Margins in Handwriting

Trouble with margins in handwriting

Occupational therapists work on many aspects of handwriting to ensure that legible writing is a functional means of communication for children and students. One aspect of that is addressing the margins in handwriting. When margins are omitted or neglected, handwriting moves from functional to difficult to read.

Poor use of margins when copying written material is a handwriting problem that looks like different things. When using margins is difficult in handwriting, it leads to illegibility and trouble copying written work.

Margins in handwriting

One thing that comes up frequently in school based OT, is the use of margins when writing. I’ve worked with many students that struggle with knowing to move their pencil to the next line when writing. Other students cram letters into the right margin of the page and then move to the next line only to slightly move over a bit. This means that the left margin slowly creeps across the page.

You’ve seen it before.  A child is writing a journal entry or a writing response on a piece of paper and each line of the paragraph creeps in toward the center of the page.

The margins in their handwriting are just all over the place! By the end of the passage, the left margin is half way across the page. You might see them start halfway across the page and try to squash letters in by the time they get to the right side of the page.

It’s hard to read and even the kiddo has trouble reading back over their work. The thing is, the student may not even be aware they are writing like this…

When a child has poor use of margins when writing, there is typically a problem with spatial organization and page orientation.

Decreased spatial awareness can happen due to trouble with visual perceptual awareness.  

It may carry over to handwriting that appears very messy with words that are squashed up against one another or spaced with very large spaces between letters.  

what are margins in writing

Margins are the edges of the paper. When we write, we move our pencil up to the edge of the right side of the paper, but we stop before we move to the next line to continue writing.

The right margin on a page is where the student will stop writing, but so often, I’ve seen students that cram words right up to the edge of the paper because they can’t conceptualize how much space is needed to fit the word onto that line of the paper. They might end up cramming the whole word so the letters are very small or squished up to the edge of the page.

The left margin is the edge of the page where the next line begins on the paper. I’ve also seen many students who write or copy a list of words, or are writing a paragraph on lined paper. When they move to the next line, the move their pencil over just slightly because they are aligning the word with the written material on the line above. Eventually, you see a margin that creeps across the page toward the middle of the page.

Why kids struggle with margins in handwriting

So, why do we see those handwriting samples where the lines of written work slowly creep over to the middle of the page? With each line that the student writes, they start writing just a bit more away from the margin?

There could be a few different things going on here that impact margin use:

1. There could be a visual perception difficulty going on. Visual perceptual skills could lead to trouble with margin use. Specifically, it could be a problem with visual spatial relations. Spatial relations, or poor spatial awareness difficulties shows up frequently in handwriting.

This presents as poor spacing between letters and words, poor use of margins, or written work that drifts in toward the center of the page. Kids may struggle with knowing when to stop writing on the end of a line of the page and try to squash the material in rather than stopping to move to the next line.

Left to right use of paper or writing spaces on worksheets can be a problem. Other size aspects of handwriting including letter size, placement of letter “parts”, and consistency in sizing can be difficult for the child with visual spatial concerns.

Visual spatial relations can also impact placement of objects or the child’s body parts in relation to other objects, other people, or in movement. This can show up as poor coordination, poor balance, poor self-awareness, poor self-confidence, and even impaired social emotional relations.

Spatial awareness is the ability to perceive the world around one’s self and position themselves or objects accordingly.  Awareness of space relates a lot to the proprioceptive and vestibular systems as well as the visual system.  

A child who demonstrates poor spatial awareness in handwriting tasks most likely shows some variances of difficulty with gross motor movement, understanding directions, abstract concepts, and language.  

2. There could be an oculomotor component. The movement of the eyes in activities is complex! When we see issues with margins, there could be a couple of oculomotor issues happening. At a  basic level, the eyes move to take in information and process that information for use.

One oculomotor skill that may be in play with margin trouble are visual saccades/visual scanning. Saccades are the ability to visually scan information. Saccades require the ability to fixate on information in the visual fields.

