Motor Planning and Handwriting

When a child learns to write letters, they are forming a motor plan that becomes instinctive.  At first, children learn the pre-writing strokes that are needed to copy shapes like lines, a plus sign, an “x”, a square, and more complex shapes and forms.  Motor planning and the developmental skills that follow allow a child to copy the parts of letters.  As they learn to use their “mind’s eye” to write the letters without copying, they are able to write the letters needed to write their first name.   What follows, is an ability to write letters independently.  When a motor plan in handwriting has been established, children can then write words and sentences without copying from a model.

Motor planning and handwriting skills for kids

Motor Planning and Handwriting

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There are a lot of pieces that play into motor planning related to handwriting. The body’s sensory systems, processing speed, and motor output are all important parts of the motor plan that allows us to write independently.

Our body is able to respond to sensory information and know what the arm or hand is doing without directly looking at it.  We are able to instinctively process the information needed to move our hands to turn over the paper or open the book.  In most cases, we can do these tasks without looking at our hands. When motor planning is an issue, children might need to look at their hands, think through the actions, and perform the parts of the task slowly or laboriously. 

Likewise, the typical student learns to write the letters in their name without thinking about the way the letters are formed. We are able to hold the paper with our non-dominant hand while manipulating, rotating, and shifting the pencil with our dominant hand.

These tasks and pieces that make up the skill of handwriting becomes automatic with practice.  We use the skills that we know in order to perform tasks naturally.  Motor planning and handwriting uses sensory information that is registered, filtered, organized, and used appropriately in tasks like managing paper, pencils, and letter formation.

For children with slow processing speed, the sensory information that comes in during handwriting tasks can interfere with motor planning and written work. Handwriting becomes slow, laborious, and illegible, especially as children are required to write more information and at faster speeds in the older grades.

Consider the child who has difficulty with motor planning and handwriting.  The difficulties may not truly present until the student is required to write spelling words, complete writing prompts while thinking creatively, or use increasing speeds in order to take notes.

Motor planning and handwriting for kids

It is important to note that slow letter formation, inaccurate line use or formation of letters, poor pencil stroke order, or other indications of motor planning concerns in written work are typical of the child who is learning to write. Children will reverse letters, write an “h” when they intended to write an “n”, or other inaccuracies. 

Motor planning and handwriting is just one important piece that makes up the complex skill of written work.  You might know that I have been working alongside several other pediatric Occupational Therapists and Physical Therapists to write The Handwriting Book.  

The Handwriting Book by pediatric Occupational Therapists and Physical Therapists.

In The Handwriting Book (digital e-book), you will find information relating to handwriting and: 

-The Developmental Progression of Pencil Grasp and Handwriting Strokes
-Fine Motor Skills
-Gross Motor Skills
-Sensory Considerations

-Visual Perceptual Skills

This resource is intended especially for parents who have a child who struggles with handwriting, teachers who want to find out more about why their students struggle with written work, and therapists who are looking for creative ways to address common handwriting struggles.

Inside The Handwriting Book e-book,you will find:

-Tips and Strategies for the Reluctant Writer
-Ideas for Combining Handwriting and Play
-Activities to Practice Handwriting Skills at Home

-Tips for Sizing, Spacing, and Alignment in Written Work

The Handwriting Book for parents, teachers, and therapists
Therapists will find all of the handwriting information, tips, and strategies they need right at their fingertips as they work with kids and write evaluations and goals for the students on their caseloads.  
Teachers will find information and ideas to support handwriting development in the students in their classrooms. 
Parents will find information on developmental progression of writing abilities and an understanding of the underlying components related to legible written work. 
The Handwriting Book launched on National Handwriting Day (January 23rd, 2017). 
CLICK HERE to find out more!
The Handwriting Book for parents, teachers, and Occupational Therapists

Handwriting Problems

If you are looking for answers to common handwriting problems in kids, then this is the place to start for handwriting help, activities to help kids improve the skills they need for legible written work, and success when writing with a pencil. Handwriting problems are common for kids of all ages. There are many reasons for this (read more below) but the good news is that there are ways to address the underlying developmental need and to accommodate or modify to promote improved legibility. You can find all of our handwriting on the tab at the top of the site, but this is a headquarters for specific legibility problem areas. 

Kids with handwriting problems will love these strategies that are fun and work on written work skills.

Do you know a child with handwriting struggles?

Are you a parent who sees their child battle the pencil every day as they try to write letters, erase completely, and read the homework they wrote down in school just an hour earlier?

