Category Archives: prewriting

How to Help Toddlers Prepare to Write

Ian, Lila, and Tom aren’t writing. They are drawing!

Contrary to the ideas of some preschool teachers, most three year olds don’t write their names.  In truth, most young fours don’t either.  I refuse to count the kids who “draw” their names like the photo above.  That isn’t writing.  That is drawing, the same as if I copied my name in Mandarin.  I would be drawing the characters, not writing.  Writing requires that I know the correct start and sequence of strokes.

So…What can you do to help late twos and the threes prepare to write?

The mom of a toddler brother of a private client asked me, and I know this child uses his fist to hold a crayon.  Improving his grasping skills should be one big goal, and there are a bunch of fun toys that can support this.  Read Water Wow: Summer Pre-writing Fun on the Road  and read LEGO Duplo My First Car Creations: Putting Together Cars, Building Hand Coordination for two great toys that kids in this age group will love.

 Another way to prepare a young child for handwriting is to build a child’s skilled use of spoons and forks for self-feeding.  I wrote a post on this  How Using Utensils To Eat Prepares Your Child To Write  , and I don’t think parents always fully understand that offering finger foods isn’t going to build hand skills after age 2, unless your child is very physically delayed.  Once they can pop a chicken nugget into their mouth, finger feeding isn’t building hand control.  It certainly isn’t enhancing grasp!  Getting a child the right utensils seems to be an issue in many homes.  Pre-pandemic, I did live EI sessions, and regularly asked parents to throw out those infant feeding spoons (they have a tiny bowl and a super-long handle) because they DO NOT HELP YOUR CHILD SELF-FEED.  THEY MAKE IT HARDER.  Read Which Spoon Is Best To Teach Grown-Up Grasp?  and Teach Spoon Grip By Making It Fun And Sharing a Laugh With Your Child   to find good utensils that support hand control.

The use of a vertical easel, the kind found in any preschool classroom, can build hand control and prevent the development of an awkward crayon grasp.  Stabilize the paper with clips or tape, because young children will not hold loose paper while coloring.  Using a screen stylus builds finger strength and makes drag-and-drop screen time into a hand exercise.  

Crayola’s PipSqueak markers and their My First Crayons are great choices for pre-writing.  ColorWonder paper and markers will not make a mess.  They will save your MIL’s couch at the same time!

Enhancing bilateral assembly skills will prepare a child for the visual-perceptual and midline awareness needed for handwriting.  I love MagnaTiles and DUPLO blocks, but there are other ways to build.  A great variety of building materials will support a typically-developing child.  Sitting passively in front of a screen will not.  Safety scissors should be offered.  The kind that really work: Lakeshore Scissors for Toddlers That Only Cut the Paper, Not the Toddler

Finally, young children need to see adults and older siblings drawing and writing.  If your older kids are addicted to screens, you will have to be the one coloring and drawing.  During stressful times, this might help you relax as well.

Try “Rainbow Tracing” to Build Pre-Writing Skills With Creativity

delfi-de-la-rua-zolFYH_ygpw-unsplashI am not a huge fan of teaching preschool children to trace strokes.  I am very interested in the use of simple drawing to build pencil control and other pre-writing skills.  But done right, tracing can be fun and useful for both the child and the adult.  Here is one way to use tracing effectively:  Rainbow Tracing.

What is it?  The child traces the same target stroke with at least 3 different colors before moving onto the next stroke.   If needed, the adult can initiate/demonstrate first, and the child can repeat with additional colors.  It isn’t necessary for the child to be incredibly accurate, but they do have to start at the correct spot and attempt to end their stroke at the correct spot.

The target tracing line has to be sufficiently wide and simple enough to allow for reasonable expectation of success.  An example would be that a three year-old is asked to trace a curved line, not a series of diagonals.  The developmental progression assumes that most threes aren’t ready to execute diagonal lines independently.

Why is Rainbow Tracing helpful?  By repeating a traced line, a child receives more practice for stroke control and grasp.  It is colorful, and the colors are the child’s choice.  This allows some creativity and agency in an activity that might otherwise be boring and produce very little motivation in a child.

