Blog

Organizing Crafts, Games, and Toys – Tips from an OT

I love buying toys, crafts, stationery and games for my occupational therapy practice! It is no wonder that I have amassed a serious collection of materials over the past two decades. This, in turn, has led me to buy many bookshelves to house these materials. When I considered buying a

Read More

Practical OT Activities for Home – Part 3

Occupational therapists often work with children to remediate visual motor skills. These are foundational skills that integrate visual perception and motor coordination. When these skills are effectively working together, children can participate in daily activities such as cutting, coloring, writing, tying shoelaces, catching, or kicking effectively. Visual perception is the

Read More

Practical OT Activities for Home – Part 2

Children who struggle with sensory processing may have trouble interpreting sensory information correctly in order to make an appropriate response. They may cry from too much noise in the classroom. Or they may get very irritated by a seam or tag on their clothes. An Occupational Therapist can help with

Read More

Practical OT Activities for Home – Part 1

I love lists – they’re quick and easy to reference. So, I wanted to make a “glossary” of sorts to explain the jargon that appears in occupational therapy reports and to provide associated activities that can be worked on at home. Therapy is significantly more effective when parents work alongside

Read More

Saving the ABC’s for Generation Z

To become proficient writers, students need to know how to handwrite. Although technology is becoming more accessible in higher grades, students in lower grades still depend on pencil-and-paper for written communication. To handwrite, they need to know how to make their letters, and where the letters go on the writing

Read More

Making a Case for Lowercase

The question of whether to teach children uppercase or lowercase letters first is often debated. Proponents of upper case contend that: Uppercase is developmentally more appropriate because the letters are easier to form. Uppercase letters are easier to recognize. The transition from upper case to lower case is easy. Are

Read More

Teaching Handwriting: 5 Essential Practices

The following video shares five core principles for making handwriting instruction highly effective and engaging. You will learn practical strategies that can be implemented in your classroom right away: Video Script Hi! Today we are going to discuss 5 essential practices to keep in mind when teaching handwriting. SMALL GROUPS

Read More

Teaching Handwriting: Don’t Forget Your Lines!

Many students struggle with where to start their letters! Sound familiar? Using three-lined paper makes it easier for your students to know where to start and end their letters. In fact, the use of lines is critical to handwriting development! These easy-to-understand classroom tips and strategies demonstrate how you can

Read More

Pencil Grip Tips

As an occupational therapist, I have seen children hold pencils many ways. Sometimes this is okay, and sometimes it isn’t. While many teachers do not have the time to address pencil grip during their busy days, the way a child holds a pencil directly affects his or her ability to

Read More

Investigating Poor Handwriting

“I can’t read this!” How many times have you seen this written on a child’s homework assignment?  When a child has bad handwriting, it is often assumed that they are lazy, not putting forth the best effort or just not sufficiently motivated to write neatly. It is especially confusing when

Read More

The Reading-Writing Relationship

I once saw a little pin with a picture of a hand holding a pen. The pin read “Palmer Method”. This pin was a penmanship award that was given out to children long ago for perfect handwriting. The days of awards for perfect handwriting are long gone and today’s children

Read More

Organizing Crafts, Games, and Toys – Tips from an OT

I love buying toys, crafts, stationery and games for my occupational therapy practice! It is no wonder that I have amassed a serious collection of materials over the past two decades. This, in turn, has led me to buy many bookshelves to house these materials. When I considered buying a bookshelf to put into an unused shower stall, I knew it was time to take stock and to streamline my stuff! I needed an organizational system that made it quick and easy to find my materials. It also had to be portable because I see students at different schools.

I came up with several effective solutions to manage my materials. (And as an extra bonus, the first idea even makes them super easy to carry around for on-the-go sessions!) These tips aren’t limited to OT’s, they are also great ideas for anyone who needs to organize small materials!