Are you a teacher who has students who consistently reverse letters, write with little regard to the lines, uses a strange pencil grasp, or can not keep up with the rest of the class because of handwriting issues?

Are you a therapist who works with kids one-on-one to meet handwriting goals and then cringe to see that same child not carrying over skills he’s seemed to master?  Or are you looking for ways to meet handwriting goals so that your clients can achieve success in the classroom?

Are you a homeschooling parent who knows their smart child isn’t learning as they should be because of handwriting issues?

Common Handwriting Problems

Handwriting struggles are not a new thing.  Kids have been writing with a sloppy John Hancock since the very first handwriting tool! What is new, is less time for handwriting instruction in classrooms, more computer use in the classroom, more kids who come into the school lacking fine motor skills, more awareness of underlying skill areas like visual processing abilities, and higher expectations on our kids in school, after school activity schedules, and faster-paced national classroom standards. 

Common handwriting problems include:

Poor letter formation
Awkward pencil grasp
Poor use of lines
Poor letter size
Poor spacing between letters and words
Difficulty copying written work
Inaccurate margin use
Trouble writing across the page left-to-right pattern
Reversal of letters
Inconsistency with upper case/lower case letter use
Trouble carrying over handwriting practice
Sloppy writing during creative writing tasks
Trouble erasing completely
Difficulty paying attention when writing
Lack of awareness of pencil pressure
Writes in the wrong order (Left to right)
And many more handwriting issue
If any (or many!) of these problem areas sound familiar, then you are in the right place.  This is a place where I can lead you toward tips, strategies, and tools for better handwriting.  
Looking for easy handwriting activities to help with underlying skills?  There are many on this site. 
Looking for help with cursive handwriting? I’ve got many creative ways to work on cursive letter formation.
Looking for ways to help with pencil grasp? There are many ways to work on pencil grasp through creative play ideas.

These hands-on activities are a fun way for kids to work on visual motor integration that is needed for common handwriting problems.
Looking for ways to build the underlying visual motor integration skills needed for handwriting?

Be sure to bookmark this page because I will be sharing more ways to develop the skills needed for consistent, legible handwriting and preparing go-to resources so that you can find all of these handwriting strategies, tips, and tricks in one place.

Cursive handwriting activities for kids with handwriting problems.Kids will love these fun activities designed to improve pencil grasp and other handwriting problems.Activities designed to help with visual motor integration and handwriting problems in kids.
These hands-on activities are helpful for many common handwriting problems that kids struggle with.
Looking for more handwriting ideas? The Handwriting Book is a complete guide to everything handwriting.  This is a resource by 10 Occupational Therapists and Physical Therapists that describes the underlying developmental areas related to handwriting and strategies, tips, and ideas to help.  
 The Handwriting Book

Handwriting Activity for Direction Change in Letter Formation

This handwriting activity is perfect for kids who are working on letter formation when writing.  Specifically, it’s an easy handwriting activity and an exercise in direction change that is necessary for letters with angles (A, K, M, N, R, V, W, Y) that require the child to use precision of pencil control.  We used foam sheets as a tool for helping kids develop the motor plan necessary for improved pencil control in direction change when writing and forming letters.  

Use foam sheets to work on letter formation with kids in this fun handwriting activity.

When kids write, they sometimes don’t notice the specifics of letter formation. The faster they write, the more those details of letter formation diminish. When a child needs to write a creative writing assignment or a complete a writing prompt that requires creative thought, often times letter formation lags.  Kids who demonstrate fair to good letter formation when writing one-on-one with a therapist or teacher but then can not seem to carryover the skills into the classroom environment would benefit from this activity.

Help kids address direction change in letter formation with this creative handwriting activity.

Handwriting Activity for Direction Change in Letter Formation

The foam sheets are an effective tool for helping kids develop the motor plan needed for change in direction when writing with a pencil.  

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There are several reasons why the unique surface of the foam sheets provides an excellent means for helping kids form letters accurately:

  • The foamy surface of the foam sheets provides resistance and feedback through the pencil as writing strokes are formed.
  • Children are able to write at the appropriate size for their age and development.  Preschool aged children can practice motor control in pre-writing strokes. 
  • Kindergarten students can work on the changes in direction that make up the letters described above.
  • Older kids can practice a smaller version of letters on this foamy surface.
  • Writing on the foam provides proprioceptive input through the pencil or pen and allows kids to form letters with resistance. unlike writing in play dough or clay, the writing utensil strokes are more consistent and accurate.
  • When preparing this handwriting activity, therapists or other adults can form the letters into the foam with increasing or decreasing amounts of pressure.  The “letter guide” that is formed can provide various amounts of physical prompting to the student as they form parts of the letters.  
  • Additional cues can be provided by tracing over the letters or forms with a black marker.  This provides high contrast markings for increased visual cues.
RELATED TOPIC: Read more about precision in fine motor tasks.

