Written by: Maggie Taylor, Community Service Chair and former Elementary Teacher
All of my daughter’s art projects are happily adorned with “Ella.” Children take great pride once they master writing their names. This confidence is earned through the difficulty of letter and name writing. Writing is a culmination of many skills. During my career as a Pre-K and Kindergarten teacher, I found the best way to develop these skills is through play. Here are a few simple tasks by age for you to try:
1-2 years old
Fingerplays, like “Itsy Bitsy Spider” and “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star,” keep your child’s engagement through song and allow them to practice coordinated hand movements.
Finger Foods. What could be a bigger motivator than food, after all? Snacks like cheerios help develop and strengthen your child’s pincer grasp (coordination of the thumb and index finger to hold an object). Ready for a bigger challenge? Place the finger foods in an ice cube tray to further navigate spatial awareness.
Playdough. Start by exploring and squeezing. After a few playdough play sessions, introduce rolling snakes—the act of squeezing and rolling both help to develop hand strength.
Eyedropper, often a novel tool, will catch your child’s interest. Eyedroppers require motor planning on how hard to squeeze and release an appropriate amount of liquid. Try in the bathtub for an easy clean-up. Or, for a big WOW effect, “eyedrop” colored vinegar over baking soda (this is best done outside).
Stickers are a great pincer grasp activity and require some motor planning to get those tricky stickers off your fingers. You can also tie in another academic activity, such as putting stickers on a letter’s lines or sorting stickers by color.
Golf Pencils are another novel tool! Golf pencils encourage children to use a tripod grip (use of your thumb, index, and middle fingers on a writing instrument). Another writing tool that helps develop a tripod grip is crayon rocks.
Fence Painting. Using a paintbrush and water allows your child to “paint” your fence or outside your house. This mess-free activity encourages your child to cross the midline of their body and helps establish hand dominance.
Sidewalk Chalk. Any type of drawing helps increase finger and hand strength. The larger movements required to draw on the sidewalk target forearm strength, and the chubby size of chalk is the perfect size for smaller hands.
Writing/fine motor skills require the combined use of your child’s eyes, hands, and fingers to create complex small muscle movements, so not a simple process. Should you be concerned at any age, your child’s pediatrician will have helpful resources for you to explore. They may recommend an evaluation. If your child is under three, the evaluation could be completed by a state program called Early Childhood Intervention (ECI). Over three years old, your local school district could provide the evaluation.
Maggie Taylor, M.S. Ed.