We’re kicking off this month with Ask an OT, a series dedicated to answering burning questions from educators, parents, and OTs like you! Join us each week this month to discover new tips, strategies, and more from our occupational therapy experts.
This week, we’re diving deep into addressing proper grip for three-year-olds, tactile tricks to help frustrated students enjoy writing, and how to adapt instruction to meet the needs of left-handed writers!
1) My learner is three years old. Should I keep correcting their grip or let them figure it out independently?
Correcting habits can be tricky! For two-year-olds, using a fisted grip with crayons is developmentally appropriate. Once children reach the age of three to three and a half, it’s the perfect time to lay the foundations of writing using the proper technique.
How can I help my three-year-old?
The solution is simple: “little tools for little hands.” We recommend teaching proper grip using broken crayons. The smaller form factor prevents students from using a fisted grip and instead gets them to focus on using their fingers to write correctly.
Is there a recommended type of crayon for this technique?
All crayons work well! You can use regular, jumbo, or even triangular crayons. If you want to get fancy with your instruction, you can use rock crayons for outside activities, stackable crayons in the classroom, or bulb crayons during festivities.
Looking for more unique crayons to use? Our FLIP Crayons® are a perfect size and help students develop in-hand manipulation skills using the double-sided design. Use these crayons with the “Pick Up a Crayon” song while students color to create an engaging multisensory activity.
2) My four-year-old gets frustrated and gives up when practicing writing letters. What can I do to make it fun?
The perfect way to get any child invested in their education is by giving their journey a fun twist. While standard handwriting drills and worksheets get the job done, introducing an element of exploration and creativity supercharges the experience, compelling students to go a step above. Learning Without Tears is committed to providing impactful, engaging learning solutions that make children want to learn!
- If your 4-year-old is frustrated or unmotivated in their writing practice, it’s time to think outside the box. Introduce tactile methods that go beyond pencil and paper. By incorporating at-home strategies, the learning doesn’t need to end. For example, you can ask your child to practice writing letters on a steamy shower door, draw with sidewalk chalk during the day, or paint letters with water on the driveway.
- If you prefer that they practice in a desk setting, our Roll-A-Dough Letters® are excellent hands-on tools that develop letter formation skills and improve hand strength. Students can practice forming the alphabet using the dough, which stores in a convenient portable tray. If you’re looking to give your child a physical activity to do, have them try using their arms to form the alphabet! By having them use their bodies to form letters, you can help students who struggle to focus on standard worksheet activities.
With just 10–15 minutes of letter practice daily, your children can confidently master the alphabet!
3) How can I help my left-handed writers?
In a predominantly right-handed society, it can be easy to overlook the needs of left-handed writers. As education leaders, we must extend the same level of attention and support to the lefties of the world.
- While the proper grip for lefties is the same as it is for right-handed writers, there are necessary tweaks they’ll need to make to their writing form. We recommend that left-handed writers hold their pencils about 1 to 1.5 inches from the tip to allow for a better view of what they are writing. Using a finger placement sticker provides a great visual reminder to help lefties know where to grip their pencil.
- When writing words and sentences, a leftie should tilt his or her paper in the opposite direction that a right-handed person would tilt a paper. For a leftie, the left corner of the paper should be placed higher to accommodate how the wrist naturally arcs downward. To help remember the correct tilt direction, draw an arrow at the bottom left corner and tell the child to point the arrow to their belly button.
- One habit to look out for in left-handed writers is a “hooked” grip. Children tend to hook their hands as they write, leading to fatigue. As a solution, photocopy the worksheet and place it to the child's right so that the leftie can see what they have to copy without hooking their wrist.
Learning Without Tears workbooks are left- and right-hand friendly. Using the A+ Worksheet Maker Lite, you can make your own worksheets with functional exercises that mitigate the need for a left-handed hooked grip.
When teaching letter formation, letters follow the same sequence for righties and lefties, with the exception that lefties may cross letters with a horizontal stroke from right to left. For example, when writing the letters, A G H I J T f t, it may feel more natural for a leftie to pull the horizontal stroke into their writing hand rather than push away.
Some additional tips include:
- Seating a leftie on the left side of a shared desk, so they have more space to maneuver their elbows
- Flipping a spiral notebook over to avoid resting their arms on the spiral
- Using mechanical pencils to decrease lead smearing
- Trying the left-handed versions of tools such as scissors