Saccadic movement, or more commonly known as visual saccades, is the ability of the eyes to move in synchrony from point A to point B rapidly WITHOUT deviating from the path. When kids move their eyes to the next line of a paper, they jump to the nearest anchor (which will be the letter above on the last line of text they just wrote.) They will then scoot their pencil over and under that letter, resulting in written work that drifts in toward the middle of the page. Here is more information on visual saccades and learning.

We cover more about oculomotor skills and how they result in functional issues in reading, writing, and daily activities in the free Visual Processing Lab here on The OT Toolbox. 

3. It might be developmental. In this case, kids just need more experience with writing paragraphs of text. They place their written material anywhere on the page or drift over on the line when starting to write. Visual and verbal cues…and more practice can help.

Even children without visual perception difficulties may tend to drift their handwriting in toward the middle of the page as they write paragraphs.  This is especially apparent in free writing, journal writing, or writing prompts.  You will see that children who are developing their ability to form thoughts in paragraph form. As they write, it is common to see the lines start to drift toward the middle of the page. Here is more information on development of eye-hand coordination.

3. It might be speed of writing or visual inattention. Basically, you might see a kiddo who just isn’t paying attention when they are writing. In this case, students might be writing so quickly that they are focusing on the content of the writing versus the layout of the page and where they are placing their written work.

This happens when kids are taking notes and trying to quickly get the information on the page. You may also see the lines of text drifting over during free writing or timed writing tasks. In these cases, a visual cue can help but it might just take a verbal prompt. Point out how the margins are creeping over and see if that helps. Here is more information on visual attention.

4. Look at reflexes. One thing that might be contributing to margin use is a retained ATNR reflex. Check out our resource on retained primitive reflexes. Here is information on primitive reflexes in general and how these movement reflexes impact function.

5. Look at midline crossing. Delays with crossing midline can impact movement across the page as the student writes. Read about midline and then try some of these midline activities. In this case, bringing attention to the margin can help. Use the strategies we have listed at the bottom of the page.

 
 
Use a highlighted line to mark the margin in handwriting tasks, to help kids with spatial awareness.
 
 
 
 

Visual Processing Checklist

 
This visual processing checklist can be a helpful tool in screening for visual processing difficulties prior to a full evaluation. It can be a way to collect qualitative information to include in assessment write-ups as well. 
 
 

Tips for Handwriting Margins

Today, I’ve got some tips for helping with spatial awareness in handwriting, including how to help with margins when writing. These tips can help kids with writing on the paper and using handwriting that is legible so they can come back and read what they’ve written. (And so the teacher or parent can read that handwriting too!)

Visual perceptual skills are needed for so many functional skills. You’ll find easy and fun ways to work on visual perceptual skills through play here. These are creative ways to work on the underlying issues that might be playing into trouble with margin use in handwriting as a result of spatial awareness difficulties.

 This post contains affiliate links.


QUICK tips for improving spatial awareness:

For some of the issues mentioned above, such as an underlying visual perceptual or oculomotor problems, further help and interventions will be needed. Seek out assessment from an occupational therapist for individualized treatment and intervention plans. Use of our visual processing checklist to help to identify a specific area related to visual processing needs.

The strategies that I’ve listed below are tools for helping students use margins when writing and copying onto paper. I love using some of the visual prompts because it helps to draw visual attention toward the prompt. Some of the strategies below are fun for kids and unexpected, so that visual prompt helps them to remember where to start or stop their pencil along the margins.

Try some of these strategies to help with margins:

  • There are ways to accommodate for difficulties with spatial awareness.  One quick tip is to use a highlighted left margin.  This is a great way for those kids whose writing drifts over to the middle of the page as they write or kids who start in the middle of the page.  
  • Use stickers placed along the right margin of  to cue the student that they are nearing the edge of paper when writing.  
  • Draw a line down the left margin for a starting point. Then use a different color to draw a vertical line down the right margin.
  • Place a thin piece of tape along the left margin. This can serve as a visual and physical cue as the place to start writing. It’s a visual anchor that helps with visual scanning.
  • Draw boxes for words on worksheets for them to write within.
  • Place small green dots on each line along the left margin. These are the “green lights” so students know where to start writing. Place small red dots on each line along the right margin. These are “red lights” so students know where to stop writing.
  • Spacing Tools for spacing between words or letters.
  • Draw a red stop sign at the right margin.
  • Try using graph paper for writing. Here is some Graph paper on Amazon. Try 1/2 inch wide rule first.
  • Raised line paper
  • Slant board
  • Slant the paper on the desk and work on writing posture.
  • Try smaller width of lines instead of primary paper.
  • RediSpace paper has a green line along the left margin and a red line along the right margin.
  • Try using a spacing tool pointer stick.  You can easily make your own!
  • Take a look at the ATNR. This could also be an issue impacting margin use.
 