Photo and Craft Keeper (a.k.a. The Perfect Organizing and Travelling Companion)

Everything became clear when I locked eyes with the Photo and Craft Keeper. It is my absolute favorite organizational tool because of its utility both in my clinic and on the go.

I initially only bought two, but quickly found myself ordering several more. Every Photo and Craft Keeper storage box contains 16 smaller cases that are made to fit 100 4×6 photos each. I put a different activity or craft in each box (think googly eyes, marbles, tweezers, and pegs) and used a label maker to print color-coded labels. Activities that took up a lot of space, like K’NEX and Lego’s, were paired down into smaller versions that are easy to grab and efficiently-organized. The goal is to create “bite-sized” activities that can be unpacked, used for a 10 to 15-minute activity, easily cleaned up and then returned to its correct place.

Everything is organized into color-coded categories based loosely on the goal that the activity targets. For example, white labels are for visual-motor or handwriting activities, blue for building toys, orange for lacing and Play-Doh activities, and yellow for motor planning games. The color-coded categories make it so much easier for me to locate the items and to grade them for the level of difficulty. For example, I have an assortment of pegs ranging from easy to very hard to manipulate.

I use some of the bigger boxes that the small cases came in as storage containers for larger items. Others are loaded up with containers and kept in my car (see the image above) – which is a vast improvement over the assortment of Ziploc bags and cumbersome containers that previously occupied the trunk of my car.

These systems have been beneficial in so many ways:

Fantastic for Grab-and-Go: The containers are light-weight and compact so I can just pop them into my therapy bag. Previously I would have to lug several games in their boxes and had to make selections based on what I could fit into my bag.

Greater Variety of Tools: There were many games that I rarely used – like Silly Sentences because it simply took too long to find the right pieces. By sorting it and moving a selection of essential components into a smaller container, it is now much more user-friendly. And I get to have “new toys” without spending.

Selecting the Right Tool: I can easily differentiate for each child by selecting an activity that fits their interest and goals.  Since I can fit about 10 to 15 containers into my therapy bag it is much easier to accommodate all ages and stages with targeted activities.

Easy set-up with little-to-no-prep: As much as possible, I use the container to hold all the materials needed for an activity so that it is ready to use. For example, “Drawing Animals” contains step-by-step directions and memo-sized white paper all ready for doodling and drawing. (As a side note: the small size paper is awesome – less waste AND it requires the student to stabilize the paper with their helper-hand).

Self-Selecting: Students will often wander into my equipment closet to find their own activities. They are drawn in by an appealing activity name (e.g., Magnetic Maze or Secret Codes), and will work hard to master the activity because they selected it.

Progress Markers: Students get a sense of their progress as they move from the containers labeled “easy” to those labeled “hard” and are motivated to keep moving up the rung.

Creativity Sparker: I have been inspired to create task-specific activities by reusing and reimagining my materials. For example, I made this “LEGO Lines activity” to help students to better visualize the spatial placement of their letters on the writing line. I used lego’s to make the sky-line, clouds, grass and dirt. The student chooses a small or tall lego block, depending on the size of the letter, and places it on the lines.

Wall Organizer Cups

These are fantastic for keeping all of your scissors, pencils, markers, and crayons organized and handy (plus, I can just take the cups off the rail and bring them to my work table as needed).

Clear Wall Shelf and Storage Containers

These shelves keep my tools visible and handy in my main therapy room for easy access. Any of your favorite shelves or clear stackable storage containers would work great for this!

Closet Organizers

I use all of the items below to keep my storage closet neat, clean, and organized.

What are your favorite organizational tips and tools? I would love to hear your suggestions!

Practical OT Activities for Home – Part 3

Occupational therapists often work with children to remediate visual motor skills. These are foundational skills that integrate visual perception and motor coordination. When these skills are effectively working together, children can participate in daily activities such as cutting, coloring, writing, tying shoelaces, catching, or kicking effectively.

Visual perception is the ability to perceive, differentiate, and interpret visual information (what is seen through our eyes). Visual perception includes 5 areas: visual discrimination, spatial relationships, visual memory, figure-ground, and visual closure.

