Monthly Archives: August 2015

Lakeshore’s Rubbing Plates Build Hand Strength and Coordination While Having Fun!

a very easy activity to develop many sensory-motor skills!

a very easy activity to develop many sensory-motor skills!

This simple activity uses just paper ( I use the back of scrap paper to be mindful of the environment), a crayon and Lakeshore’s rubbing plates.  I included a sample photo of the number plates, but the letter plates are used in exactly the same manner.  Such an easy activity, and yet it builds sensory-motor skills and can be a lot of fun!  Learning to control a crayon and learning to recognize numbers and letters are essential before a child learns to write.  Familiar letters and numbers will be easier to write.  If your child can’t identify the symbol they are copying, then they may not be learning much from a handwriting lesson.

Children with learning differences or sensory processing issues are often uninterested in simple coloring or pre-writing activities.  This multi-sensory activity appeals to kids who need more input to engage in learning.  Preschoolers just love the vibration and noise that they create as their crayon bumps against the raised plastic ridges.  The characters used to illustrate the number on the plate are recognizable to most toddlers, such as one birthday cake and stars.  I have had children insist that they must make one for each family member.  Daddy just had a birthday so he gets the cake, Mommy likes dogs so she gets that one, and on and on.  Remember, these are children that rarely want to pick up a crayon for any reason!!!

I take the paper off of a 2-3 inch long preschool crayon, and turn it horizontally.  It is very difficult for preschoolers to grasp the standard-thickness kindergarten crayons, so please use the larger diameter preschool size.  Younger preschoolers need a little help to place their thumb on one side of the crayon, and four fingertips on the other ( a quadrupod grasp turned sideways).  I model the crayon stroke on my own rubbing plate until the image is revealed and they become excited to try their own.  I might also physically assist them to move the crayon up and down on the paper-covered plate if needed.  It is fun to add layers of colors and see what happens!   Repetition gives children the chance to develop motor planning skills and strengthen their grip.

I usually cut an 8.5×11 inch page horizontally to create two paper pieces.  Each one is large enough to cover a single rubbing plate.  I have enough paper overlap to tape the edges to the back of the plate if needed.  This is helpful for younger children that aren’t able to effectively stabilize the paper with one hand and rub their crayon over the plate with the other. As a bilateral control activity it builds  awareness of the body’s midline and developing differentiation of right and left hands.  It can be discouraging for a child to have the paper move while rubbing; the image blurs and can be almost unrecognizable even for an adult.

Older children will use tape to connect a series together to spell their name or the name of a pet or family member.  You could make a banner with them, or come up with your own creative use for these handy plates!

Baby Waking Up Early? Reset that Habitual Pattern Tonight

When infants and toddlers wake at 4 am, and it isn’t diapers, hunger, or illness, it is time to consider that this is a habitual sleep pattern.  Everyone is vulnerable to habitual waking, even adults.  The garbage pickup can trigger it, a spouse that rises early to go work out, etc.  You find yourself waking at the same time even if your partner changes his gym time.  Wide awake for no reason that you can see.  Babies and toddlers can also get stuck in a habit of waking early.  Since bedtime really starts right after breakfast, starting the day too early can shift nap and feeding schedules and destroy what used to be a great routine.  There are ways to fix this pattern, but it takes some awareness and some knowledge.

One way to know that your child is stuck in an early-waking groove is to notice that when they wake early, neither diapers, hunger or socialization are what they desperately need at that moment.   They aren’t longing for the closeness of nursing/bottles or the physical need for food that signals waking out of hunger.  They might not be seeking your attention very much at all; your baby is just awake and ready to play.

If you have a baby that actively protests a back to sleep message in the dark, you could have accidentally signaled to them over time that this is a great time to receive individual, undivided attention from you.  It is like “pillow talk” for people who can’t talk.  A quiet cuddle and looking into one another’s eyes without competition from siblings or iPhones might be such a treat to him that your baby may be looking forward to this night time love fest.  That is a different blog post entirely.

For a habitual waking issue, you need to use the wake-and-put-down method:  set your alarm an hour before the habitual wake-time, and go gently wake them up a little bit.  No talking, no cuddling, just a tiny rousing so that their sleep clock is re-set.  Do your best to get them right back to sleep (do only emergency diaper changes, no conversation and play) and onto a later wake time.  This can work as quickly as one night, according to the Baby Whisperer (that Baby Whisperer Solves All Your Problems book is a pretty good reference).

