These pencil control exercises are so easy to throw together and a sure way to help kids work on line awareness and pencil use. Working on pencil control is a way to help kids with letter formation and legibility in handwriting. When kids write quickly, legibility often times diminishes. When kids have control over pencil strokes, they are able to carry over those skills. There are many ways to work on pencil control in creative and fun ways. We’ve shared a few different pencil control activities ideas that may help. The pencil control practice sheets below are one that can be done quickly and in between classroom or therapy activities.
Below, I’m sharing how to use graph paper to address pencil control.
But first, what is pencil control? Glad you asked.
What is Pencil Control?
Pencil control is using the pencil to write in a way that is fluid and in control. It’s writing letters with changes in direction at a speed that is developmentally appropriate and automatically. Writing with pencil control allows children to write letters and words on the lines and with in a given space efficiently.
First, it doesn’t matter what size graph paper you use. Younger kids are using less control naturally, so changes in direction in a smaller area are more difficult for new writers. However, beginning lines and control with those lines can be used with smaller graph paper sizes.
By that, I mean learning the beginning strokes of pencil control don’t contain a lot of changes of direction in a small area. Beginning pencil control includes starting and stopping pencil lines, line length, and placing the pencil and pick it up in the correct areas.
More advancing pencil control, and the ability needed for smaller handwriting size can use smaller sized graph paper for more changes in direction.
Pencil Control Practice Sheets
Using the graph paper, just draw lines, shapes, dots, angles, and shapes. Then, show kids how to copy those forms. They will need to keep their pencil on the lines of the graph paper, start where the model starts, and end where the model lines end.
Get this Free Pencil Control Practice Sheet for beginning lines using graph paper. This is a good sheet to start with for kids who are writing. Kids who have never written letters before or are new writers may benefit more from pencil control worksheets without the graph paper grids.
This free printable sheet is perfect for kids who struggle with legibility during writing, older kids who need to touch back on the basics of pencil control. It’s a great start for kids who need to work on visual perceptual skills needed for handwriting.
This easy handwriting trick uses an item you probably have in the workshop or garage of your house. Sometimes, a creative technique is all it takes to help kids work on letter formation and line awareness in their handwriting. We used sand paper to provide proprioceptive feedback through the pencil while working on handwriting skills that might be difficult for some kids on regular paper.
This trick is a fun pencil control activity that is helpful for improving handwriting.
Scroll to the bottom to watch this Sandpaper Handwriting Trick.
Sandpaper Writing Activity
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Sandpaper might be considered a super tool in the Occupational Therapist’s therapy bag. It’s a great medium for working on handwriting in several areas: Using sandpaper as a base sheet when writing provides a surface for feedback through the hand. This is one easy way to help kids who need to work on pencil pressure.
This is such an easy trick for helping kids to work on letter formation, number formation, letter reversals, and organizational issues such as line placement (aka writing on the lines and in the spaces on worksheets).
With kids, sometimes a small twist on what you’ve been doing is all that you need to get the hours of practice to finally “stick”. You might have been working on letter or number formation over and over again in a bunch of different ways. The chalkboard, the white board, the fun pencil, writing in the sand bin…but give the kiddo a piece of paper and the letters are choppy, poorly formed, and all over the lines.
What is a mom/teacher/OT to do?
Some kids respond well to repetition. Motor planning is a good thing when it comes to letter formation or number formation! However, other kids work well with all of the tricks but just can’t carryover the skills they’ve learned once they are required to write quickly or write an open-ended response (aka think while writing).
This sandpaper writing trick is one strategy that can help kids slow down, respond to tactile sensory input, and modify their pencil control given proprioceptive feedback.
Here’s how it works: Simply lay a piece of paper on top of a sheet of sandpaper. And then write.
The sandy grit of sandpaper provides feedback through the pencil and allows kids to slow down, write with better pencil pressure, and be more aware of how their pencil is moving in the space they have to write in.
Sandpaper provides a great proprioceptive strategy for handwriting. Different kids will respond to different grades of sandpaper. This pack comes in an assortment of grades so that you can try more or less “sandiness” to the paper. A coarse grit will provide more feedback and a fine grit will provide less sensory input.
Watch the video to get a better understanding of how to complete this activity. Show it to the kiddos, too!
This is a great trick to use with workbooks. Use several colors of colored pencils to practice letter or number formation with rainbow writing. Simply trace over the letters with different colors to practice letter formation.