The following are activities for home practice for these 5 areas of visual perception, as well as for home practice of visual motor integration.

VISUAL DISCRIMINATION

What Is It?
Visual discrimination is the ability to distinguish between features in different objects. It is the process by which we can tell that objects are different in shape, size, color, etc.

Strategies to Help

  • Language is important for visual discrimination – help children learn vocabulary and definition for differences/similarities
  • Help children connect words with what they see: position, shape, color, size
  • Start with objects that only have one feature that is different

Activities to Try

  • Sorting objects into categories of similarities
  • Spot differences/similarities in similar pictures
  • Find hidden objects in a picture
  • Matching cards
  • Jigsaw puzzles
  • Play “I spy”

SPATIAL RELATIONS

What Is It?
Understanding spatial relations allows a child to know where two or more objects are in relation to each other and to themselves.

Strategies to Help

  • Teach language/labels for spatial directions
  • Explain personal space: leave space for others, etc.

Activities to Try

  • Obstacle courses (i.e., go over, under, around, through, between, in front, behind, etc.)
  • Games:
    • Follow the leader
    • Simon Says
    • Follow a map for a treasure hunt
    • Twister
    • Pin the tail on the donkey
  • Mazes
  • Jigsaw puzzles
  • Origami crafts
  • Draw a floor plan of a room
  • Dot to Dot

VISUAL MEMORY

What Is It?
Visual memory is the ability to recall visual information. This is an important skill when learning to write, as children need to be able to recall what letters look like in order to start writing them.

Strategies to Help

  • Work in an environment free from distractions
  • Memory tricks to help:
    • Verbalizing what they see
    • Visualize items in their mind
    • Make-up stories

Activities to Try

  • Games:
    • Study a person: After child closes eyes, make a change to the person’s clothing to see if child can identify the change
    • Memory card game
    • Close eyes and describe:
      • The room they are in
      • The clothes they are wearing
    • Remember and describe:
      • What they had for breakfast
      • What an animal looks like
      • What they saw out the window
      • A picture
    • Study objects: After child closes eyes, remove one object to see if child can identify which one is missing
    • Copy designs/patterns from memory (drawing, using blocks, beads, pegboard, popsicle sticks)

FIGURE GROUND

What Is It?
Figure ground is a visual perceptual skill that allows us to focus on an object/stimulus against a busy background. Figure ground perception can help a child to find things in a messy drawer, cupboard, or toy box.

Strategies to Help

  • Organize items into specific places so that they are easier to find
  • Use contrasting colors when displaying important information
  • Help your child to verbalize what they are looking for

Activities to Try

  • Finding things:
    • Story books: i.e., “Where’s Waldo”
    • Hidden object worksheets
    • Words in a newspaper
    • Lego pieces in a pile
  • Play ‘I spy’
  • Find objects of the same color or shape in a room
  • Play “Bingo”
  • Scavenger hunts
  • Word search

VISUAL CLOSURE

What Is It?
Visual closure is the ability to complete a picture from memory, when given only a part of it. Visual closure is dependent on having good visual memory.

Strategies to Help

  • Point out different parts of a picture and how they relate to the whole
  • Use objects that children can touch and feel

Activities to Try

  • Legos
  • Build words
    • Use magnetic letters
    • Scrabble
    • Boggle
  • Jigsaw puzzles
  • Completing the missing part in a picture:
    • Drawing half of picture
    • Make a design (with blocks or pegboard) and have child complete a mirror image
  • Guess the image and complete:
    • Dot to dot
    • Color by Number
  • Copying designs (drawing, using blocks, beads, pegboard, popsicle sticks)
  • Copying/writing words that have parts (letters, parts of letters) missing
  • Tracing activities

VISUAL MOTOR INTEGRATION

What Is It?
Visual motor integration is the ability to use our eyes and hands effectively; it is the ability to integrate both our visual systems and our motor systems to help with our daily activities. In school, children use visual motor integration skills for tasks such as copying, drawing, or writing.

