you add up all of the individual pieces in my tool box, I wouldn’t be able to cash out in the “Around 15 items” checkout at the grocery store!  But, all in all, these are the tools I have been carting around for years.  I don’t know if they are the best ones; but I do know one thing.  Whenever I get overly creative and start to stuff boxes of toys and equipment into my trunk and lug them into the session, the children and I most often revert back to the old standbys!

Please let me and your fellow readers know “What’s in your tool box?”

And as always, thanks for reading and sharing my work!

*These activities, and many more, are included as downloadable handouts in my Handwriting Development Assessment and Remediation book.

**Updated 07/13/19:  It appears that the Getting It Write book is no longer available.

Katherine J. Collmer, M.Ed., OTR/L, owner, Handwriting With Katherine
Katherine J. Collmer, M.Ed., OTR/L, owner, Handwriting With Katherine

Katherine J. Collmer, M.Ed., OTR/L, is a pediatric occupational therapist who specializes in the assessment and remediation of handwriting skills. In her current book, Handwriting Development Assessment and Remediation: A Practice Model for Occupational Therapists, she shares a comprehensive guide and consistent tool for addressing handwriting development needs. She can be contacted via her website, Handwriting With Katherine.

Collmer Handwriting Development Assessment and Remediation

(1) https://topnotchteaching.com/math/math-card-games/
Pictures are the property of the author and must provide a link back to this article or her website.  If the photos are linked to another source, their use must provide a link to the originating source.
 Disclaimer: The information shared on the Handwriting With Katherine website, blog, Facebook page, Twitter page, Pinterest page; in the Universal Publishing Handwriting Teachers’ Guides; on any guest blog posts or any other social media is for general informational purposes only and should not be relied upon as a substitute for sound professional medical advice or evaluation and care from your physician/medical team or any other qualified health care providers. Therefore, the author of these links/posts take no responsibility for any liability, loss, or risk taken by individuals as a result of applying the ideas or resources.

Technology by MacGyver Revisited

office FirmBee Pixabay

Technology comes in various packages, from the most expensive to the budget friendly.  It has become a staple in our lives, as well as an effective means for adapting school requirements to meet a student’s needs.  Rebecca Klockars, an occupational therapist and RESNA certified assistive technology professional, shares adaptive strategies that will not make a big dent on your therapy budget.  Click on the picture below to learn more!

Low Tech Assistive Technology: MacGyver Inspired by Rebecca Klockars, OT, OT Mommy

Katherine J. Collmer, M.Ed., OTR/L, owner, Handwriting With Katherine
Katherine J. Collmer, M.Ed., OTR/L, owner, Handwriting With Katherine

Katherine J. Collmer, M.Ed., OTR/L, is a pediatric occupational therapist who specializes in the assessment and remediation of handwriting skills and understands the link between handwriting skills and writing.  In her current book, Handwriting Development Assessment and Remediation:  A Practice Model for Occupational Therapists,  she shares a comprehensive guide and consistent tool for addressing handwriting development needs.  She can be contacted via her website, Handwriting With Katherine.
Disclaimer: The information shared on the Handwriting With Katherine website, blog, Facebook page, Twitter page, Pinterest page; in the Universal Publishing Handwriting Teachers’ Guides; on any guest blog posts or any other social media is for general informational purposes only and should not be relied upon as a substitute for sound professional medical advice or evaluation and care from your physician/medical team or any other qualified health care providers. Therefore, the author of these links/posts take no responsibility for any liability, loss, or risk taken by individuals as a result of applying the ideas or resources.
Pictures are the property of the sites they are linked to and their use must provide a link back to the owner.

A Handwriting with Katherine Thank You Note

A Handwriting with Katherine Thank You Note

from Katherine J. Collmer, M.Ed., OTR/L

 

 

thank you artsy bee pixabayThis summer, I was honored and humbled by the thoughtfulness of eight inspiring and knowledgeable Occupational Therapists who so lovingly shared their time and expertise with my readers on the Handwriting is Fun! Blog. Their willingness to jump in and give me a hand when I needed it most won’t ever be forgotten, for sure.

Most importantly, however, their words of wisdom in the 10 blogs they shared will help so many readers for years to come.

 

In that light, I wanted to take a moment to thank them personally and to share their work with you once again.  And, as always, thank you to my readers.  You are the foundation upon which the success of the Handwriting is Fun! Blog is built.