I agree with Dr. Karp, of The Happiest Baby Guide to Great Sleep fame, that if this reset plan doesn’t work then you have to consider that maybe your child’s bedtime is too early.  It also might be too late.  If it is too early, your child is waking because he just doesn’t need more sleep.  If his bedtime is too late, then you have a child who sleeps fitfully and wakes up to the slightest stimulation.  If you have ever  been out way past your normal range of bedtime the night before, you know that awful feeling.  You need and want sleep but you are wide awake.  Both of these authors share really helpful plans to change bedtime routines for early or late bedtimes.  My copies of their books are on the quick-reach shelf in my office.

It takes confidence and determination to execute the wake-and-put-down strategy and to move bedtimes around.  You may have to change the behavior of others in the home to dim lights and lower noise, set up a white noise machine or purposely get babies out in the sun during the early part of the day to reset their wake-sleep clock.  Unless you really like knowing when your newspaper is delivered and when your neighbors take a morning run, you may want to give these ideas a try!

The Pencil Grip That Strengthens Your Child’s Fingers As They Write.

The generic form of this amazing pencil grip!

Lakeshore Learning has one version this amazing pencil grip!



The Grotto Grip; firmer plastic gives more sensory feedback and a strong barrier to incorrect finger “migration”!

Pencil grips are frequently recommended but mostly ineffective in improving pencil grasp. They are often placed at the wrong part of the pencil for best use, or quickly and repeatedly lost like mittens. I wrote a post on how to decide if you need a grip for a child  Should Your Child Use A Pencil Grip?, but once you need a grip, there is only one I can recommend.   I have found only one style that actually builds strength and control, instead of just propping up fingers on a piece of plastic.  As an occupational therapist, I spend a lot of effort working with preschoolers on hand strength.  For good ideas that actually work, not waste your time, read Strengthening A Child’s Pencil Grasp: Three Easy Methods That Work.  If they continue to struggle to control a crayon and cannot hold a pencil as they enter and complete kindergarten, I really have to think about whether a pencil grip would help them.  This is the only one that does.


I must have purchased every known type of grip over the years, and also constructed grips out of rubber bands/string/etc as well. They all went in the trash after I found this style about 10 years ago.  Turns out, this grip requires the use of the small muscles of the thumb and fingers to write, unlike the other types on the market.  It cannot be used comfortably without the child actively contracting those muscles.  This style blocks most of the compensating patterns that children develop by providing “wings” that prevent fingers from sliding over or around the pencil. It has a trough for placement of the thumb-side tip of the middle finger (radial aspect of the DIP joint on digit III for all those therapists out there) to support the thumb and index finger.

Many pencil grips look terrific, but if a child has true weakness, little fingers will wrap around the other grips and their hand collapses into a hook or gross grasp.  This is the very same (ineffective and immature) pattern they use without a pencil grip!  Now teachers and parents find themselves repositioning the child’s fingers or constantly telling them to “fix” their fingers.  Too much work for everyone!

A good OTR will do their best to develop hand strength and control and not hand out pencil grips like candy.  Younger children who are not yet writing words and sentences should have full opportunity to develop the required hand control.  But if a kindergarten teacher is insisting on pencil use when your child really does not have the physical control required for pencil grasp, you have to really think about what you are going to do.

UPDATE: Since writing this post, I have used the Grotto grip, the version with stiffer sides, with two four-year-olds that have seriously weak and unstable fingers.  These little girls tried very very hard with but never achieved much with therapy putty and finger exercises.  I think that is because therapy 2x/week for was not frequent and intensive enough practice, and they could compensate/cheat but seemingly perform each exercise. They have been writing and coloring age-appropriate activities every day using the grip for the last 3 months, and the progress is significant!  It really is doing everything I promised with these younger preschoolers.  The grip places their fingers in a position to build muscle bulk and they are able to assume a better grip on pencils without adaptations for short periods.  Strengthening is a long process, but they now know how the correct grip should feel.