 
 
Handwriting sample with poor margins and spatial awareness in writing task.
Kids can use handwriting accommodations for poor spatial awareness and margins in handwriting.
 
 

This activity is part of our month-long handwriting series where we are sharing creative and easy ways to address common handwriting issues in our 30 Easy Quick Fixes for Better Handwriting series.

Colleen Beck, OTR/L has been an occupational therapist since 2000, working in school-based, hand therapy, outpatient peds, EI, and SNF. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. Read her story about going from an OT making $3/hour (after paying for kids’ childcare) to a full-time OT resource creator for millions of readers. Want to collaborate? Send an email to contact@theottoolbox.com.

The Handwriting Book is a comprehensive resource created by experienced pediatric OTs and PTs.

The Handwriting Book covers everything you need to know about handwriting, guided by development and focused on function. This digital resource is is the ultimate resource for tips, strategies, suggestions, and information to support handwriting development in kids.

The Handwriting Book breaks down the functional skill of handwriting into developmental areas. These include developmental progression of pre-writing strokes, fine motor skills, gross motor development, sensory considerations, and visual perceptual skills. Each section includes strategies and tips to improve these underlying areas.

  • Strategies to address letter and number formation and reversals
  • Ideas for combining handwriting and play
  • Activities to practice handwriting skills at home
  • Tips and strategies for the reluctant writer
  • Tips to improve pencil grip
  • Tips for sizing, spacing, and alignment with overall improved legibility

Click here to grab your copy of The Handwriting Book today.

Rainbow Writing Letter Formation Activity

Colorful letter As and lowercase a's with overlapping colors. Text reads "rainbow writing"

This quick and easy rainbow writing activity is an easy handwriting activity to working on letter formation and letter construction.  Rainbow writing handwriting is a strategy to work on letter formation as a multisensory learning activity for kids. This handwriting activity is an Easy Handwriting strategy that can be so helpful in teaching letter formation and pencil control. 

rainbow writing

You can practice letters with rainbow writing using different utensils. We used rainbow writing with chalk before too.

What is Rainbow Writing

Rainbow writing might be a handwriting activity that you’ve heard of before. Many times, we see rainbow writing as an option for practicing sight words or high frequency words, especially as a multi-sensory learning options.

Typically, you’ll see rainbow writing as one way that kids can practice writing words and letters: They are asked to write the words in a color of the rainbow and then trace over those letters with another color, thus making a rainbow of letters.

Rainbow writing is a great strategy for practicing handwriting! Kids get multiple attempts at forming letters, working on motor planning, pencil placement, and repetition (practice) that very much plays a part in handwriting legibility.

Things to Watch for with Rainbow Writing

Color mixing rainbow writing activity for helping kids with letter formation

When tracing, there are some things to consider. Especially with rainbow writing, kids can develop bad letter formation habits. Read through this resource on tracing sheets to see the pros and cons of tracing with kids.

Some things you’ll want to consider about rainbow writing activities:

  • Be sure to watch how the student starts the letters when they rainbow write. It can be easy to start a poor muscle memory for writing the letters if they start at the wrong starting point or form the letters incorrectly. When they rainbow write each letter and it progressively gets worse, this can create an incorrect motor plan in the handwriting process.
  • Make sure the child that is using rainbow writing to practice letters don’t progressively move their pencil in bigger and bigger strokes as they include each color.
  • Some kids tend to make the rainbow letters with colors next to each other like a rainbow rather than tracing on top of each color. Ask the student to make a mixed up rainbow by tracing right on top of each color.

How to use Rainbow Writing for handwriting

Rainbow writing is a way to work on legibility of written work.

