I am not an occupational therapist and don't claim to be. But according to some occupational therapists that I've spoken to and handwriting programs I've seen, there are a few shapes that need to be mastered in order to write. I don't know if they have to be mastered in order to be able to write, but it may help with neat handwriting and cause less frustration. Some of these shapes include vertical lines () , horizontal lines (-) , circles, X, +, and sloping lines like / and \. Activities that involve crossing the body's mid line (like making an X or sloping lines) take practice in order for children to make the shape well without switching hands.
In our handwriting program we used when I taught, we had children strengthen their arm muscles by using chart paper and practicing very large drawing vertical lines (from about their heads to about belly button level).
I did this activity with my toddler the other day. It was very interesting! I also noticed a definite difference in hand strength just by the amount of pressure she was able to put on the paper with her pencil. By the way, I recommend using a pencil or chalk for this activity instead of markers. Pencils and chalk help create drag, so it is an easy way to help strengthen their hand muscles as well (according to the OT at the elementary school where I taught.)
Materials: Chalkboard and chalk or paper and pencils. Large chalkboard (vertical) or chart paper or butcher paper (I use the back of wrapping paper in a pinch).
Prep: Draw dots to be connected in desired On a sheet of paper, draw dots to be connected on the pages. Start with vertical, which may be the easiest for them since they aren't crossing the body's mid line. As they get more proficient, move on to horizontal, sloping, crossing lines, and eventually making shapes (circle, squares, triangles, etc). I wouldn't try to tackle everything in one day, or even one week, unless you are dealing with an older child.
Example of dots in multiple colors to draw vertical lines:
Example for horizontal lines:
Example of lines to be connected to make a square:
- Show your child how to connect the dots. Tell them to connect the dots that are the same color. ("Touch the red dot with the pencil. Draw a line from this red dot to the other red dot you see.")
- Try this activity on large chart paper or large sheets of wrapping paper or butcher paper, hung up on a wall or easel. The larger the shape, the easier it may be since kids develop muscles closer to the body first.
- Are the lines dark or very light?
- Can they draw the line from one dot to another easily?
- Which shapes (vertical, horizontal, sloping, X, etc) are easier? Which are more difficult?
- Are the lines shaky or smooth?
- Can they draw the lines in an unbroken movement, even crossing the body's mid line?
This activity doesn't have to take a long time. I have a piece of chart paper set up on the wall in my kitchen. Each morning with my daughter gets up, she can get a piece of chalk and draw a line from the top to the bottom. Quick, easy, painless, but very beneficial in the long run!