Occupational Therapy for Fine Motor Skills and Handwriting Improvement

Date of Publishing:   

29 April, 2023


Occupational Therapy



Unlocking Fine Motor Skills and Handwriting through Occupational Therapy


Handwriting is such an important element of learning during school years. Some children find mastering handwriting extremely difficult. However, when handwriting difficulties affect a student's academic performance, confidence and their willingness to engage in learning opportunities, intervention is warranted. A referral to Occupational therapy may be recommended and therapists usually adopt a diagnostic approach when assessing handwriting difficulties. Occupational therapy professionals work with handwriting as a main functional task. There is a lot that goes into assessing functional performance. 

The Importance of Handwriting:

Handwriting plays an important role in building self-esteem and academic achievement as there's an association between handwriting and success in school performance. Despite the use of technology and devices, handwriting remains an important occupational skill. With this in mind it is the key to consider how important it is for children to have opportunities to focus on fine motor skills and pre-writing skills such as language use, reading and critical thinking as it activates the memory centers of your child's brain. 

Development of Fine Motor Skills:

Children learn new skills and build skills as a result of their central nervous system processes and respond to sensory information as the foundation for other skills. Through functions of the nervous system and the senses, the child develops awareness and gains knowledge about their own body which is in turn essential for development of motor skills, visual perception, emotional stability, and appropriate responses under different circumstances.

Pre-Writing Skills Development:

Children's first exposure to writing often begins with pre-writing skills, which are often taught to preschoolers. Pre-writing includes imitating and copying simple horizontal and vertical lines and then progressing to more complex diagonal lines and shapes. Children need to master lines and shapes before progressing to letters and numbers.

Addressing Fine Motor Challenges:

There are many children with or without learning challenges who struggle with fine motor development. Fine motor development includes pencil grip, handwriting improvement, strength in hands, wrists and fingers. Because your kids use their fine motor skills everyday, it's important to help them develop these skills so they can perform their daily tasks. 

Kids use their fine motor skills to:

  • Tie their shoes.
  • Fasten their buttons.
  • Cut with scissors.
  • Write with pencil. 

Activities for Fine Motor Skill Development:

Many parents ask what tools and resources can help develop their children's fine motor skills where they are younger. There are many fine motor activities and toys available for kids. 

When purchasing toys for fine motor development, choose items that help:

  • Sequencing for math skills.
  • Letter recognition.
  • Hand dominance.
  • Letter directionality.
  • Hand-eye coordination.
  • Visual planning. 

Improving Handwriting:

One aspect of handwriting improvement is to improve pencil grip. Holding a pencil correctly helps kids write with speech, accuracy and there is handwriting improvement.  

  1. Start with crayons - Thick crayons are an apt choice for kids to hold and start scribbling because it will help their hands grasp around the crayon and also the colorful results from their scribbles would make them interested. 
  2. Using smaller and thicker pencils - Small writing tools naturally encourage a proper grasp. For example, small crayons, small chalk pieces and breaking pencils into halves. 
  3. The sticker meethod - Paste small stickers on pencils to show children where to place their Index and Thumb fingers. 

Enhancing Handwriting Through Occupational Therapy:

Occupational Therapy plays a vital role in helping kids improve their handwriting. Helping kids increase their writing proficiency, or ability to communicate through written word, is a key aspect of education. There are several strategies and activities parents can use to help kids increase writing proficiency. The activities can be an introduction to new words and you ask your child to draw them, coloring, tracing the letters of the alphabets and much more. 

The perfect thing to support the development of fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination is writing and coloring. Strengthening your child's finger muscles helps them take things apart, put things together and grip a pencil for writing. 

Supporting Handwriting Progression:

It is true for writing, any method. If you don't write by hand, it becomes sloppy. Before starting to work on letter formation, or pre-handwriting patterns it is a good idea to help focus a child's handwriting exercise. 

  • Thumb and finger strength are important for the coordinated movements and strengths required to maintain an efficient pencil grip as well as to move the pencil effectively for handwriting and drawing.  
  • Whole hand strength is important for in-hand manipulation, grip and grip release skills as well as being able to judge the appropriate amount of pressure required to hold and release items safely. 
  • Build hand strength by playing with play doh, zipping zippers, buttoning buttons, or cutting with scissors. 
  • Use fun writing tools such as gel pens, markers, brush pens or chalk. 
  • Keep writing practice enjoyable, short, and doable. 

Handwriting and Brain Development:

           Handwriting plays a huge role in building the brain. Each step in the handwriting   progression ladder helps kids establish better learning and emotional support. Handwriting progression requires more than just hands and fingers. It requires:

  • Shoulder stability.
  • Elbow and forearm rotation.
  • Wrist stability.
  • Fine motor skills.

Understanding Autism and Special Needs:

We all know that autism is a developmental neurological disorder that stays with the person from birth to the end of life. Autism is not a disease and the word "sick" or "has autism" should not be used in children with autism. We need to provide a community of special needs children to access different facilities. A positive attitude is the single most important quality for anyone who works with special needs children. Nurturing your special needs children and helping them grow is the mission. Today take a step back and think about how amazing parents of special needs children are. Special needs moms and dads are probably some of the most calm, easy going, fun loving, most accommodating people around. Special needs parents are the kind of people that go the second mile without judgment or complaint. Special needs children need the flexibility to learn in the way that is best for them without any stigma. All children deserve to be loved and wanted. Special needs children teach each other how to be strong, selfless and courageous! 

Children are little heroes and deserve so much more than even we can give them, but just like any other child they need to feel loved, protected, seen and respected. 

Take time to teach your children that the differences they may see in special needs children aren't scary, they are beautiful!  

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