The Core Strengthening Handbook: A book review

The Core Strengthening Handbook 2

The Core Strengthening Handbook:  A Book Review

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

A great deal of my energy on the internet focuses on reading and sharing the work of my peers and the many knowledgeable professionals in the therapy and educational fields.  My belief in the networking system that technology affords us encourages me to seek out their work and to offer it to others in an effort to support both the writers and the readers.  The realm of social media casts a brand new opportunity in our direction to learn and grow together in ways that were never before available to us.  My quest for knowledge and the responsibility I feel for sharing it freely has set my course as one of impartiality and equality, allowing me to turn so many brilliant people’s work around for others to see.  In the end, that means that I rarely accept promotional offers to review products and to advertise them on any of my platforms.  And when I do, I never accept compensation for the privilege.  Those are the times when a product comes along that I believe offers exceptional benefits for us as therapists, parents, and teachers.

I have just recently come across a publication that speaks in a very eloquent way to a facet of handwriting skill development that I consider to be the most important building block for success.  The Core Strengthening Handbook is a new resource offered by Lauren Drobnjak, BS, PT, and Claire Heffron, MS, OTR, from The Inspired Treehouse.  I feel that it will serve as a valuable resource for parents, teachers, and therapists and I think that you will agree.   Let me share a review of the book to help you get acquainted with what it has to offer.

But before we begin, I’d like to discuss briefly the vital connection that core body strengthening has with handwriting mastery.  Elementary school children spend 30-85% of their classroom time working at their desks, dedicating their visual and fine motor skills to close work that predominantly involves handwriting activities.  (1,2)   Close work places demands on the visual system to maintain efficient focusing, scanning, fixating, and accommodating skills for reading, writing, and copying from text or the board.  The eyes need to stabilize their positon while the head and body move.  Core muscle strength provides the platform for this to happen.  In addition, upper body control plays a key role in the development of an efficient pencil grasp and a fluid penmanship style that allows the hand to glide across the paper in a timely manner.  The core body muscles provide the stability for efficient eye and upper body positioning allowing the student to attend to the task at hand instead of having to expend cognitive and physical energy on maintaining an upright head and body position.  This is accomplished with the help of muscle strengthening and the development of the vestibular system and balance skills.  In a New York Times article, “The Unappreciated, Holding our Lives in Balance,” Dr. Daniel Merfeld, director of the Vestibular Physiology Lab at Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, described the Vestibular System’s job in a most interesting way:human-skeleton-johan-georg-heck

“Whenever we stand up and arrange our calves, thighs, torso and head into a stable, vertical configuration, we are unconsciously juggling six inverted pendulums, six mechanically independent units with masses above the pivot point – a feat that amounts to balancing six pencils on your palm simultaneously.”

The Vestibular System figures out where our head is relative to the floor and then tells the brain how to direct the muscles, joints, and ligaments in adjusting all of the masses and their pivot points to maintain our balance against gravity.  However, although an inefficient vestibular system can result in poor postural efficiency, its efficiency can also be limited due to inefficient core body strengthening.

The Core Strengthening Handbook

Lauren and Claire have designed their book to present the important message about core strengthening using developmental guidelines to instruct the reader about the muscles included in the body’s core and the progression of their development following typical gross motor milestones.  Their stated intent was to provide “a guide for supporting the development of core strength in children” and they have done that in an easy-to-understand resource for therapists, teachers, and parents.  They have acknowledged that the progression of a child’s gross motor development can be observed by his parents, who may often be the first to detect that their child is struggling with movement activities, as well as his teachers in their preschool through elementary grade classrooms.  The authors provide a well-written description of the journey a baby takes through tummy time, pulling to stand, and finally jumping using examples of observable movement patterns to help the reader visualize the muscles involved in the baby’s gross motor growth. For readers who are interested in the technical, Lauren and Claire share a brief description of the core muscles.

boy beach toys DariuszSankowski pixabayProbably one of the most important informational portions of the book is the section on “Why today’s kids aren’t as strong as they used to be.”  The authors discuss the importance of unstructured, spontaneous play in a child’s development of his core strength.  While they endorse the benefits of providing goal-directed activities to enhance core muscle strength, they recognize the importance of providing opportunities for children to have fun with simple playtime activities such as swinging, running, and climbing.  In an effort to encourage their readers to investigate the importance of play further, they have provided a link to an excellent article that shares a wealth of additional links and information.

The introductory chapter that begins their exciting list of core strengthening activities provides the reader with a better understanding of the behaviors that a child can exhibit when he is experiencing weak core muscles.  This is perhaps the most enticing method for gaining the attention of their audience and to compel them to buy their book!  When a parent or teacher understands that inefficient core muscle strength can result in poor posture, difficulty with transitional movements such as going from sitting to standing, challenges with dressing skills, and a poor pencil grasp, they will certainly want to learn more about how they can help their children with the fun and easy-to-use activities that follow!

