12 Ways To Improve Scissor Skills

Scissor skills are essential in both school and life. Solid scissor skills will help children as they learn and play. The maturation of scissor skills requires lots of practice over time. As with all fine motor skills, there is a developmental progression to acquiring scissor skills. Check out my post Scissor Skill Development...What To Expect to read more about this. Some children have trouble with learning how to use scissors, and there can be many reasons why. Using scissors efficiently is a very complex skill that requires many prerequisites. To read more about this check out my post Good Scissor Skills…What Does It Take?  In this post, I will focus on how to help kids who struggle with learning how to use scissors. Here are 12 strategies that can help!

#1 Make Sure The Child Has The Prerequisite Skills

Engage the child in activities that will build the underlying skills needed for scissor use.  Here are some activities that get little hands ready for cutting with scissors:

  • string beads onto a pipe cleaner or string
  • lacing activities
  • tear paper
  • crumble paper; make it a game by tossing the balls into a basket.
  • play “Rock, Paper, Scissors” 
  • use plastic safety scissors to cut play dough, modeling clay
  • use tools like tongs and tweezers to pick up small objects
  • have the child place a rubber band around his or her fingers and practice opening and closing his or her fingers 
  • play with hand puppets or make brown paper bag puppets to allow the child to work on opposition skills while opening and closing the puppet’s mouth 
9 Activities To Get Little Hands Ready For Scissor Use

Here’s a handy infographic that outlines activities that can be done to prepare kids for learning how to use scissors. This is an excellent resource to share with teachers, parents, and caregivers of young children. Click the button below to get this free PDF emailed to your inbox today!

#2 Be Sure To Use The Correct Type of Scissors

Be sure to equip children with the correct type of scissors. There are two types of scissors, left-handed scissors, and right-handed scissors. If the child is using right-handed scissors to cut using their left hand, the blade may obstruct their view of the line while they are cutting. Children who are left-handed but have been ill-equipped with right-handed scissors may have trouble learning to use scissors efficiently. You may notice these kiddos holding their heads in awkward positions as they try to see around the scissor blade.  

Scissors: Lefties vs. Righties

#3 Set Up For Success

Make sure the child is set up for success by ensuring that he or she is sitting down with both feet supported on the floor or foot rest. Sitting with both feet planted on the floor provides a stable base to work from. This will stabilize the core allowing the child to focus their energy on what their hands are doing. It will also improve body awareness or a better sense of where their body is moving in space. When the child is sitting upright, with both feet planted on the floor, he or she is ready to cut.

#4 Follow Developmental Guidelines

Be sure to follow the developmental progression of skills indicated in my post Scissor Skill Development…What To Expect. Start with snipping, followed by cutting across paper, then lines, then simple shapes. Once the child can cut out simple shapes well, he or she may advance to complex shapes.  

#5 Thumbs Up!  Ensure Correct Grasp and Positioning 

Look at the way the child is holding the scissors. The thumb should be held up, pointing toward the ceiling, like a hitchhiker. For the most efficient approach, encourage a thumbs-up grasp on both hands while cutting with scissors. Most scissors have a little hole and a larger hole. Teach children that scissors are right side up when the thumb is in the little hole.

Ways to facilitate a thumbs-up grasp:  

How to Facilitate
A Thumbs Up Grasp
Thumbs Up Hack
  • Tape the paper to the edge of the table. Have the child sit on the floor in front of the table. Have the child snip along the border of the paper or cut up towards the top of the paper. If the child is ready, draw lines on the paper (see image/video above).  
  • Place stickers on the child’s thumbs. Explain that they must be able to see the stickers while cutting. If they are unable to see the stickers, they must move their hand so that they can. 
  • Paste googly eyes and a pom pom nose on the scissors so kids can easily see and know that the scissors are right side up (see video below).
Thumbs Up Hack

#6 Start With Rigid Paper Because It’s Easier To Manage

Use cardstock or stiff paper that holds its place by nature. It’s easier to cut paper that isn’t flimsy or floppy. Some suggestions are:

  • paint color samples (the natural lines in between the colors are great for beginners)
  • old or discarded playing cards
  • magazine ad inserts
  • old or discarded folders

As the child’s skills progress, introduce paper that is less firm, such as construction paper. Keep in mind, that the flimsier the paper the more skill is required to cut it without tearing the paper.

#7 Widen The Lines or Borders

Use a sharpie to bold or thicken the lines around the borders of the design. Or use a highlighter to make the borders of the design stand out. This will help with visual attention and focus on the line.

#8 Make it Smaller

Present the child with smaller pieces that are easier to manipulate. For example, quarter an 8.5″ x 11” piece of paper. Draw lines or simple shapes for the child to cut on each piece. 

#9 Help Them Get There!

For kids that struggle with finding their way to the shape or design, highlight a path to get them there. You can simply draw a line from the edge of the paper to the design. Here is an example taken from my scissor skills workbook The Ultimate Guide To Scissor Skill Development & A to Z Scissor Skills Workbook which is available for purchase at the Fun Strokes Store. 

A to Z Scissor Skills: The Ultimate Guide To Scissor Skill Development & Workbook

#10 Use Adapted Scissors

There are many different types of adapted scissors designed to meet the specific needs of students. Here are some examples I like to use:  

SPRING SCISSORS

LOOP SCISSORS

PUSH DOWN TABLETOP SCISSORS

TABLETOP SCISSORS (MOUNTED)

MAILING SUPPLIES CUTTER/GIFT WRAP CUTTER

Types of Adaptive Scissors
Spring Scissors From Dollar Tree
mailing supplies cutter

A great way to provide access and increase the level of participation for kids who need a lot of assistance with cutting is by using a mailing supplies cutter. This is a safe way to provide hands-on engagement in scissor activities. This adaptation is ideal for those kiddos who have significant motor limitations and therefore need a higher level of assistance or adaptations, for example, children with cerebral palsy. If necessary, you can also place the mailing supplies cutter in a universal cuff to enable the child to hold it.

Adapting A Cutting Task Using a Mailing Supplies Cutter

Classroom Teachers:  Consult with your school’s OT for a recommendation regarding which type of scissors may benefit your student or students.

