21 Activities to Improve Handwriting in Children with Special Needs
All children develop differently, and some have more trouble with writing than others. It’s important to know that handwriting is not in any way related to your child’s intelligence or understanding. However, handwriting is important and is one way teachers evaluate your child’s development and learning. Most writing can be improved by working on the foundational skills that are required for good penmanship.
Medical problems, learning disabilities, and sensory processing disorders (sensory over-responsiveness, sensory seeking and sensory-based motor disorders) can also interfere with writing. Kids who have attention deficit disorder (ADD or ADHD) find it hard to sit still and focus on writing activities. Practice, which is often the answer for many children, doesn't always work in these situations, so using a multi-sensory approach and building hand strength and muscle coordination is the preferred method.
How does handwriting work?
There are multiple aspects of handwriting that need to come together in the right order.
Your shoulder needs to stay steady, while your wrist and elbow move in just the right way
Your eyes have to follow what your hand is doing
Your brain needs to process how letters are supposed to look
Doing all these things correctly at the same time can be difficult for many children. That’s why it can be helpful to break it down into small skills and work on those first.
6 Skills that Influence Handwriting for Kids
1. Visual-Motor Integration
Enables the hands to correctly replicate what the eyes see, like being able to copy shapes, letters, and numbers
Have sensory fun by practicing letter shapes using shaving cream, sand, or finger paints. You can draw them first and have your child trace your lines.
Grab some chalk and color the driveway. Sneak in some letter writing by having them write their name or create fun messages.
Cutting paper with scissors or doing a puzzle both help to encourage fine motor skills.
3. Hand Strength
Helps children hold a pen or pencil and use it for longer periods of time
Play with putty to strengthen hand muscles and develop control over the fingers.
Pick up cotton balls or small toys using tweezers and drop them into a jar.
Use squirting bath toys or spray bottles for a fun bath time that also builds hand strength.
4. Visual Perception
Affects a child’s ability to lay their writing out well on the page including sizing and spacing
Playing with blocks and other toys that allow your child to build creative 3D structures.
Completing puzzles or games with geometric shapes like Shape Sorting Cubes, Tangrams, or Blokus help to encourage visual perception.
Turn identifying shapes into a game of “I Spy”. Give a clue like “I see a circle, with four legs, and it’s where we eat dinner” to describe the kitchen table.
Problems with left-right discrimination can affect letter and word reversals, writing in the wrong direction or starting on the wrong side of the page
Play games like Hokey Pokey or Simon Says that use directional terms (left, right, up, down, under, over…).
Have your child complete worksheets that ask questions like, “Which cat is looking right?” or “What animal is on the left?” You can create your own sheet to mirror your child’s interests, such as, “Which character from
Frozen is on the left?” or “What color train is on the right?”.
Have your child hold a bean bag in their right hand during games to help the brain distinguish that the right is different to the left in a sensory way.
6. Sensory Feedback
Kids who struggle with body awareness may hold the pencil too lightly or press too hard on the paper when writing
Use fun colorful pencils, markers, or crayons. Vibrating pens can help solidify letter shapes in your child’s mind and give sensory feedback.
Place small objects in a bag. Have your child guess the object using only their hands. No peeking!
Have your child find wooden objects that match a puzzle base by touch with the 3D Feel and Find. The geometric shapes and textured tiles can also be used as mini puzzles!
Playing with putty also incorporates the senses. Your child can roll, squish, pull, or pound it to exercise their hands.
Correcting the Physical Aspects
It is important to observe how your child grasps a writing utensil. Pencil grips fit over the pencil to position the thumb, index, and middle finger correctly. Grasping the pencil properly gives children have more fine motor control so they can produce legible handwriting without suffering from muscle fatigue.
Pay attention to posture, sitting with a 90/90/90 degree position at the hips, knees and feet is key.
Turn the paper to the correct angle.
Writing on a slant board allows your child’s wrist to extend while the fingers flex and naturally fall into a better writing position (a three-ring binder turned sideways can substitute).
Sometimes parents can get stressed over how well their child is doing. Try having a grandparent, teenager, or friend spend 10 minutes regularly doing some of these focused activities with your child.
Make It Fun
When your child is ready, move on to writing in fun ways!
Play games like hangman or word scramble.
Have your child write his or her name using chalk and trace it by squeezing water out of a squeeze bottle.
Write letters to grandparents or friends and mail them.
Play games that require the answers to be written out (like Scattergories), or adapt a game you already have to include writing. The goal is to keep it entertaining.
Try to spend a little time doing some of these activities everyday. Talk to your doctor if you feel your child is not progressing. They may need to spend some time with an occupational therapist to catch up.
Medical Disclaimer: The information provided on this site, including text, graphics, images and other material, are for informational purposes only and are not intended to substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other healthcare professional with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your condition.