By Kathryn Mason, OTR/L
On the Handwriting is Fun! Blog
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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