#11 Ensure Correct Positioning Of The Wrist, Elbow, and Shoulder. 

Is the child using their whole arm versus their hands? Place a folder, magazine, or bean bag under the arm of the dominant hand while cutting to facilitate correct positioning (see video below).

Positioning Hack

#12 Look For Physical Clues

Behaviors that indicate immature development of the shoulder and elbow when cutting with scissors:

  • holding and using scissors with the wrong side up
  • shoulders shrugged
  • raising the elbow away from the body instead of relaxed next to the body
  • sticking tongue out while cutting
  • cutting to the side instead of forward while holding the paper at their midline

Shoulders shrugged, raised elbows, and flexed wrists are all compensatory movements that children make when they lack adequate strength and stability in their upper body (core and/or shoulder girdle). The wrist should be held in a neutral position (not bent or extended up) with the elbow resting next to the body. The shoulder should be in a natural position, not shrugged or elevated. Observing a child stick out their tongue while cutting or writing may be an indicator that the palmar reflex isn’t fully integrated. Consult with an occupational therapist if you have concerns about your student’s or child’s scissor skills.

Whew! There ya go, 12 ways to improve scissor skills! But before I finish, there’s one more issue I’d like to tackle.

BONUS TIP: Some kids always seem to manage to lose some of what they’ve cut out during the cutting process. So when they are attempting to assemble the craft or worksheet, something is missing! This may be due to visual perceptual challenges and/or difficulties with executive functioning skills and organization. This strategy works great for both scenarios. A quick fix is to place two small baskets on their work surface. Labeled one “keep” and the other “trash”. As the child is working have them place the pieces they need in the “keep” basket. The materials that should be discarded go in the “trash” basket. Here’s a video that illustrates how to modify a cutting task including use of a “keep” and “trash” basket.

How To Modify a Cutting Activity

Do you have a go-to strategy that you’d like to share? Have a question or comment? Please leave a reply in the box below.

Thanks for stopping by, please come again!
Disclaimer: 

The Fun Strokes blog is designed for educational and informational use only for teachers, therapists, and parents. It is not intended as medical advice or therapeutic treatment that would be provided in an individualized treatment plan. If you suspect a child has delays, please consult an occupational therapist.

Good Scissor Skills…What Does It Take?

Efficient scissor use is an essential skill needed in both school and life.  Typically during the sweet preschool years, children will use scissors for the first time.  For example, preschoolers may be expected to cut straws and then string them onto a pipe cleaner.  With consistent use, scissor skills will continue to improve.  In primary school, scissors may be used as part of a color, cut, and paste activity.  Students will be presented with worksheets containing images that they will need to color, cut along the borders, and paste in a designated area. At the intermediate level, children will typically be required to cut out text and images and paste them into their notebooks.  Older kids will use scissors during part of more complex activities such as science and art projects.  In general, scissor skills are needed for many tasks, such as clipping coupons, cooking, removing tags from new clothing, crafts, and sewing.  Scissor use is a functional skill needed in both school and life.  

In this post I will cover the prerequisite skills needed to be able to use scissors efficiently.  Scissor use, like most fine motor tasks, is a complex skill requiring many underlying components. It may not seem like it, but children are tapping into many skills when they are using scissors.

Skills Needed For Efficient Scissor Use:

Balance: Being able to sit up unsupported, with good balance requires core strength and control.  This allows for the use of both hands together (generally at the center of the body, or at midline) to cut with scissors.

Strong Shoulders:  The muscles that make up the shoulder girdle must be strong enough to provide stability while the hands are moving to complete the cutting task.    

Muscle Tone:  Muscle tone or tonus is the normal state of balanced tension in the muscles of the body.  Too much muscle tone or tension (hypertonicity) may cause the wrist to flex or bend making the task of cutting difficult.  Too little muscle tone (hypotonicity) may make it difficult to grasp and/or open scissors efficiently.  

Wrist stability:  The stabilizing muscles hold the hands in place while the action muscles do their job.  When cutting, the hands work best when the wrist is held in a neutral position, meaning not flexed (bent) or extended (raised up).

Development of a Preferred Hand and a Helper Hand:  Also known as asymmetrical bilateral coordination, the preferred hand (which will become the dominant hand typically by 5-6 years of age) leads the task while the helper hand assists.  While cutting, the preferred or dominant hand manages the scissors while the other hand stabilizes and rotates the paper.

Motor Planning: Also called praxis, motor planning is being able to carry out the motor steps required to cut.  Once the brain stores the plan, the action becomes automatic meaning the child no longer needs to think about how to do it, he or she can just do it. 

Hand Separation/Functional Grasp:  The ability to use the thumb, index and middle fingers while the other fingers mostly remain still.  A functional grasp is typically obtained by grasping the scissors with the thumb, index and middle fingers.  Ideally, the thumbs of both hands are held in an upright position known as a “thumbs up” grasp. 

Eye-Hand Coordination:  An important team of body parts that need to work together,  controlled hand movements with controlled eye movements.  The brain must process the visual information that it receives to guide the movement of the arm while cutting.  

FInger Opposition Skills:  Being able to open and shut scissors using one hand.  Early on, around 1.5 years old, the child will use both hands to open and shut scissors.  By age two, the child is able to do so using only one hand.

Safety Awareness: Having an understanding that scissors have sharp blades that will not only cut paper, but people too!

Focus/Sustained Visual Attention to Task:  Being able to focus on the task and look at what you’re doing the entire time.

Engagement:  You must be able to engage the child in the task.  

Skills Needed For Efficient Scissor Use At A Glance:

Here is an infographic that summarizes all the underlying skills needed to manage scissors proficiently. 