Helping kids write letters with correct letter formation is essential for legibility, especially as kids get older and are required to produce more written work at a faster rate.  Consider the high school student that needs to rapidly jot down notes.  If letters are formed from bottom to top or in sections, their speed and legibility will drastically drop. Sometimes it is speed OR legibility  that suffers when a child needs to produce more amounts of written work in a specific period of time (i.e. copying down notes as a teacher rattles off details.    

The younger student will be affected by inaccuracies in letter formation as well. Around the third grade, students are responsible for jotting down their homework assignments into a planner.  

When the child is bombarded by classroom sensory input (pencil sharpeners, students, desk chairs moving, hallway distractions, coughing classmates…) difficulties with letter formation can result in illegible homework lists and trouble with re-reading the assignment list when the student attempts to start on homework.  

Rainbow Writing Color Changing Activity

There’s more to rainbow writing than incorporating colors and sensory experiences into handwriting. Color Mixing Rainbow Writing is a creative way to help kids learn the right way to actually form letters, because the task allows children to self-correct their written work right in the moment.

They can see where their letter formation has veered into poor letter size or placement. Rainbow writing then becomes a strategy to improve motor planning in handwriting and pencil control as well.    

Affiliate links are included below.

In the handwriting activity shared here, we are taking rainbow writing a step further.

This letter formation activity is really simple and a LOT of fun.  Kids can work on typical motor pattern of letters by exploring color mixing.  

MATERIALS for Rainbow Writing

When you rainbow write, a student can use different colors of crayons, markers, colored pencils, or even chalk. You can use colors of the rainbow, or if you want to work on color changing, use just a couple of the colors.

  • You’ll need just three markers for this activity.   
  • Red, Yellow and Blue markers  are all you need to work on letter formation with color mixing.  We used dollar store markers, but also tried these washable markers (affiliate link- As an Amazon Influencer, I earn from qualifying purchases.) and the activity worked too. 

How to rainbow write with color changing

  1. For this activity, you’ll need to first write the letters that you are working on in one color. Then, using another color, trace over the letters to create a new color.  

2. Mixing the yellow and red made orange letters and mixing the yellow and blue markers made green letters.  

Kids can work on letter formation but experience the color changing of the markers when they write over letters in different colors.

Some different options to try with this rainbow writing activity:

  • Use just 2 colors so kids can try mixing two primary colors to see what the colors make
  • Not when the colors do not change: did they marker lines go off the lines? Can letters be written again or can the student try again to make the colors change?
  • Some kids may benefit from a model that is written in one color by the teacher, therapist, or parent. Then, the student can try to keep their letters on the lines to ensure proper size, spacing, and formation
  • Try making color coded messages to one another using the color changing activity
  • Work on phonetic awareness, by making vowels or phenomes one color and consonants or letter blends another color.
Rainbow Writing Activity with Color mixing for handwriting.

 

Tips for Rainbow Writing

Because kids can develop bad habits with rainbow writing, here are some things to keep in mind.

  1. Work on letter formation with this activity by providing kids with the amount of assistance they need to form letters correctly.  At first, they may need verbal, physical, and visual cues to form letters correctly.
  2. Encourage students to form the letters from top to bottom and in the correct way.  When they re-trace the letters with a second color, be sure they are forming and tracing the letters correctly.    
  3. When kids trace over the colors, they will be forming letters slowly in order to trace over the letters and ensuring the colors mix.  
  4. By tracing over the lines to form letters, they are building the typical motor patterns needed to write the letters correctly and efficiently.  

We worked on cursive letters with this activity, but it would work very well with printed letters, particularly letters that are typically reversed or confused like b and d reversals.  

Here is more information on letter reversals to consider.

