Motor Memory and Handwriting

Motor Memory Matters!  

Research shows that practice and repetition are the best way to teach children how to form their letters.  It turns out that Mr. Miyagi from Karate Kid was right.

Remember “wax on, wax off?”  We need to practice the same motor movements again and again for them to become automatic.

The same is true when it comes to handwriting

Turns out, it makes a lot of sense NOT to teach the letters in A to Z order.  

Why? 

Because it’s a lot easier to learn to write “F and E” on the same day than it is to learn “A and a”.  

Research shows that 1 in 4 children need more help with handwriting in order to grasp the concepts. This year, schools are full of kids who missed months of “typical learning” due to COVID-19. 

The truth is, there is less time for handwriting instruction in school. 

But here’s a trick that makes the process easier.

Teach the letters in groups by formation. Children learn better when the motor components of letter formations are grouped. Teaching “A” and “a” in the same week expects children to learn two totally different motor tasks. Teaching “F” and then “E” or “n” and then “m” is much easier.

Want to learn more? 

Here’s a FREE Handout about How to Teach the Letters in Groups 

This simple process of teaching letters in a developmentally appropriate way JUST MAKES SENSE!

Don‘t miss out on the webinar! 

CEUs are available: The course is AOTA approved, and you can purchase the webinar, slides and CEUs here

  • The webinar is approved for .2 AOTA CEUs.
  • Applies to any handwriting program your child has been using.
  • Taught by a certified handwriting expert and school-based occupational therapist with 20 years experience.

 

Teaching Letters in Groups Workbook: This 120+ page digital handwriting workbook is on sale for $14.99! It features all the capitals, all the lowercase, and all the letters that can be taught together on the same page.

BONUS: This week, when you purchase the workbook, you’ll get a 32-page FREE handwriting in groups packet. These handouts are perfect for centers, sensory writing, rainbow writing and more.

Watch Miss Jaime, O.T. teach how to “Mr. Miyagi” our kids!

Please keep in mind when teaching letters…

There’s a developmental progression to letters, too!   Children understand straight lines first, then circular lines, then diagonal lines.

So doesn’t it make sense to learn letters like H, L, T, F, E first as opposed to A, B, C??

Look at the letters of the alphabet and categorize them by straight lines, circular lines, and diagonal lines and teach them in that order.

In addition to the webinar, you may like these handwriting products:

Miss Jaime, O.T.’s Favorite Visual Perception Toys for Children

The best visual perception toys for children

When parents hear the phrase “visual perception”, they often think it has to do with their child’s vision, and whether or not they need glasses. But in all actuality, visual perception is how your brain perceives what you’re seeing with your eyes.

If your child is struggling with spacing during handwriting, lining up math problems, or finding a specific color crayon in the box, this may be an indicator that your child is struggling with their visual perception skills. It’s a broad term, and professional diagnosis is recommended, but it is something to keep in mind.

For occupational therapy and improving your child’s visual perception skills, there are toys on the market that can be used to grow their abilities. I have a printable list of ALL my favorite visual perceptual toys, you can get it here.visual perception, visual perceptual toys, visual discrimination, visual figure ground

I have MANY favorites, but today, I’m going to talk about just two.

Hammer and nail toy

This toy is known by a few different names. It’s a toy with pattern cards featuring different shapes, where a child must find the correct shape and place it in the right spot. In order to achieve that, they’ll need to use tiny nails to create a replica of the shape they’re attempting to copy.

The toy comes with nails, shape cards, and a hammer, which requires hand-eye coordination from the user, as it’s required to complete the shapes properly. It develops your child’s puzzle/ problem-solving skills as well as spatial orientation. The toy is meant for younger children, so the ideal user is between four and eight, although you’ll need to carefully watch children during use, as the small nails can be dangerous.  I’ve found that even my middle school kids like this one!

On sale for $24.99!

“Shape by shape” toy

If your child is in middle school, or you’re looking for a more advanced visual perception toy, then the “shape by shape” is a good option to consider. With this shape game, there are several different shapes that have to fit exactly within a square box, in order to successfully complete the puzzle. There’s a photo that acts as a guide for completing the task, but requires the child to carefully look at the box and see how the pieces fit together.