Using a sheet of sandpaper under a worksheet can allow for improved placement in a writing space by encouraging the child to slow down while writing.
Try writing right on the sandpaper with colored pencils to really add a tactile strategy to letter formation. Try placing starting dots along with verbal or visual cues to form the letter correctly. The tactile feedback will add a “memory” to forming the letter.
This is a great strategy for helping kids to address letter reversals.
One last way to use sandpaper in handwriting is to draw lines on the sandpaper and ask the child to write on the lines with colored pencils. While this is not a practical strategy for written work, it’s a great way to practice line awareness and spatial organization skills. Once the sandpaper is filled up with writing, use it as a base for placing paper on top.
MORE ways to practice handwriting using sandpaper:
Like this handwriting tip? Try all of the strategies in our Easy Quick Fixes to Better Handwriting series. Be sure to check out all of the easy handwriting tips in this month’s series and stop back often to see them all.
Watch the video on this Sandpaper Handwriting Trick:
There are some kids out there who absolutely HATE handwriting. Let me re-phase that. There are a ton of kids who completely despise to their core the act of working neat handwriting, pencil grasp, slowing down so people can read their words, and writing on the lines. A ton. I’ve worked with many (many!) kids like this. I’ve recommended fun activities to about a zillion parents and teachers of these kiddos. It just isn’t fun and it is work for them. Poor handwriting can result from so many factors: fine motor development, motor planning, visual perceptual skills, and attention, are just a few of the areas that interfere with neatness in written work.
So how do you possibly get through to build those areas up when the child is resistant to pick up a pencil and copy written work?
You make it completely NOT handwriting practice.
I’ve got a super creative way to sneak in skills like pencil control, line awareness, spatial awareness, and letter formation. And kids won’t realize they are building their ability to write on lines, space between words, and form letters the correct size. And it all uses art!
Work on Handwriting with Tangle Art
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I was lucky enough to snag a copy of my friend Jeanette’s new art book, Tangle Art Drawing Games for Kids: A Silly Book for Creative and Visual Thinking. This book is completely creative with easy and fun ways to get arty. I flipped through the book and loved every single project. They are no-prep art ideas that require only a pen and paper for most of the ideas. You could do every project in the book and then go back to the beginning and re-do them all and still be inspired to create new and fun art.
One project in the book drew me in when i saw it. Ice pop stick tangle art is the perfect workout to build the skills needed for neatness in handwriting while creating fun art.
We followed the directions in the book to make shapes using craft sticks. Just tracing the craft sticks is a great way to work on bilateral coordination. When a child writes, it is essential that they hold the paper with their non-dominant hand. Then need to stabilize the paper in order for the pencil to glide across the page.
Just try writing without holding the pencil and you will notice a difference in neatness. This small task is often one that slides when kids loose attention in a handwriting task. You might see them slouch over at their desk and write without holding the paper.
Tracing those craft sticks is a nice way to physically attend to the bilateral coordination needed in handwriting tasks.
It is fun for kids to make hidden messages in the shapes by spelling out a name or word with all of the letters.
If your kiddo is VERY anti-letters, try working on spatial awareness and pencil control by practicing the writing strokes needed for letter formation. Instruct them to make counter clockwise circles close to one another, diagonal lines, horizontal and vertical lines, and mountain shapes.
This is a quick and easy way to build the skills needed for improving handwriting through more controlled pencil strokes. Kids can pick up a pencil and write quickly with scratchy letter formation or press too hard to form very dark letters. They can miss lines and form letters in various sizes or write letters on top of one another. There are many (MANY) various reasons for each of these handwriting concerns. From inefficient fine motor strength, to visual perceptual difficulties, to proprioception needs…handwriting is a complex task! Sometimes, the issue with poor handwriting is the child’s lack of pencil control. They might over-extend lines and need to improve precision in handwriting.
These easy crayon exercises are one way to work on pencil control. We’ve shared a similar activity recently using colored pencils and smaller circles that worked on precision of pencil movements. Today’s crayon exercises are just a little different and designed to build the motor movements of letter formation.
Pencil Control Exercises with Crayons
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For the first activity, simply draw 1/2 inch circles with various colors of crayons. Make the circles touch. Kids can draw an “x” inside the colors. I gave the instruction to keep the “x” inside the lines and use a different color than the color of the circle. This direction allows the child to slow down as they check the color and gives them a chance to become more aware of the lines of the circles.
We also used small pieces of crayons for this activity. Using small pieces of crayons is a great way to build the muscles needed for coloring and writing with controlled moments. I touched on the benefits of coloring a bit here.