Strategies to Help

  • Encourage copying whole body actions
  • Encourage tracing, copying drawings, letters, designs
  • Start with gross motor activities and then move to fine motor ones
  • Teach left to right, counterclockwise circles, diagonal lines

Activities to Try

  • Practice drawing, writing in a variety of materials:
    • Magna Doodle
    • Sand trays
    • Blackboard
    • Paper on sandpaper
    • Shaving cream
    • Sidewalk chalk
    • Finger paint
    • Paintbrush
  • Copy movement patterns (can use ribbons!)
    • Simon Says
    • Animal walks
  • Dot to dot
    • Try cutting dot to dot pictures without drawing lines
  • Origami
  • Use graph paper for design copying, making patterns
  • Spirographs
  • Mazes
  • Coloring activities
  • Games:
    • Operation
    • Pick up Sticks
    • Ants in the Pants

Practical OT Activities for Home – Part 2

Children who struggle with sensory processing may have trouble interpreting sensory information correctly in order to make an appropriate response. They may cry from too much noise in the classroom. Or they may get very irritated by a seam or tag on their clothes. An Occupational Therapist can help with an assessment and recommendations to help with your child’s sensory processing.

This second post in our blog series includes practical ways to improve your child’s sensory processing in the following:

  • Proprioception
  • Vestibular Processing
  • Tactile Processing
  • Oral Sensory Processing

PROPRIOCEPTION

What Is It?
Proprioception is the ability for joints and muscles to know where they are in space in relation to the body and the environment.

Strategies to Help

  • Incorporate proprioceptive activities in your daily routine. Examples could be:
    • Sweeping or vacuuming
    • Wiping tables
    • Packing a backpack
    • Carrying a laundry basket full of clothes
  • Provide opportunities for weight-bearing activities or working against gravity to improve awareness for joints and muscles

Activities to Try

  • Jumping activities:
    • Jumping into a crash pad
    • Jumping in a zigzag pattern
    • Hopscotch
    • Jumping with a ball or balloon between the knees
    • Jumping on a trampoline or on a mattress
  • Animal walks:
    • Crab walk
    • Bear walk
    • Bunny hops
    • Frog jumps
  • Carrying heavy things
  • Crawling
  • Push-ups or wall push-ups
  • Handstands, cartwheels, or somersaults
  • Obstacle courses – crawling under, over, through, inside, or on top of various obstacles
  • Wheelbarrow walk
  • Tug of war
  • Playground:
    • Monkey bars
    • Climbing a ladder or rope
  • Playing with balls – larger, slower, lighter balls to smaller, faster, heavier balls
  • Playing in a garden or sandbox
  • Arm wrestling

VESTIBULAR PROCESSING

What Is It?
Our vestibular sense is our body’s ability to detect the motion and position of our head and body. It is the sense that helps us maintain our balance.

Strategies to Help

  • Changing positions might help with vestibular input, such as changing from lying down to sitting up or standing
  • Help children get used to linear movements (up, down, left, right) before using rotational or circular movements
  • Introduce movements slowly to a child; don’t force them to do something they are uncomfortable with. Definitely stop if they exhibit signs of dizziness or nausea.

Activities to Try

  • Swinging:
    • Hanging upside down on monkey bars
    • Playground swings
    • Hammock
    • Playing games while swinging, such as throwing bean bags or balls at a target
  • Riding a bicycle
  • Play rowing game, rocking back and forth
  • Walking on a balance beam, across a log, or on a line
  • Rolling:
    • Down a hill
    • While wrapped in a blanket
    • Somersaults
    • Cartwheels
    • Over a large ball while laying on top of it
  • Jump rope

TACTILE PROCESSING

What Is It?
Our tactile sense provides us with input about texture and touch through our skin. Children who have trouble with the tactile sense might have tactile defensiveness, in which some touch sensations might cause a behavioral or emotional reaction.

