The Frugal OT Series…Dollar Tree Find of the Month

July’s Activity: Fine Motor Monsters

These cute little monsters are perfect for building fine motor skills. Run to your local Dollar Tree and grab a container of Play Doh. Pop over to the craft section and toss some wiggle eyes into your basket, grab a bag of beads and a box of toothpicks and you are all set! Children will enjoy making a cute little monster of their own. Of course, while working on the following fine motor skills.

  • grasping skills (pincer and 3-jaw chuck or tripod)
  • strengthening
  • hand separation
  • bilateral coordination
  • eye-hand coordination
  • pressure grading (figuring out how much force to apply)
  • spatial relations

Dollar Tree Supplies Needed:

  • Play Doh
  • Wiggle Eyes
  • Toothpicks
  • Beads
The Frugal OT Series. Fine Motor Monsters Supply List
Fine Motor Mosters Supply List

How To Make the Monsters:

Open the Play Doh container and pull out the contents. Pinch off a nice size piece which will serve as the base or head of your monster. Use both hands to roll the Play Doh into a nice round ball. Push one or more of the wiggly eyes into the ball. Push toothpicks into the Play Doh to form the antennae. Place beads on the toothpicks for a colorful spin.

Grade Down (Make it Easier)

Pinch off the Play Doh for the child

Use the table surface instead of hands to form a ball with the Play Doh

Use beads with a larger diameter to assist the child with placing the beads onto the toothpick 

Grade Up (Make it Harder):

Work on building visual perceptual and visual-motor integration skills by having the child build their monster to match a model. Place several beads on the toothpicks to work on visual scanning and tracking skills.

Build 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 able to manipulate and secure multiple small objects within their hands. Practice this skill with the beads. Using one hand, have the child pick up one bead at a time and move it from fingertips to palm. Try collecting 5 and then place them onto the toothpick.  

Frugal OT Series Fine Motor Monsters

As Always, have fun!

How to Teach Kids of ALL Abilities How to Tie Shoes: Modified Techniques

Learning how to tie shoes can be quite daunting for a child with fine motor issues.  It may not seem like it, but there are many underlying skills needed in order to master this complex task.  Typically developing children are usually able to accomplish this skill around the age of 4-5 years old.  By kindergarten, it is expected that children will be able to manage their own laces when they’ve come untied.  Oftentimes, children with fine motor difficulties and/or executive functioning difficulties have a very hard time learning to tie shoes. I see a lot of parents give up on teaching their kids how to tie their shoes because it seems like they just won’t get it or it takes too much time. If a child can’t tie shoes, there are many fashionable alternatives today. Elastic, no- tie laces have come a long way! But before you go down that road, please try the methods in this post. Five methods are presented here. The first two are rather traditional methods, the final three are adapted to make it much easier. Before throwing in the towel, give these methods a shot. If successful, it will surely build your child’s confidence and independence with their self-care skills.

Skills required for shoe tying:

  • Bilateral coordination
  • In-hand manipulation skills (shift)
  • Hand dexterity
  • Visual-motor integration
  • Visual perception (figure-ground)
  • Hand strength
  • Working memory-needed to remember all the steps required to tie shoes

If a child is lagging in one or more of these areas, chances are they will struggle with learning how to tie shoes.  You may see the following:

  • Using their whole hand instead of the pads of fingertips
  • Awkward fumbling over the laces
  • Making unintentional knots, then unable to untie those knots 
  • Loose knots that come untied as soon as the child takes a few steps

Shoe Tying Methods

Method #1:  Bunny Ears

Traditional method using fun verbal prompts.  

  • Cross the laces to make an X
  • Top lace goes under
  • Pull to make the first knot
  • Make two bunny ears
  • Cross the ears
  • Push the top ear under and through the rabbit hole
  • Pull ears tight

Bunny Ears

Method #2:  Dog and Tree

  • Cross the laces
  • Make a tunnel
  • Dog goes under the tunnel, pull tight
  • Make a tree (loop)
  • Dog runs around the tree from front to back
  • Dog goes through the hole to make a loop
  • Pinch each loop and pull tight

Dog and Tree

Method #3:  Easy Tie

This is a modified method for those who have not had success with traditional methods.

  • Cross the laces
  • Make an X
  • Put top lace under and pull tight

Repeat:

  • Cross the laces
  • Make an X
  • Put top lace under and pull to make a loose knot
  • Push the end of one lace through the knot to make a loop
  • Do the same with the other lace
  • Pinch each loop and pull to make a tight knot

Easy Tie

Method #4: Easier Tie

  • Insert the ends of both laces into the first hole to make loops
  • cross the loops to make an X
  • top loop goes under and pull tight
  • repeat, top lace goes under and pull tight
  • pull the tip of the lace out of the first hole
  • Voila! Double knotted in all!

Easier Tie

Method #5:  Easiest Tie (When all else fails, this is often the answer!)