Practice Letter Formation with Foam Sheets

Kids can practice letter formation needs with this open-ended handwriting tool. Some children form letters with a change in direction with a seemingly disregard for how their pencil strokes connect.  Other students write quickly and use inaccurate letter formation that affects legibility. 

Work on the angles of letters such as a closed top to the letter “A”, a slant in and out for the letter “K”, and pencil lines that connect when forming a letter “R”. 

Use foam sheets to help kids work on direction change in letter formation with this creative handwriting activity.

How to set up this letter formation handwriting activity:

To prepare the foam sheets, you’ll need a ball point pen.  An adult can write the letters, letter parts, or pre-writing strokes on the foam sheet.  Apply more pressure to the pen for more physical cues for the child.  If needed, trace over the forms with a marker.

Next, ask the child to use a pencil, pen, or marker to trace over the lines. As they trace the forms or letters, ask them to slow down their writing speed and to notice how the pencil strokes touch (if forming a complete letter or an angle).

This handwriting tool is great for helping kids with many different writing needs. Let me know if you try this easy handwriting activity. I would love to see your version!

elp kids work on direction change in letter formation with this creative handwriting activity.
Find more easy handwriting activities each week in our new handwriting series.  

Use foam sheets to help kids work on direction change in letter formation with this creative handwriting activity.

Address direction change in letter formation with this creative handwriting activity.

Bear Brain Breaks

Kids fidget and wiggle in the classroom so much that they have trouble paying attention. They can’t focus on instructions or get distracted by what their classmates are doing. Sometimes, brain breaks are a tool that can help with sensory needs in the classroom.  We used a favorite childhood book to come up with bear themed brain breaks that can be used alongside the book in a movement and learning activity or in a bear-themed classroom activities.  Not long ago, we shared more brain break ideas that you might like to add to your classroom.

bear brain breaks

Bear Brain Breaks

Looking for brain break videos for the classroom or home? Here are the best brain break videos on YouTube.
Bear brain breaks for movement and learning in the classroom setting with a bear theme

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Have you read the book, “Time for Sleep” by Denise Fleming? My kids loved to hear about all of the animals as they prepared for sleep over the winter.  We decided to try a few bear gross motor moves based on the book.

Bear Theme Brain Breaks

Stretches and whole-body movements that happen in a calm manner are a great way to prepare for sleep, so these activities went along nicely with the bear in the book as well as the getting ready for sleep theme.

If you are looking for more bedtime stretches, we shared some based on another children’s book.

Time for Sleep by Denise Fleming and bear themed brain breaks for a bear activity.
This is such a fun book to read with kids.  It would go along perfectly with a bear theme in your classroom.  Try adding some gross motor movement activities based on the book.
Kids can then use the bear themed brain breaks throughout their day when it seems the classroom or individual students need a movement break. 
I have provided a free printable that would go along perfectly for teaching the classroom about these bear brain breaks.  They can be cut up and laminated for the children to pull out of a cup.  Or, add them to a key ring for bear themed movement activities.

Click Here to Get the Bear Themed Brain Break Printable Page

Using these bear brain breaks, kids can stretch, roll, reach, climb, and crawl like a bear.  There are eight bear themed movement activities included that allow kids to move with a bear theme.  
Read the book Time for Sleep and try the movement activities!
Bear brain break ideas for kids

Looking for more bear themed activities?  Try these hands-on ways to play with a bear theme based on bear books like “Time for Sleep”.





Click Here to Get the Bear Themed Brain Break Printable Page

Easy Handwriting Activities

Recently, I shared a 30 day series on handwriting.  I love coming up with easy creative ideas that build the underlying development of skills so much that I wanted to create a weekly series on easy handwriting activities.  These are creative activities that can be used with every day toys, tools, and strategies that will improve the underlying skills that are a MUST for legible handwriting.  

The activities that you will find in this handwriting series will be great for anyone who works with kids on handwriting.  