Strategies to Help

  • Encourage playing with various textures and objects in a fun way
  • Make tactile experiences part of your daily routine. Examples could be:
    • Rubbing with a towel to dry off
    • Applying lotion after a bath
  • If your child has tactile defensiveness, introduce sensations gradually
    • Let your child control the amount of sensation they can tolerate
    • Start with less sensitive parts of the body, moving to more sensitive areas such as hands, face, and feet
    • Start with firm pressure, avoiding light touch/tickling at first

Activities to Try

  • Walking barefoot over various textures like sand, grass, gravel, and sidewalk
  • Playing with “messy things”:
    • Sand
    • Shaving cream
    • Finger paint
    • Dry rice or beans
    • Playdough
    • Slime
    • Powder
    • Arts and crafts (using glue)
  • Find hidden objects in a bowl of dry rice or sand
  • Guess objects in a box by feeling them (no looking!)
  • Massage with lotion
  • Drawing letters on your child’s back and letting them guess
  • Playing with pets
  • Playing dress-up with various types of clothes, hats, shoes, and accessories
  • Brushing **check with your Occupational Therapist about how to do this

ORAL SENSORY PROCESSING

What Is It?
Our oral sensory system in our mouth helps us to detect texture (soft, hard, chewy, crunchy), taste (sweet, sour, bitter, salty), and proprioception through our jaw.

Strategies to Help

  • For children who avoid oral sensory activities, start with firm pressure when brushing teeth, gums, and mouth
  • Playing with tactile sensory toys can help with oral sensitivities, too
  • Talk about food textures, smells, and colors without pressure to eat them

Activities to Try

  • Blowing:
    • Blowing bubbles
    • Whistles
    • Blowing up balloons
    • Playing with party blowers
  • Using vibrating toothbrush
  • Trying various types of foods – spicy, salty, sour
  • Drinking carbonated beverages
  • Chewing:
    • Crunchy foods (i.e., apples, carrots, pretzels, popcorn)
    • Gum
    • Chewy toys
    • Chewy foods (i.e., fruit leather, beef jerky, bagels)
  • Sucking/licking:
    • Drinking thick liquids through a straw (i.e., milkshakes)
    • Ice cubes
    • Drinking through a straw
    • Popsicles
    • Hard candies

Practical OT Activities for Home – Part 1

I love lists – they’re quick and easy to reference. So, I wanted to make a “glossary” of sorts to explain the jargon that appears in occupational therapy reports and to provide associated activities that can be worked on at home.

Therapy is significantly more effective when parents work alongside the therapist – since motor learning requires lots of practice and repetition!

In part one of this new three-part series, I discuss practical ways to help your child work on:

  • Postural Control
  • Low Muscle Tone
  • Fine Motor Coordination
  • Bilateral Integration
  • Motor Planning

Postural Control

In Plain English

Postural control is the ability to hold your body up in an upright position, relative to gravity. Kids need this skill for stability in sitting for writing tasks.

Helpful Strategies

  • Ensure that your child is for writing: Feet flat on the floor
    • Knees and hips at 900
    • Back supported against the chair
    • Shoulders relaxed with arms resting on the desk
  • Try different positions for writing:
    • Standing
    • Kneeling
    • Lying on stomach, propped up on elbows

Beneficial Activities

  • Animal walks – crab walks, frog jumps, bunny hops, bear walks
  • Wheelbarrow walks
  • Play games:
    • Twister
    • Hopscotch
    • Tug of War
  • Bicycle movement with legs while lying on one’s back

 Low Muscle Tone

What Is It?

Low muscle tone is “floppy” or flaccid tension/resistance in muscles. Common features of low muscle tone are decreased strength, decreased endurance, hyper-flexibility of joints. Kids with low muscle tone might have decreased stamina or endurance for sitting/writing activities.