Skills Needed For Efficient Scissor Use

As you can see, the skill of cutting has a lot of moving parts. When all of the underlying skills are intact, a child will become pretty good at using scissors. He or she will be able to meet classroom expectations as well as use scissors for personal interests such as crafts, science projects, or whatever one wants to do. When a child is using scissors efficiently, you may observe the following behaviors:

  • sitting upright with good balance 
  • working at midline (elbows resting next to the body; both hands held at the middle of the torso)
  • holding the paper and scissors steadily
  • wrists held in a neutral position, meaning not flexed (bent) or extended (raised)
  • holding and rotating the paper using their “helper hand”
  • functional “thumbs up” grasp
  • able to open and close scissors (opposition skills)
  • able to coordinate eye-hand movements to stay on the lines
  • able to make smooth cuts versus choppy cuts (fine motor control)
  • being safe
  • eyes focused on the task
Good Scissor Skills

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I hope that this post provides you with a better understanding of the very complex skill of scissor use. Have a question or comment? Leave a reply in the box below. I’d love to hear from you!

Disclaimer

The Fun Strokes blog is designed for educational and informational use only for teachers, therapists, and parents. It is not intended as medical advice or therapeutic treatment that would be provided in an individualized treatment plan. If you suspect a child has delays, please consult an occupational therapist.

Thanks for stopping by, please come again!

Scissor Skill Development… What To Expect

When can kids use scissors safely?

Scissor skills progress over time, with consistent use.  Children should start to use scissors early on, as toddlers (around 1.5 years old).  Contrary to general opinion, scissors can be used safely at this age.  As a therapist, I’ve experienced a general reluctance from parents when it comes to putting a pair of scissors in the hands of their child.  I totally get this! Scissors can be dangerous if not used carefully. Children may hurt themselves or someone else.  But there is a way around this. Simply use plastic safety scissors containing a blunt tip (with adult supervision of course).  This is a safe way to teach kids how to use scissors and they will begin to develop the motor skills needed to acquire this skill.  Young kids can practice by cutting play dough or modeling clay. 

Early on, around 1.5 years old, children will use both hands to open and shut scissors. Around age two, he or she can do so using only one hand. In this post, I will cover the developmental progression of scissor skills. You’ll learn what to expect from the very beginning, til when scissors skills have matured, around age 6.

Using Both Hands 1.5 years old

Age 2

Able to open & close using the correct grasp

Able to snip 

Able to hold the paper with the opposite hand

Snipping

Age 3

Cuts a piece of paper in two (5″ square)

Cuts a 5″ line within 1/2″ limits

Age 4 – 4.5

Cuts a 5” line within ½” limits

Cuts a triangle with 2” sides within ½” limits

Moves paper while cutting

Cuts a 5” circle within 1/2” limits

Cuts a 5” circle within 1/4” limits

Age 4.5 – 5

Cuts a 5″ circle within 1/2″ limits 

Cuts simple shapes (circle, triangle, square) within 1/4″ limits

Age 5

Cuts a 5″ curvy line within 1/4″ limits

Age 6-7

Cuts out complex shapes

Source:  Brigance Inventory of Early Development  ©1991 Curriculum Associates

               Peabody Developmental Motor Scales  ©2000, 1983 Pro-Ed., Inc.

Fun Strokes Freebie!

Trying to remember where a child should be developmentally isn’t always easy. I’ve been practicing OT for over 20 years and still need a point of reference when completing evaluations or writing goals. I love a good infographic that provides the information I need at a glance, like this one below.

Scissor Skill Development Chart Free PDF

Conveniently use this handy graphic as a quick reference to determine where a child’s scissor skills fall on the developmental timeline. Click the button above to get your free PDF today!

I hope that this post provides you with a better understanding of how scissor skills mature and when it’s safe to get kids started. Have a question or comment? Leave a reply in the box below. I’d love to hear from you!

Disclaimer

The Fun Strokes blog is designed for educational and informational use only for therapists, teachers, and parents. It is not intended as medical advice or therapeutic treatment that would be provided in an individualized treatment plan. If you suspect a child has delays, please consult an occupational therapist.

Thanks for stopping by, please come again!

The Frugal OT Series: It’s O-FISHally Summer!

June’s Dollar Tree Activity of the Month: It’s O-FISHally Summer

Summer is finally here! Kids have worked hard all school year and it is time for a much-needed break. These pool noodle fish are a fun way to welcome summer vacation and all the excitement that comes along with it. This craft will evoke thoughts of trips to the beach, ocean life and all the fun summer brings. A great way to embrace summer vacation while working on fine motor skills. Perfect to do during therapy sessions, as a class, and/or at home. All the supplies can be gathered for pennies on the dollar at your local Dollar Tree.

Skills Addressed:

  • bilateral coordination
  • eye-hand coordination
  • fine motor strengthening
  • fine motor control 
  • grasping skills 
  • cutting skills
  • visual-motor integration skills
  • visual perceptual skills
  • executive functioning skills (focus attention, remember multi-step directions, initiate and follow through with the task)
It’s O-FISHally Summer!

Dollar Tree Supplies Needed:

googly eyes

pipe cleaners

pool noodle (cut into 1″ discs)

construction paper

Staples Needed:

scissors

school glue

pencil

markers/crayons

Dollar Tree Supplies Needed
Staples Needed

How To Make the “It’s O-FISHally Summer” Craft:

It is always helpful to present the child with a model so that they can see what you expect them to do.

I recommend cutting the pool noodles ahead of time and setting them aside.

Instructions:

Jellyfish

  • To prep for this activity, the adult needs to cut the pool noodle into 1″-1.5″ discs. Set aside. One disc makes (2) jellyfish and (1) common fish. Prepare as many as you need.
  • To make the jellyfish, have the child cut the disc in half.
  • Cut (2) pipe cleaners into 3 equal parts (about 4″ each).
  • Bend the pipe cleaner as preferred to mimic tentacles.
  • Poke the ends of the pipe cleaner into the bottom or flat side of the pool noodle.
  • Glue (2) googly eyes onto the front of the pool noodle.

Common Fish

  • To prep for this activity, the adult needs to cut the pool noodle into 1′-1.5′ discs. Set aside. One disc makes (1) fish. Prepare as many as you need.
  • Make the mouth by cutting the pipe cleaner into a piece that is approximately 3″ long.
  • Push each end into the side of the pool noodle, and bend in the middle.
  • To make the tail, cut the pipe cleaner into a piece that is approximately 8″ long. Poke the ends into the pool noodle, and bend as you’d like to simulate a tail.
  • Optional: Make a fin by cutting the pipe cleaner into a piece that is approximately 3″ long. Poke both ends into the top of the pool noodle and bend it to simulate a fin.
  • Glue a googly eye on the side of the pool noodle, above the mouth.

