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.
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!
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 Handsand 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!
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?
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.
Now 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.
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.