Strategies to Help

  • Build strength and endurance through gross motor play
  • Be supportive if your child appears tired
  • Add anti-gravity positions for fine motor tasks: i.e., writing on a vertical surface or while lying on one’s back

Activities to Try

  • Wheelbarrow walks
  • Monkey bars
  • Sit-ups
  • Push-ups
  • Pushing/pulling against another person
  • Working on a vertical surface (i.e., blackboard, easel)
  • Working above the shoulder level
    • Putting away things in cupboards
    • Hanging clothes
    • Washing windows
    • Wiping whiteboards, blackboards
  • For hand strengthening:
    • Playdoh/theraputty
    • Clothes pegs
    • Opening and closing lids on jars
    • Squeezing/wringing water out of a sponge
    • Use a spray bottle

Fine Motor Coordination

What Is It?

Fine motor coordination is the ability to use the small muscles in your fingers, hands, and wrists for activities. At school, kids need fine motor coordination skills to use blocks, scissors or rulers, to draw and to write.

Strategies to Help

  • Avoid light toys; provide toys that are solid and have some weight to them to provide more fine motor control
  • Provide activities that will allow your child to persevere and not get frustrated
  • Provide opportunities for fine motor practice in daily life: zippers, buttons, opening/closing ziplock bags, opening jars
  • Give verbal reminders for which fingers to use
  • Help stabilize an object while they are working on it if needed

Activities to Try

  • Threading activities onto a string or pipe cleaner: beads, straws, macaroni, Cheerios
  • Tearing paper
  • Crafts:
    • cutting
    • gluing
    • knitting
    • crochet
    • origami
  • Coloring
  • Jigsaw puzzles
  • Playdoh/theraputty exercises
  • Spinning tops
  • Wind-up toys
  • Turning coins over, putting coins in a coin slot
  • Using tweezers or tongs to put objects from one container into another
  • Cat’s cradle
  • Games:
    • Pick up Sticks
    • Card games
    • Mancala
  • Rolling marbles
  • Mazes
  • Using eye droppers
  • Snapping fingers
  • Blocks, Legos

Bilateral Integration

What Is It?

Bilateral integration is the ability to use both sides of your body (arms, legs), in a coordinated fashion in an activity. This is an important skill at school for tasks such as catching/throwing a ball, cutting, drawing, or writing.

Strategies to Help

  • Make sure your child is using the “helper hand” to stabilize the paper for writing
  • Gradually add complexity to movements:
    • Start with the same movement using both hands together i.e. placing pegs in a pegboard
    • Then add activities where one hand is doing one thing, and the other hand is doing another i.e., cutting, gluing, using a ruler
  • Place objects on your child’s non-dominant side and encourage them to cross their body midline (with their dominant hand) to reach them

Activities to Try

  • Catching/throwing: various sized balls, beanbags
  • Tearing paper
  • Playdoh
  • Threading activities
  • Blocks, Legos
  • Using stencils for tracing
  • Household chores:
    • Sweeping
    • Vacuuming
    • Wiping tables
  • Marching, cross crawling (hand touches knee on same side and opposite side)
    • Drying dishes
  • Tummy taps (tapping tummy with one hand, moving in circles on head with the other hand)
  • Games/Toys that use 2 hands in a controlled manner
  • Jump-rope
  • Jumping jacks
    • Jenga
    • Mr. Potato Head
    • Pick up sticks

 Motor Planning

What Is It?

Motor planning is the ability to understand a task (called ideation), plan an action for the task (called organization), and carry out the action (called execution). Many things that kids do at school require motor planning skills: cutting, drawing, handwriting.

Strategies to Help

  • Break down tasks into smaller steps; practice these steps
  • Repetition is helpful
  • Hands-on help might be necessary at first
  • Provide feedback on the task, such as what went well and what they could do to improve

Activities to Try

  • Obstacle courses
  • Animal walks: crab walk, bear walk, bunny hops, frog jumps
  • Skipping
  • Game: Twister
  • Jumping jacks
  • Catching/throwing: various sized balls, beanbags
  • Fine Motor planning:
    • Cut and paste activities
    • Using scotch tape
    • Tying knots, shoelaces
    • Origami
    • Dot to dot
    • Mazes
    • Block construction
    • Jigsaw puzzles

Ready set …. start practicing!