Ocean Mat

  • Using blue construction paper, markers, and/or crayons, draw the ocean floor as you see fit. Have fun with it!
  • Glue the fish onto the mat.

Done!

How To Make the “It’s O-FISHally Summer Craft:

How To Make the “It’s O-FISHally Summer Craft

How To Offer the “Just Right” Challenge:

Grade Down (Make it Easier)

For younger or less skilled children:

  • Outline the images that represent the bottom of the ocean. Have the child trace over the lines and fill in using markers and/or crayons. If the child needs to work on improving their grasp, be sure to use short (broken) crayons.
  • Some children may not have adequate strength to cut the pool noodle and/or pipe cleaners, if so, prep the materials for them.
  • If the child is unable to copy the title, have them trace it.
Grade Up (Make it Harder):
  • Draw more elaborate images to represent the bottom of the ocean.
  • Add more embellishments to the common fish, such as a fin on the top and a pectoral fin on the side.
  • Add more tentacles to the jellyfish.
Happy Mother’s Day

As always, have fun!

Disclaimer: 

The Fun Strokes blog is designed for educational and informational use only for teachers, therapists, and parents. It is not intended as medical advice or therapeutic treatment that would be provided in an individualized treatment plan. If you suspect a child has delays, please consult an occupational therapist.

Hand Dominance: How to Help Kids Who Switch Hands

Most people are inclined to use one hand over the other.  Repeated use of the preferred hand leads to hand dominance.  Your dominant hand is your skilled hand, the hand that is better at performing intricate tasks like drawing, handwriting, and using a fork or a spoon.  Try writing a note or spreading peanut butter on a piece of bread using your non-dominant hand. You will quickly see how one hand is more skilled than the other.

Hand Dominance

When completing most fine motor tasks, one hand acts as an anchor, stabilizing the object in use while the other hand carries out the work.  In the picture above, the child is drawing with their dominant hand while holding the paper in place with the opposite hand.  The non-dominant hand is sometimes referred to as the “helper” hand as both hands work together to complete the task.

Developmentally, many steps happen before this milestone is reached. Babies will discover their hands during the infant stage. You may see them marvel at their hands while held in front of them. Infants are born with a grasping reflex. When you stroke the palm of their hand, they will immediately grip your finger (this reflex disappears around 9-12 months). Babies will place their fisted hands in their mouths. As development continues the baby will be able to use their hands more intentionally to grasp and release objects. Soon they will bring their hands together and play with their fingers. Eventually, they will learn how to clap their hands together. Singing the Patty-Cake song is a good way to encourage this to happen. Babies will begin to use both hands to hold a toy or drink their bottle. As infants transition into the toddler stage, they’ll begin to engage in more complex tasks requiring the use of two hands together. Building with blocks, completing inset puzzles, and turning the pages of a book are a few examples. Soon they will begin to use crayons to scribble and scissors to snip paper. As children gain more experience with using their hands, they will begin to get a sense of which hand works better than the other. One hand will become the preferred hand and the other the “helper” hand. As the child uses the preferred hand most often, it will then become the more skilled hand, the stronger hand, and the dominant hand.

When should you expect to see hand dominance emerge in children?

You can begin to see a hand preference as early as age 2.

Typically, by the time a child enters kindergarten (or age 5-6), you will begin to see consistent use of one hand versus the other.

If not, here are some factors that may be impeding development.  

  • Crossing the Midline: Midline crossing, or being able to use one hand to work on the opposite side of the body, is a very important developmental skill.  Imagine a line drawn down the middle of the body, from head to toe. Reaching your arm or leg across this imaginary line is called midline crossing. This very important skill fosters communication between the left and right hemispheres of the brain, allowing them to work together efficiently. Midline crossing also encourages bilateral coordination, the maturation of fine motor skills, and hand dominance. Being able to use the preferred hand on both sides of the body allows for steady practice and refinement, allowing the preferred hand to become stronger and dominant. Once children develop hand dominance they will not switch hands to reach across their bodies, instead, they will spontaneously use their dominant hand. For example, when reaching to pick something up from the floor, scratching an itch, getting dressed, and brushing hair.   Kids who have difficulty with midline crossing may avoid reaching across their bodies.  Instead, they will use their left hand on their left side and their right hand on their right side. 
  • Hand Strength: Fine motor weakness or poor hand strength, causes a lack of endurance for fine motor tasks like writing, and coloring. Fatigue may cause a child to switch hands. When one hand gets tired, the child may use the other hand.

Could the child switch hands because they are ambidextrous? 

This is certainly possible, however, if there are concerns, the factors indicated above should be considered and ruled out first. Truly ambidextrous people only make up about 1 percent of the population. People who have no dominant hand, and can use both hands with equal skill, are about 1 in 100. What matters is whether or not the child is functional and able to engage in fine motor tasks efficiently.

What can you do to help kids who continue to switch hands during fine motor tasks?  

Engage in activities that require two hands to work together (one hand’s job is to work while the other hand’s job is to stabilize). This is called asymmetrical bilateral coordination. When both hands are working together, but doing different functions, with one side leading and the other side helping. Be observant and take notice of which hand the child tends to lead with.

  • cutting with scissors
  • pouring (pour sand into containers during sandbox play, pour water into various- sized cups, allow kids to help cook)
  • lacing activities
  • stirring (pretend play stirring a spoon in a bowl, mix two different colors of Kinetic sand in a bowl using a spoon)
  • place items of interest inside ziplock bags and have the child open the bag to get it out
  • peel off stickers
  • play dress-up using garments containing buttons, zippers, and snaps
  • stringing beads
  • place clothespins on objects
  • play with toys that require two hands (one hand does the work while the other hand stabilizes the object) e.g Legos, Mr. Potato Head, and Duplo Blocks.

