Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Look at that chicken scratch!

As a therapist, one of the areas I practiced in was within the school systems. When working with kids, teachers and/or parents would frequently approach me to help address fine motor and handwriting skills. With school almost out for the summer months, I thought I would post some ideas to keep those little fingers nimble and to help encourage continued development over the summer season.

The first thing to consider when looking at handwriting or fine motor skill is the proximal stability. More simply put, to have good control in your hand you have to have good support from the starting point. That would be the trunk and shoulder.

Some great summertime activities that will help to develop trunk muscles and shoulder strength are things that require a co-contraction. Like swinging from monkey bars, doing push-ups and playing baseball. All of these activities stimulate the muscles along the sides of the body which will give the student good balance to sit upright in a chair during fine motor tasks. Things like swinging a bat or throwing a ball and reaching and grabbing for alternating monkey bars require the shoulder to push and pull in synchronicity for task completion. This is working the whole shoulder girdle. Once there is good proximal control or shoulder strength, it will become easier to perform activities in the hand.

Now we can take a look at what might be going on in the hand to limit abilities. Usually, it is a general weakness from limited use or a fatigue. The fatigue is usually because of weak shoulder and trunk muscles that cause the hand to work harder for control. Now that we have started working on the trunk and shoulder to provide more support to the hand we can work directly on the hand to gain strength and dexterity. I’m going to go over a few games you can play to help get the hand ready for some beautiful handwriting.

This first game will help to differentiate the strength side from the function-side of the hand. It is called a tip-to-palm transfer (and the return is the palm-to-tip transfer). Use a handful of small objects like beads or pieces from a travel size game (I like travel-size games because the playing pieces are smaller).

Place them in a pile on the table. Have your kiddo pick up one item at a time using their thumb and forefinger of their dominant hand. (Make sure they use their fingertip and don’t try to use the side of the finger). They then need to place that item in their palm without help from the other hand. (I usually give them something to hold with the other hand or have them sit on it). Now, that they have picked up one item and they are holding it in their hand, they have to continue to pick up one piece at a time and fill their hand until they have a fist full or they are repeatedly dropping their items. Once they have a fist full, do the same thing in reverse. See if they can pull one of those beads out of the bunch by rolling it with their fingers and bring it to the tip of the forefinger and thumb without help from the other hand. Continue one at a time until the hand is empty again. Count the pieces collected and try to beat the record each time you play.

The next one is a tongue twister…Pick–up pickle picker. You can find a pickle fork in a kitchen gadget store for about a buck fifty. It really is a tool for getting pickles out of a jar. (Now what will they think of next??? I mean, what’s wrong with a fork or you fingers for that matter?) Anyway, this tool will help them to develop a good three-point grip. Just make sure they have good finger placement. Start with the middle finger and forefinger on the sides of the tool and the thumb is used on the plunger part. Then for the game they can see how many items they can pick up using the tool. I like to use those small craft puff balls (Do they have a name???).

You could do this same game using a pair of large toaster tongs (they look like giant wooden tweezers) or I also have this little thing you are supposed to use to remove the leaves from a strawberry. Your kiddo can use these tools to pick up any small item like tiny toy lizards, bugs, doll accessories or other small toys. The key is to be sure that they have the correct finger placement. Thumb on one side, forefinger and middle finger on the other side and the ring finger and little finger curled into palm.

Pla-doh treasure hunt is the last one I want to review. I have always used therapy putty because it provides different levels of resistance, but pla-doh will work fine. This game will help develop hand and finger strength. Get a large ball of dough or putty and hide small items inside. Then have your kiddo pinch and pull at the dough until everything has been removed and all the tiny bits of dough or putty are cleaned away. Then they can try to push the items back in and hide them for the next time.

By playing these games you can feel like you are addressing any issues in fine motor skills and your little one will just be playing while they work. If it’s not fun, it just becomes a battle and then no one wins.

If you are interested in more ideas, one of the best seminars I have been to for handwriting was Handwriting Without Tears. I highly recommend this for teachers who are teaching beginning skills in letter formation and handwriting skills. I also think it is good for parents who are having a difficult time helping their kids in this area.

Happy handwriting!


Teaching Heart Mom said...

Awesome ideas for fine motor. I used handwriting w/o tears when I taught specil education. My son struggles with forming letters correctly and I plan on using the program with him this summer. I am sure he will love me... LOL

Anonymous said...

Being such a great therapist is just one of the reasons you are such a GREAT MOM. Your beautiful children will only thank you in the years ahead of them for making play time such a wonderful learning and strengthening experience. Just one more way that you display your unnlimited creativity. LOVE MIMI XOXOXOXOXO

Anonymous said...

What good ideas! I do a lot of these with the kids I nanny for, who knew it was beneficial for them in other ways too!

Jan said...

Ah, where were you when my sons were learning to write? They both have abysmal penmanship.

Alexis AKA MOM said...

You always give me the best ideas and things to do. Thanks so much for sharing your knowledge, some days I'm so lost it's nice to have some help. And someone who is by my side :)

Elaine at Lipstickdaily said...

Wow great ideas! Wonder how I got good penmanship when I could never do the monkey bars OR pushups?!

Debbie said...

Those are great, great ideas. I am sure many parents could benefit from them.

Leslie said...

Great ideas for the summer!

Now... would you mind doing one for mom's of pre-teens/teens? The older he gets (12) the harder it's getting to pull him away from all of his electronics!

Happy Monday! Enjoy your week.