 

Thank you so much

Spaghetti and Meatball Spacing by Miss Jaime OT
Spaghetti and Meatball Spacing by Jaime Spencer, MA, OTR/L, Miss Jaime OT

 

Jaime Spencer from Miss Jaime OT,

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tips for Getting Away From Table-Top Activities by Rebecca Klockars, OT Mommy
Tips for Getting Away From Table-Top Activities by Rebecca Klockars, OT, OT Mommy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rebecca Klockars from OT Mommy,

Low Tech Assistive Technology: MacGyver Inspired by Rebecca Klockars, OT, OT Mommy
Low Tech Assistive Technology: MacGyver Inspired by Rebecca Klockars, OT, OT Mommy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Is Summer Handwriting Fun? by Stacy Turke, OTR/L
Is Summer Handwriting Fun? by Stacy Turke, OTR/L, On the Road with @stacyturke OTR

 

Stacy Turke from On The Road with @stacyturke OTR,

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Challenge of Moving Toward Self-Sufficiency with or without Assistive Technology by Eleanor Cawley, MS, OTR/L
The Challenge of Moving Toward Self-Sufficiency with or without Assistive Technology by Eleanor Cawley, MS, OTR/L, EleanorOT

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eleanor Cawley from EleanorOT,

Learning and Retaining through Technology, by Eleanor Cawley, M.S., OTR/L
Learning and Retaining through Technology, by Eleanor Cawley, M.S., OTR/L, EleanorOT

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Help With Handwriting: A Screening Activity by Lyn Armstrong, OTR
Help With Handwriting: A Screening Activity by Lyn Armstrong, OTR, LynOT

 

Lyn Armstrong from LynOT,

 

 

 

 

 

 

An OT Advocate for Change - Handwriting gets the help it deserves, by Marie Toole, OTR/L
An OT Advocate for Change – Handwriting gets the help it deserves, by Marie Toole, OTR/L, School Tools

 

Marie Toole from School Tools, and

 

 

 

 

 

 

No child wants to fail!
Behavior and Transitions in School Settings by Cara Koscinski, MOT, OTR/L, The Pocket OT

 

Cara Koscinski from The Pocket OT.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thank you!
 Thank you! I couldn’t have done it without you!

 

 

 

Katherine J. Collmer, M.Ed., OTR/L, owner, Handwriting With Katherine
Katherine J. Collmer, M.Ed., OTR/L, owner, Handwriting With Katherine

Katherine J. Collmer, M.Ed., OTR/L, is a pediatric occupational therapist who specializes in the assessment and remediation of handwriting skills and understands the link between handwriting skills and writing.  She can be contacted via her website, Handwriting With Katherine.
 
 
 
 
 
  
Disclaimer: The information shared on the Handwriting With Katherine website, blog, Facebook page, Twitter page, Pinterest page; in the Universal Publishing Handwriting Teachers’ Guides; on any guest blog posts or any other social media is for general informational purposes only and should not be relied upon as a substitute for sound professional medical advice or evaluation and care from your physician/medical team or any other qualified health care providers. Therefore, the author of these links/posts take no responsibility for any liability, loss, or risk taken by individuals as a result of applying the ideas or resources.
 
Photos are the property of Handwriting With Katherine, the authors, or the photographers on Pixabay and are not to be used in any fashion except as links to the appropriate blog or the Handwriting With Katherine website without the expressed, written permission of Katherine Collmer or the authors.  Use of the photographer’s work should include the link attached to their photographs.

 

An OT Advocate for Change: Handwriting gets the help it deserves.

For the month of September, the Handwriting is Fun! Blog will be sharing insights about the role of Occupational Therapy in the classroom.  In recent years, the role of OT, in general, has been changing with the waves of healthcare and education reforms.  Despite a certain amount of turmoil and confusion where those changes may have thrown us a curve ball, most often they have provided us with an opportunity to make a difference in an area in which we’ve longed to see an improvement.  For me, that has been handwriting mastery.  For others, it has been the role of OT in the educational system as a whole.  This second article in our “OT in the Classroom” series addresses the role of OT as an vehicle for guiding teachers, educational staff, and administrative leaders in striving for and achieving handwriting mastery for their students.  Marie Toole, OTR/L, shares the amazing work that she and the OT staff in her district are doing to Advocate for Change.