It can be fairly challenging, but there are some hints that can be used to assist your child. This toy is meant for children from ages eight and above, all the way up to adulthood, depending on the help given to your child, and how many hints you can provide.

Developing your child’s visual perception skills takes time, but it is an important investment in time and effort.

5 Strategies to Raising a Confident Kid

HOW TO PROMOTE INDEPENDENCE IN YOUR CHILD

I’ve spent years watching kindergarten students acclimate to the classroom. Some students set themselves apart from their peers immediately:

  • they are very verbal
  • they can already read or demonstrate strong foundational literacy skills
  • they have great drawing or writing skills

But then- there are the little kids who have more common sense, can problem solve and are very self-sufficient in the classroom.

Quite often, these students are some of the most successful learners!  

What sets self-sufficient students apart from the rest? 

    • They don’t wait for an adult to help them
    • They are more confident in trying things themselves 
    • They are not afraid to take responsibility for getting a job done
    • They may not have the answer to every academic question but they are the first to volunteer for anything

The benefits of building confidence in a young child

These confident kids know where to find supplies in the classroom.  They make great messengers, and peer buddies for less confident kiddos.   They’re not afraid to take a risk or try something new.

As classroom learners, these are a great skill to possess at a young age.  Independence and confidence will help young kids excel as students.  

START EARLY

Even toddlers love to “help” mom or dad. Let them!  By giving them small jobs at an early age, you are setting them up for a bright future as an independent preschooler.

HOW TO PROMOTE INDEPENDENCE IN YOUR CHILD

Do a little less FOR them.  This will help your child learn to do more on their own.

1.  Give up Control of the Schoolbag: When a child packs his or her own school bag, they know what’s there and what to give to the teacher.  Rather than emptying and filling a child’s folder for them, let them take ownership.  In preschool, they barely have anything in there.  Tell them about the permission slip or notebook so they become responsible to give it to their teacher.  Then let them be in charge of it.  This means wearing it or carrying it, too. *If the backpack is too big for them to do it by themselves, it’s too big! 

“Let’s face it,  it’s faster and easier to do certain things FOR your children.”

But truthfully, you are doing them a disservice.  If you do too much for your child and make everything “easy” for them, you may be creating a more dependent child.   Plus, this makes more work for you!   

2. Resist the Urge to Get Your Kid Dressed:  If a child is able to perform a dressing task, they should be doing it every day!  Life gets hectic, of course.  But try to give your child enough time in the morning to do the parts that they can.  Rushing through the task of getting dressed doesn’t help you in the long run.  Again, it keeps this chore on your never-ending list of morning to-dos!

Think about it:

Aren’t you tired?  Why are you creating a cycle where you are doing more than you need to?  Back off, Momma! It’s ok! 

3. Doing Homework:  If kids can do homework themselves, let them!  Before you explain what to do, ask your child to explain to you, what needs to be done on the page.  This improves their language and thinking skills at the same time.  If they know what to do, let them work independently! If your child needs guidance, only help on the first few questions.  Then back away and let them try on their own. Only give help when it is truly needed.

3. Checking Homework:  Let your kids do the first part of the page on their own and see if they are doing it correctly.  If they need some help, give it but don’t help too much. I don’t want to take away my kids’ thinking time.  Kids need more time than we do to think about the answers.  

If an answer is wrong, don’t tell them the right answer!  This takes away a great problem-solving opportunity.  Instead, say, “look at #3 again” or “read this question over one more time.”  Give your child the chance to decide what was wrong, why it is wrong and how to get the correct answer.  This is where the real thinking, learning, and carry over to other problems happen.  

GET THEM STARTED EARLY. THEY CAN PACK SNACK AS A TODDLER!

4. Lunch box:  Teach your child the best way to pack their own lunch box!  Let them choose their own snack (from approved choices).

They don’t need to make their own lunch yet, just let them learn how to pack it.  This teaches children to be responsible, manage their time in the morning and hopefully make good food choices.  

