Does the idea of hand-writing anything send your child into a tailspin? Is your child’s handwriting illegible? Does your child have trouble holding a pencil properly? If you’ve ever had a child who struggles with handwriting, you know that improving their handwriting with more handwriting practice is frequently an exercise in futility.
Ordinary handwriting problems generally are a result of two issues:
- Lack of hand and finger strength
- Lack of fine motor skills
Each of these issues affects the other, making improving handwriting on its own difficult. However, these nine activities don’t come with the same emotional baggage for your child as more handwriting practice, and instead of working on the symptom (poor penmanship), these activities can actually help with the root causes.
As your child does these exercises-in-disguise, focus on having your child use their tripod fingers (thumb, index and middle) which are the three primary fingers used to grip a writing implement.
First, teach your child how to properly hold the scissors; then, let them cut with scissors. You can purchase special cutting books, like My First Book of Cutting or Let’s Cut Paper from Kumon, or find printable cutting sheets online. Or, let your child free-cut using scrap paper or an old magazine. If it is difficult for your child to cut on a letter-size sheet of paper, try having them snip thinner pre-cut strips, then work up to cutting longer lengths.
Eye droppers and tweezers are great tools to develop finger strength. Encourage your child to pick up all their snips of paper with a pair of tweezers or play a game of Operation. Use colored water and make art using the eye dropper, or hand your child some absorbent materials — like cotton balls, washcloths and paper towels — and they can learn about absorption and capillary action while they exercise those little fingers.
This activity is nearly impossible to do with any fingers but the tripod fingers. Put the coins on the floor and your child will exercise their fingers not only while they drop them into the coin bank, but also as they pick them up off of the ground. For an added challenge, have your child pick up multiple coins and hold them in their palm before depositing them. Your child will then have to move the coins from the palm to the fingers before putting them in the coin bank.
Pushing and pulling play-dough with the tripod fingers is a great exercise. Have your child try to make “snakes” or balls using only those three tripod fingers.
For an easy DIY Play Dough recipe, try this Daily Mom recipe.
Using tissue paper, crepe paper or any scratch paper, cut out small squares for your child to crumple. Again focus on having your child only use those three tripod fingers. After the papers are crumpled, let your child have fun making a “basket” into the trash bin. Or, use the crumpled paper pieces with their cutting pieces for a fun art project.
Legos are another activity where the pinky and ring finger are often unused. Holding small Lego pieces and pushing them together can help strengthen your child’s hand and finger muscles. It also can help with hand-eye coordination, sensory integration, and fine motor skills.
With a blank piece of paper and any writing instrument — crayon, pencil, marker, etc. — let your child draw whatever he or she can imagine. Just make sure that you avoid thick implements, like chunky crayons and markers, and stick with implements that are about the same thickness as a regular pencil.
Instead of free-hand drawing, try coloring books. Encourage your child to try to stay within the lines. This will help increase hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills as your child focuses on coloring on a specific, delineated area.
If you are fortunate enough to have a musical instrument at home, give your child access. Whether they plunk out made up tunes on the piano or fidget with their fingers on a recorder, children will be exercising those fine motor skills and manual dexterity. No formal instrument lessons necessary!
Bonus: Handwriting Introduction and Remediation
Perfect to introduce at home before your child enters school — or to use for remediation if your child needs help with letter formation — here are some recommendations for handwriting curriculum that not only gives your child practice, but also teaches proper letter formation.
- Handwriting Without Tears: Letters and Numbers for Me – A printing book suitable for PreK and up
- Handwriting Without Tears: Cursive Handwriting – A cursive book geared toward 3rd grade and up
- Teaching Cursive: This Method Works – A cursive book for no specific grade level (use for K through adult)
- Grotto Grip – Not a handwriting curriculum, but if your child struggles with finger placement, this grip helps teach the best mature finger grip (occupational-therapist designed)
Every child develops at their own pace, so if your child seems behind in their penmanship or fine motor skills, it’s okay. Utilizing this list of tips can help. If your child is not old enough for hand-writing, many of these tips will still be useful. Feel free to encourage these kinds of activities to help with proper handwriting now or in the future.
Photo Credits: Stefani