An Advocate for Change

by Marie Toole, OTR/L

time for change door geralt pixabayMany years ago, as a new school-based occupational therapist, I was ready to conquer the world. That first year was a blur of referrals and therapy and meetings and learning. The OT staff sat down at the end of that first school year and — after counting up how many referrals we got for handwriting — decided to do something different.

We had to figure out how to handle all these referrals and distinguish between those students who really needed occupational therapy intervention and those who would benefit from good instruction in handwriting from the teacher.  We needed to be agents of change or we were going to be burned out.

Over the last 20 years we have seen a significant drop in our referrals for strictly handwriting.  The referrals we get now are for a myriad of reasons and almost all of them end up with us servicing the child for direct OT interventions.  How did we cut our referrals in half, meet the concerns of the classroom teachers and yet still make sure students have legible handwriting?  Over the years we have employed a number of strategies.  Let me share them with you.

coaching geralt pixabayEducation/Inservices:

Teachers told us they either did not feel comfortable teaching handwriting in the classroom or felt like they were not doing a good job. So we helped.

  • We gave workshops to teachers, paraprofessionals, and parents about hand skills, handwriting, and posture. Building on our handwriting curriculum, we wrote out each letter description, which showed them how to form the letters and gave them the language and developmental order in which to teach letters. Everybody is now using the same language to teach in a consistent manner.
  • Partnering with the physical therapist, we gave an inservice to local preschools on the typical development of the 2- to 6-year old. This helped those teachers to have realistic expectations for hand skill development.
  • With our physical education teachers we developed Classroom Rechargers. These are 20 movement-based activities per grade level that teachers can perform right in their classroom with little-to-no equipment or space.  We put together handwriting warm-ups, exercises, and activities to be done just prior to teaching letter instruction.
  • We showed kindergarten teachers the importance of building the base of hand skills before adding on the challenge of handwriting.
  • We continually give workshops once or twice per year on various topics.  Information, tips, or skills teachers can use the next day in their classroom are the most valuable to them.  We generally have a large audience.
  • When new teachers join our buildings or teachers switch grades, we always make sure to touch base with them and help them navigate the teaching of the handwriting process. Checking in periodically to see how letter instruction is going is always helpful, too.

5 Reasons Why Handwriting Needs a Good SeatErgonomics

Seating and posture were important areas where teachers needed assistance.

  • At the beginning of each school year, we go in and check the desk and chair height for every student on our caseload.  We make sure students fit their work space.
  • We send an email to remind staff how to check for proper desk and chair height and will help any teachers struggling with this. The custodian is our friend, helping us find the right furniture or to adjust desk height.
  • We have also advocated for stand up desks and several of our classrooms now sport at least one stand up desk.  We add sensory equipment — seat cushions, bicycle tubing around the chair legs, and hand tools — for those students who move and fidget.  When students are comfortable and in a good place for learning, it makes handwriting instruction so much easier.     

Pre-referral process

We use a pre-referral process to keep track of teacher requests and to address needs in a timely manner.  

  • Teachers must fill out a basic form telling us their concerns and what they have tried already.
  • The pre-referral forms help us fine tune our classroom observations to an area in which the student may be having challenges, such as math, writing, or organization.
  • We then tailor our classroom observation to those specific areas.  

planning dates condesign pixabayIn the classroom

Planning and coordination are important first steps.

  • At the beginning of each school year we discuss with the classroom teacher and special educator the most convenient time when writing is being taught and we plan our schedules around it. Most of our teachers have been with us long enough to understand the limitations in our schedule and will cooperate to make this work. When we show up for our therapy time, the teachers welcome the extra pair of hands to help with letter instruction, the writing process, typing on Google Docs, or writing poetry.
  • We know the curriculum.  The students do not get pulled from instruction and we get to work in the moment with the students on meaningful work.  We also get to put our eyes on all the students in that classroom and may help other struggling writers as well.
  • We co-teach cursive letter instruction in most of our third grade classrooms as part of our third-graders’ therapy time.  It gives us in-class time and we get to work with the whole class by showing them some multisensory ways to learn letters using sand, chalkboards, or kin-tac cards.
  • We are lucky that we are district employees and have the luxury of having an occasional block of time to observe students in class, on the playground, or in the gym.  We also use our therapy time to work in the classrooms with students on their OT goals.

Early Intervention and Response to Intervention (RtI):

In our district we are lucky to have an administration that support us.  