  • Pull the laces out of the first hole on each side
  • Insert both laces back in from the opposite end to form two loops
  • Cross the loops to make an X
  • The top loop goes under and pull tight
  • Repeat, the top loop goes under and pull tight

Easiest Tie

Therapist Tips: 

  • Parents/teachers/caregivers should watch the video to learn the modified technique, then teach the child at their own pace. Skip to method 5 (Easiest Tie) for those who are really struggling. Sometimes it may be necessary to set up the laces for the child (push the lace through the first hole to make the loops). Once set up, you won’t need to do it again.
  • Oftentimes it is better to start teaching shoe tying on a tabletop surface. The laces are easier to see and manage this way. Make sure the shoe is facing away from the child as it would be on their foot (as seen in the videos above). Once the child is able to tie the shoe on the tabletop surface, begin practicing with the shoe on their foot.
  • Use two different color laces to support those with visual perceptual needs, it makes it a lot easier to differentiate between the laces.
  • Try practicing for a few minutes each day, practice really does make perfect. The more opportunities the child gets, the better.

I hope you’ll find this post useful! Have a success story? Please share in the comments below!

The Frugal OT Series…Dollar Tree Find of the Month

June’s Activity: Puffers for Pennies

Pufferfish made out of pool noodles, how fun!  Run to your local Dollar Tree and grab a few pool noodles, one goes a long way.  You can make 20 or so pufferfish from just one pool noodle.  Pop over to the craft section and toss some wiggle eyes into your basket, grab a box of toothpicks and you are all set! Children will enjoy making a cute little pufferfish of their own. Of course, while working on many fine motor skills.

Visual of materials needed to make pufferfish
Puffers for Pennies Supply List
Dollar Tree Supplies Needed
  • Pool noodle (one pool noodle makes about 20 fish)
  • Toothpicks (10-15 for each pufferfish)
  • Wiggle eyes (2 for each pufferfish)
  • Pipe cleaners (one for each pufferfish: cut into three pieces, one half, 2 quarters)
Staples Needed:
  • scissors
  • glue

How to Make:  

Puffers for Pennies

Cut the pool noodle into 2” pieces.  Glue the eyes onto the pool noodle first and let dry.  Bend the pipe cleaner (quarters) to make round fins.  Insert one on each side.  Bend the third pipecleaner (halve) to form a triangle, insert into the back of the pool noodle.  Break the toothpicks in half and stick into the top of the pool noodle.  

Use judgement, the pufferfish are prickly and can poke little hands.

Skills Addressed:

This fun activity addresses the following skill areas:

  • pincer grasp and 3 jaw chuck (tripod grasp)
  • hand separation 
  • bilateral coordination 
  • finger strengthening
  • pressure grading (figuring out how much force to apply)
  • eye-hand coordination 
  • spatial relations

Grade Down (Make it Easier)

Break the tooth picks for the child 

Make holes in the pool noodle and have the child insert the toothpicks in the hole

Pre-make the pipecleaner shapes 

Grade Up (Make it Harder):

Build 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 able to manipulate and secure multiple small objects within their hands. Practice this skill with the toothpicks. Using one hand, have the child pick up one toothpick at a time and move it from fingertips to palm. Try collecting 5 and then move up to 10.  

In-hand Manipulation Skills: Translation

Do you know of a fun pool noodle craft? Please share in the comments section below. I’d love to hear about it!

What Are Heavy Work Activities and Who Should Do Them?

What is heavy work?

Heavy work is any type of activity that provides resistance to the body by way of pulling or pushing.  Resistance could be created by something pushing against the body like water in the swimming pool, or the body pushing against the floor such as doing push-ups.  Pulling on resistance bands, and hanging on monkey bars are also examples. Heavy work activities offer many benefits because they provide proprioceptive input. 

What is proprioception?

Proprioception is our sense of body awareness.  It is the ability of our body to know how it is moving and where it is in space. For example, being able to close your eyes and touch your nose with the tip of your index finger.  Our body knows how to do this because the sensory receptors in our muscles and joints send information to the brain.  This vital information relays how our body is moving, where each body part is in space, and where each body part is in relation to the other.  Try closing your eyes and touching your fingertip to your nose.  When you really think about it, it’s pretty amazing.

Why are heavy work activities beneficial?

Heavy work activities provide proprioceptive input or information to the body that helps with feeling centered and grounded.  This input provides a sense of organization and calm.  Many children benefit from heavy work activities for this reason.  When a child feels organized, tasks become easier.  For example, proprioceptive input can help a child understand how to grade pressure.  Know any kids who push really hard on crayons when coloring a picture?  Many times their hand will hurt and fatigue before they are finished.  When children have a lack of body awareness, it can be hard to determine just how much pressure to put on the crayon when coloring.  

Who should partake in heavy work activities?

Heavy work activities may benefit all children.  Heavy work is a form of movement and exercise, which we all need.  

Heavy work activities can be particularly helpful and effective for children who have sensory processing difficulties.  Sensory processing is the ability of our body to receive and interpret sensory information and deliver an appropriate response.   Children who have sensory processing difficulties have trouble with taking in information from their environment, and sometimes their own body, making sense of it, and figuring out how to respond to it.   You may notice these children slamming doors, bumping into things, leaning against furniture and walls, and climbing on everything.  Proprioceptive input provides their body with the information they need to modulate.  In other words, proprioceptive input helps children process sensory information and deliver an appropriate response.  