Color mixing rainbow writing activity for helping kids with letter formation

 Looking for more creative ways to work on handwriting?  Check out these creative ways to help kids work on their written work:  

Functional Handwriting Practice Ideas

What is Visual Spacing

Visual Tracking Tips and Tools

Handwriting Spacing Tool and Spatial Awareness Tips and Tools

DIY Dry Erase Board Handwriting Travel Kit

Colors Handwriting Kit

Rainbow Handwriting Kit– This resource pack includes handwriting sheets, write the room cards, color worksheets, visual motor activities, and so much more. The handwriting kit includes:

  • Write the Room, Color Names: Lowercase Letters
  • Write the Room, Color Names: Uppercase Letters
  • Write the Room, Color Names: Cursive Writing
  • Copy/Draw/Color/Cut Color Worksheets
  • Colors Roll & Write Page
  • Color Names Letter Size Puzzle Pages
  • Flip and Fill A-Z Letter Pages
  • Colors Pre-Writing Lines Pencil Control Mazes
  • This handwriting kit now includes a bonus pack of pencil control worksheets, 1-10 fine motor clip cards, visual discrimination maze for directionality, handwriting sheets, and working memory/direction following sheet! Valued at $5, this bonus kit triples the goal areas you can work on in each therapy session or home program.

Click here to get your copy of the Colors Handwriting Kit.

Colleen Beck, OTR/L has been an occupational therapist since 2000, working in school-based, hand therapy, outpatient peds, EI, and SNF. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. Read her story about going from an OT making $3/hour (after paying for kids’ childcare) to a full-time OT resource creator for millions of readers. Want to collaborate? Send an email to contact@theottoolbox.com.

Pencil Control Worksheets

pencil control worksheets

Part of handwriting legibility is the visual motor skills needed for pencil control and one tool in our toolbox are pencil control worksheets. Pencil control in isolation isn’t always addressed, but actually focusing on the refined pencil strokes and controlled movements of the pencil makes a huge difference in overall legibility. In this blog post, you’ll find many pencil control worksheet ideas and even have the ability to access a few of our favorites.

pencil control worksheets

Pencil Control Worksheets

Pencil control worksheets, or printable PDFs that target specific visual motor skills needed to move the pencil with precision and refined movements are tools that support handwriting.

When we use pencil control worksheets, it’s more than just moving the pencil to make marks.

Pencil skills worksheets can target many aspects of writing with a pencil:

  • Making small lines within a given space
  • Moving the pencil within a given space on a paper with presence of finger dexterity
  • Writing a letter on a small space, such as on our code breaker worksheets
  • Tracing over lines (Read here about the benefits of tracing lines)
  • Using precise movements in order to re-trace over letters when forming the alphabet correctly (letters like h, m, n, and r have re-trace where the pencil moves over an already formed pencil line).
  • Erasing the pencil marks
  • Writing with an appropriate and legible pencil pressure
  • Fluid and coordinated pencil strokes

Using worksheets to target specific skills like practicing letter formation isn’t always ideal. The occupational therapy practitioners may actually sway away from rote handwriting practice.

We’ve all seen it: A child is copying letters on a worksheet and the letters progressively get worse as they go across the page…or the margin creeps in as the child writes down the paper.

That is not to say that all letter formation worksheets are bad! In fact, we LOVE to target specific skills using letter writing practice on printable PDFs.

The OT trick is to facilitate the underlying skills, special themes that make the worksheet fun and engaging, and even using interactive worksheets that support skills in games or play-based learning.

The multisensory aspect is what turns an ordinary writing worksheet into a therapy tool!

All of these reasons are why using pencil control worksheets are great ways to target specific skills leading to handwriting legibility and functional writing skills.

Below, you’ll find ideas to make DIY pencil control worksheets, and then some of our favorite pencil control sheets. You can also grab a printable pencil control worksheets pdf at the very bottom of the page.

DIY pencil control worksheets

DIY Pencil Control Worksheets

The ideas below are some of our favorite ways to create your own DIY pencil control worksheets.

Does your school-aged child have difficulty with line awareness, pencil control, or letter formation?  Is your preschooler just learning to control the pencil while making straight lines, the diagonal lines of an “X” or the angled, connecting lines of shapes like a square, rectangle, or triangle? Do you know a child who is learning to control the “wobble” of the pencil while making a circle that connects the start to the finish?

All of these are pencil control skills!

It is easy to make fun worksheets that apply to your child’s needs/age-appropriate level/skills…and interests!