Another quick pencil control exercise is coloring in 1/2 inch circles. For this exercise, ask your child to color the circles in specific ways. Show them how to color some circles with various crayon strokes. Coloring small areas with vertical crayon strokes, horizontal strokes, semi circle motions, diagonal lines, and circular crayon strokes mimics the lines of letter formation. Coloring the semi circles within the circle’s boundaries promotes the curved lines of letters like “c” and “a”. Be sure to show them how to start at the top for each circle and retrace their lines until most of the circle is filled in.
Here are a few more ideas that you can incorporate to improve pencil control. In the video below, we used colored pencils. Do these exercises with crayons, colored pencils, markers, chalk or anything!
Try this activity before a handwriting task to warm up the hands.
A pediatric Occupational Therapist knows that with function comes FUN. “Who put the fun in the functional skills” sounds like a line from an oldies tune now that I think about it! It’s right there with the rama lama ding dong!
Occupational Therapist bloggers know how to make blog posts fun too 😉
So, when your child’s OT is looking for activities to build the skills needed for development, they know how to add in creative activities that promote independence. Today, I’ve got fun ways to work on fine motor skills with a functional grasp, specifically the extended wrist.
You might have seen a child who holds their pencil with a bent wrist and curled up fingers. They’ve probably got their elbow super flexed and their shoulder forward.
Maybe you have a kiddo who fumbles with buttons and zippers or shows weakness in grasping items. Perhaps you have an OT client who bends their wrist forward when they are lacing beads or other fine motor tasks.
When the wrist is flexed (bent forward towards curved fingers in a grasp), there is little chance of fine motor dexterity. A flexed wrist in functional tasks limits use of the fingers due to the tendons of the fingers being shortened as they work to stabilize the wrist. The fingers just can’t move like they are supposed to.
There are many exercises and activities that can be done to build the stability of the wrist so that it maintains a slightly extended position during fine motor activities. I’ll be sharing some DIY creative ideas soon (so stay tuned!) but for now, here are 10 Must Have toys to build wrist stability and extended wrist:
Toys to Promote an Extended Wrist and Functional Grasp During Fine Motor Activities
1. Lite Brite Position this old school toy on a slightly elevated surface to promote an extended wrist while managing the small pegs within the hand and with a tripod grasp.
2. Table Top Easel– This one is double sided to allow for chalk, dry erase markers, and has a clip for attaching paper. Use the easel for writing, drawing, painting, coloring, chalking, and games like Hand Man to make strengthening fun.
4. Dartboard– Tossing darts encourages an extended wrist while holding the darts. This set comes with magnetic darts, which is great for kids.
5. Pop Beads– The small size of pop beads promotes dexterity of the fingers as well as resistance to push the beads together. Encouraging the child to do this task with both elbows on a table surface encourages an extended wrist.
6. Stamps– Grab a set of small rubber stamps or any stamp that has a small handle. Tape a piece of paper to the wall or clip it to an easel. Holding the handle while stamping on a vertical surface promotes a functional wrist position.
7. Twister game– Any game or activity that is done with the child extending their wrist as the press their upper body weight through the arm is a great strengthening exercise for wrist stability.
8. Beads– Threading beads with a string or plastic cord encourages and extended wrist with fine motor dexterity. Beads can be found in various sizes to meet the needs of the child.
9. Wall Sticky Tack– Sticky tack? Really! Use it to hand paper, mazes, tic tack toe boards, connect the dot pages, and coloring sheets right to the wall! You can hang paper on the windows, like we did to really work on handwriting with a see-through effect. Writing on the wall is a great way to build wrist stability and promote an extended wrist.
10. Etch-A Sketch– Another classic toy, the Etch-A Sketch is perfect for building an extended wrist. Prop it up on a slanted position and be sure to place it upside down so the knobs are at the top.
Working on the underlying skills of handwriting is SO important in handwriting. This pre-writing lines activity is a fun Easter occupational therapy activity, but it’s also a powerful tool for building the foundation for handwriting.
You know we like to share handwriting activities around here, right? This Easter egg pre-writing activity is a fun way for young children to work on pre-writing skills in order to build a base for letter formation and pencil control. While we made this activity an Easter egg-ish shape, you could do this activity any time of year and use any shape to work on pencil control within a confined space.