Children who have deficits in motor planning may also benefit from heavy work activities.  This is often referred to as dyspraxia. Motor planning is the ability to know what steps to take, in what order, and then carry out the novel motor action needed to execute the plan.  Proprioceptive input can help children with this disorder gain a greater awareness of where their body is in space which in turn helps with movement and coordination.  

Heavy work activities can also be employed to reduce stress and anxiety because they facilitate calm via organizing and regulating the sensory system.  

How often should children participate in heavy work activities?

Heavy work breaks can be offered to all children, however, the amount of time, frequency, and intensity will vary.  All children are unique and therefore have different needs.  There is no one-for-all approach.  Offering heavy work options during breaks is generally a good idea.  It is not uncommon for special education and even some general education teachers to offer heavy work activities as breaks to their students.  Brain breaks for example very well may consist of heavy work activities that the entire classroom will benefit from.  Parents may decide to have their children engage in heavy work activities at home. This can be particularly beneficial during homework, morning and bedtime routines, or anytime you need your child to settle down. Ever had a hard time keeping your little one under control in the grocery store? Of course! Kids sometimes have too much energy and not enough patience for what you are trying to do. Heavy work activities can be beneficial in the grocery store as well.

However, if you have or work with a child who has a sensory processing disorder, consulting with an occupational therapist is recommended.  Sensory needs can be complex and the expertise of a therapist is needed. Sometimes it is necessary to develop a sensory diet tailored to meet the specific needs of the child.  A sensory diet provides lots of opportunities for the child to engage in meaningful sensory-based activities. Sensory diets provide the input needed for the child to modulate sensory information and produce appropriate responses.  Each sensory diet varies based on the child’s needs.  It typically is carried out throughout a child’s day.  Some may include scheduled breaks, while other sensory opportunities are designed to occur as a natural part of the day.  

What are some heavy work activities that can be done in the classroom?  

Here are some of my favorite activities because I feel that they are practical, doable, and easy to incorporate into your classroom routine.

  • A stress ball or squeezable/squishy fidgets (having a designated “fidget box” with several options is a good idea)
  • Resistance bands on chair legs (students push their feet or legs against the bands while seated)
  • Chair dips
  • Seated push-ups or desk push-ups (child places both hands on the chair or desk and lifts their body off the seat or floor)
  • Movement breaks: tug-of-war, jumping jacks, yoga poses
  • Squeeze and squish:  Kinetic Sand, Play-Doh
  • Trampoline (investing in a mini trampoline for your classroom is so worth it)
  • Crumple paper and shoot for the trash basket (this is great to incorporate while your student is cleaning his/her desk)
  • Wipe the chalkboard or whiteboard clean
  • Wall push-ups (these are just like regular push-ups except the child is leaning against the wall)
  • Recess:  monkey bars, any type of climbing equipment, climb up the slide instead of using the ladder
  • Carry a weighted backpack during transitions (mustn’t exceed 20% of child’s body weight)
  • Hold an exercise ball against the wall using your back
  • Animal walks (crab, bear, seal, etc.)
  • Body sock
  • Weighted lap pad or lap animals

Heavy Work Activities for the Classroom At a Glance

Heavy Work Activities for the Classroom Infographic

What are some heavy work activities that can be done at home?  

Here are my suggestions.  These activities can easily be incorporated into your day.

  • Jump rope
  • Kinetic Sand
  • Push-ups 
  • Wall push-ups (these are just like regular push-ups except the child is leaning against the wall)
  • Stress ball or squeezable/squishy hand fidgets
  • Crumple paper and toss into wastepaper basket (a great opportunity to get rid of your never-ending supply of junk mail)
  • Tug-of-war
  • Jumping on the bed
  • Trampoline 
  • Chair dips
  • Swimming
  • Playground:  monkey bars, any type of climbing equipment, climb up the slide instead of using the ladder
  • Jumping jacks
  • Yoga poses
  • Squish and squeeze Kinetic Sand, Play-doh
  • Animal walks (crab, bear, seal, etc.)
  • Pull wagon filled with something heavy like books or stones
  • Hold exercise ball against a wall using back
  • Steamroll:  Roll exercise ball over child’s back and legs while he/she is laying on the carpet/rug; make it fun by saying “I’m going to turn you into a pancake”
  • Jump and crash into pillows or sofa cushions placed on the floor
  • Blanket burrito:  tightly wrap your child in a blanket to create a nice squeeze; make it fun by saying “I’m going to turn you into a burrito”
  • At the grocery store have your child carry a basket and gather some of the things on your list.  Or you can have your child push the cart.  They will probably love being a helper.
  • Crunchy Snacks:  Offer snacks that provide intense oral motor input like pretzels, carrot sticks, and celery sticks.
  • Chores:  Yes, I said chores!  Chores are a great way to get some heavy work in.  My favorite is vacuum cleaning because vacuums tend to be heavy.  Mopping and sweeping the floor are also options.  Doing yard work?  Have your child dig using a shovel, or pull weeds.  Pushing a wheelbarrow is also a great option.  

Heavy Work Activities for Home at a Glance

Heavy Work Activities for Home Infographic
Heavy Work Activities for Home

Therapist Tip:

Let the Child Choose The Activity

It’s also a good idea to allow children to become vested in their self-regulation journey by choosing what activity they’d like to partake in.  If the child is getting an adequate amount of input, you and the child will probably notice a difference in behavior.  For example, the child is able to remain seated if needed, stay on task longer, and get his/her independent work done.  Over time, he or she will begin to understand what they need to self-regulate.  