  • This allows us to go into each kindergarten classroom under regular education for one half hour per week to “SPOT” children who might need help with hand skills.
  • SPOT stands for Speech and OT.  Our “SPOT” time is available to assist the teacher with activities that may be challenging for 5- and 6-year olds. In our OT sessions we might be working on scissor skills, gluing, coloring, and eventually, after months of hand skills training, handwriting.
  • As the year progresses we generally have a small group of students that  we focus on during SPOT.  We do the same activity that the whole class is doing but those students may need more assistance.  These students become our “watch” students in first grade and then we have our entry into the first grade classrooms under RtI.
  •   This took many years of “selling” to our principal. We argued that we could ward off some referrals by giving a little help early rather than a lot of help later. The administration agreed to a trial. After seeing the results, the program stuck.
  • One way we have cemented that progress in our administrators’ minds is to have them conduct their yearly observations of us when we work in the classrooms.  We love to have them come observe us working with a group in the fall, again in January, and later in May.  To see that transformation is like gold in the bank.

Winning over skeptics

Patience and respect guide us in the classroom.

  • It is not always easy and there are some teachers who do not appreciate us coming into their classrooms. In those cases, we take it slow and become a guest in that teacher’s classroom. When they see the intrinsic value that we bring to the table as occupational therapists, most teachers come around.
  • Generally we have found that teachers can’t wait for us to work in their classroom and are bummed when they do not have students who receive OT in their classroom that year. It takes time, sometimes lots of years of trying. But working together as a team shows the student that everyone is on the same page and you have the same expectations for him or her.


teamwork zipnon pixabayTeamwork

Having a strong special education team is helpful as well.  

  • Working with the classroom teacher, special educator, and the rest of the special education team has helped us to fine tune our occupational therapy process.  
  • Often it is the special education teacher who brings concerns or referrals to the occupational therapy staff.

Advocating at the administrative level

Becoming visible is essential.

  • We knew we needed to get good at this or we would continue to struggle year after year.  Our principal, assistant principal, and even the superintendent know who we are.
  • We consistently advocate for what is right for children.  In our 20 plus years, there have been many principals and superintendents at the helm.  We had to get to know them, their goals, and how they liked to work.
  • We asked for OT be represented on the curriculum committee for language arts when administrators revised it many years ago.  We ended up putting a handwriting strand into the curriculum with expectations developmentally appropriate for kindergarten through fourth grade.
  • When the district was thinking of cutting out cursive instruction, we took this on as our mission to research it and make informed decisions.  We took our time, and over the course of three years, we read many research articles and spoke with many other local districts to see what they were doing.  We ultimately decided to keep cursive instruction as an integral part of our third grade curriculum.  
  • When advocating for the SPOT time in kindergarten, we came armed with data to show that it was beneficial.  We constantly print out articles about teaching handwriting and give them to our principal.
  • Being relentless in the pursuit of continually advocating for what is right for children can be tiring.  It is not something that happens overnight.  Looking ahead and looking towards the big picture has helped us to maintain our vision.  Continually putting it in front of administrators keeps it fresh and does not allow stagnation or somebody to forget how important handwriting is in the curriculum.

important note clkerfreevectorimages pixabayOur role

An important point to remember:

  • We cannot become the “handwriting teacher.”  That’s the job of the classroom teacher. We are occupational therapists who look at functional skills and participation in the school curriculum and environment.
  • By empowering teachers to actually teach handwriting before they expect children to write, we advocate for what our students need. Ongoing support and advocacy will encourage teachers to keep teaching proper letter formation. This in turn will allow our OT interventions to remain focused on the functional skills students need to navigate the complex world of school.

Marie Toole, MS, OTR/L Marie L. Toole, MS, OTR/ L, is a pediatric occupational therapist with over 28 years experience in NICU, Early Intervention, and private practice with the last 21 years spent working in public schools. She is NBCOT and SIPT certified as well as a member of AOTA and NHOTA.  Follow her on Twitter @MarieTooleOTNH, on Pinterest marietooleNHOT, and on School Tools for Pediatric Occupational Therapists  where she tweets, pins, and posts about OT, education, autism, and sensory integration, as well as other school related topics.