Most children want to use a pencil.  They don’t care that their fingers wrap around the pencil like a snake because they are finally “writing like the big kids”.  Children have no idea that they are being set up for years of poor control, slow writing, hand discomfort and fatigue, and eventually an avoidance of writing just when they should be doing creative composition.  Imagine if your writing was slow and your hand was tired or sore: would you want to write more about your summer vacation?  You would write the minimum required.  And that is from a compliant child.  I have heard of kids screaming that they don’t care about grades or losing privileges, they won’t write at all!

This style is available in some learning-oriented stores and therapy catalogs both online and in the mail.  The Therapy Shoppe calls theirs the “Grotto Grip” and there are copycats that are a bit softer but also incorporate the “wings” and a trough for third digit placement.  If you have an OTR at school, they may have one available or be able to help you find one of these grips if they think it is time to consider using it. Because it requires the use of finger muscles that might be initially very weak, I recommend short periods of use that increase gradually.  Forcing large amounts of writing all at once when they cannot fall back on their compensatory finger patterns creates the risk of developing total resistance in a child.   I think the shape reminds me of a cobra’s head.  Lots of little boys find that using a pencil grip in the shape of a potentially deadly animal is a very appealing concept.  Sometimes you just have to spin things the right way to appeal to your audience!

Want more information on how to help a child succeed in school and in life?  I wrote an e-book just for you!

Cover white.jpg

The JointSmart Child:  Living and Thriving With Hypermobility  Volume Two: The School Years is a resource for parents and therapists.  I explain how hypermobility creates sensory processing and social/emotional challenges as well as motor issues, and how to build independence at home and school with ease.  Learn how to pick the right backpack, desk chair, even clothes and spoons, to make life easier.  I include forms and handouts for positioning, teaching educators and coaches what they need to know, and even explain how to speak with medical professionals to be heard clearly and get answers to your questions.

My book is available as a read-only download on Amazon or a printable download on Your Therapy Source.


Think your child needs a better pencil, not a better pencil grip?  Take a look at Great Mechanical Pencils Can Improve Your Child’s Handwriting Skills if they are over 5 and have a tripod or quadruped grasp.  And don’t forget erasers:  Problems With Handwriting? You Need The Best Eraser will help you outfit your child with tools that make writing more successful.

Start the School Year With Strategies For Kids With Sensory Processing Issues

Sensory processing can create unique issues around this time of year.  Regardless of whether a child received summer services or not, things in the classroom change in September, and change is not always easy for these kids to handle.  Here are a few suggestions that could help your child make the transition to a new class easier:

  • visit the new classroom, even if it is in the same building as his old classroom.  If this is not possible due to regulations or availability, then visit the school grounds if possible.  Drive by the school on the way to another destination.  Make it a familiar place.
  • allow your child to wear familiar clothes for the first few days.  If nothing fits, then buy the most comfortable or desirable (truck themed tees, anyone?) new things and get some summer wear in before school starts.  Children with sensory processing issues can usually handle only so much novelty, so do what you can to minimize the novelty of new things and maximize opportunities to keep some things the same, at least at first.  This could extend into old backpacks, favorite foods in familiar flavors stored in familiar containers.  You may not have to do this strategy for very long, but it can really make a difference that your child cannot even explain to you.  Things just feel comfortable….
  • be positive but understated in your enthusiasm about returning to school and the new things to come.  A child who has sensory processing issues can struggle to modulate their emotions and become overwhelmed very quickly.  Always acknowledge their concerns honestly and reflect a positive outlook, but watch their non-verbals closely and know your child’s signs of TMI.  You may not think that you were too loud, spoke too long, or talked too frequently about how much fun he will have. If you see him get disregulated, it could be coming from poor modulation in response to the cumulative sensory load.  Exception:  Children with clear low arousal issues, that need more intensity to orient and attend to sensory information.  Unfortunately, they can also be poor modulators, starting out low and ending up overwhelmed.  If you have a child like that, dancing on that tightrope is what you do all day, every day.  You know who you are.
  • prepare for the first day of school by using familiar routines, including mealtimes, naps and bedtime routines.   You could think of these as the bedrock of sensory stability.  When children cannot count on them, it shakes the foundation they really need for good sensory processing.  All the therapy ball activities and trampoline work will not be effective if the essential thread of the day is inconsistent and unpredictable.

Have a wonderful end to the summer, and a great school year!