Play games that aim for a target e.g. ring toss, bullseye, bean bag toss/cornhole to help kids get a sense of what hand works better.

Practice midline crossing:

  • draw large pictures on pavement using sidewalk chalk
  • using an easel, draw a rainbow starting on one side of the easel and ending on the other
  • fold laundry, particularly big pieces like towels
  • play Simon Says being sure to use lots of moves that require crossing the midline e.g. reach across your body to touch your opposite foot, opposite shoulder, opposite knee
  • cross crawls
  • have the child reach across midline to place clothespins on his/her person (on sleeves, pants legs, shoelaces)

All of the activities stated above will allow kids to get experience using both hands and by doing so they will start to get a feel for which hand is stronger.

Kids need to discover hand dominance naturally so don’t force it.  Allow the child to choose the hand they want to work with and then encourage them to stick with it or use the same hand they started with.  Do activities to build hand strength to ensure that weakness isn’t contributing to hand switching during fine motor tasks.

Sock Hack:

Sock Hack

Here’s a simple way to discourage switching hands mid-task. Allow the child to initiate the task, children will typically begin tasks using the emerging dominant hand.  Kids need to discover hand dominance naturally so don’t force it.  Rather, encourage them to stick with it or use the same hand they started with. When using a whiteboard, place a sock over the hand that is not in use. The sock prompts kids to continue using the hand they’ve started with.  Once finished with the writing or drawing task, the sock doubles as an eraser.  Have the child take the sock off the opposite hand and place it in their writing hand to erase the board. Socks do a fine job of cleaning the whiteboard and can be used over and over again.  Lastly, tasks that require two hands to work together promote hand dominance so be sure to have the child don and doff the sock between tasks! 

I hope you find this information useful! Have a question or comment? Please leave a reply below!

Sources:

(2022, Mar 8) Newborn Reflexes HealthyChildren.org. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/baby/Pages/Newborn-Reflexes.aspx

Jones, M., (2022, Mar 7) 10 Fascinating Facts You Never Knew About Ambidextrous People. Readers Digest https://www.rd.com/list/facts-ambidextrous-people/

Disclaimer

The Fun Strokes blog is designed for educational and informational use only for teachers, therapists, and parents. It is not intended as medical advice or therapeutic treatment that would be provided in an individualized treatment plan. If you suspect a child has delays, please consult an occupational therapist.

The Frugal OT Series: Mother’s Day Blooms

May’s Dollar Tree Activity of the Month: Mother’s Day Blooms

As a mom, I know how special it is to receive a handmade Mother’s Day gift from my child. The time and energy spent to make something memorable for Mommy is priceless and preferred over any store-bought gift. I save them for as long as they’ll hold up. Mother’s Day is just around the corner so now is the time to create sweet and unforgettable gifts for moms. This craft is sure to bring a smile to any mom’s face, it’s just so cute. A great way to celebrate Mother’s Day while working on fine motor skills. Perfect to do during therapy sessions, as a class, and/or at home. All the supplies can be gathered for pennies on the dollar at your local Dollar Tree.

Skills Addressed:

  • bilateral coordination
  • eye-hand coordination
  • fine motor strengthening
  • fine motor control 
  • grasping skills 
  • cutting skills (snipping)
  • handwriting skills
  • executive functioning skills (focus attention, remember multi-step directions, initiate and follow through with the task)

Dollar Tree Supplies Needed:

coffee filters

construction paper

craft sticks

pool noodle (cut into 1″ discs)

pump spray bottles

eye droppers

Staples Needed:

markers

green crayon

scissors

tape

school glue

glue gun (if preferred with close supervision)

Dollar Tree Supplies Needed
Staples Needed

How To Make Mother’s Day Blooms:

It is always helpful to present the child with a model so that they can see what you expect them to do.

I recommend cutting the pool noodles ahead of time and setting them aside. It’s also a good idea to color and spray the coffee filters ahead of time to allow time to dry. This craft is ideally done over two sessions.

Instructions:

  • To prep for this activity, the adult needs to cut the pool noodle into 1″ discs. Set aside. One disc makes one flower. Prepare as many as you need.
  • Use several different colored markers to color the coffee filter making sure to provide good coverage.
  • Place the coffee filter on top of a paper towel. Spray the coffee filter generously with water.
  • To add another fine motor challenge, use a dropper bottle to add more water (optional: add food coloring to the dropper bottle).
  • Allow the coffee filter to dry. 
  • Measure the circumference of the disc.
  • Cut a piece of green construction paper the length of the circumference, approximately 8″ x ~3″ width. (I prepped green paper strips cut to size ahead of time as well). 
  • Use Legiliner to make a line or draw a line for the child to write on. (I have no affiliation with Legiliner, just a happy customer!)
  • Have the child write “Happy Mother’s Day, Love (their name and the date/year).
  • Make grass by snipping the paper.
  • Fold the paper over a pencil and roll it to curl the grass.
  • Place the grass around the disc and secure it with tape.
  • Using brown paper, trace the disc and cut it out. Fold the paper in half and cut a small slit near the edge. This will be the dirt. 
  • Using a crayon, color the popsicle stick green to make the stem of the flower.
  • Slide it through the slit in the brown paper and place it on top of the disc. 
  • Push the popsicle stick into the pool noodle.
  • Once dry, fold the coffee filter in half, then again and again (into eighths).
  • Glue the folds of the coffee filter together at the base.
  • Fold the coffee filter over the top of craft stick to secure it in place. Add more glue if needed.
  • Puff and arrange the coffee filter to resemble a flower. 

Done!

How To Make Mother’s Day Bloom’s:

How To Mother’s Day Blooms

How To Offer the “Just Right” Challenge:

This craft provides a great fine motor challenge as is. It also requires many steps to complete. There really is no need to “grade up” or make it harder. But here are some suggestions for making it easier.