Plus, it sets them up for the future of making their own lunch, taking yet ANOTHER chore away from you…

ASK THEM INSTEAD OF TELLING THEM

5. Being prepared for preschool:  Rather than saying, today is Tuesday, you need to remember your “Show and Tell”.  Slowly shift the remembering and responsibility to your child. Ask him, What day is it?  What do you need to remember on Tuesdays?  This small change helps your child learn to think and plan ahead.

When you spend your career studying 5-year-olds, these subtle differences are noticeable even in kindergarten!  Sometimes birth order plays a part in this; but not always.  I’ve seen this capable confidence in firstborns, last borns, and only children. 

My belief is that it has more to do with parenting styles than other factors.  

DO LESS, Mom and Dad!

Try to do a little less for your toddler or preschooler so he or she learns to do more on their own.  When children can think and problem-solve, it helps them to be more confident and independent.

Related Reading: 

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About the Author:

Gloria is a Juggling Teacher and Mother of four, with a primary focus in Special Education, Technology and Early Childhood Education. She has over 30 years of classroom experience and strives to incorporate the SmartBoard, iPad and all available technology into her lessons. Most important of all, she wants her students to have fun while they are learning.

After many wonderful years in the classroom, Gloria is now beginning her second career. Her new activities include working as a Pre-School Educational Technology Teacher and Itinerant Teacher for Special needs students and their families. Gloria also creates products for her TeachersPayTeachers store and writes. Her favorite pastimes include Paddle Boarding, yoga and reading at the beach!

8 Genius Therapist Inspired Toddler Hacks

My New Favorite Parenting Hack Book

Did you register for “What to expect when you’re expecting?”, My mom asked me on the way to my shower.

“No- there’s an app for that!” I told her, laughing.  I knew she wouldn’t get the joke, but I really did have the app.  It’s a pregnancy milestone app that tells you everything you need along the way.   Truthfully, all the books I registered for were for the baby, not me.   I didn’t think I needed it.  I have the internet.

Genius Therapist Inspired Toddler Parenting Hacks

But when my friend Amy gave me a gift on my last day of work, she said, “You’ll love this book- It’s so you.  I know you love a good hack.  I learned a ton from this book, “Parent Hacks, 134 Genius Shortcuts for Life with Kids”.

She was right- this book was right up my ally.  It was filled with short but brilliant “Parenting  Tips”, but any and all of them would be helpful for a therapist or teacher, too. Therapists who travel from school to school to see different children have brilliant kid hacks.  They know how to save space and money better than anyone.

These OT Inspired Hacks are aimed at parents of toddlers, but they’re great for any parent or therapist who works with children. Here are my favorite!

8 Toddler Hacks Every Parent Should Know

  1. Store your puzzles in an accordion folder.  This limits all those pieces from flying all over- especially if you’re a traveling therapist or a parent who prefers toys over electronics.

2. Store your coloring books in a dish drain container – the slots in a dish drain are perfect for separating coloring books- and you can stick your crayons in the utensil spots- Genius!

3. Clean up glitter with play-doh.  YES! Glitter is sooo fun, but what a pain to clean.  Playdoh is a great idea- and who cares if your play-doh gets glittery? That only makes it more fun!

4.  Turn your portable crib into a ball pit.  Wow- one of the things I don’t like about ball pits is that it’s so tough to keep the balls inside- they always end up everywhere.  But the walls of a pack n play are tall- making it so much easier to have all the fun without the mess.  Love it!  This would be a great idea for a therapy room, too.  Another good one?  Use an empty laundry basket!

SIMPLE WAYS TO KEEP SMALL TOYS IN PLACE

5. Contain small parts with a cookie sheet.   I’ve spoken about this one- but it’s worth sharing.  A cookie sheet is FANTASTIC for keeping messes contained, from shaving cream to clay to beads and Legos.  (I also LOVE the EZPZ for this purpose.  Its initial purpose is to keep kids from spilling food off the tray, but it works great for fine motor activities).  The edges keep them from going all over the table, as well as the floor. I always have a cookie sheet in my trunk and my therapy bag.  Plus, they’re only a dollar at the dollar store!