Note: In the next two blog posts, we will talk about: home activities for sensory skills, and for visual-motor skills.

Saving the ABC’s for Generation Z

To become proficient writers, students need to know how to handwrite. Although technology is becoming more accessible in higher grades, students in lower grades still depend on pencil-and-paper for written communication. To handwrite, they need to know how to make their letters, and where the letters go on the writing line. Once handwriting is mastered, students can then focus on expressing and organizing their ideas. While some students can learn to write by merely observing their teacher modeling correct writing and by being provided with opportunities to write, the majority of students still require explicit instruction to learn this skill.

In the last few years, rigorous curriculum demands have caused handwriting to be bypassed. Some of the unfortunate outcomes of this are:

  • students are struggling with basic writing tasks
  • students grades are suffering due to illegible writing
  • children with poor handwriting are experiencing poor self-esteem
  • early readers who benefit from kinesthetic learning may struggle to learn to read since writing letters by hand significantly improves letter recognition
  • there is a significant increase in referrals to occupational therapists for handwriting difficulties

And, of course, typing comes with its own set of issues:

  • students who use technology are significantly more distracted and off-task
  • students who type their notes learn less and show less ability to synthesize and generalize information

Understanding that explicit handwriting instruction is fundamental, the Handwriting Heroes method is designed to solve the most common obstacles that teachers face:

OBSTACLE: Students complain that handwriting practice is boring.

SOLUTION: Handwriting Heroes uses humor, storytelling, and animations to make learning letters memorable. Even young learners can easily recall how to form letters because of the strong associations made when they see the relatable characters, hear the witty stories and follow along with the letters’ movements.

OBSTACLE: Teachers do not know how to teach handwriting.

SOLUTION: Handwriting Heroes can turn even the most timid teacher into a handwriting expert. The instructional videos and teacher guides provide easy to follow directions. Moreover, the video animations and the iPad app present all the letter stories, each group’s song, and guided multisensory activities in a step-by-step format.

OBSTACLE: Teachers do not have the time to teach handwriting.

SOLUTION: Grouping letters by their first stroke increases the speed and efficiency of learning the letters. The entire lowercase alphabet is taught in just five weeks! Then, students work to improve lowercase fluency through targeted practice for several months. Once they have mastered lowercase, uppercase is formally introduced.  By six months, students can write their upper and lowercase letters.

Your 90-minute per week time-investment is sure to be repaid in spades – by happy, confident, capable writers!

Making a Case for Lowercase

The question of whether to teach children uppercase or lowercase letters first is often debated. Proponents of upper case contend that:

  1. Uppercase is developmentally more appropriate because the letters are easier to form.
  2. Uppercase letters are easier to recognize.
  3. The transition from upper case to lower case is easy.

Are uppercase letters easier to form?

Let’s consider four elements:

1. Starting Points

Having fewer starting points simplifies the decision on where to start. All the capital letters start at the top. Lowercase letters primarily begin at the midline. The exceptions being b, h, k, l, and t which start at the top, and letters e and f. This factor favors uppercase as being easier to learn.

2. Pencil lifts

Each pencil lift requires careful visual monitoring and precise motor skills to neatly place the pencil at the start of the next stroke. Seventeen upper letters require two or more lifts compared to seven lowercase letters. Uppercase “E”, for example, has four strokes, requiring one to lift and place the pencil at four different points. Lowercase “e” uses one continuous stroke, which requires less visual attention, and makes it easier and more efficient to form. This suggests that lowercase letters are easier to form.