You can offer choices by presenting the child with visuals of heavy work activities like in the example below.

Heavy Work Activities Choice Board For the Classroom

Present the child with a sensory choice board like the one below. Cut out the images and laminate them. Use velcro to attach the images to the boxes.

Sensory Choice Board

When a heavy work break activity is needed, or when it is time for a scheduled break, the child makes a choice by removing the laminated picture from the sensory choice board and placing it on their break card. Once they have finished the break they put it on the “all done” side of their break card.

Heavy Work Activity Break Card
Heavy Work Activity Choice Boards and Break Cards
Heavy Work Activity Choice Boards and Break Cards

Would you like a FREE copy of my interactive heavy work activity choice boards and break cards? Enter your email address and get full access to the preview shown!

Have any heavy work suggestions that you like to do in your classroom or home?  Please share in the comments section below, I’d love to hear about it.

Disclaimer:

This blog is intended 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 sensory processing needs, please consult an occupational therapist.

How to Improve Handwriting Legibility: Spacing

As a school based occupational therapist, I receive many referrals for handwriting difficulties. Handwriting is a very complex function that requires many underlying skills. You can read more about this here: Fine Motor Skills Unveiled. When looking at a child’s handwriting, it is important to figure out what is impacting legibility the most. Sometimes it is poorly formed letters, sometimes all the words are squished together, sometimes it’s poor organization.  There are many things that can make handwriting difficult to read.  When many factors are impacting legibility, it is a good idea to grapple with one thing at a time. Why is this important? Often times kiddos with handwriting difficulties become overwhelmed when trying to fix all the errors they’ve made. When this happens, little progress is made. It may seem like it will take too much time to tackle one problem at a time, but it really doesn’t and the end result is surely worth it. Once competency is noted in each area, the child is able to complete the editing process without getting overwhelmed. This is when you can have the child use a comprehensive checklist that addresses all legibility components (letter formation, line orientation, spacing between words) and grammar if necessary. This post will focus on how to help kids learn how to space between words or improve visual processing skills (spatial relations).  

Try one of these tips:


  • Finger Spacing  Have children place the finger of their non-writing hand after each word.  A finger is just the right width or amount of space that should be left between words.  I love this strategy because children always have access to their fingers.  Unlike pencils, erasers, or other tools which often get lost, a child always has their finger on their person, ready to help them.

  • Spaceman:  Kids love spacemen.  Spacemen are little wooden astronauts that help children learn how to space between words.  Children place the spaceman after each word after it is written.  There is a red line on the spacer indicating where to place it on the line.  

Really Good Stuff Spaceman Deluxe Student Set – Includes 30 Spacemen in a Reusable Storage Container


Starting Blocks Plus Bundle- One Finger Spacer Handwriting Tool, Green and Two Finger Spacer Handwriting Tool, Blue

  • Spacers:  Some children have trouble with coordinating their hands to place a finger after each word.  This has been particularly noted with lefties because their non-writing hand gets in the way.  You can purchase spacers that function just like finger placement.   The one finger spacer is for use with wide ruled paper (2nd grade or above).  The two finger spacer is for use with primary paper (kindergarten and 1st grade). 

  • DIY Spacer:  Popsicle sticks work too!  Have children decorate the popsicle stick to their liking.  Simply place the stick after each word, much the same as any other spacer.  In the primary grades, a wider stick is needed.

Artlicious – 200 Wooden Popsicle Craft Sticks 4.5 inch Standard Size

100 Piece Large Jumbo Wooden Craft Sticks (6″ x 3/4″)


  • Edibles:  Many children are motivated by edible rewards.  This technique is almost guaranteed to work.  When teaching the child, have he or she place a candy after each word written.  Once the child begins to learn the concept, using an edible during the editing process works like a charm.  The child is only allowed to place a candy where there is enough space for it to fit.  M&Ms and skittles are the perfect size for this activity.  

  • Stamps are another great option. Particularly if you want to avoid the use of edibles. The kids I’ve worked with were always excited to use stamps to help them space between words. Just the same, the child is to place a stamp after each word written. You can have them use it during the writing process or after as an editing tool.

100 Pcs Assorted Stamps for Kids Self-ink Stamps 50 DIFFERENT Designs ( Emoji Stampers, Dinosaur Stampers, Zoo Safari Stampers) 

Disclosure: As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.


What about the kids that leave too much space between the letters of a word?

Letters in words stay together
  • Visual Aids We often see children who have trouble with spacing between words. But sometimes kids have trouble with placing the letters of a word together. They leave too much space between the letters. This is another handwriting issue you may see in children who struggle with spatial relations. I find visual aids are quite helpful when trying to get children to understand what to do. I like to use the analogy of houses on a street. I’ve combined the visual with the verbal prompt “Letters of a word stay together. They live in the same house.” Download a free PDF below.

As you can see, there are many ways to help children learn how to space between words. Figure out what works for your student or child. Like anything else, we all have our preferences. Let your student/child decide what works for them. For more information regarding how to improve handwriting skills, check out How To Improve Handwriting Legibility: Line Orientation, another component of handwriting that greatly impacts legibility.