The first impression I had when I began to investigate the book’s activities was that Lauren and Claire certainly know how to have fun!  They have provided a wide-range of strategies designed to engage the individual interests of the children as well as to facilitate their use in the home, classroom, or playground.  The activities range from those that include yoga, ball, and wedge components, which are the more advanced forms of core body strengthening work, through the easier to complete and more readily accessible everyday activities such as helping with chores or playing games on “all fours.”  Each strategy shares suggestions for grading the activity to match the child’s needs and for making the work fun for everyone.  The authors did not forget the babies!  They provide a group of playful activities that encourage tummy time and in turn engage the parent or caregiver in interaction with their child.

babies twins tummy time kangheungbo pixabay

My favorites?  Well, that was a difficult, for sure!  I lean toward selecting the Playground Ball Activities since they engage both the visual and the vestibular system in a very natural way.  But, who could not be interested in their Towel Activities!  I will definitely be including the Oblique Wake-Up Call in my next therapy session!  As far as assessment tools, I feel that their section on “Other Quick Core Strengthening Ideas” will come in handy the next time I’m working with a new client.  These six activities will tell me a great deal about his gross motor skills.

And did I mention that the book has pictures of the cutest children imaginable?  The Core Strengthening Handbook is certainly that – a handbook.  It is designed as both an informational resource as well as a quick reference for selecting activities that will work the core muscles.  If you have a moment, stop by The Inspired Treehouse and take a look at their site and this book.  I think you will be happy that you did!

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 is the author of “Handwriting Development Assessment and Remediation:  A Practice Model for Occupational Therapists.”  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.
Title photo is the property of  The Inspired Treehouse and should not be used without their expressed permission.  The human skeleton photo was published on the Figure Drawing Website  and its use should include the link to the author’s site.  All others are the property of the photographers at Pixabay.    Their use should include the link provided with the pictures.
(1) Marr, D., Cermak, S., Cohn, E.S., & Henderson, A. (2003) Fine motor activities in Head Start and kindergarten classrooms.  American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 57, 550-557.
(2) Mchale, K., and S. A. Cermak. “Fine Motor Activities in Elementary School: Preliminary Findings and Provisional Implications for Children With Fine Motor Problems.” American Journal of Occupational Therapy 46.10 (1992): 898-903. Web. 26 June 2015.

Five Nifty Handwriting Helpers

Five Nifty Handwriting Helpers

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

This month, I am sharing a “Summer Handwriting Fun” series chock-full of articles written by myself and other therapy bloggers who have so graciously offered to share their work on my site.  This is the next in our series.  I hope you will find it useful and return to read some more next week!


What do we need before we get “good” at handwriting?

Alphabet Written on NotepadHandwriting mastery is actually based upon 5 basic handwriting helper skills.  They are:


  1. Body Awareness;
  2. Finger, Hand, and Wrist Strength;
  3. Vision and Sensory Skills;
  4. Posture; and
  5. Practice.


Although these five helpers are very important skills in handwriting development, they are not too be taken too seriously.  They can be developed during most play experiences all along a child’s developmental stages.  Today, we are going to take a look at the ways that we can engage our elementary school-aged “handwriters” in some “Summer Fun” that works on these skills!


The Five Nifty Handwriting Helpers!

  1. Body Awareness

    What is body awareness?  It’s simply our “internal map” that lets us know where all of our body parts are – without our having to look at them to find out!  It helps us to understand directional concepts, like up and down, left and right, and gives us a perspective about navigating our environment.  All of this provides a child with the basic skills for learning letter formations, spacing, and fitting words and sentences on a line and a page.


What are some fun body awareness activities?

Yoga has been shown to develop balance and coordination, concentration, and visual attention in children, as well as adults.

Yoga helps us with our body awareness!
Yoga helps us with our body awareness!

A fun yoga session can be as simple as including two or three “special for kids” poses outside on the lawn, just before bed, or during a quiet time in the afternoon.





Treasure and Scavenger Hunts are excellent “follow directions” activities that encourage children to use their internal maps to locate and discover the hidden objects.  Be sure to provide written directions that ask them to

  • make left and right turns,
  • look up,
  • check on top or behind, and
  • look under.


Anything that produces movement enhances body awareness!

Watch a cool movement video from The PE Update Blog!
Watch a cool movement video from The PE Update Blog!

Relay races, tug-of-war, musical chairs, or simply rolling down a hill provide children with opportunities to use the left and right sides of their bodies, manage their weight against gravity, and determine the distance between themselves and other people or objects.  Skateboarding and roller skating will definitely do the trick!






2.  Finger, Hand, and Wrist Strength

Why do we need this?  These three guys are vital components in efficient handwriting.  They provide children with pencil control and the ability to write for sustained periods of time with legibility and speed.

What are some fun fine-motor strengthening activities?

Art can enhance writing!
Art can enhance writing!

Art is simply the best way to introduce fine motor strengthening activities to children!    There are so many fun ways to develop these skills with sensory and creative components using simple paints, play dough, and putty.   Therapy Street for Kids offers a selection recipes for these supplies that I think you will find interesting, easy to make, and easy on the budget.

There’s even one for Pretzel Dough where you get the eat the final product!



Playgrounds build both gross- and fine-motor skills!
Playgrounds build both gross- and fine-motor skills!

