As we work along side our little ones, especially our little ones with special needs, it can be difficult waiting for them to start writing on their own. We can provide the paper, the pens, the crayons, but what else can we do to equip them for writing?
Lots! There are LOTS of things we can do to equip our little ones for writing, but we have to start from the foundation and work our way up from there. The foundation of writing skills is hand and finger strength and coordination. Remember that in laying the foundation for motor skill acquisition and coordination, we want to start big and gradually focus in on the small.
For writing skills, this means pre-writing skill acquisition actually starts way back when a child is about three months old and starts purposefully batting at objects.
Next comes the ulnar grasp, typically at about 4 months, where a child can hold an object in his palm with his fingers wrapping around it.
Around 5 months of age is when we see baby moving objects from one hand into the other, and at 6 months of age baby is usually exploring objects with his hand and his mouth.
Between 6 and 9 months, baby is busy applying all these skills to new tasks: Drinking from a cup, shaking, banging and dropping toys, and sometimes even throwing things. (Not MY baby!):)
In a typically-developing child, around the 10- to 12-month mark, the pincer grasp starts surfacing. This is when baby starts holding objects between his thumb and index finger, and this is where a lot of occupational therapy-type activities or focuses fine motor work begins at home.
(For a detailed explanation of these stages, please visit http://www.ehow.com/about_6697534_fine-motor-skills-infants.html)
Pincer grasp is usually something a child with special needs will master but will also need continuing practice on so the skill is not lost or compensated by an easier method. I have found it helpful to throw pincer grasp activities into Noah’s core school work a couple times throughout the week. Here are some ideas for older children who are still working on pincer grasp:
1. Piggy bank – Give your child a toy bank with a slit in the top and have him drop coins into the bank. (Piggy banks can often be found at the Dollar Store.)
2. Bubble wrap – All my kids love this one! Be sure to find a brand that is easy to pop.
3. Stickers – The peeling and transferring act in using stickers is a great way to use that thumb and index finger in unison. Foam stickers are often easy to grasp and separate from the backing. If using sticker sheets, your child may need you to start the sticker separation for him. This isn’t cheating – he’s still be using his pincer grasp.
4. Play-Doh – Roll small-medium balls of Play-Doh and have your child place his thumb on one side of the ball and his index finger on the other and pinch.
5. Snack Time – Use Cheerios, Fruit Loops, raisins or other small food items and have your child pick them up one at a time to eat them. Food is a GREAT motivator!
6. Tearing paper – Have your child make a collage with colorful paper that he has torn using his pincer grasp.
7. Tweezers and cotton balls – Set up a work box with tweezers, an icecube tray and cotton balls or pom poms. Have him use the tweezers to move the balls from a central box to the ice tray using one-to-one correspondence.
8. Turning pages of board books (and then moving on to paper).
9. Tearing tortillas (see my post here for an explanation: https://wordsofhisheart.wordpress.com/2012/07/23/pincer-grasp-and-fingerhand-strength-its-for-the-birds/)
When a child has special needs, often he will follow this same order of development, but each stage will take him longer to complete before he moves on to the next one. It is helpful to use development charts designed for a typically-developing child but to do away with the age expectations. If you find the developmental charts discouraging, I encourage you to make your own chart using the chronology of the information but leaving off the ages. In other words, don’t worry about what he should be doing at what age; rather, find where your child is on the chart now by skill, and when he has mastered that skill, move on to the next one. With Noah’s (6-Down syndrome) language delays, I also find it helpful to apply those principles to his speech milestones.
I’ll be posting soon about prewriting skills for children who have mastered their pincer grasp – stay tuned!