Letter Reversals, Should You Be Concerned?

What are letter reversals?  Letter reversals simply means writing letters backward.

Letter Reversals are actually quite common in all children.  They typically resolve by the age of 7.  By third grade reversals may still be present, but only occasionally.   In typical development, it takes time for children to gain a solid picture in their mind of what each letter looks like.  Then they must come up with and carry out the motor plan required to mimic the visual image in their brain.  Believe it or not, there is still more to developing the skill of handwriting, but that is not the focus of this post.  Here I will focus on the topic of reversals.  

Although letter reversals can be typical up to third grade, the earlier you help the child to resolve the problem the better.  School-age children spend a great amount of time writing, up to 50% of their day.  Many bad habits can develop, reversals being one of them.  Try to stop the issue before it becomes habitual.

What causes letter reversals?

Reversals are a result of difficulties in visual processing skills and/or executive functioning skills.  

Visual Processing Difficulties Explained:

Visual Memory

Some children have a hard time remembering what letters look like.  So when they are attempting to write letters from recall or without a model, reversals occur because they simply can not remember what it looks like.  This is particularly confusing for those letters that are a mirror image of each other like b and d or letters that can be flipped like p and q.  These letters are most commonly reversed. Some children have trouble with w and m, n and u.  

Directional Awareness

Knowing left from right, and developing a dominance for the use of one hand over the other plays a large role in the development of handwriting skills.  If a child struggles with this, they may also struggle with the position of letters.  If unable to discriminate between left and right, how can a child discriminate between b and d?  

How can you tell if a child struggles in this area?  You will probably notice the following behaviors:

  • Switching hands when coloring, drawing, or writing
  • Using both hands when coloring, drawing, or writing
  • Putting shoes on the wrong feet
  • Starting in the middle of the paper or in random locations on the paper when writing sentences  
  • Failure to demonstrate left to right progression in reading and writing

Spatial Awareness

Some children have great difficulty figuring out where to start letters and/or how big or small to make letters.

Visual Discrimination

Being able to recognize how images are different is extremely important when learning letters and their sounds.  If subtle differences are hard to discern, it will be quite difficult to learn this skill.  

Visual-Motor Integration

Being able to copy shapes and write letters requires visual-motor integration.  This is the ability to look at a form (shape or letter) and process the visual information in your brain.  Then your brain must come up with a motor plan.  Meaning your brain must tell the muscles in your hand how to move to copy the shape or letter using a writing utensil.

How can you tell if a child struggles in this area?  You will probably notice the following behaviors:

  • Difficulty learning pre-writing strokes, the basic shapes that serve as the foundation for all letters and numbers
  • Unable to draw or write with fluid strokes meaning the child needs to pick up their utensil every time they change the direction of their stroke, like from horizontal to vertical.  This is also referred to as segmental drawing.
  • Unable to change the direction of the stroke without turning the paper.  This is a compensatory behavior where the child will help themselves by turning the paper instead of their hand to execute the stroke.
  • Children who write letters from the bottom up versus top to bottom.  This is another compensatory technique where the child feels more grounded by starting at the bottom of the line.
  • Difficulty crossing the midline or reaching an arm/leg across the body to the opposite side when playing, getting dressed, drawing, or anytime it makes sense to approach a task in this manner to be most efficient.  

Executive Functioning Difficulties Explained: 

What is executive functioning?  This brain function is responsible for many skills.  Here I will focus on the executive functioning skills that play a huge role in the acquisition and execution of handwriting skills.  Executive functioning provides working memory, allows us to pay attention and to self-monitor our actions.  

Working Memory

Working memory is the ability to retain information long enough to accomplish a task.  For example, remembering a telephone number long enough to enter the digits into your phone.  When children are learning to write letters, they must remember the stroke sequence.  This often requires several steps, some letters more complex than others.  Let’s emphasize letter b, the stroke sequence is “start at the top, make a vertical line, climb back up the vertical line, upon reaching the mid-point of the line, form a circle on the right side of the line that closes on the bottom of the line.  Sound complicated?  Of course, those of us who learn this skill readily don’t have to think about it that much, but those who struggle need to think about it too much!

Attention Span 

So I’ve just covered how complicated and complex learning the stroke sequence to letter formations can be.  Imagine if you also struggle with paying attention to the instruction when you are learning how to write.  No doubt, you will compensate by coming up with your own method which may or may not be a legible version of the letter.

Self-Monitoring

Executive functioning allows one to pace oneself.  Early writers or those learning to write, need to think about how to form every letter before writing it.  This is a meticulous effort that requires self-control.  Those who struggle in this area will write without forethought, often resulting in poor formations and reversals.

Other factors may also play a role.  Often times children who are learning to write are also learning letter sounds, phonetics, and other components of language. Sometimes problems learning these concepts may lead to trouble learning to write.  Sometimes problems learning to write may lead to trouble learning language components.  The bottom line, every child is different and may have their own unique struggles.     

Do children who write letters backward have dyslexia?  

Dyslexia is a learning disability that impacts reading.  Letter reversals are not necessarily a sign of dyslexia. Some kids with dyslexia have trouble with it, but many don’t. In fact, most kids who reverse letters before age 7 end up not having dyslexia. Source: www.understood.org

Letter Reversals Explained At A Glance:

Letter Reversals, Should You Be Concerned?
Infographic: Letter Reversals, Should You Be Concerned?