The playground is an excellent place to build strength in the fingers, hands, and wrists.  Pushing, pulling, grabbing, and holding on are all fine-motor workouts.  And, as an added bonus, playgrounds also help to build gross motor strength for posture!




Gardening with children encourages lots and lots of fine-motor skill development.  Whether you choose potted or plotted gardens, herbs or

vegetables-condesign-pixabayvegetables, children can dig in and get their hands dirty as they work the soil, plant the seeds, and pull weeds!  The activity itself brings a sense of joy and accomplishment that builds self-esteem, too!  Sewing, woodworking, and building model airplanes also work well for that!



3.  Vision and Sensory Skills


Why do we need to worry about vision and sensory skills?

Efficient visual skills are essential toward the mastery of handwriting.  Seeing clearly, focusing effectively at near and far distances, and being able to remember what we see are necessary tools for learning and remembering letter formations. Since 75-90% of what a child learns in a classroom occurs though his vision, it is very important for us to care about his vision skills.    Sensory processing skills are those that allow us to experience and understand our environment through what we see, hear, touch, taste, and smell, as well as from how our bodies move.  Efficient sensory processing gives children the information they need to feel safe, learn without distraction, and remember what they’ve learned.


What are some fun vision and sensory processing activities?

board game dantetg pixabayJust about any Board Game will hit upon the visual skills.  They demand eye contact, focusing with near vision, and eye movement to follow the game.  If you add a bit of mystery, let’s say by hiding the pieces of a word game in a plastic bin filled with sand, then you are working on the sense of touch at the same time!



Music and dancing can work for just about any of these five nifty skills.  dance-alexas fotos pixabay

But the movement and imitation involved in learning a new dance enhances the senses of sight, hearing, and movement.



magic-cube-domenicblair pixabay


Puzzles, both of the magic cube and interlocking type, provide plenty of visual skill enhancement as they demand visual attention, efficient scanning techniques, and visual perceptual skills to complete them.




4.  Posture

Why should we care about posture?

Posture and head positioning play a big role in efficient handwriting.  We’ve all heard the commands “make sure your feet are flat on the floor” and “sit up straight.”  Appropriate table and chair heights are crucial to providing a child with the support he needs to maintain his head up, shoulders back and back straight.  But, if a child is experiencing difficulty keeping a good postural alignment despite having the correct measures in place, then chances are he has weak postural muscles.  But it can be so difficult at times to help children understand the importance of building those muscles and protecting their backs.  The Kids Health Network shares a “posture perfect poster” that helps us to explain this in a “kid-friendly” way.


What are some fun posture enhancing activities?


Attention paid to the Core Body Muscles is attention well spent!  Exercises, presented in activities such as wheelbarrow walks and races, are fun ways to encourage the strengthening of the postural muscles.  hiking family-pezibear pixabayClimbing, hiking, biking, and even just plain walking enhance balance and coordination while working on the legs, back, trunk, shoulders, and neck muscles.





Sports enhance both vision and postural muscles!
Sports enhance both vision and postural muscles!

What you see is what you get when it come to posture.  Vision skills enhance the development of the core body muscles – and the core body muscles enhance the development of vision skills!  So, it is important to incorporate visual attention within the gross motor activities that you choose to enhance postural skills.  Vision-enhanced gross motor activities range from playing fun ball challenges with the younger children to maneuvering a bicycle or scoreboard through an obstacle course with your older guys and gals.


5. Practice

Why do we need to practice even in the summer?

In order to learn a skill – any skill, we need to practice it in a functional manner.  If a child is interested in volleyball, then he must eventually get out onto the beach and kick up some sand by the net.  If he’s interested in skiing, he can watch all of the instructional videos, build his core muscle strength, and buy the best equipment.  But, in the end, he will only master the sport by slipping and sliding down the slope.  The same goes for mastering the handwriting skill.  Build the skills and then use them!


What are some fun handwriting practice activities?


Nothing beats writing a letter to a friend or family member.  Nothing.  elephant mosaic ben kerckx pixabayjpg

Have the children design their own cards with fun art projects and send them off with a message in their own handwriting.





To-Do-List_PrintableLists make great handwriting practice activities:  groceries, to-do’s, and people to invite to their birthday party.





trip maps

And there’s always the great writing prompts or travel journal.  This is my favorite way to encourage handwriting practice during the summer.





I hope I’ve shared some different and exciting ideas for including the Five Nifty Handwriting Helpers in your child’s Summer Fun!


As always, thanks for reading!  And I look forward to your comments and feedback.


And please return next week to discover some more Summer Handwriting Fun tips from our next Guest Blogger, Becca Klockars, an OT from Providence, RI!  Hope to see you there!



Katherine J. Collmer, M.Ed., OTR/LKatherine 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.
Summer Handwriting Fun Series #1            Summer Handwriting Fun Series #2
10 Tips for Summer Handwriting Fun
10 Tips for Summer Handwriting Fun
Spaghetti and Meatball Spacing From Miss Jaime OT
Spaghetti and Meatball Spacing From Miss Jaime OT
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