Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Handwriting Help: Do Weighted Pencils Improve Handwriting Legibility?

Children who have challenges with handwriting are often encouraged to “practice, practice, practice,” but sometimes practice doesn’t result in improved legibility. In some instances, occupational therapists will recommend a weighted pen or pencil to improve handwriting, but the evidence supporting the effectiveness of weighted utensils is scarce.  That’s why I was encouraged when I recently read a 2017 research article in the Journal of Occupational Therapy, Schools, & Early Intervention on the use of weighted pencils.

 The article reviewed a series of three case scenarios of children whose handwriting improved after initiating the use of weighted pencils. However, it is important to note that the reported improved legibility was anecdotal, with no formal assessments or statistical analyses included in the study.

The article shares some information that therapists might find useful.  For example, when recommending a weighted utensil, the therapist should be sure that the child’s joint integrity is intact, and that the child will be safe and responsible with the utensil.  The authors of the article also stressed that each child should provide input regarding the amount of weight that is added to the pencil so that it is comfortable for them and also improves legibility.  It is important to note that the evidence provided in the article is very preliminary, and additional studies are needed.

Below is an image of a DIY weighted pencil.
Brown, M. J. (2017). Use of weighted pencils to improve handwriting legibility. Journal of Occupational Therapy, Schools, & Early Intervention10(1), 52-68. 

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Free Spring Worksheets!

Hi friends!  Here are some free spring-themed worksheets that are good for a child's visual motor and visual perceptual skills. Completing these worksheets is a fun and engaging way for a child to improve motor skills that are so important for everyday tasks. How?  Coloring promotes bilateral upper extremity skills, or the use of both hands together in a coordinated way.  For example, when the child stabilizes the paper with one hand while coloring, drawing, or writing with the other hand, she is utilizing bilateral skills, and bilateral coordination is necessary for tasks such as handwriting, cutting, buttoning, and zipping. 

I hope your child will enjoy these free spring-themed worksheets!

Friday, March 15, 2019

Free St. Patrick's Day Coloring Sheet

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

I love shamrocks, so I wanted to share this free St. Patrick's Day coloring sheet with you.
Any child can color the sheet using crayons or color pencils, and they can also work on their fine motor skills by decorating the shamrock using torn pieces of paper.  Tearing the paper into small bits is good for grasping and fine motors skills. Once the torn pieces are ready, instruct the child to use white school glue to squeeze a small glue dot on each piece of paper before pressing it onto the coloring sheet.  The glue can be messy which can be a great sensory experience!
What a beautiful shamrock!  Happy St. Patrick's Day!!!

Friday, March 1, 2019

Sensory Writing Activities

Because many of our sensory systems contribute to the process of writing legibly, when a child struggles with handwriting, it may be helpful to incorporate sensory strategies in with handwriting instruction. I call this “Sensory Writing!”  Here are some fun, sensory-based ways to work on handwriting skills.
Shaving Cream Writing: Put a small amount of shaving cream on a surface.  Remember, a little goes a long way!  Then have the child smooth it out across the surface and practice forming basic shapes, letters, or numbers.  Mistakes are not a problem!  Simply erase them with a swipe of the hand!
 Rice Writing: Have the child use a marker to color the surface of a paper plate.  Once it dries, sprinkle a layer of rice on the plate.  Now it’s time to practice writing shapes, letters, and numbers in the rice!
Putty Writing:  Roll play dough or therapy putty to form various letters.  Squeezing, pulling, and pinching are all great for fine motor skills, and making the letters helps with letter formation.
Remember, it's important for children to have plenty of opportunities to move throughout the day.  This will help them pay attention, and it warms up their muscles and joints for writing and other fine motor activities!

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Free Valentine's Day Worksheets!

I love Valentines Day!  Here are 5 free Valentine's Day worksheets that address visual perceptual skills and fine motor skills.  Just click on the worksheet to go to a PDF copy. Enjoy, and have a happy Valentine's Day!

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Handwriting Help: DIY Adapted Pencil

Many children have difficulty holding a pencil correctly. This may be because they were never instructed how to hold a pencil properly or because they were exposed to writing too early, and their little hands weren’t ready to grasp and manipulate a writing utensil. No matter what the cause, if a child has a poor pencil grip, it can lead to problems down the road, especially if the poor grasp is causing stress on certain joints or if there is fatigue or pain during writing tasks.

Here is a DIY adapted pencil that can be used to promote a better grasp. All that you need are a pencil and a short piece of clear vinyl tubing. The piece of tubing should be approximately 1 to 1 ½ inches long, depending on the size of the child’s hand. Cut a hole in one end of the tubing that is just large enough for a pencil to fit through and slide the pencil in. (I use wire cutters to cut the tubing.) 

When holding the pencil, the tubing should be just long enough to wrap the ring and pinkie fingers around it.

This promotes the use of the thumb, index, and middle fingers when writing, and allows for better control of the pencil. It may feel unusual at first, but it gets more comfortable with use!

Thanks to Thaddeus Meyer for coming up with this wonderful idea and allowing me to share it!

Monday, December 3, 2018

How to Help Baby Crawl!

As a pediatric occupational therapist, I'm often asked about the importance of crawling.  I have to say that I'm convinced that there is a relationship between crawling and the development of a number of important skills. For example, the physical act of crawling strengthens a baby's hand, arm, should, and core muscles, and research suggests that crawling influences the development of visual-spatial skills and social-emotional development. I've written about this topic quite a bit! (For more information, see the links below.)
Because I'm such a proponent of early exploration and crawling, I was super excited to learn about a product called the CrawlAhead! This is a portable device used to assist a baby with crawling on all fours by supporting the child's trunk while he or she is in the hands and knees position. When a baby has muscle weakness or other challenges, the CrawlAhead can be used to lift the trunk off of the support surface, allowing the baby to assume and maintain a quadruped position. This provides opportunities for weight bearing and strengthening, which we therapists know is very important! Additionally, a parent or therapist can guide the child's arms and legs "through the motions" of crawling while the support by the device, which will help with motor planning! With practice and time, strength and coordination improves, and the need for the device is reduced, and hopefully, baby will eventually crawl independently! An added bonus of the CrawlAhead is that it is collapsible and fits into a sturdy bag for transporting, which is important for parents and therapists who are "on the go!"

For information about this wonderful product, click on the following link and visit the website.

Photos used with permission.
Related articles:
"Why is Crawling Developmentally Important?"
The Benefits of Tummy Time- 
Crawling Styles-

Bai, DL & Bertenthal, BI (1992). Locomotor status and the development of spatial search skills. Child Development, 63, 215-226. 
Benson, J. B. (1990). The development and significance of crawling in infancy. In J. E. Clark, & J. H. Humphrey (Eds.),    Advances in motor development research. New York: AMS Press.  
Benson, JB, & Uzgiris, I C (1985). Effect of self-initiated locomotion on infant search activity. Developmental Psychology, 21(6), 923-931.  
Campos, J. J., Bertenthal, B. I., & Kermoian, R. (1992). Early experience and emotional development: The emergence of wariness of heights. Psychological Science, 3, 61-64