The question of whether to teach children uppercase or lowercase letters first is much debated. But did you know that 95% of all letters in reading and writing are in lowercase? Read on to find out why it is important to teach lowercase letters to students first.

3. Diagonal lines

Children learn to draw the first six pre-writing shapes, in the following developmental order: a vertical line, a horizontal line, a circle, a cross, a square, and finally a diagonal line. Accordingly, letters containing diagonals are the hardest to form. Nine uppercase letters contain diagonal lines in contrast to six lowercase ones. This measure also points to lowercase letters as being easier to write.

The

4. Letter Groups

Sorting letters by their first stroke and practicing them in their “group” is a highly effective way of learning to write the letters.  The repetition of the same continuous motion from one letter to the next builds motor memory and promotes rhythmic writing.

Lowercase letters have multiple strokes in common and are easily sorted into four kinesthetic groups:

  1. l, t, k, I and j all start with a vertical line downward
  2. c, a, d, o, g and q all start like c
  3. h, b, r, n, m and p all drop down, up and over
  4. v, w, x and y all start with a diagonal line down

Letters s, u, f, e and z do share a common stroke with the other letters.

Upper case letters have two kinesthetic groups:

  1. C, O, Q and G all start like C
  2. V, W, X and Y start with a diagonal line down

B, D, E, F, H, I, J, K, L M, N, P, R, T, and U all start with a down stroke. However, given that they do not share a similar motion beyond this point to guide correct stroke direction, makes it hard to unify them into kinesthetic group. Letters A, S and Z do not share a common stroke with other letters.

Are uppercase letters easier to recognize?

Several lowercase letters are similar in appearance, most notably letters b, d, p, g and q, as well as h and n; making them easier to confuse.  Regardless, young students who are learning to read, read in lowercase.  And for children who struggle with visually-confusing letters, more practice, not less, would be helpful. Aligning handwriting with reading stands to boost a student’s ability to identify these letters, especially if the child is a kinesthetic learner. Teaching uppercase simply delays the teaching of lowercase or worse, creates more confusion by adding more letters to the mix.

It is also interesting to note that lowercase words are easier to read. Jason Santa Maria’s article, “How We Read”, explains that this is because we see words as shapes. Lowercase has ascenders and descenders that form irregular shapes, and make it easier to identify the words, whereas capitals appear as “big rectangular blocks which take much longer to process”.

The question of whether to teach children uppercase or lowercase letters first is much debated. But did you know that 95% of all letters in reading and writing are in lowercase? Read on to find out why it is important to teach lowercase letters to students first.

Is it easy for students to transition from upper to lower case?

There is a large variance in how well students adapt to lowercase letters after learning uppercase. For students who are predisposed to handwriting difficulties and have been taught uppercase first, I have found that they confuse the two alphabets and tend to be very resistant to switching from upper to lowercase. Apart from affecting overall legibility, mixing upper and lowercase, or using upper case only, is inefficient and results in slow, tedious writing.

When asked to weigh in on the letter case debate, Dave Thompson, CEO of Educational Fontware, and designer of over 900 fonts said, “Lowercase is definitely easier.  Most of the letters are a lot shorter, which involves less movement of the hand for the little ones.  There are fewer pen lifts, and much more similarity between smalls (a, c, d, e, g, o, q for example all start with or have a counterclockwise hook) than caps. Lowercase uses retrace without pen lift for b, d, h, m, n, p, and r.  Caps are usually taught as pen lifts instead of retrace: B, D, M, N, P, and R. Finally, you can make words out of the smalls, but not the caps.”

To close, since less and less instructional time is being spent on handwriting, it is becoming even more important to prioritize the script that students need for functional writing tasks. And, since lowercase letters account for about 95% of all letters in reading and writing, I would urge you to teach lowercase first!

References

Maria, Jason Santa. “How We Read.” A List Apart, 2014. Web. 15 Dec. 2016. Retrieved from http://alistapart.com/article/how-we-readhttp://alistapart.com/article/how-we-read

How can I help you?