Grade Down (Make it Easier)

For younger or less skilled children:

  • Use a trigger spray bottle instead of a pump spray bottle as they are easier to use.
  • Provide a model of the greeting for the child to copy. If unable to copy, have the child trace it.
  • Draw lines to help the child know where to snip.
  • Assist by holding the grass in place around the disc while the child secures it with tape.
  • Fold the coffee filter in eights for the child while he/she assists by patting the paper to form the creases.
  • Assist with gluing the folds together at the base of the coffee filter to ensure the flower doesn’t come apart.
Happy Mother’s Day

As always, have fun!

Disclaimer: 

The Fun Strokes blog is designed for educational and informational use only for teachers, therapists, and parents. It is not intended as medical advice or therapeutic treatment that would be provided in an individualized treatment plan. If you suspect a child has delays, please consult an occupational therapist.

How to Improve Handwriting Legibility: Letter Formation

Hello again! I hope you’ve enjoyed my Handwriting Series. If you’re joining me for this first time, welcome! In the series, I’ve covered why handwriting legibility is so important. I’ve broken down the components of handwriting legibility and provided tips regarding how to address issues with acquiring them. In this post, I will cover the most important component of handwriting legibility, letter formation. Letter formation is the ability to form letters of the alphabet correctly and following a standard (e.g. the method taught in school). Being able to form letters correctly, in a smooth, effortless manner is called handwriting fluency. Handwriting fluency is a vital part of academic success and plays a major role in literacy. Handwriting fluency begins with learning letter formation.

Historically, children are taught letter formation skills in kindergarten. It seems that many children begin learning this skill in preschool these days. What matters is whether or not they are ready to learn how to write developmentally.  

Before children are taught letter formation, there are very important developmental milestones that must be met to ensure handwriting readiness. These milestones are typically acquired during the preschool years and equip children with the foundation that is needed to meet the handwriting demands of school. Of utmost importance is making sure children have mastered the prerequisite skill first, pre-writing strokes. If children are not able to draw basic shapes (lines, crosses, circles, squares, and triangles) then it’s nearly impossible for them to learn how to write letters correctly and efficiently. If the child is unable to draw all pre-writing strokes, it is in his or her best interest to hold off on teaching letter formation until this skill is met.  

Once the child can draw pre-writing strokes with precision, I recommend teaching upper case letters before lower case letters. Why? Because upper case letters are the easiest letters to form in terms of stroke sequence and serve as a great introduction to the rules of handwriting. How do I mean? It’s easier for children to understand that letters should be placed within specific boundaries on the line when they all start and stop at the same point. Upper case letters do not have as many variances in size and stroke sequence as lower case letters do. They all start and stop on the top and bottom lines of primary paper. This is a great introduction to writing letters and forms good habits right at the beginning.  

Instead of teaching letter formation in alphabetical order, I recommend teaching letters in groups. Some programs or therapists may differ, however, after years of working with diverse groups of students, I’ve had the most success grouping letters in the following way.  

Start with letters containing similar simple strokes and then progress to more complex strokes. Begin with upper case letters comprised of vertical and horizontal lines.  

Teach the letters containing these simple strokes first. They are L, E, F, H, T, and I.

Progress to rounded letters next. They are C, O, G, S, D, P, J, U, and B.

Lastly, teach upper case letters containing diagonal strokes. They are R, K, A, V, M, N, Q, W, X, Y, and Z.

Once the child can form all upper case letters correctly, move on to numbers.  

Finally, teach lower case letters. Again, it is ideal to teach letters that have a similar stroke sequence in groups. Lower case letters vary in size and placement on the line so it is important to emphasize starting points and ending points as well. Lower case letters have three sizes, tall, short, and go under letters. Here are the letter groups I recommend teaching together.  

All letters that begin with “c” and start on the dotted middle line should be grouped. They are c, a, o, d, g, s, q. 

All short letters that start on the dotted line and “go down” and then climb back up should be grouped. They are r, m, n, and p. Follow these letters with their tall counterparts which start on the top line, go down, and then climb back up. They are h, b.  

Group letters that are straight, l, t, i, and j.

Group letters containing diagonal lines. They are k, v, w, x, y, and z.  

Teach letters that have a unique stroke sequence together. They are e, u, and f.

It can be helpful for many children to point out that some lowercase letters are simply a smaller version of their capital letters. They are Cc, Oo, Ss, Vv, Ww, Xx, Zz. Again, be sure to emphasize where these letters start on the line.

Always Use Primary Paper With Early Writers!

Never underestimate the importance of using primary paper when children are early writers. Typically when children are in Pre-K up to grade 2. Second grade is generally a good time to transition to standard wide-ruled paper, but of course, some children still are not ready. Early writers need the structure and visual guidelines provided by primary paper. I often see children writing on standard wide-ruled paper far too soon. Developmentally they are not ready and this can create unnecessary problems e.g. inconsistent letter size, bottom to top stroke sequence, poor line orientation. So please, do not skip this crucial stage! 

Positioning is also very important. Children who are in the developmental stage of acquiring fine motor skills need environmental support to become efficient handwriters. Ideally, children should be seated at a table that allows for both feet to be planted on the floor. Their posture should be upright with hips, knees, and ankles bent at the same angle. This is referred to as 90/90/90 positioning where the hips, knees, and ankles are flexed (bent) at a 90-degree angle. An upright posture with both feet planted on the floor facilitates good handwriting. It’s also important that the desk or table height allows for the child’s forearms to be parallel to the floor. The paper should be tilted to align with the child’s forearm. The hand and forearm should be resting on the table surface to provide stability as the child writes. The non-writing hand should anchor the paper in place as the child writes.  

90/90/90 Positioning

Address pencil grip if needed. If a child’s grip looks awkward or if the child complains of discomfort, chances are he or she will benefit from additional support. Learn more about typical development and what to expect by clicking the following link: Pencil Grasp Development: What To Expect

It’s also very important to spend time teaching letter formation.  Demonstrate how to form each letter/number and have the child imitate. Correct the child if they are not able to follow the right stroke sequence. Once they can do so, practice, practice, practice.  

If you notice a child struggling with learning how to write in the early stages, take action. This is a decisive time where intervention can have the greatest impact. Work with the child by providing extra support. The following suggestions will help with motor planning, muscle memory, and visual memory.