Preschoolers and Toddlers will love this early handwriting activity! All of these skills are needed before a child can form letters and work on line awareness in Kindergarten. If a child is showing difficulty with forming diagonals in letters like “A” or “M”, this would be a fun way to work on building the skill for improved legibility in written work.
Using THIS Dry Erase Board worked out great for this activity, because we did the same writing activity on the reverse side, which has a chalkboard. Writing with small pieces of chalk is a fantastic fine motor and intrinsic muscle strengthening activity to work on the fine motor skills needed for endurance in drawing and coloring, as well as the tripod grasp needed for an appropriate grasp on the pencil. A chalkboard surface for drawing lines is much more resistant than a smooth dry erase surface, providing more feedback during line formation.
We used these Dry Erase Markers for their fine point and colorful selection, which made making these Easter eggs a creative activity, too. My preschooler loved picking out the colors to create patterns. The last item we needed for this handwriting precursor activity was Wikki Stix. As an Occupational Therapist, I feel like I’m always pushing the benefits of Wikki Stix. The bendable and mold-able sticks are a great fine motor and handwriting tool. In this activity, I bent one or two wikki stix into an egg shape. You could also make circles, squares, or any shape for your handwriting task.
Developmental Progression of Pre-Writing Strokes
As a child develops, they are typically able to copy lines and shapes with increasing accuracy. Here are the general ages of development for pre-writing lines:
Age 2- Imitates a vertical line from top to bottom
Age 2-Imitates a Horizontal Line
Age 2-Imitates a Circle
Age 3- Copies (After being shown a model) a Vertical Line from top to bottom
Age 3 Copies a Horizontal Line from left to right
Age 3- Imitates a Cross
Age 4- Copies a Cross
Age 4- Copies a Right and Left Diagonal Line
Age 4- Copies a Square
Age 4- Copies an “X”
Age 5- Copies a Triangle
The developmental progression of these shapes allows for accuracy and success in letter formation.
Get a FREE Developmental Progression of Pre-Writing Strokes printable HERE.
Easter Egg Pre-Writing Strokes Activity
For this activity, we used the Wikki Stix to right on the dry erase board. I created egg shaped ovals with the wikki stix. I then showed my preschooler how to draw lines across the eggs to create patterns and designs.
We practiced horizontal lines (going from left to right) and vertical lines (going from top to bottom). We also added circles within the boundaries of the wikki stix and diagonal lines, too.
The physical border provided by the wikki stix gave a nice area and cue for pencil control. Try doing this activity with progressing level of developmental line skill. You can also work on writing letters inside the wikki stix to build spatial and size awareness in handwriting.
Extend the activity:
Use the wikki sticks to do this activity on paper or a chalkboard. Other ideas might be using crayons, markers, or a grease pencil for more feedback through resistance and proprioceptive input to the hands.
More Pre-writing Lines Activities
Some of my favorite Handwriting activities are multi-sensory and incorporate motor planning activities for building pre-writing lines as a foundation for handwriting:
Score Fine Motor Tools and resources and help kids build the skills they need to thrive!
Developing hand strength, dexterity, dexterity, precision skills, and eye-hand coordination skills that kids need for holding and writing with a pencil, coloring, and manipulating small objects in every day task doesn’t need to be difficult. The Spring Fine Motor Kit includes 100 pages of fine motor activities, worksheets, crafts, and more:
Colleen Beck, OTR/L is an occupational therapist with 20 years experience, graduating from the University of Pittsburgh in 2000. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. As the creator, author, and owner of the website and its social media channels, Colleen strives to empower those serving kids of all levels and needs. Want to collaborate? Send an email to email@example.com.
Sometimes, you need play dough in your day. Other times, you need to turn up the play dough fun notch just a bit. (That’s a thing, right? The play dough fun scale? I think so.) This Fine Motor Play Dough Alphabet activity combined a couple of our favorite things: Creative Play Dough ideas and Fine Motor Skills. We used a handful of foam alphabet stickers that we had in the house and store bought play dough to make letters that we used in spelling words, letter identification, and alphabetical ordering. And our play dough fun rating was 26 letters long!
Full disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.
Every Occupational Therapist knows the benefits of play dough is so huge that they recommend it as a top-rated tool for fine motor development. We’ve shared a ton of fine motor activities using play dough and I absolutely love to play with play dough with my kids for it’s use in fine motor skill development and hand strengthening. Play dough is perfect for refining skills like intrinsic muscles strength, finger isolation, tripod grasp development, thumb opposition, opening up the web space, bilateral hand coordination, and more. With this activity, we specifically hit developing the intrinsic muscle strength of the hands.
