By Peg Rosen
Does your child struggle with handwriting? Has he been diagnosed with dysgraphia? These exercises from handwriting specialists are fun, effective and easy to practice at home.
Taking away one sense experience often heightens the others. Experts advise trying activities that help your kid focus on feeling—not seeing—how a letter is made.
For example, use your finger to trace a letter on your child’s back. Or he can close his eyes while you trace a letter on his palm. Then see if he can reproduce that letter on your back or on a piece of paper.
You can make things more challenging by writing a capital letter and asking him to write it as a lowercase one, or vice versa.
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 and multisensory materials.
At home, young 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. They can practice making letters in a plastic tub of damp sand. Adding sand to finger paint is another way to increase sensory input.
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 his 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.
Holding a pencil properly is a challenge for many kids with writing difficulties. Your child can strengthen his fingers and improve his “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.
For a child to write properly, both sides of his body need to work together: One arm holds the paper stable. The other does the actual pencil work.
Any activity that encourages coordinated movement on both sides of the body provides good reinforcement. This includes crafts that use scissors: One hand holds, the other cuts.
Physical exercises that require cross-body coordination are helpful, too. See if your child will give windmills, jumping jacks, touching alternate toes, and mountain climbers a whirl before sitting down to write.
Writing may not seem physically demanding. But sitting properly and controlling pen and paper 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 your child to include activities like these in his day. He can do them at a local gym, at the playground, or right in your own backyard or playroom.
Kids with dysgraphia often have trouble organizing their thoughts. You can help your child by practicing structured storytelling.
At bedtime, ask him to tell you about his day. Have him start with an introduction, like “Today was Thursday and boy, was it a busy day for me and my friends.” Ask him to describe what he did in the morning, the afternoon and the evening. Then he can wrap things up with how the day went overall.
You can use this approach with just about any experience your child wants to share with you.
Kids with dysgraphia may be brimming with great ideas. But putting those ideas into written words can be a frustrating hurdle for them.
Encourage your child to record himself (on a smartphone or other device) while he talks through his thoughts or the story he’d like to tell. He can then play the recording back when he sits down to write. This can be a helpful and confidence-boosting tool.
Taking notes on what the teacher is saying is a challenge for lots of kids. But students with slow processing speed may have an especially hard time keeping up. Here are strategies that could help your child with note-taking.
The terms professionals use to describe visual processing issues can be tricky. Understanding the terminology can make conversations go smoother. Here we explain seven terms that refer to different kinds of visual processing difficulties.
Peg Rosen writes for digital and print, including ParentCenter, WebMD, Parents, Good Housekeeping and Martha Stewart.
Vanessa Pastore, MA, OTR/L, is a pediatric occupational therapist who specializes in sensory integration. She has a private clinic in New York City.
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