The school based Occupational Therapist can add these easy treatment ideas to their therapy bag.  

The teacher can add these activities and strategies to their classroom schedule in a way that makes handwriting fun.  

The parents who are tired of dealing with the handwriting whine-athon can try strategies at home when practicing handwriting over and over again just doesn’t work.

Occupational Therapists, teachers, and parents will love to try these easy handwriting activities with kids who struggle with legible handwriting!

Handwriting Activities for Kids

Handwriting doesn’t have to mean practice over and over again.   

Have you ever wondered about the musculature of the hand and how the ligaments and joints work together to allow us to hold the pencil in a functional way?

No? Maybe it’s just me and my Occupational Therapy nerd status.

Even if you aren’t concerned with every detail of the “why” and the” how these activities help kids perform everyday activities, I’m excited to share this resource with you as a place to find awesomely easy fine motor activities that can be used by parents, teachers, and therapists to help kids boost their ability to write more legibly, carrying over the skills they learn, and writing in a way that they can read what they write.

handwriting tips and strategies that use handwriting activities for better written work for kids

This series will be focused on the underlying skills that are needed for better handwriting. It will focus on the tools that make improving handwriting fun.  The tools that you have in your toy closet or buried at the bottom of your therapy bag are the ones that can be used in an unconventional way to improve intrinsic muscle strength or address finger isolation in creative ways…all while helping with handwriting legibility!

Use creative strategies to build the visual perceptual skills and visual motor integration abilities to help with handwriting struggles. 

Stop back every week for Tuesday Handwriting Tips!

Kids will love these easy handwriting activities that are fun!

The series starts next Tuesday. Be sure to stop back each week to see what Tools we’re using to work on fine motor skills.  You can bookmark this post or pin it to your fine motor activities pin board because I’ll be adding all of the Easy Handwriting Tips here each week! 

Don’t forget, Tuesday Handwriting Tips starts next week!

Here are a few of our favorite ways to sneak handwriting strategies into play and creative, hands-on activities:

 Pencil Grasp Activity5 easy ways to work on visual perceptual skills with markers. 

                                Letter Formation Direction Change Handwriting Activity 
                           Pencil Grasp Trick Thumb IP Flexion Handwriting Activity

Easy handwriting tips and ways to help kids work on legibility in handwriting using 30 quick fixes
Check out my 30 day Easy Handwriting Series.
Try these easy handwriting tips using hands-on handwriting activities for kids.

5 Easy Ways to Work on Visual Perception with Markers

If you have kids in your house, you probably have a pack of markers.  Kids love markers!  Here are a few ways to develop visual perceptual skills with markers. Using a common item like regular old markers makes addressing visual perception and the skills needed for handwriting easy and frugal.

Most parents know that addressing the underlying vision issues behind reading and writing challenges can be quite difficult when there are costs of therapy or treatment tools.  Using a cheap-o tool like a regular pack of markers is an easy way to get around the cost of high-price therapy tools.  Likewise, for the teachers or school-based Occupational Therapist, inexpensive treatment for a common challenge is essential. 

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5 easy ways to work on visual perceptual skills with markers.

Work on visual perceptual skills with markers

Handwriting, reading, and almost every activity that we do requires visual perceptual skills for visually scanning, pinpointing essential information, and attending to details like lines on paper.  

Related read: These visual perception apple theme shape stamps are a perfect way to work on visual perceptual skills and fine motor skills with DIY stampers.

You can find more easy handwriting activities like this one in our new Easy Handwriting Activities series. Each Tuesday, we’ll be sharing creative and easy ways to help with handwriting. If you are looking for more tips and strategies to help with handwriting, be sure to join our Sweet Ideas for Handwriting Help Facebook group.

We used a simple pack of markers.  This type is perfect because the whole marker is the color of the ink.  It allows kids to match up colors for some of the visual perceptual activities outlined below.  I love a big collection of markers like these ones for these visual perception activities because there are several markers in a single color or shade.  For example, using several shades of red is a great way to work on visual discrimination and form constancy.

Kids will love to work on visual perceptual skills with markers.

Here are ways to use markers to work on perceptual skills:

Markers are perfect for working on visual perceptual skills with kids.

1. Pour the entire pack of markers into a small bin like a  pencil box.  Ask your child to pull out a specific color or a sequence of colors.  

This helps kids work on figure ground skills.  

Visual figure ground allows us to pull out important information from a cluttered background.  This is an important skill for handwriting when we visually pull out written work from a paragraph when we copy.

