A child's success in handwriting depends on their fine motor development. Fine motor muscles are the muscles in our hands and fingers that are responsible for the small muscle movements used in cutting, drawing, and writing.
One of the biggest things that holds young children back from being prolific writers is not a lack of language but a lack of fine motor skills. I've worked with super smart and incredibly imaginative Kindergartners and first graders who LOATHED writing (and drawing and coloring!) -- because they lacked the fine motor muscle strength needed to write easily. To them, writing words with a pencil was like major weight lifting.
If your kiddo struggles with fine motor skills such as writing, drawing, and cutting, it doesn't mean that you've done something wrong. Fine motor skills are developmental, which means some children develop sooner, and some develop them later. It's completely normal.
However, if you'd like to help them to build fine motor strength, these are some activities I'd recommend:
1. NAME WRITING ROUTINE
Each day after breakfast, have your child trace their name on a piece of paper. One time. Then they can play. As their writing improves, have them copy instead of trace. Use block letters, or ball and stick letters. I've used this routine with preschoolers with special needs and Kindergarteners and first graders in general education. It is highly effective and was recommended by an occupational therapist I once worked with. Children are highly motivated to complete this short task because they want to get on with their day and start playing.
2. DRAW EVERY DAY
Make drawing a daily activity. Have your child keep a journal that they draw in each night. When they finish drawing and coloring, have them dictate the story of their picture to you as you write their words. Drawing builds fine motor muscles, and they will be highly motivated to do this each day when it is attached to your encouragement and attention.
Offer crayons at art time. Crayons require more work from the fine motor muscles (more than markers or color pencils), as the child must hold tighter and press down harder to put color on the page.
Not only are Legos just a terrific toy for children to play with, tapping into children's imaginations and building spatial skills, but they are terrific for building fine motor muscles. Snapping and unsnapping the pieces together can be quite the workout for little fingers. Legos are not recommended for children under the age of four, but Duplos are great for three-year-old children.
Playing with Play-dough can serve as a work-out for fine motor muscles. Let them roll and smoosh and squeeze the dough as they engage in imaginative and sensory play. You can buy play-dough, or you can make your own for cheap. It's actually really easy and you can make whatever colors and scents that you would like with Kool-aid, neon food coloring, food extracts, and spices. You can find a million play-dough recipes online, but here is one that I like from Craftulate.com.
6. NELLIE EDGE
If your child enjoys educational workbooks and you'd like to give them a workbook to practice handwriting, I'd like to recommend a very good one. Nellie Edge is MASTER teacher with a deep knowledge of young children. She has created some amazing resources that use music and sign language and play to teach literacy as well as a high-quality handwriting workbook. The workbook is designed for kindergartners but you may find it to be appropriate for your first grader or preschooler. Check out her website.
If you decide to implement the name writing routine, drawing journal, or workbook time with your little one, remember to keep it short and sweet, maybe five minutes at a time. You want the activity to be quick, doable and fun -- not a burden. Young children mainly need to focus on play, and they always learn best through play. Offer them Legos or Duplos and play-dough, activities that will build their fine motor muscles while they are just playing and having fun.
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