Does your child struggle with handwriting? Has your child been diagnosed with dysgraphia? These exercises from handwriting specialists are fun, effective, and easy to practice at home.
1. Feel the letters.
Taking away one sense experience often heightens the others. Experts advise trying activities that help your child focus on feeling—not seeing—how a letter is made. Here are a few ways to accomplish that.
- Use your finger to trace a letter on your child’s back.
- Ask your child to give you an open palm and closed eyes. Trace a letter the open palm. Then see if your child can reproduce that letter on your back or on a piece of paper.
- Make things more challenging. Write a capital letter and ask your child to write it as a lowercase one, or vice versa.
2. Write big.
Kids with dysgraphia usually have trouble remembering how to form letters correctly. One way therapists make the process more memorable is by having kids write in ways that use large motor movements. They also try to incorporate multisensory materials. There are a few ways to do this at home.
At home, younger kids can spray big shaving cream letters on the tile wall at bath time. Or they can smooth out the cream on the tile and write letters in the foam.
Sand is another great material for kids to work with. They can practice making letters in a plastic tub of damp sand. Adding sand to finger paint is another way to increase sensory input.
3. Dig into clay.
Clay is a wonderfully versatile medium. It’s dense and responsive. And mistakes can disappear with just a pinch.
Roll clay into ropes and practice making letters with your child. It builds hand strength and boosts fine motor skills. And it reinforces the shapes of letters in your child’s mind, too.
Another option: Smooth a layer of clay on a cookie sheet. Then invite your child to etch letters into the surface with a pencil. The clay provides sensory feedback, which gives more information to the brain about how the letters are formed.
4. Practice pinching skills.
Holding a pencil properly is a challenge for many kids with writing difficulties. Your child can improve finger strength as well as “pencil grip” using “pinching” tools found around the house. These include tweezers, children’s chopsticks (joined at one end) and ice tongs.
Try this game: Toss pieces of cereal, balled-up scraps of paper, or small pencil erasers onto a tabletop. Then see how many you and your child can pick up with a pinching tool in a minute.
Another option: Play board games and use pinching tools to move the playing pieces.
5. Start cross-body training—both sides count.
To develop proper writing skills, both sides of your child’s body need to work together: One arm holds the paper stable. The other does the actual pencil work.
Any activity that results in coordinated movement on both sides of the body is helpful. This includes crafts that use scissors: One hand holds, while the other cuts.
Physical exercises that require cross-body coordination help, too. These include windmills, jumping jacks, alternate-toe touches, and mountain climbers. See if your child will try a few before sitting down to write.
6. Build strength and stability.
Writing may not seem physically demanding. But for a kid, sitting properly and controlling pencil and paper can be a challenge. Both require muscle strength and stability in the shoulders and core.
Activities that condition these areas can help. These include planks, push-ups, wheelbarrow walking, crab walking, shooting baskets, hanging from monkey bars and rope climbing. Even reading while lying tummy-down on the floor builds strength.
So set aside time for activities like these in your child’s day. They’re ideal to try at a local gym, at the playground, or right in your own backyard or playroom.
7. Practice storytelling that includes a clear structure.
Kids with dysgraphia often have trouble organizing their thoughts. You can help your child by practicing structured storytelling.
At bedtime, ask your child, “How was your day?” Have him start with an introduction, like, “Today was Thursday and boy, was it a busy day for me and my friends.” Ask your child to describe what something that happened in the morning, the afternoon, and the evening. Then ask for a wrap-up of how the day went overall.
You can use this approach with just about any experience your child wants to share with you.
8. Speak it first.
Kids with dysgraphia may be brimming with great ideas. But putting those ideas into written words can be a frustrating hurdle for them.
Smartphones, tablets, and other devices with recording functions are a great way for kids with dysgraphia to talk through their thoughts or the stories they’d like to tell. They can then play the recording back when they sit down to write. This can be a helpful and confidence-boosting tool.
About the author
About the author
The Understood Team is made up of passionate writers and editors. Many of them have kids who learn and think differently.
Vanessa M. Pastore, MA, OTR/L is a pediatric occupational therapist who specializes in sensory integration. She has a private clinic in New York City.