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Guest Blog: Handwriting: Starting with Basic Strokes and Shapes

By: Dr. Anne Zachry
Reprinted with the express permission of the author as it originally appeared on her blog Pediatric Occupational Therapy Tips, March 19, 2011
I shared in my previous post that there are certain strokes and shapes that a child should be able to form before beginning the process of learning to write the letters of the alphabet. You can think of these as the “building blocks” to learning letter formations. The important thing to remember is that it’s not necessary to have your child sit down with a piece of paper and a pencil when it’s time to work on writing skills. In fact, that is probably the last thing that you should do! It’s best to begin teaching these strokes using large and medium motor skills and slowly transition to the fine motor approach of using paper and a writing utensil. If you’re wondering what I mean by large and medium motor skills…I’m going to tell you!
Large motor skills are big motor movements such as running and jumping (also referred to as gross motor skills). Children can learn shapes and forms using large motor skills, and they usually love it because it doesn’t involve having to sit still. Here are a few activities that you can try.

  • Take a piece of rope or string (or sidewalk chalk if you’re outside) and form the stroke, shape or letter that you want to work on. It’s best to begin with horizontal and vertical lines and then move forward on the chart. Have your little one walk or jump along the line. It’s good to have them verbalize and describe the stroke while they’re moving, such as “straight line down, straight line across, or a circle is round.” This is a great way to work on concepts such as “up, down, across, etc.”, and it means more because the child is actually experiencing the concept rather than being told about it. Remember, if your little one isn’t walking, you can still do this activity by carrying them or pushing them in a wheelchair or stroller. Children can also use a scooter board to propel themselves along the form.
  • Draw a stroke on a large piece of paper and tape it on the wall. Have your child stand back and trace the stroke using a hand, fingertip or toy magic wand.
  • You can also dim the lights, have the child move further back, and “trace” the form using a flashlight. Kids love this!
  • Draw a stroke in the sand or dirt using a large stick – make sure it’s big!

These are just a couple of suggestions. You can use your imagination and get creative! Just remember, the more ways that you introduce the stroke, the better chance that the child will develop a “motor memory” for it… and don’t forget to include the verbal component! In my next post I’ll provide some suggestions for working on strokes using medium motor skills.
Featured Guest Blogger: Dr. Anne Zachry, OTR/L PhD
Dr. Anne Zachry is a pediatric occupational therapist with over 18 years experience providing quality OT to children, along with caregiver instruction and support. She has a PhD in Educational Psychology. She’s had articles published in her profession’s trade magazine and in peer-reviewed journals. She is currently employed as a school therapist, working with students having issues ranging from mild fine motor problems to severe physical disabilities.
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