Wednesday, November 28, 2012

top tips from an O.T.

You know those teachers who really love their job?  I mean the ones who love kids so much they'll help students who aren't even in their classrooms?  Or on their caseloads?  Or kids they've never even met?

I know one.  And I can't tell you who she is because it's a secret.  ;)  But I picked her O.T. brain to get some help for a few of my students who are really struggling.  I knew from the 1st week of school that these were special cases and extra practice wasn't going to be enough to help them out.  But while I wait to jump through the hoops of proper paperwork, timing and interventions {force smile here} I slyly took matters into my own hands.

And I'm bringing my new knowledge to you!  If you have a student who struggles with any fine motor grips, cutting with scissors, copying from the board, writing letters, coloring a picture, picking things up, zipping zippers or even tracing...tune in!

Some of the activities you're going to see are from Handwriting Without Tears.  But fear not if this program is not available to you.  I will also provide ways to DIY HWT.  {how's that for a teaching acronym?!}

{2 inch binder}
Or an easel...or taping the paper to the wall or a cabinet.  The idea here is to focus more energy on the muscles.  The binder helps with pencil grip because it forces their wrist back and they can't be so loosey goosey or it'll slide.  Using an easel or writing on the wall {or the board!} builds muscle strength.

{playdoh mats}
Be sure they understand proper letter formation even if they can't actually write them yet. Previously I've used any laminated letter card {bubble letters work best} and the tiny tubs of playdoh.  These are larger but what I really like are the arrows to provide some direction.  You could also use a smiley face, star or sticker to show your students where to start.
This alphabet set from 1+1+1= 1 is fabulous and here's a {free} Sight Word set so all your kids can choose this activity or you can make a differentiated playdoh center!

{silly putty}
Silly putty, slime, anything gooey will do, you just want to make sure it isn't too liquidy.  It appears to be regular silly putty but...
A-ha!  It is actually a {pinching practice} treasure hunt!  Your kids use their finger tips to dig {and pinch} and use their fine motor muscles to dig out the gems, fish, jewels...whatever little plastic pieces you choose to hide.

{pop toobs}
Sometimes you can find these at the dollar store or in random toy sections.  They're basically just pieces of plastic that you can stretch out {build shoulder and bicep muscles} then squeeze back together.  They also make a whistling noise if you swing them around your head...but maybe don't tell your kids that while you're working.  ;)
{note: when searching for this item please type "Slinky Pop Toobs" and be aware of Google images.}
Tweezers & tongs of various sizes are great for fine motor practice.  They can pick up beads, crayons, pop cubes...virtually anything.  I start with bigger tongs and bigger objects then move to smaller tongs or tweezers and smaller objects as the kids improve.  The spots at the ends are for finger placement guidance.

{big dots}
This is a strategy you can use quickly & easily.  Some kids just have trouble staying on a line whether it's walking, tracing or cutting.  You can trace over the lines with a thick marker or add big dots along the way.  When I wanted my student to cut out the Native American headband we made for Thanksgiving, just colored some black dots along the line I wanted cut.  You will be shocked how such a simple, 2 second modification better directs scissors.

{wiki sticks}
Wiki Sticks are basically wax coated pipe cleaners.  The wax allows them to stick together or stick to plastic but not be so gooey that they make a big mess.  I use glossy letter cards but you can print any letter card and laminate them.  It will work just as well.  Bend the wiki sticks to lay on top of the letter then use your finger to practice tracing over the wiki stick for extra directional practice {which is important for letter writing if that skill isn't strong yet}.

{magna doodles}
This is my favorite trick and I don't know how it didn't come to me any sooner!  HWT has these awesome wooden pieces {lines and curves} that you can put together to make capital letters.  They have magnets on the back so you can use them on the board.  Super bonus: if you lay them on a magna doodle like this...
and then take off the pieces...THE LETTER IS MAGICALLY FORMED!!!  Okay, I get it...Magna {like magnets} and doodle...the magnet in the "pen" makes the marks.  But I really never thought it through before and now I am soooo stoked!
In case you don't have the HWT pieces, you can do the same thing on any type of magna doodle board.  This one with lines on it is from Lakeshore and I pulled any random magnet to see if it works.  And it DOES.  Now, a lot of plastic magnet letters only have one little magnet on the back so you'll only get one little mark on the board but it is totally worth it to either add a full magnet backing or {easier option} purchase another set like these.  Then students can trace over the marks to practice letter writing.

{lines & curves}
Love those line and curve pieces, right?!  Well...DIY it!  We actually added extra pieces so we could make both capital and lowercase letters.  It's just 2 regular size popsicle sticks, 2 mini popsicle sticks {from any craft store}, 1 full size pipe cleaner and 2 pipe cleaner halves.
Voila!  Capital A & lowercase a, perfectly formed and in proportion.  :)

I do encourage you to check out the HWT website and see about getting a kit for your school.  {no, I am not an affiliate for HWT nor am I getting paid for this post as a promotional supporter, just giving credit where credit is due.}  Start with the free downloads to check it out.  Maybe grant money or Donors Choose could be an option!

I hope these are new tips for you and that you see some improvement in your classrooms!  Feel free to pin this post for future reference and follow my blog so you don't miss a thing!  I'm always searching out secret tricks of the trade!  ;)


  1. Thanks for including a few of my printables in your list, these are some fabulous ideas! ;-)

  2. Hi Kristin - I L-O-V-E your magna doodle idea... I'll be using that with my own kiddos!
    PS - Thanks again for the link to my sight word printable :)

  3. Great ideas! Thank you!

  4. These are all great. I use them in my room all the time. With the holidays coming, I recommend that families buy Operation, Lite Brite, Legos to help build these skills at home.

  5. Great suggestion with the magnetic letters for tracing! It's a great list. Thanks for taking the time to put it all together for everyone.
    - Leslie

  6. Hey! I love your ideas and (I am assuming that you are a teacher) really appreciate hearing teachers are incorporating these fine motor and pre-writing skills into curriculum! It's so important to teach these skills correctly when they are young! I wanted to give a slight suggestion for the lower case a. From the picture it looks like it is a circle with a stick (NOT the way we want kids to form the little a). The HWT teaches it as a magic "c" letter. Maybe making the a starting with a magic c instead of a circle. ( I am an OT, and see many kiddos out there making circles with sticks!)

  7. Hey Kelli! It IS a circle with a line...busted. I'm happy to switch to a c form first. Can you explain to me what makes it better from an OT standpoint?? Thanks for sharing your expertise! :)

  8. Hey Kristin,
    It is the way that HWT teaches: a, d, g, o, q. It has to do with the proper way of forming letters so that the child will be able to write with speed and legibility. A circle with a stick letter is fragmented and not always legible and not the more efficient way to form letters. By teaching the child the correct form of the letter initially, it will make their writing more automatic so they don't have to put so much effort into to formation and can concentrate on the academics!
    I am not sure if you have the HWT manual, but the way they teach the magic "c" letters is: Make a magic c, slide up, slide down (and then depending on what letter, you reference where to slide up to and where to slide down to).


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