 Disclaimer: The information shared on the Handwriting With Katherine website, blog, Facebook page, Twitter page, Pinterest page; in the Universal Publishing Handwriting Teachers’ Guides; on any guest blog posts or any other social media is for general informational purposes only and should not be relied upon as a substitute for sound professional medical advice or evaluation and care from your physician/medical team or any other qualified health care providers. Therefore, the author of these links/posts take no responsibility for any liability, loss, or risk taken by individuals as a result of applying the ideas or resources.
 
Photos are the property of Handwriting With Katherine and are not to be used in any fashion except as links to the appropriate blog or the Handwriting With Katherine website without the expressed, written permission of Katherine Collmer.

Help With Handwriting: A Screening Activity

The month of August brings thoughts of the new school year and a fresh look at how children learn and grow.  With that focus in mind, the Handwriting is Fun! Blog is proud to bring you a series of posts that will share insights from Occupational Therapists that reflect their views on and visions for our students’ learning experiences.  The third article in our series is presented by Lyn Armstrong, OTR/L, and will explore the the process of identifying handwriting struggles early to prevent our students from falling behind in their handwritten work.  I know that you will find her strategy easy to use and an asset to your OT Tool Box!

 

Help With Handwriting:  A Screening Activity for All Ages

            by Lyn Armstrong, OTR

 

Handwriting is a very complex task at any age!

 

If you can picture in your mind a ladder, let’s look at each major rung!  The top rungs of this handwriting ladder are composed of written expression items (spelling, thought organization, punctuation, and sentence/paragraph development).  The middle rungs may be composed of sensory motor items such as visual perception, tactile/proprioception.  The bottom rungs handle fine and gross motor skills.

A student with handwriting difficulties may have problems related to each rung, particular rungs, or multiple rungs in each area.  For example a child with Dyslexia may have different issues affecting the quality of writing than a student with “just fine motor skills” (rare these days).  Illegible handwriting is sometimes called “Dysgraphia”.

Dysgraphia Subtypes (Deuel. Journal of Child Neurology 1995)

Spontaneous written text Oral Spelling Copying Drawing Finger tapping(fine motor)
Dyslexic Dysgraphia Poorly legible with textural complexity influencing legibility Severely abnormal Relatively preserved Relativelypreserved Normal
Dysgraphia due to Motor Clumsiness Poorly legible Relatively preserved Legible or if neat extremely slowly produced compromised abnormal
Dysgraphia due to defect in understanding space Poorly legible preserved Poorly legible abnormal normal

 

In this chart, you can see that a Dyslexic student’s difficulties center on spelling and textural complexity rather than fine motor skills.  For the observer of a Dyslexic student, the handwriting puzzle may be confusing as one may see the following:

  1. Legible letter formations in handwriting workbooks or sheets
  2. Legible writing with short sentences that are composed of familiar words
  3. Decreased legibility as spelling demands increase
  4. Decreased legibility as spelling, time restraints, reading comprehension, and/or organization is required

If we go back to look at the handwriting ladder, we see that the majority of handwriting issues with a Dyslexic student center in the upper rungs of written expression and not in the lower rungs of fine motor or visual perception.  Therefore it is critical to work on the upper rungs of written expression not necessarily the lower rungs of perception and motor which generally are intact. An occupational therapist though specializing in handwriting may not be as helpful for a Dyslexic student as a Language therapist or a Dyslexic tutor who is more specialized in reading and spelling.

Knowing where the difficulties lie, help determines which professional is needed and which classroom modifications are appropriate.

 

The first thing to consider with a student who is having writing difficulties is whether or not the student knows the letter names, has attached the letter names to a symbol, and can write that letter (symbol) without thinking about it.  If he can do this, it frees up the mind to concentrate on the aspects of writing sentences, spelling, etc.

A simple screening exercise for grades 1 and higher is mentioned below.  Please remember that this is a screening only!  It should help you determine if the child is visualizing the letters correctly, transitioning quickly from one thought to another (cognitive associative shift), and receiving good input through the sense of touch (tactile) and body movement (proprioceptive).

 

Screening Procedure: Choose a time when the student is not tired.  Place a piece of blank paper long wise in front of the student.  Have the student write the upper case alphabet in his/her choice of print or cursive with his eyes closed.   Have the student open his eyes to check his work.  Then repeat with the lower case alphabet.  Always praise the student even if done poorly.