Address visual perceptual skills with markers for better handwriting.

2. Line the markers up side by side. Position some of the markers with the caps in one direction and most of the caps pointing in the other direction.  Kids can point to or name the colors that are pointing in the wrong direction, while working on visual discrimination.  

Visual discrimination skills allow us to determine subtle differences in things.  

Visual discrimination is needed for written work when we notice a “b” vs. a “d” or an “h” vs an “r”. 

3. You will need a couple of markers of the same color or shade for this activity.  Remove the red caps from some of the markers.  Place them back on other markers, mixing up the lids.  Place a handful of markers in a pencil box.  Ask the child to look in the bin and point to or pull out the markers that have “red”. Some of the markers have a red bottom and others have a red cap. 

By performing this activity, kids work on form constancy.  

They are able to address this visual perceptual skill needed for written work by becoming more aware of shapes and letters that are the same no matter what direction or size they are.

4. Place a handful of markers in a pencil box.  Ask the child to look at the bin for a short period of time.  Ask them to look away as they cover their eyes. Then remove one or two markers.  Ask them to look back at the bin and determine the markers that have been removed.  

This task addresses visual memory.  

Visual memory is an essential skill for copy work in handwriting tasks.

Help kids work on writing skills and visual perceptual skills with markers.

5. Place a handful of marker lids on a table lined up side by side.  Ask the child to remember the order of the markers and then cover up the lids.  They can then use the corresponding markers to draw lines in the same order that the marker lids were in. 

This activity is a great one for addressing visual sequential memory. 

Visual sequential memory is a visual perceptual skill that is essential for writing words and letters from left to right without constantly copying each letter one at a time.  

Improve handwriting by working on visual perceptual skills with markers.

Looking for another easy way to work on visual perceptual skills?  Try using tangrams to build the skills needed for handwriting.

Grab these markers so you can do this handwriting activity at home, at school, or in your OT clinic! 

 Colored markers

Indoor Ice Skates Proprioception and Vestibular Sensory Play Activity

Sometimes, you come across a play activity that provides many skill areas and is just plain old fun.  These indoor ice skates proprioception and vestibular activity is one of those.  Last year, we shared a bunch of winter sensory integration activities.  This is on of those movement sensory ideas (that we’re just getting around to sharing this year!) Grab the calendar and all of the sensory ways to play this winter.

We played indoors one day and worked on proprioceptive input, vestibular input, crossing midline, visual scanning, motor planning, among other therapy areas, all with play.  

Add these resources to the ones you can find here under sensory diet vestibular activities to meet the sensory needs of all kids. 

Indoor Ice Skates proprioception and vestibular sensory play activity

Indoor ice skates with cardboard boxes add proprioception and vestibular sensory play.

Indoor Ice Skating Activity for Kids

This is an activity that I remember doing as a kid.  When the weather is too cold or icy to get outdoors, adding any vestibular or proprioception input can be just what the child with sensory needs craves.

Indoor Proprioception Sensory Activity for Kids

Use empty tissue boxes to create ice skate “boots”.  Incorporate proprioceptive input by using a blanket and pull your child around a carpeted area.  Ask them to squat down to a skater’s ready position as you pull them, too.

Try skating with the tissue boxes as an adult pulls the child along with a blanket or towel.  Play tug of war with the blanket, too.

Indoor Vestibular Sensory Activity for Kids

A child can work on vestibular input by skating fast from one target to another. Encourage them to position themselves in different ways as they skate around a carpeted room.  

Indoor Ice Skate Vestibular activity for kids

This activity works on crossing midline as the child “skis”.  Sometimes you might see children with vestibular difficulties who have difficulty determining proper motor planning in activities.  They might have trouble crossing midline in functional tasks as well as difficulties with reading and writing.  

A movement activity that challenges the body’s position in space like this one can help with these problem areas.

This post is part of our January Calendar activities where we’re sharing prorpioceptive and vestibular activities for each day.  See all of the posts here

Be sure to subscribe to our newsletter to receive your January Calendar and weekly updates from us on all of our blog posts. Sign up HERE.

Are you looking for more information on Vestibular or Proprioception (and ALL of the sensory systems) and how they affect functional skills, behavior, and the body’s sensory systems?  This book, Sensory Processing 101, will explain it all.  Activities and Resources are included.  Get it today and never struggle to understand or explain Sensory Integration again.  Shop HERE.