6. Turn an under bed storage box into a sandbox.  I actually like these for any kind of sensory bin.  They’re nice and big, so the child can actually get inside if they want.  But I’ve used them for rice bins, weather-themed bins (fake snow is always a hit), and fake “coffins” at Halloween time! (see my garden dirt recipe here)

PARENTING and THERAPIST ORGANIZATION HACKS

7. Use a wine bottle tote as a car organizer. This hack is great for parents and therapists!  The tall skinny vertical compartments are great for curling up activity booklets, crayons, sensory bottles, etc. I love to use an empty wipes jar as a fine motor and hand strengthening tool, they’d fit in there perfectly!

8. Use a hanging shoe organizer to organize craft supplies.  These shoe “pockets” are great for organizing glue, paint, crayons, coloring books, etc.  Plus, it takes up vertical space, which is perfect for a small therapy room or a child’s playroom.  This would even be a great way to organize the trunk of your car!  Cut the pockets and hang them around the edge of the car- then you can find all the toys you need for each kid!

Related Reading:

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Ten Best Apps for Handwriting with Kids

As I walked into school the other day, a friend of mine grabbed me in a panic and said “Should my four-year-old really be practicing a page of letters every night?! This is the only time I get to spend with her and I’m forcing her to write a whole page of D’s! This stinks!”

No, as an OT, I don’t believe that a four-year-old should be practicing a page of letters for twenty minutes a night.  It’s too much for those little hands.

But – an educator who spends two days a week in kindergarten, I have to say, this is where the curriculum is going. Developmentally, preschoolers are still preschoolers, but kindergarten curriculum expectations have increased tremendously.  Little kids are expected to be able to write upon entering kindergarten.  Preschools are bowing to the pressure and teaching what used to be the kindergarten curriculum.

I felt empathetic towards my friend who just wants to play with her little girl at night, rather than drilling her to finish a worksheet.  But here’s what I told her.

Think about it differently.  You have the chance to make sure she learns all her letters correctly before she starts Kindergarten.  There will be other children in her class who don’t know their letters, and the teacher won’t be able to really sit with them one on one to make sure they get it.  Many teachers teach one letter a day in two forms (capital and uppercase), so the kids don’t really develop the motor memory.  It’s difficult for kids to learn it and to write comfortably at this rushed pace.   If a child learns their letters correctly it is so much easier for them to write neatly.  It becomes automatic.”

 

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Why not to push handwriting for kids

handwriting, preschool, school, writing, visual motor, graphomotor, OT, Miss Jaime OT

Pushing kids into writing before they are developmentally ready happens to be one of my pet peeves. (I actually have quite a few of them, you can read all about them here. )

Experience has shown me is that children should NOT be pushed into handwriting before they’re ready. So many kids are entering Kindergarten without the basic pre-writing skills they need. Yet the Kindergarten curriculum expects them to be writing right away!

Before handwriting, children need to master pre-writing skills

Pre-writing skills are the lines, shapes, and strokes kids need to master and know before learning how to print the alphabet. They develop from 1 year to 5 years old.

Pre-writing skills ARE important.

Kids need to learn and master pre-writing lines, strokes, and shapes and strengthen their fine
motor skills before learning how to form the letters of their name or the alphabet.

Prewriting Milestones

1-2 years old:

A baby is typically scribbling and learning to make marks on a paper. They are probably holding a crayon or marker with their whole hand. This is called a palmar supinate grasp.

As they develop more control, the next step is to imitate. Maybe you make a line or shape and
then your child imitates that same line or shape.

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5 Reasons to Ditch the Screens and PLAY!

This is a guest post about the benefits of play, written by Jenny Silverstone.

5 Extraordinary Benefits of Playtime

Sticky sap on hands from climbing trees.

Glitter going (and staying!) absolutely everywhere.

Always, the sound of laughter.

Playtime, in all of its various forms, is a hallmark of a happy childhood. However, in today’s fast-paced society children often lose the time they need to play. Some may wonder if playtime is truly a “big deal” and has any sort of positive effect on children as they grown.

The answer is a resounding yes! Playtime has many extraordinary benefits to help children in their physical, mental, and emotional development. Here are just five benefits of play.

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