An occupational therapist advises how to maintain your child’s motor skills development.
As an occupational therapist, I work on handwriting skills with many students with autism. Handwriting is one of the most complex skills our children have to learn, combining fine motor skills, motor planning, visual perceptual and motor skills, and sensory awareness.
The progress my students make on handwriting legibility and spatial organization during the school year is hard-earned! But oftentimes, after a fun summer without written work to do, my students experience a regression in their handwriting skills.
While it is important to maintain these skills over the summer, our children also deserve downtime to focus on play and exploration. Worksheets and other rote handwriting activities aren’t fun for children or their parents. Additionally, trying to force your child to complete schoolwork over summer vacation is bound to lead to power struggles that spoil everyone’s fun.
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Here are five fun and worksheet-free ways to practice handwriting skills over the summer:
1. Letter formation with different mediums. Have your child practice writing letters in sand, salt, Play-Doh, shaving cream, finger paint, or even in bubbles during bathtime. These sensory-rich experiences activate more areas of the brain to help your child remember letter strokes better. It is also much more fun than tedious handwriting activities
2. Drawing with sidewalk chalk. Sidewalk chalk is an inexpensive and fun way to get outside in the sun while addressing the motor skills and strength needed for handwriting. It isn’t even necessary for your child to practice writing with the sidewalk chalk. Coloring and drawing will also work the muscles of the hand, arm, and shoulder needed for controlled handwriting and a mature grasp on writing utensils
3. Play outside. Did you know that to achieve fine motor control you first need to develop strength in the core and shoulders? This is referred to as proximal strength and is a necessary precursor to fine motor control. No need to have your child perform push-ups and sit-ups to gain this strength. Instead, let him or her enjoy swinging on monkey bars, climbing trees, running, jumping, throwing, and swimming. These activities all build important muscles and are an essential part of your child’s summer!
4. Arts and crafts. Painting, sculpting, coloring, knitting, or making friendship bracelets—all of these activities require fine and visual motor skills, following step-by-step directions, and attention to a task. Accessing your child’s creative side is an added bonus!
5. Think of fun activities that require just a bit of writing. Writing the letter “a” 10 times or doing worksheets during summer break is no fun. Your child can practice those same skills by writing a letter to Grandma, writing down the grocery list, leaving notes for Dad, or writing a list of his/her favorite TV shows or video games. There is no need for your child to complete pages and pages of work. Simply picking up a pencil and writing something on a regular basis will help your child retain handwriting skills while he/she is away from school
Your child works so hard during the school year to improve his/her handwriting skills. I am always so proud of how far my students are able to progress each year. These simple activities can help to maintain this progress and make for an easier transition back to school in the fall.
This article was featured in Issue 125 – Unwrapping ABA Therapy