What Can You Do?

Teach children letters following developmental guidelines

An OT’s dream would be for schools/parents to teach letters following developmental guidelines.  Meaning, pre-writing strokes first, then uppercase letters, and finally lowercase letters.  It is also ideal to teach letters that have a similar stroke sequence in groups.  My favorite handwriting program is Handwriting Without Tears.  It was created by an occupational therapist.  Handwriting Without Tears follows the developmental progression of skills and group letters according to stroke sequence.  For example “magic c letters”.  All letters that begin with c are taught as a group.  Those letters are c, a, o, d, g, q.  Some schools use the Handwriting Without Tears program as part of their curriculum.  I strongly believe that it helps to prevent letter reversals and helps to correct letter reversals.  Unfortunately, many schools choose to utilize other handwriting curriculums.

Kindergarten Workbook

First grade workbook

Check out the Handwritng Without Tears Program by clicking the images above.

Disclosure: As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Use a multi-sensory approach

  • Use visuals:  color contrast, varying colors for each stroke and visual aids like the one presented on the right can be very helpful. Download the PDF on the right and place it on the child’s desk or on the wall in your classroom.
  • Provide tactile input which will give more feedback to the child when learning the motor sequence to form letters:  use textures like writing on sandpaper, or make letters in sand, shaving cream, pudding, rice, etc.
  • Provide kinesthetic input:  air writing (form letters with pointer finger in the air). Use hands as visual aids.
  • Provide auditory input:  have the child state the stroke sequence while writing the letter.  Make up a song to accompany the stroke sequence to the letter. Sing it to a familiar tune like…Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes.

Build Visual Processing Skills:

  • Mazes
  • Games (Connect 4, Trouble, Perfection)
  • Hidden Picture Exercises
  • Word Searches
  • Color By Number

For some children, teaching cursive handwriting may help.  Cursive handwriting naturally lends itself to correct reversals as letters are connected and words are formed as one continuous stroke.  This method may not work with children who struggle with motor planning however as cursive requires more complex stroke sequences with many directional changes.  It requires higher level visual-motor integration skills.

I’ve developed the Fun Strokes Letter Reversal Toolkit to help children combat letter reversals.  The Letter Reversal Toolkit addresses visual processing skills, which is often the culprit behind letter reversals.  It utilizes a multisensory approach to learning correct letter identification and formation.  This fun activity is jam-packed with activities that are designed to build visual memory, visual discrimination, motor planning, stroke sequence, eye tracking, directionality, and left and right discrimination.  The worksheets were intentionally made without a lot of visual distractions. This allows children to focus on the main point, correct letter identification and formation. The activities tap into visual, tactile, kinesthetic, and auditory learning strengths. This 59-page packet is loaded with activities that will help children learn how to discern the difference between these confusing letters and write them correctly. It is available at the Fun Strokes Store on TpT.  Click on this link to preview and purchase:  Fun Strokes TpT Store

Letter Reversal Toolkit available @ Fun Strokes Store Teachers Pay Teachers TpT

Do you have a go-to strategy to combat letter reversals? I’d love to hear about it. Please share in the comments section below.

Eight Handwriting Strategies for Children With Autism

As a school-based occupational therapist, I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to work with many autistic children over the years. I soon discovered the value in being able to think outside the box and quick on my feet. This was often necessary to keep my autistic kiddos engaged and motivated to do what I needed them to do during therapy sessions. It is with great enthusiasm that I share an article that I’ve written for the outstanding publication Autism Parenting Magazine. In the May 2021 issue, I share strategies that parents can use to prepare their children for the handwriting demands of kindergarten and beyond. These strategies are also recommended for teachers, those who homeschool, or anyone who provides care for children with autism. I hope you find this information useful!

Eight Handwriting Strategies for Children With Autism
Children with autism often have handwriting impairments.
Foster a strong foundation by making sure your child can form the prerequisite pre-writing strokes before attempting letters.
Foster a strong foundation by making sure your child can form the prerequisite pre-writing strokes before attempting letters.
Use simple and consistent verbal prompts.  When working on pre-writing strokes, use the same verbal prompt for each stroke until they can do it.
Use simple and consistent verbal prompts.
Children with autism tend to be visual learners rather than auditory learners.
Children with autism tend to be visual learners rather than auditory learners.
Children with autism, like all children, benefit from structure and routine.  Knowing what to expect reduces stress and anxiety.
Children with autism, like all children, benefit from structure and routine. Knowing what to expect reduces stress and anxiety.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this article. Please feel free to share with anyone who may be interested! If you would like to see more of what Autism Parenting Magazine’s May 2021 issue entails, please click on the following link:

Autism Parenting Magazine Volume 123
Autism Parenting Magazine Volume 123

Autism Parenting Magazine Issue 123 Autism In Girls

Fun Strokes Presents… The ADHD and Handwriting Series: Part Two

Children with ADHD often have difficulty learning how to write, also known as dysgraphia. In this post I will dive into what can be done to help children reach fine motor developmental milestones as they relate to handwriting readiness. I will also talk about what can be done to help those who may be struggling with learning how to write or who struggle with written expression. Please refer to Part One of this series to learn more about ADHD and dysgraphia: The ADHD and Handwriting Series…Part One Let’s get to it!