  • Have the child verbalize the stroke sequence for each letter while writing it.
  • Have the child write the letter with eyes closed in the air.
  • Have the child trace the letter followed by attempting it on their own.
  • Start with large muscle groups by writing letters with dry erase markers on a vertical surface and with sidewalk chalk on the ground.
  • Provide sensory input by forming letters with various mediums (shaving cream, pudding, whipped cream, sand, Play-Doh, Wiki Sticks, etc.)
  • Provide more tactile feedback by placing the writing paper over a piece of sandpaper when teaching letter formation.

For more information on the importance of handwriting legibility check out this post.  Handwriting Legibility: Why Is It So Important?

Want to learn more about other issues that can impact handwriting legibility and how to tackle them? Check out these posts from my Handwriting Series:

How To Improve Handwriting Legibility: Line Orientation

How To Improve Handwriting Legibility: Pressure Grading (how-much-force-to-apply)

How To Improve Handwriting Legibility: Spacing

Now that we’ve covered all bases, it is time to talk about how to address handwriting legibility skills comprehensively. I’m thrilled to present this super fun activity that tackles them all.  

The Complete Handwriting Checklist a.k.a Be A Handwriting Sleuth! 

Once you’ve addressed the underlying issues impacting a child’s handwriting, ensure that they can effectively implement the strategies you’ve taught them by using a checklist. Why use a checklist? They help kids organize and plan out the steps needed to edit their handwriting. Some provide a visual model to help kids identify their errors. Also, checklists are interactive providing a hands-on approach to the editing process. 

The Complete Handwriting Checklist:  Be A Handwriting Sleuth
Be A Handwriting Sleuth

I strongly believe that if kids are having fun, it’s far easier to sustain their attention and level of effort with any given task. With this in mind, I’ve created a super fun checklist activity that addresses every aspect of handwriting legibility. When using this checklist children are morphed into handwriting sleuths and equipped with a magnifying glass to play the part! It’s a lighthearted approach to handwriting legibility that kids will love! The checklist can be individualized for each child, meeting them where they are and offering the “just right” challenge. It allows you to hone in on a few areas or many. The magnifying glass is a super fun way to highlight the errors needing corrections. Kids will be motivated to earn badges that celebrate their handwriting accomplishments and confirm their status as handwriting sleuths!  

Would you like to use this checklist with your students or little ones? Get your digital download by clicking the button below:

Disclaimer: 

The Fun Strokes blog is designed for educational and informational use only for teachers, therapists, and parents. It is not intended as medical advice or therapeutic treatment that would be provided in an individualized treatment plan. If you suspect a child has delays, please consult an occupational therapist.

The Frugal OT Series: Sock Bunnies

April’s Dollar Tree Activity of the Month: Sock Bunnies

Spring is here and Easter is just around the corner. This simple, no-sew craft is just so adorable. It makes for a great spring or Easter decoration, an Easter basket stuffer, or a wonderful gift for parents or grandparents. The sock bunny can also double as a fidget tool. Children can squeeze and squish the rice in the bunny to get the proprioceptive input they need. If you plan to use the sock bunny in this way, I suggest you use extra elastic bands to make it more sturdy. A great way to celebrate spring and/or Easter while working on fine motor skills. Perfect to do during therapy sessions, as a class, and/or at home. All the supplies can be gathered for pennies on the dollar at your local Dollar Tree.

Skills Addressed:

  • bilateral coordination
  • eye-hand coordination
  • proprioceptive awareness
  • fine motor strengthening
  • grasping skills (pincer and 3-jaw chuck or tripod)
  • spatial awareness
  • executive functioning skills (focus attention, remember multi-step directions, initiate and follow through with the task)

Dollar Tree Supplies Needed:

hair elastics

rice

crew socks

Easter ribbon

Staples Needed:

measuring cup

glass or cup

scissors

marker

Dollar Tree Supplies Needed
Staples Needed

How To Make Sock Bunnies:

It is always helpful to present the child with a model so that they can see what you expect them to do.

  • Place the sock in the glass.
  • Fold the opening of the sock over the rim of the glass.
  • Pour about 1 cup of rice into the measuring cup.
  • Pour the rice into the sock.
  • Secure the rice by placing an elastic band on the sock.
  • Create the bunny’s head by pushing some of the rice to the top creating two sections.
  • On the bunny’s back, pinch a small amount of rice to form a little tail and secure it with an elastic.
  • Cut the excess fabric from the top.
  • Create the ears by cutting the fabric down the middle.
  • Draw a cute little face.
  • Tie a bow around the bunnies neck. 

Done!

How To Make Sock Bunnies

How To Offer the “Just Right” Challenge:

Grade Down (Make it Easier)

For younger or less skilled children:

  • The adult places the elastic band on the sock bunny first. The child attempts to place an additional elastic band over top.
  • Pour the rice out of the bag and into a smaller container to make it easier for the child to manage when measuring.
  • Instead of making a bow with the ribbon, simply tie a knot.
  • Draw the face in pencil and have the child trace over it with a marker.
  • Glue googly eyes instead of drawing them.
Grade Up (Make it Harder):

For older or more skilled children:

  • Add more embellishments.
  • Draw more elaborate facial features.  

Sock Bunnies

Looking for more spring and/or Easter Fun?

“Easter Egg Match” Memory Game
“Easter Egg Match” Memory Game

An Easter-themed Classic!  Memory Game!  Kids love the challenge of trying to remember where the matching pair is.  This activity builds many visual-perceptual and visual-motor skills:

  • Visual discrimination
  • Position in Space
  • Visual Scanning
  • Visual Tracking
  • Visual Memory

Objective?  Fill your basket with as many matching pairs as you can. I added a few pom-pom pairs to mix it up a bit.  Collecting the pairs in Easter baskets just adds more holiday fun to the game.  Grab these cute little foam eggs at your local Dollar Tree.

Also, check out these budget-friendly activities from my Frugal OT series:

Egg-cellent Fine Motor Fun

Butterflies on a Budget

As always, have fun!

Disclaimer: 

The Fun Strokes blog is designed for educational and informational use only for teachers, therapists, and parents. It is not intended as medical advice or therapeutic treatment that would be provided in an individualized treatment plan. If you suspect a child has delays, please consult an occupational therapist.