As the student writes, make notes of the following:Poor Handwriting Example2

  1. Hesitation on a letter
  2. Difficulty sequencing the alphabet: you may help by giving a letter
  3. Talking out loud as he writes a letter or the sequence

Once finished note the following:

  1. Are the letters placed on an imaginary line? If so, it appears the student knows where his hand is as it moves across the page.  If not, you may want to work on sensory items with the student to help with better sensory input in the hand. Check for pressure: are the letters made very lightly or can you read them from the other side of the page (engraving). Extra pressure can result from poor sensory input or from over concentration on the activity.

Also draw a line across the top of the letters and one under the letters.  The space between these two lines (height of the letters) may be the comfort level of the moving fingers.  Adjust the writing spaces on other papers to be equal to this space. For example, if the letters of a third grade are large like a kindergartener, the student may have trouble writing in the small spaces on a fourth grade workbook or college rule notebook paper.

  1. Are there hesitations with certain letters? We picture the letters as we write in our minds.  The letter as it is being written matches or does not match a letter in our minds.  If a student has trouble visualizing a letter, he will hesitate or say “I don’t remember”. Work on that particular letter.
  2. Can the student write the alphabet sequence without help? This requires writing a letter, remembering where the letter is in the alphabet sequence, picturing the next letter, writing it on the paper and repeating this process.  This takes memory, visual recall, visualization and motor production.  Shifting from one skill to another may be difficult and need extra help.  Processing speed may be slow as well.
  3. Are the letters made top to bottom or bottom to top? If the letters are legible and made bottom to top, this may not need to be corrected.

 

Lyn Exercise PhotorThe following may be helpful as you scan the student’s papers after you have noted motor, perceptual or sensory issues:

  1. Look at the student’s writing in all subjects. Just because a student has good grades in spelling, one needs to look at the spelling in the context of writing sentences and paragraphs.  One may be able to remember the spelling words in isolation but not when thinking about what to write.  Even look at math papers for number formations, sizes of numbers, ability to write in smaller spaces and written words in word problem solutions.
  2. Look at the spaces the child must write in on the various pages. Some students have a need to completely fill up a space even when writing their name on the top line of the paper. Others who may be insecure with their writing may choose to write very small to disguise errors. Others may have visual perceptual issues!
  3. Check the consistency of line size in various subjects. A child with motor planning difficulties may have difficulty adjusting his motor movements for writing to different sized spaces.  Look for consistency of letter size.  Size can Lyn Poor Handwriting Example1affect in legibility.
  4. Look at where the lines of writing move to across the page: Some prefer to start on the left and move to middle of paper. They slowly pull away from the left side of the paper and start their sentences in the middle of the page indented to almost the middle of the line spaces, making a diagonal pull from the left side.  Modify by moving the left side of the writing page to the body’s midline as it appears these students are more comfortable with their right body space.
  5. Check the color of the paper. Some students with visual perceptual or sensitivity problems write better if the paper is colored which seems to reduce the black/white contrast. Look also at overhead lights to see if they are causing a glare on the paper.
  6. Check the furniture. A too high desk will result in the student laying his head down.  Same for a too low desk.
  7. Check computer skills: Note taking may be faster on a computer.

 

Truly, handwriting is a complex task!

 

Lyn Armstrong is a pediatric occupational therapist with 35 plus years of experience living in the Houston area. Her primary focus has been on handwriting which has led to authoring several articles in The International Dyslexic Association Resource Directory and to her book “Alphabet Soup: Stirring Your Child’s Interest in Letters”.  She can be contacted through her website, lynaot.com.

 

Weeks 1 and 2 in the Series:

Learning and Retaining through Technology, by Eleanor Cawley, M.S., OTR/L, on the Handwriting is Fun! Blog
Learning and Retaining through Technology, by Eleanor Cawley, M.S., OTR/L, on the Handwriting is Fun! Blog

Handwriting and Learning: A Vital Link to Skilled Writing, by Katherine J. Collmer, M.Ed., OTR/L on he Handwriting is Fun! Blog
Handwriting and Learning: A Vital Link to Skilled Writing, by Katherine J. Collmer, M.Ed., OTR/L on he Handwriting is Fun! Blog

Low Tech Assistive Technology: MacGyver Inspired

This month, the Handwriting is Fun! Blog is proud to host another guest author series.  In July we will be sharing information on the topic of Technology and OT.  Our series will stray from our typical course and discuss non-handwriting related topics, except for the one that was presented the first week.  I know you will enjoy what our guests will be sharing and will learn a great deal from their expertise.