Number One…Start Early

Take preventive measures by monitoring the child’s development. One of the primary goals of starting my blog is to inform parents, grandparents, teachers, and caregivers of what to expect during the crucial early years. Before children learn to write there are very important development 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.

Is the child between the ages of 3 to 5?

Prepare children for handwriting demands by ensuring that they are able to form prewriting strokes in preschool or before starting kindergarten. Prewriting strokes are simple lines and shapes that are the basis of all letters. Children must be able to form prewriting strokes before they are able to learn how to write letters.  Making sure that children are proficient in this skill will prepare them for the very complex task of learning how to write.  I’ve purposefully created the Fun Strokes program to teach children this skill.  Fun Strokes is a super fun and engaging program that addresses all facets of fine motor skill.  Learn more by clicking here: Fun Strokes Prewriting Program

Fun Strokes Book and Magnet Pack

I also recommend having children work on a vertical surface or easel when learning how to form prewriting strokes. Children benefit in so many ways when working on a vertical surface. Learn more by clicking here: Benefits of Working On a Vertical Surface

I highly recommend investing in an easel to facilitate the development of fine motor skills. Here is one of my favorites from Amazon.

Kids Art Easel Double Sided Whiteboard & Chalkboard 26 inch x 43 inch Height Adjustable & 360°Rotating Easel Stand with Bonus Magnetic Letters and Numbers

Disclosure: As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Is the child in kindergarten?

If you notice a child struggling with learning how to write in kindergarten, take action.  This is a crucial 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
  • Provide sensory input by forming letters with various mediums (shaving cream, pudding, whipped cream, sand, Play Doh, etc.)

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

Here are my go to pencil grips from Amazon:

Grotto Grips

The Pencil Grip Original Universal Ergonomic Writing Aid for Righties and Lefties 

Disclosure: As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Always Use Primary Paper

Children this age need the structure and visual guidelines provided by primary paper. Do not try to skip this stage by having kindergarten children write on standard wide ruled paper. Developmentally they are not ready and this can create unnecessary problems.

In addition to the visual guidelines primary paper provides, some kids need additional sensory input. There are many forms of modified paper that offers sensory input. Providing paper with color contrast and visuals assist children with learning how to orient letters on the line and letter placement skills. For example, the Smart Start paper featured below has a top blue line with a picture of the sun and clouds. This helps children with the placement of tall letters like t, l and f. The baseline is green with a picture of a flower which represents grass. This helps children to learn that all letters need to be grounded on the baseline. Provide even more support by providing auditory cues like “tall letters start on the blue sky”. Some children need tactile input. Providing paper that offers raised lines allows kids to see and feel where letters should be placed on the line. Here are two of my favorite types of paper from Amazon.

Smart Start K-1 Writing Paper

Pacon Multi-Sensory Raised Ruled Tablet

Disclosure: As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Improve fine motor skills via activities. Here are several fun activities to promote fine motor skills.

Addressing the problem in the crucial primary years is paramount.  Try to remediate struggles before academic demands increase.  If you’ve worked with the child for a considerable amount of time and they are still having a hard time or very little progress has been made, a referral to an occupational therapist may be warranted. Especially if the child is nearing the end of kindergarten.

What can you do if the child is in first or second grade?

If the child continues to struggle with learning how to write consult with an occupational therapist.  Talk with your child’s teacher to learn about your school’s process.  He or she may recommend an occupational therapy evaluation.  If the child is experiencing problems in other areas as well, additional testing may be recommended to determine if your child is in need of specialized instruction (individualized education plan also known as an IEP) or a 504 accommodation plan.  You may also seek an OT evaluation through your pediatrician.  Most major insurances will cover the assessment if it is deemed medically necessary.

What can you do if the child is already in 3rd grade or higher?

Continuing to address handwriting automaticity is still important typically via OT services. Additionally, modifications may need to be made in the classroom via specialized instruction (IEP) or a 504 accommodation plan. If you homeschool, you can also implement these strategies at home. At this grade level, children are no longer expected to learn how to write but to write to show what he or she has learned.  Sometimes reducing or eliminating the manual aspect of handwriting is necessary if you want a true assessment of what the child can express. Getting thoughts out of the head and onto the paper if the ultimate goal. Eliminating the need to think about how to form letters, how to spell many of the words and how to apply the rules of grammar will help the child focus on the content they’d like to write about. Typically the IEP or 504 team will use their expertise to determine what modifications or accommodations would be appropriate and most beneficial.  It is important to strive for the maximum level of student participation and independence when determining the level of support needed. There are several options that can be trialed to determine what works for the kiddo. Everyone is unique so there is no catch all. Children may benefit from one or a combination of the strategies listed below:

1. Graphic Organizers

Help with producing and organizing thoughts with graphic organizers. Graphic organizers are visual thinking tools that prompt ideas and facilitate building those ideas into detailed paragraphs. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt offers over 30 templates of various graphic organizers that you can download for free! Click on this link:   Free Graphic Organizers

Sandwich Chart courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Sandwich chart courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

2. Franklin Spellers

Franklin Spellers are a form of assistive technology that help children self-correct spelling errors. How does it work? A child simply types in his or her phonetic spelling of a word,  and the Franklin Speller will present a list of words that the child probably meant to spell. It helps children learn how to edit or check their work for spelling errors with greater independence. If selected, each word will be presented with a definition. This way the child is able to figure out if it is the correct word.  Some electronic spellers come equipped with built in text-to-speech functions which is very helpful for those who need assistance reading.