Intrinsic muscle strength and play dough
So, what is intrinsic muscle strength? There are seventeen muscles in the hand that are responsible for fine motor skills and precision grasp, among other things like moving the thumb and fingers. There are different groups of intrinsic muscles and they allow us to grasp items in a functional way. The muscles of the hands work in conjunction with the muscles that originate in the forearm. These extrinsic muscles end in your hand.
For this activity, we used different colors of play dough and created small round balls of dough. I asked my kids (and nephew who was over for the day) to roll small, dime-sized balls using just their thumb and fingers. Rolling small balls of this size uses the intrinsic muscles that are responsible for moving the thumb (thenar mucles) and the muscles that bend the fingers at the knuckle (lumbricals). Also needed for a task like this are the palmer interossi muscles that work to move the fingers in a flexed position toward the thumb.
So, when a child is rolling a small ball of dough, with their thumb and fingers, they are working on strengthening the muscles that a child uses to write and color with a pencil or crayon.
Weakness in Writing and Coloring
Sometimes kids complain of their hand hurting when coloring or you might see them switch crayons very often when coloring. These are signs of a weakness of hand strength. Other signs of intrinsic muscle weakness are a weak grasp on the pencil or writing very lightly with a pencil.
After we rolled all of the play dough balls, we used our foam letter stickers to press letters into the Play-Doh. Pressing the letters with an extended finger (like in the picture) is a great way to work on finger isolation. It is important to note that using the finger in an extended “pointer” uses the extrinsic muscles that originate in the forearm. I shared more about finger isolation here.
We used these letters to practice spelling words with my second grader, identify sight words for my Kindergartner, practice letter identification and letter order with my preschooler, and practice not eating play dough with my toddler 😉
Using things you have around the home is a great way to play, create, and learn. We made these learning charts using something that might just get thrown away: a food pouch bottle cap! Make your own learning worksheets for improving pencil control, counting, letters, ordering, handwriting, fine motor skills, line awareness, and so many more ideas.
This post contains affiliate links. We are posting this idea as part of our month-long Learning with Free Materials series where we provide 31 days of learning using free or almost free materials in homeschooling or school-based extension learning like homework. This post is part of the 31 Days of Homeschooling Tips as we blog along with other bloggers with learning at home tips and tools.
Worksheets don’t need to be boring and printed off of the computer. Use a cap from squeezable food pouches as a stamper to make a creative and process-art based worksheet for math, literacy, science documenting, handwriting, and so many more ideas.
Using your favorite paint (this is mine!), pour paint into a paper plate or bowl. Use the top part of the pouch cap to stamp circles onto paper. You can stamp in rows and columns, in a line down the page, or all over in a circle process art creation.
We used paint that was swirled together from a different project to get a pretty, color-mixing effect. These aren’t your average worksheets!
Let the paint dry and then you are ready to get to work.
Using your homemade worksheets:
There are so many ways to use these.
My three year old used a Paint Dauber to fill in the circles. You could color match the circles to the paint dauber color for color identification. Filling in the circles is a good hand-eye coordination activity for children. Get creative with your circles and make letters, numbers, shapes and pictures for preschool-aged kids. Filling in the circles is a great fine motor activity.
Write the letters of the alphabet in the cap circles. They are a small size which will encourage appropriate letter formation and line awareness without using the restraints of lined paper.
For hands-on math and hand-eye coordination, fill in the circles with Cheerios or other cereal.
Use a pencil and make an “x” in each circle. Be careful not to go over the paint lines! This is a fabulous pencil control activity and great for line awareness. We did something like this idea in our DIY Christmas worksheets post.
Use the pouch cap to make a column of circles going down the page. Circles on the left side of the page will make a great check mark area for lists. Circles down the right side can be a writing space for math questions or multiple choice questions. Kids can fill their number or letter answer into the circle.
Use the pouch caps to make fill in the blank pages for spelling or sight word practice. Simply make the appropriate number of circles in a line and kids can fill in their spelling words. This idea can be modified for any subject. Science, history, math, English-language arts, and more all have terms that children need to learn and use. Write out sentences and have the child fill in the circles with the answer.
Make a hundreds chart. Fill in the circles with numbers or small items.
Make a tens chart for Kindergarten aged kids to practice counting small items with one-to-one correspondence.
How would you use these DIY worksheets? There are so many possibilities! Tell us in the comments below or on our facebook page!