This week, we are proud to have Rebecca Klockars, the OT Mommy, join us again to share her “OT-made AT for success!”  She truly demonstrates the ingenuity and creativity that occupational therapy is based upon.  If you enjoy her post as much as I did, please be sure to stop by her site and let her know!

OT Mommy, you’re on!

 

toolbox clkerfreevectorimages pixabayLow Tech AT:  MacGyver Inspired

 

One of the things I love about Assistive Technology is that it does not have to be high tech.  Some of my favorite MacGyver-inspired modifications came from searching the plethora of stuff I have in my OT room.

 

When adapting materials for writing, I like to scour my surroundings and look for ways I can reuse materials.  I am sure many of you can relate to the hoarder tendencies in your own therapy room.

 

For example, the art teacher was throwing away “broken” brushes, so I grabbed them.  Like many occupational therapists and special educators, I had a box of unused pegs from peg boards activities.  Through trial and error, I discovered that a peg fit into the handle’s old spot, creating a short paintbrush with a convenient form to enhance the grasp of a developing writer.

From broken...
From broken…

Brush
…to functional!

 

 

If you have a child struggling to keep the pencil resting in the webspace, two elastic bands can provide a handy support.  Just overlap the bands and pull through.  This is great for tablet styluses too.

 

Two elastic bands
From two…

 

Overlapped elastic bands
…to one…

 

Help for Webspace
…to functional!

 

If you have a student with significant grasp difficulties, sometimes for just a few cents worth of PVC piping found in the plumbing section of your local hardware store, a T-shaped crayon holder can be built.   Depending on the size of the tool you are using, you will want to grab a PVC tee connector and two pieces of PVC piping cut approximately 2-3” in length each.  Place the two lengths of piping in each end of the top of the T; the writing implement is placed in the open end.  If needed, thread a strap of One-Wrap through the top to help support the grip.  Here’s an example from Therapy Fun 4 Kids!

PVC Crayon Adaptor from Therapy Fun 4 Kids
PVC Crayon Adaptor from Therapy Fun 4 Kids

 

 

 

Need to build up diameter of pencil but don’t have any foam tubing? Head to the dollar store and get a package of curlers.  These can be used for tactile feedback as well as a build-up material.

 

Curler
From foam…

 

Curler Pencil Grip
…to functional!

 

I’ve gone as far as the gym teacher’s closet to find broken jump rope handles.  Sometimes a marker fits perfectly in the handle, creating a makeshift universal cuff for writing.

 

Positioning materials are just as important for grasp development and writing readiness.  If a student needs a more angled surface than you can achieve with a three-ring binder, make your own. Get an old political sign made of corrugated plastic, some Velcro, and wallpaper corners (found at the local paint and decorating store).  With strategic cutting, bending and velcroing, a slanted surface for either writing or reading is easily achieved.

Book Positioning
From corrugated plastic…to functional!

 

For a great how-to video, visit University of New Hampshire You Tube Channel ATinNH – right here!

 

IPad Stand YouTube from ATinNH
IPad Stand YouTube

 

 

So the next time you are struggling to find the perfect pencil grip for a student, look around the classroom, in the art room, or in the aisles of the local hardware store.  You never know what you will find.  You may even become inspired to be your own AT hacker.

 

 

 

Rebecca Klockars is a mom, occupational therapist, RESNA certified assistive technology professional and author of the blog OTMommy Needs Her Coffee.  When not ranting and raving about things to do with her children (her own and the school-based kids too) she enjoys cooking, reading and building things with PVC, duct tape and velcro.  For more information, visit her site dedicated to Assistive Technology Consideration in Transition Assessment and her blog at www.otmommy.blogspot.com

 

 

Handwriting: is an app applicable? by Katherine J. Collmer, M.Ed., OTR/L on the Handwriting is Fun! Blog
Handwriting: is an app applicable? by Katherine J. Collmer, M.Ed., OTR/L on the Handwriting is Fun! Blog

The Challenge of Moving Toward Self-Sufficiency with or without Assistive Technology by Eleanor Cawley, MS, OTR/L
The Challenge of Moving Toward Self-Sufficiency with or without Assistive Technology by Eleanor Cawley, MS, OTR/L

Switch Use: A Success Story in Progress a Guest Blog by Cheryl from OT Notes
Switch Use: A Success Story in Progress a Guest Blog by Cheryl from OT Notes

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