Franklin SPQ109 Collins Pocket Speller

3. Sentence Starters

Sentence starters do just that. They provide the beginning of a sentence to stimulate a thought or idea. The child then builds on that thought to complete the sentence. For example: “What excited me was….; What surprised me most was…

4. Sentence Frames

Sentence frames are fill-in-the blank sentences. The structure of the sentence is already built to support kiddos who have trouble writing a complete sentence. The sentence frame prompts the student to think of responses or words to make the sentence complete. For example: “My favorite ____________ is ____________ because _____________.

5. Word Banks

Word banks are a list of words provided to children to assist them while they are writing. The words provided relate to the content you want them to write about. Children are encouraged to use the words when creating sentences.

6. Grammatical Checklists

Provide checklists to support the editing process. Once the student has written a paragraph they can go over their work using a checklist to ensure that they have started each sentence with a capital letter, used punctuation, etc.

7. Expect neat handwriting ONLY when copying a final draft

Reduce frustration and anxiety by eliminating all other demands (letter formation, spelling, grammar) while developing content. Once finished, the child can rewrite their composition neatly and correct spelling and grammatical errors.

8. Build Keyboarding Skills

As middle and high school approaches, is important to work on building keyboarding skills. Preparing children before handwriting expectations increase will equip them with the tools they need to keep up with the rigor. Having this skill may also reduce the anxiety associated with written tasks. There are many websites that offer free tutorials, lessons and games. Spending just 10-15 minutes a day can make a huge difference. Here are my favorite websites:

Dance Mat Typing

Free Typing Lessons and Games

Free Typing Games

Typing Club

9. Allow the child to type instead of writing when appropriate

Again, eliminating other demands (trying to remember letter formations, line orientation, spacing, spelling) can reduce frustration, anxiety and yield better content.

Here’s a free infographic which summarizes these strategies.

Final Note

It is important to continue working on handwriting legibility skills or keyboarding skills to develop as much independence and autonomy as possible. Written communication is an essential life skill needed for both school and the work place.

Have a suggestion to share? Know of a strategy that has really helped a child in your life? Please leave a comment below. I’d love to hear about it!

The Frugal OT Series…Dollar Tree Find of the Month

May’s Activity: Butterflies on a Budget

Spring is in the air and so are butterflies. Children will enjoy making a cute little colorful bug of their own. Of course, while working on fine motor and visual processing skills.

The Frugal OT Series…Dollar Tree Find of the Month

Materials Needed:

  • 1 full pipe cleaner
  • 3/4 pipe cleaner
  • 1/2 pipe cleaner
  • assorted beads
  • pencil or straw to form antennae

Skills Addressed:

This fun activity addresses the following skill areas:

  • pincer grasp and 3 jaw chuck (tripod grasp)
  • hand separation
  • bilateral coordination
  • visual discrimination
  • visual sequencing
  • visual tracking
  • eye-hand coordination
  • crossing the midline
Butterflies On A Budget

Grade Down (Make it Easier)

Have the child place beads onto the pipe cleaner and the adult assists with bending the pipe cleaner as needed to form the butterfly.

Hold the straw or pencil to stabilize it as the child wraps the pipe cleaner to make antennae.

Grade Up (Make it Harder):

Make sequencing and scanning more difficult by placing plenty more beads onto the pipe cleaners.

Build 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. Have the child practice this skill with the beads. Ask the child to grab a handful of beads and move them from the palm to fingertips to put them onto the pipe cleaner.

Frugal OT Series: Butterflies on a Buget

The Frugal OT Series…Dollar Tree Find Of the Month

April’s activity is egg-cellent! Yes, I couldn’t resist saying that!

Spring has sprung and Easter is right around the corner. Grab the following items from your local Dollar Tree and your kiddos will be delighted!

Dollar Tree

This months activity works on the following skill areas:

Tripod Grasp

Hand Separation (developing separation of the sides of the hand improves fine motor skills)

Fine Motor Control

Eye-hand Coordination

Bilateral coordination

Visual Discrimination (scanning the eggs to find its pair, then putting to two sides together so that the cute little face is correctly aligned)

Fine Motor Egg-cellence

Grade Down or Make it Easier:

Use fingers to pick up the candy and place it into the eggs

Grade Up or Make it Harder:

Help children build their fine motor skills in the following areas with this fun “cracking egg” task:

Develop intrinsic musculature (all the little muscles in the hands)

Learn how to grade pressure (figuring out whether more force is needed or if applying too much force)

Develop proprioceptive awareness (sense of self-movement and body awareness)

Egg-cellent Challenge!

Add On Activity:

An Easter egg hunt of course:) I hope you and your kiddos enjoy this activity. Have any ideas that would make this activity even better? Please share in the comment section below.

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