One of my clients struggles with handwriting. He has a hard time forming his letters, and finds handwriting practice to be challenging and distasteful. But, he expends energy forming letters in inefficient ways which also exhausts his attention and wastes his energy limiting his ability to produce written work. And having landed in a classroom with lots of writing expectations, he’s beginning to struggle.
When planning for his latest session, I decided to offer him the opportunity to practice letter formation with shaving cream. Some kids love to work with shaving cream, and I had a feeling this would be him. Sure enough, his eyes lit up and he literally jumped for joy at the prospect. He dove right in, and we were able to practice letter formation for a longer then normal as he enjoyed the sensory experience. And with the shaving cream writing intro, his senses were engaged and his tracing/writing efforts were significantly improved when we did our usual written practice.
So, what are ways to take letter formation practice from yawn to yay? To a certain extent, eventually the trace and write practice is needed. But what are some ways to increase the fun factor when practicing letter formation?
Shaving Cream – Shaving cream and handwriting instruction are a perfect match for kids who seek sensory stimulation. Kids who shy away from mess and getting their hands dirty won’t want any of it, but the kids who love splashing in mud puddles and don’t mind dirty hands will love it! Shaving cream can be used in the bath or shower (vertical handwriting practice is wonderful for building arm strength) or on a table surface. There is a mess factor – clearly stated expectations and a straight path to the sink for cleaning up is advised! But the tactile feeling of the shaving cream encourages the engagement of multiple senses resulting in a true multisensory learning experience!
Hair Gel/Ziplock Bag – When you don’t have time to deal with shaving cream, making a hair gel/ziplock bag letter practice tool works just as well. Take a bottle of hair gel – choose a fun bright color to increase engagement- and squeeze it into a sturdy freezer Ziploc bag. Seal the bag (pro tip – squeeze the bag before sealing to get rid of as much air as possible) and then tape the bag shut with masking/electrical tape. You should have a squishy surface in which your child can trace their letters while watching them emerge from the gel with every stroke. Check out the following links to get more ideas: Hair Gel Writing Practice Bags & Glitter and Gel Sensory Bag
Chalk – Take handwriting practice outside! Grab some chalk, and practice those letters on the driveway or sidewalk. Then, take a spray bottle and reinforce the letter practice using water spray. As long as your child is consistent about starting their letters at the top (or however your curriculum dictates) the motor reinforcement will benefit.
Play dough – Play dough is awesome for building those fine motor skills. The best way to incorporate playdough for handwriting is to roll “snakes” with which the letters can be formed. And guess what, rolling those snakes takes precision and works those hand muscles. Play dough is likely to be motivating for a reluctant writer, and you can even make it at home and add essential oils and increase the sensory experience if you like.
Beans and a Cookie Tray – This one won’t win any awards for glamour, but for the sensory seekers, a bag of beans or lentils and an appropriately sized tray works wonders. Pour the beans into the tray, and then coach your child using your curriculum’s language. For example, I might direct a child to “Start a Frog Jump Letter. Big line down, Jump to the Top. Little Line. Jump to the middle. Little Line.” as I use the Handwriting without Tears Handwriting curriculum. I’ve just directed the child to make an Uppercase F. You can create a game, and challenge your child to identify the letter as they make it.
Anything that adds an element of fun will increase your child’s engagement and support their fine motor skill development. What are some of your favorite go-to handwriting activities? Share below.