What about a child who traces over their errors?  If a child’s initial stroke is wildly off the target, they are more likely to re-trace their error.  If the adult knows that this is going to be an issue for this child, they can offer another copy of the same sheet, or the adult can be the first “tracer”.  They could also offer an easier and wider stroke to trace.

What do you do with the results?  Celebrate it, of course!  Kids love to put their drawings in an envelope and mail them.  Scanning them isn’t as exciting to a young child.  They like doing things “old school”.  So do a lot of grandparents and great-grandparents!

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Child Struggling With Pencil Grasp During COVID-19? Flip Crayons Restore Skills

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All of my kindergarten clients and some of my preschool clients are using them.  None of them are backtracking into a fisted grasp with pre-writing or early handwriting.  Flip crayons from Learning Without Tears (formerly Handwriting Without Tears) are one of those simple grasp development strategies that keep on giving.

Why?  Their design does all the work for me.  Well, almost all the work.

Flip crayons have the same diameter of a standard school crayon, not a toddler crayon, or those ridiculous and useless egg/fingertip crayons Egg Crayons or Fingertip Crayons: When Good Marketing Slows Down Fine Motor Skill Development  .  They are shorter, so they do not allow a fisted grasp or even a palmer pronate grasp.  The crayon demands finer grasp, not the adult.

Selling an item to a child is important. They have to want to try these out.   I “sell” them as kindergarten crayons.  Every preschooler wants access to something they think is for older kids.  Their unique appearance is almost always appealing to kids.  I have met very few rigid kids, even with ASD, that are unwilling to give them a try.  Within a month of regular use, I see huge improvements in grasp without manhandling a child, begging them to “fix your fingers”,  or any of the other methods to address grasp issues.

COVID-19 is dragging us all down.  Why work harder than you have to?  I need children’s parents to see me as a problem solver, not someone asking them to work harder.  Flip crayons are an easy answer to a challenging problem.  I have another huge box of them sitting in my office to drop off as “gift baggies” at the end of the month!

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Screen Time for Preschoolers? If You Choose to Offer Screen Time, Make it Count With These Apps

Parents have to make the decision to offer or restrict screen use to their youngest kids.  I won’t take sides on this, as it is a decision that is made by knowing the child, the family    dynamics and the risk/rewards at the moment.  I believe that if young children are going to use screens, that they should be using them with an adult and they should have well-designed apps that build skills rather than simply entertain.  Easier said than done.  There is a lot of poor material out there.  It may keep a child quiet for a time, but it isn’t teaching them anything except that if they protest loudly enough, their parents might cave.

Two app designers that I can strongly recommend are Tiny Hands and Duck Duck Moose.  Both have fun apps that require a child to think and listen.  Nothing happens by randomly tapping a screen.  The graphics are fun but not so intense that they are overwhelming for kids with visual processing issues.  Tiny Hands has apps for younger toddlers and older toddlers, and Duck Duck Moose starts out with simple games and progresses to math and reading apps.

For older toddlers and preschoolers, THUP has Monkey Preschool Explorers, Monkey Preschool Lunchbox and Monkey Math Scholastic Sunshine.  All very well designed and impossible to play without paying attention.   Filling the aquarium with sharks is totally fun!!

My readers may know that I like to pair screen use with a tablet stylus to build pencil grasp and control.  Want A Stronger Pencil Grasp? Use a Tablet Stylus Make sure that it is a stylus that doesn’t have any metal, or your glass screen will not survive.  Young children can break off the rubber tip, so they need some initial supervision and instruction.  Since I highly recommend that screen time is done with an adult, that shouldn’t be a problem!

Using A Vertical Easel in Preschool? WHERE Your Child Draws on it Matters!

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There are a few equipment and toy recommendations that every home-based pediatric OTR makes to a child’s parents:  Play-Doh, puzzles, tunnels, …and a vertical easel.  Found in every preschool, children from 18 months on can build their reach and proximal (upper body) control while coloring and scribbling on a vertical surface, rather than a tabletop.