The Frugal OT Series: Little Leprechaun

March’s Dollar Tree Activity of the Month: Little Leprechaun

As a child, I marveled at the tale of the leprechaun. According to Irish legend, a leprechaun is a type of fairy that is short in stature, usually bearded, and wears a green suit and hat. They are shoemakers who live in the forest. Leprechauns are thought to be tricky little fellows who are delighted by mischief. The story states that every leprechaun has his very own pot of gold that he hides in the Irish countryside. He must give his fortune to anyone clever enough to capture him. He’s not easy to catch though. As legend has it, the leprechaun is very sneaky and can vanish in the wink of an eye. This fun craft pays homage to the Irish legend. A great way to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day while working on fine motor skills. Perfect to do during therapy sessions, as a class, and/or at home. All the supplies can be gathered for pennies on the dollar at your local Dollar Tree.

Skills Addressed:

  • bilateral coordination
  • eye-hand coordination
  • spatial relations
  • grasping skills (pincer and 3-jaw chuck or tripod)
  • visual scanning and tracking skills
  • executive functioning skills (focus attention, remember multi-step directions, initiate and follow through with the task)

Dollar Tree Supplies Needed:

orange pom poms

large craft sticks

google eyes

green paint

black ribbon

orange pipe cleaners

Staples Needed:

scissors

tape

Dollar Tree Supplies Needed
Staples Needed

How To Make Little Leprechauns:

It is always helpful to present the child with a model so that they can see what you expect them to do.

  • Align 5 craft sticks vertically.
  • Glue another craft stick over the top of them horizontally. This will be the brim of the hat (I did this ahead of time to allow time to dry).
  • Paint the brim of the hat (horizontal craft stick) and the tops of the 5 craft sticks green.
  • Glue two googly eyes under the hat being sure to leave enough room for the brows.
  • Cut a pipe cleaner into equal parts. Mold them into the shape of an eyebrow and glue one above each eye.
  • Draw a nose and mouth.
  • Cut a piece of black ribbon and wrap it above the brim of the hat. Glue the ribbon to the back of the hat.
  • Cut out a small rectangle using yellow paper and glue it onto the middle of the ribbon to make a buckle.
  • Make the beard by gluing two pom poms on the end of each stick.

Viola! You have a leprechaun!

Little Leprechaun

How To Offer the “Just Right” Challenge:

Grade Down (Make it Easier)

For younger or less skilled children:

  • Eliminate the cutting demands by using a gold bead or another form of embellishment to make the buckle.
  • Draw lines on the pipe cleaner indicating where to cut it to make even parts.
  • Place dots of glue where the googly eyes should be placed.
  • Draw the face in pencil and have them trace over it with a marker.
Grade Up (Make it Harder):

For older or more skilled children:

  • Strengthen fine motor skills by using orange tissue paper or construction paper instead of pom poms. Have the child tear the paper and crumble it into small pieces. Glue the crumpled paper onto the bottom of the sticks to make the beard.
  • Draw more elaborate facial features.  

Little Leprechaun

Looking for more St. Patty’s Day Fun?

This activity pulls a few Dollar Tree Finds from the archives Frugal OT March 2021 Lil’ Pot of Gold. You’ll need gold coins and cute little pots. See below:

Dollar Tree Supplies Needed

In this activity, children are tasked with helping the leprechaun collect his gold. They’ll be delighted to become an appointed steward of the leprechaun’s treasure! The following skills are addressed in this activity:

  • in-hand manipulation skills: Translation is the ability to move objects from the palm of one’s hand to the fingertips and from the fingertips to the palm. By ages 6 to 7, children are typically able to manipulate and secure multiple small objects within their hands. 
  • eye-hand coordination
  • visual scanning and tracking skills
  • left to right progression

Check out this activity in action in the video below:

Help the Leprechaun Collect His Gold

Would you like to do this activity with your kiddos? You can download the free PDF by clicking the button below.

As always, have fun!

Disclaimer: 

The Fun Strokes blog is designed for educational and informational use only for teachers, therapists, and parents. It is not intended as medical advice or therapeutic treatment that would be provided in an individualized treatment plan. If you suspect a child has delays, please consult an occupational therapist.

The Frugal OT Series: Race to Erase the Heart

This activity was a hit with the kiddos! It’s a very simple, low prep way to target many skills. For a Valentine’s Day theme, I used a heart as the object to erase. This can be modified to suit any time of year. You can draw a shamrock for St.Patricks Day, an egg for Easter, etc. You can personalize the activity by having the child race to erase their name or initials. Even better, have them write it. For this activity, I simply drew a heart on the chalkboard. Children then raced to erase the heart using a pump spray bottle that I picked up at the Dollar Tree. They come in packages of 2! A fun way to build strength both proximally and distally (from the shoulder girdle down to the fingers). 

Pump Spray Bottle Available at Dollar Tree

This activity targets:

  • Grasping skills
  • Finger isolation
  • Eye-hand coordination
  • Visual scanning and tracking 
  • Isometric exercise challenge (shoulder joint)
  • Strengthens the intrinsic muscles of the hand
  • Motor planning 
  • Crossing midline
  • Builds endurance

You can make the heart smaller for those that do not have the strength and/or endurance to tackle big hearts. For those that can not operate the pump spray bottle, use a plant sprayer instead. If that is too hard, you can also use a small sponge or a paintbrush. 

For 1:1 sessions or when working with one child, I think it’s a good idea to allow for enough time for him/her to actually beat the clock! I usually time the child on their first run to see how long it takes them to finish the task. Then I have them try to beat their own time.

At home, this would be a great activity to do with sidewalk chalk. Draw a heart, or whatever you choose, on the ground/concrete and race to erase the heart!

As always, have fun!

Disclaimer: 

The Fun Strokes blog is designed for educational and informational use only for teachers, therapists, and parents. It is not intended as medical advice or therapeutic treatment that would be provided in an individualized treatment plan. If you suspect a child has delays, please consult an occupational therapist.

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