My Handy Handwriting Tool Box: A q-tip, cotton ball, and some sandpaper!
During my first year as a pediatric, school-based occupational therapist, I became a hoarder. Yes, I can openly admit it. A bone fide hoarder of gadgets, gizmos, whirligigs, and thingies. If something even hinted at me that it could be used toward the development of any imaginable skill, I stuffed it into my car trunk. Soon, the trunk became a California Closet, with bins and buckets and baskets. At this point, of course, I needed a “more efficient” mode of transportation between car and school. And out came the roller boards and sail bags! Soon, I stopped going to the gym because my day job became my daily workout! Yep. I had lots of stuff. But in the end, the economy of energy and time demanded that I spend a weekend sifting through my collection to determine what I actually did use (kind of like Pinterest!). My OT Tool Box is quite small now and actually lots more fun. Today, let’s chat about three simple Handwriting Helper Tools that are small, inexpensive, and very functional!
Handwriting development and remediation should encourage students to develop tactile, fine motor, and postural skills. These will build a solid foundation for a fluid, legible handwriting style. I keep three tools handy that can address these skills during fun, “I don’t even know I’m practicing my handwriting,” activities!
My Small Handwriting Tool Box
1. A q-tip: The length and circumference of a q-tip is just perfect for developing the tripod grasp. It does not leave much room for any additional fingers! The goal is to work on the tactile and fine motor development of the thumb, index, and long fingers on the “barrel” versus placement in the webspace of the hand. It is light and encourages the students to put pressure on their fingers to control and manipulate it. At the same time, its weight allows students with weaker hands to participate in the activity more easily. They are inexpensive and can be purchased at any discount dollar store.
painting, dipped in water, and dry tracing
Prone to be Good Practice: Toddlers and preschoolers will enjoy lying on their tummies and propped up on their elbows while they paint with their q-tips on a large piece of paper taped to the floor. This builds postural strength while they develop their age-appropriate grasping skills.
Wall Workout: Shoulder, arm, and trunk muscles get a nice workout with activities that are taped to the wall or completed on a chalkboard.* Pre-schoolers, kindergarteners, and elementary students can practice tracing over lines, shapes, letter formations, and words with their dry q-tips on paper taped to the wall. They can “erase” those that have been written in chalk on construction paper or on a chalk board using their q-tip dipped in water. Be sure they are following the appropriate directional concepts.
I Can See You: Students can build their tripod grasp, as well as shoulder strength and visualization skills, by writing with their q-tip in the air. This is a simple warm-up activity to introduce a new letter formation. Provide a visual demonstration of the letter on the board, with auditory directions as you write it. With your back to the class, draw it in the air with your q-tip using the same auditory directions. Then have the students mimic you as they draw them in the air as well.
2. A cotton ball: A cotton ball comes in handy for the development of pencil grasp and letter formations. It is light and compact and allows students to work on tactile and visual skills any time, any place! A bag of cotton balls is inexpensive and easy to carry in your tool box.
hold it, blow on it
Got You In The Palm of My Hand: Students who struggle with keeping their ring and little fingers in the resting position and off the pencil barrel will find a cotton ball to be their friend! They can tuck it into the palm of their hand and use those two fingers to keep it in place as they practice their handwriting. This will build the motor memory for a tripod grasping pattern.
They can use it during art work, too! It’s a hidden tool that, even if it falls on the floor, it’s a silent partner!
Cotton Ball Races: Students of every age enjoy this game! It can be done with or without a straw, on a table or on the floor. Very versatile! Blowing at the cotton ball encourages the development of eye convergence – bringing the eyes together to view close work. If you add a target to aim at, the game also works on accommodation skills – switching between close and far work with ease and efficiency (like copying from the board).
3. Some Sandpaper: Sandpaper writing or drawing encourages the development of tactile awareness and enhances a student’s ability to determine how much pressure he is exerting on his fingers and on the pencil. A too light or too heavy pressure can slow down a writer and lead to hand fatigue and illegible handwriting. Sandpaper can be purchased inexpensively and is reusable!
handwriting practice, art activities
Rub It Off: Place a drawing or handwriting worksheet that’s been completed in pencil on top of a piece of sandpaper that been cut to the same size. Have the students erase the pencil marks with a pencil top eraser to “make it new again.” The sandpaper provides tactile input for pressure control. They will have to exert the “just right” amount of pressure to be sure they don’t tear the paper. If they are working on letter formations, be sure that they erase in the appropriate directions to encourage motor memory development. You can add shoulder and trunk skills if you tape this activity to the wall or perform it on the floor!
Step-by-Step Drawing: Have your students use a pencil** to complete a step-by-step drawing activity or to copy a picture on paper over sandpaper. The sandpaper will provide tactile awareness for the controlled fine-motor movements necessary for duplicating specific lines and shapes – just like letter formations. And again, the students will be practicing their pencil pressure skills to be sure that their drawing is visible and that they don’t tear the paper. You can substitute the bond paper with heavy-duty tissue paper to increase the challenge for those students in the final stages of mastering pencil pressure. You can add postural strengthening by taping the activity to the wall or on the floor.
I’d love to hear about three of your “tool box must have’s!”
As always, thanks for reading! See you next time!
*A chalkboard provides more tactile input than a dry-erase board and develops pencil control skills.
**A pencil (or chalk) provides more tactile input than a marker and encourages the development of pencil pressure and control skills.
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. You can contact her and purchase her book, “Handwriting Development Assessment and Remediation: A Practice Model for Occupational Therapists,” through her website, Handwriting With Katherine. Disclaimer: The information shared on the Handwriting With Katherine website, blog, Facebook page, Twitter page, Pinterest page; 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 authors 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.