But WHERE a child is directed to aim their stroke matters.  Here is why:

  • Grasp and reach have a range of efficiency.  I tell adults to imagine that they are writing on a whiteboard for a work presentation.  Your boss is watching.  Where will your writing/drawing be the most controlled?  Everyone immediately knows.  It is between your upper ribs and your forehead, within the width of your body or a few inches to either side.  Beyond that range, you have less stability and control.  Its an anatomy thing.  If you are an OTR, you know why.  If you are a parent, ask your child’s OTR for a physiology and ergonomics lesson.
  • Visual acuity (clarity of focus) is best in the center of your visual field (the view looking directly forward with your head centered).  Looking at something placed in this range is called using your “central vision”.  Your eyes see more accurately in that location, children can see an adult’s demonstration more clearly,  and therefore they can copy models and movements more accurately.  Kids with ASD like to use their peripheral (side) vision because it is cloudy, and the distortion is interesting to them.  This is not good for accomplishing a visual-motor task or maintaining social eye contact, but they find this is a way to perform sensory self-stimulation and avoid the intensity of direct eye contact with others.
  • Young children have little self-awareness of how their environment impacts them.  Until they fail.  Then they think it is probably their fault.  The self-centeredness that is completely normal in children gets turned around, and a child can feel that they are the problem.  Telling children where to place their work on an easel gives them the chance to do their best work and feel great about it.
  • Children move on when a task is too hard, or when an adult doesn’t provide enough supportive strategies.  Telling a child to try again, or telling them that their results weren’t too bad” isn’t nearly as helpful as starting them off where they have the best chance of success.
  • Using the non-dominant hand to support the body while standing is an important part of vertical easel use.  For kids with low muscle tone or hypermobility, it is very important.  Standing to the side or draping the body on the surface to write are both poor choices that OTRs see a lot in kids with these issues.  Make the easel a piece of therapy equipment and teach a child to place their non-coloring/painting hand on the side of the easel in the “yes zone”.  Look at the picture of the older boy at the beginning of this post, then at the gentleman below.  Note each person’s posture and try to embody it.  Which posture provides  more ease, more control? 

 

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Here is a graph of where an adult should place their demonstration on a page or board for optimal vision and motor control, and where adults should encourage a child to draw.  “NO” and “YES” refer to the child’s optimal location for drawing or writing.

The exception is for height.  A very tall child will need to draw higher on the chart, and a smaller child will only reach the lowest third of the easel.  This should still allow them to use their central vision and optimal reach.  If the easel doesn’t fit the child, place paper on a wall at the correct height.

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Egg Crayons And Fingertip Crayons: When Good Marketing SLOWS DOWN Fine Motor Skill Development

 

411VIzKWneL._AC_SL800_.jpgNow that COVID -19 is pushing EI into telehealth, I see exactly what parents have at home when they hunt around for pre-writing tools.  These egg-shaped crayons, and crayons where the child pokes a finger inside a cone-shaped crayon, are popping out of bins and drawers like little spring flowers.  I (mostly) hate them.

Why?

Because the only kids that benefit from them are infants and kids who have such limited grasp that a cylindrical crayon isn’t a realistic choice.  For absolutely everyone else, they teach kids nothing about grasp, and they make it harder to control a stroke.  They are fun to bang together and on a table, but they are really difficult to control to make more than a poorly executed mark.  This isn’t pre-writing at all.

So why are they in the house?  That is simple:  marketing.

Parents are eager to give their toddlers and preschoolers an edge, and these are heavily promoted on sites and in stores (remember when we used to go into stores?)  They are uniquely shaped and colorful, sold with excellent packaging.  A standard box of crayons gets none of this kind of love.

Please, please: don’t believe the hype.  Just like those spoons shaped like bulldozers, these crayons aren’t helping anyone but the people selling them.  They are gimmicks, not tools for motor development.  If your child is older than 12 months and has enough motor control to hold a spoon in a fisted grasp to eat, they are ready to hold a thick crayon and make a stroke.  Experience picking up and using a crayon, and watching an adult demonstrate how to make a stroke on a large sturdy piece of paper is so much more helpful.

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