Preparing Little Hands to Write

Classroom for Children with Special Needs

By: Jodi Howe, OTR/L

Bio: Jodi Howe graduated from Rhodes College with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Spanish and went on to pursue a Master’s of Science in Occupational Therapy from the University of North Carolina in 2014.  She enjoys putting both degrees to use by serving children and families that speak English and Spanish.  Areas of focus and training include sensory processing, positive behavioral supports, incorporating new skills into daily routines, and using children’s passions and interests to fuel their visual motor and fine motor development. Since 2016 she has been working her dream job as an occupational therapist at the Little Light House.

I sometimes include coloring activities in my weekly occupational therapy (OT) groups. By the time I get the supplies handed out to the students, there are inevitably a few crayons and sheets of paper tossed to the ground. When this happens, it becomes a learning opportunity for me as it provides more information and knowledge about the child and a starting place for problem-solving how best to assist the child with learning how to color. 

Many children I work with are not interested in handwriting or coloring, and this can happen for a wide variety of reasons. For example, it is extremely difficult to color if your body is using its energy and focus to maintain balance and stability to sit upright. Coloring requires a child to have postural control to sit in a chair, use one hand to stabilize the paper and one hand to write, coordinate small movements in the wrist and hand while stabilizing the shoulder, visually attend to what he is doing, as well as listen to the directions. Phew! That’s a lot of work for a child whose muscles and brain are still developing. 

If you are working with a child who is uninterested in writing or coloring, my advice is this: Stop worrying about coloring and start by engaging them in what they are interested in! Over time you can begin to shape their interest into a writing activity as well as build the fine motor skills they need for writing. For example, if your child is interested in trains, play with trains! Introduce pre-writing shapes by having your child build train tracks in a square or circle, or have them draw horizontal and vertical lines to make train tracks. Have the train move through shaving cream or paint making shapes as it moves. The child may think he is playing, but he is learning the motor plan for basic shapes that will make writing much easier. 

Other ideas for creating opportunities to learn writing concepts

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