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OT Month

Ask an OT | Wet-Dry-Try Adaptations and Hand Dominance Development

April 24, 2023

by: Suzanne Asherson

5 mins


Join us for Ask an OT, a series dedicated to answering burning questions from educators, parents, and OTs like yours! Join us each week this month to discover tips, strategies, and more from our occupational therapy experts.  

This week, we're exploring developmentally appropriate practices for teaching children how to utilize the Wet-Dry-Try activity with or without the use of chalk and develop hand dominance

Have a question for our OTs? Send us a message on Facebook or Instagram!

I love the idea of Wet-Dry-Try, but I HATE everything about chalk. How can I still do this multisensory activity with my students?   

Wet-Dry-Try is a favorite Learning Without Tears manipulative that makes learning fun and memorable by providing sensory opportunities. It uses a slate, a one-inch piece of chalk, a tiny wet sponge, and a small piece of paper towel. 

Wet-Dry-Try teaches and reinforces the correct formation of capital letters and numbers on the Slate Chalkboard and lowercase letters and cursive letters on the Blackboard with Double Lines. Children learn proper letter formation using tactile feedback from the chalk and sponge. 

If you or your children still are hesitant to use chalk, here are some tips that may help:  

  • “I hate touching chalk.” – To circumvent touching chalk, you can purchase a chalk holder or use blue tape to wrap the chalk. This prevents direct contact with the chalk leaving your child’s fingers powder free!  
  • “I hate the sound of the chalk screeching on the chalkboard!” – Briefly dip the chalk in water to minimize auditory feedback.  
  • “I hate chalk dust.” – Dipping the chalk in water will decrease the amount of chalk dust.   

Do you have adaptation tips for this activity so we can do it without using chalk?  

  • Use the Wet-Dry-Try App – The digital component offers all the same steps as the physical version of Wet-Dry-Try with the bonus of disabling any chalk sounds.  
  • Incorporate a whiteboard – Although whiteboards don’t provide the multisensory benefits of a chalkboard, it’s a handy tool for mimicking the process. If you’re looking to incorporate tactile feedback, we recommend using dry-erase crayons as they allow children to vary their force and gradation of pressure. Erasing is simple. Use a sponge cube, the child’s finger, or even a Magic Eraser.   
  • Swap out the chalk – Substitute chalk with chalkboard-appropriate colored pencils, crayons, or markers.   

If decreasing tactile defensiveness in your child is the goal, an OT evaluation can provide you with firm pressure and proprioceptive strategies, such as weighted blankets and heavy work activities, to use before and during a tactile-adverse activity. 

I have a 4-year-old writing and drawing with each hand—equally and competently.  Is this an issue?  

What is hand dominance?    

Hand dominance refers to using a preferred hand to perform tasks, including handwriting and cutting with scissors. Hand dominance begins to emerge between 2 and 4 years old, but it can take up to six years to establish a clear hand preference.   

Is my child ambidextrous?   

An ambidextrous individual can use either hand equally well for fine motor tasks. Ambidexterity is extremely uncommon, but it is something that parents may label their child who is switching hands or using both hands interchangeably during an activity.   

Why does a child struggle with hand dominance?  

Decreased hand strength can lead to issues with hand dominance. A child may repeatedly switch hands when performing fine motor tasks due to fatigue. Other children may struggle with midline crossing, the ability to reach across the middle of their body. As a result, children will only pick up objects to their left or right sides using their respective hands.  

Any tips to determine or encourage hand dominance?  

You want to avoid forcing your child to choose their dominant hand. Instead, offer a variety of opportunities to use both hands during play and daily activities. Take note of which hand the child uses to “do” the work versus which hand is the “helper hand” to stabilize the object. Place objects directly in the front midline of the child and observe which hand they use to interact with the object to help with midline crossing. 

Below are some ideas to assist with determining hand dominance:   

  • Hands behind your back – While the child’s hands are behind his or her back, present an object for them to hold. The hand they extend first will most likely be the dominant one.  
  • Kitchen tasks – Set up cooking opportunities to allow for stirring, pouring, and scooping. Observe which hand completes the action (the dominant hand) and which hand stabilizes the object (the non-dominant hand).   
  • Fine motor activities – During tabletop tasks, see which hand holds a crayon, peels off stickers, or holds scissors.  
  • Ball games – Pay attention to your child’s throwing hand and kicking foot during ball activities. Be cautious, as some lefties will use their right arm or right leg to throw and kick a ball.    
  • Play the pretend game – Ask the child to pretend to brush their teeth or hair.  By using an imaginary toothbrush or hairbrush, the child doesn’t have to focus on the fine motor skills of holding the object. 
  • Bilateral activities – These are activities that require the child to use both hands simultaneously. Observe and see which hand is primarily used for holding and which hand is constantly moving— this is most likely the more skilled hand. 
    • Hold a snack (pudding/yogurt/applesauce cup) and eat it with a spoon. 
    • Retrieve hidden items from a small, zippered bag, like a pencil bag. 
    • Use two big lines from the LWT Wood Piece set. Place one in each hand and tap out a rhythm. Try the Tap, Tap, Tap & Golden Slippers songs from the Get Set for School Sing Along album
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