To make your own worksheets, you need just a few items:

  • plain paper
  • lined paper
  • graph paper
  • marker or highlighter
  • markers
  • pencil
  • stickers
  • dice

You don’t need to use all of these items…the activities below can be created over the course of several days or weeks. Pick and choose an activity and then go from there!

 
We shared one of our favorite pencil control exercises previously.
 
Use that idea along with these other worksheet ideas for more visual motor and fine motor work.
 
These are some easy handwriting exercises that can be done at home, or in the classroom. However, going from personal experience, the school-based OT doesn’t always have a ton of supplies on them. Depending on the setting and schedule, you may only have a marker, a pencil, and some paper in your possession. That’s where these DIY pencil and paper worksheets come into play.
 
 
 
Pencil control worksheet with stickers
 

DIY Pencil Control Sheet with Stickers

 
This worksheet activity is great because it targets pencil skills with a motivation factor. Using fun stickers makes it engaging for the user. Plus, you can factor in the benefits of playing with stickers by asking the child to place the sticker at one end of the lines.
 
Try to find some stickers that work with your therapy theme of the week or just are fun and motivating for the child’s interests.
 
Don’t have stickers? It’s not a big deal. Draw a small smiley face, simple car for the child that loves vehicles, or even colors of the rainbow. You can easily factor in so many personal interests to make this activity motivating with a simple drawing.
 
To make this pencil control activity:
  1. Use a highlighter to make straight, angled, and curvy lines going across the page…or add different twists and turns for your older child to trace along. 
  2. Grade the activity with the line width. Use thicker lines for a new writer and the school-aged child can work on very thin lines.
  3. Add a sticker at one end of the line. You can also add another sticker at the other end of the line if you like. 
 
Ask the child to keep the pencil lines inside of the yellow guide.  Fun stickers at the end of the lines always help 🙂
 
 
DIY pencil control worksheet

 

Graded Pencil Control Activity

This handwriting activity can be “graded” (adjusted to start out very easy for the child and then changed just slightly to make it more and more challenging).  Grading an activity is helpful for the learner because it allows the child to feel success and gain confidence during a task, but also builds success with more difficult  levels.
 
 Ideas to grade these pencil worksheets:
 
  • Consider orientation: By changing the direction of the lines, you can target different skills.
  • Lines that start at the top of the page and go down toward the child’s body are easiest. Start there. Consider placing this style of worksheet activity on a slant board or vertical surface for strengthening, support, or upper body positioning. 
  • Lines that go from left to right across the page cross the midline. This is a need for many children and can also target visual scanning skills. Also check out our blog post on crossing midline activities for preschoolers for the younger ages.
  • Consider using all curved lines or all angled lines, depending on the needs of the individual.
((I love Little Guy’s knight costume sleeve in this picture.  He rocks the knight costume at lease once a day  haha!))
 
 
 

DIY Pencil Control Sheets- Shapes

 
For the preschool child who is just learning to control the writing utensil, requiring them to write letters or write their name is beyond the scope of their development. We cover this in our resource on what happens when preschoolers are asked to write.
 
The pre-writing skills preschoolers actually need involve lines, shapes, coloring, and of course, fine motor play! We can target these skills using a pencil control sheet on shapes.
 
Think of it this way: To make a letter “A”, a child needs to create diagonal lines, which are two separate pencil strokes. The pencil needs to be placed at the correct point as the second line is created. The diagonal lines are further down the line-up, developmentally. Then, the middle line needs to connect two diagonal lines. For the child with an “A” in their name, asking them to make these marks before typical developmentally ready, you may end up with curved lines, shaky pencil marks, and misaligned connecting lines.
 
Practicing these skills in preschool over and over again leads to a motor plan for a poor letter formation.
 
That’s where pre-writing lines pencil control tasks are key.
 
We can foster the line markings of letters by making shapes and lines that ARE developmentally appropriate.
 
Pre-writing skills that can be targeted with pencil control shapes include: 
  • Straight lines
  • Starting the pencil at a certain point
  • Stopping the pencil at a certain point
  • Diagonal lines of an “X”
  • The angled, connecting lines of shapes like a square, rectangle, or triangle (making a sharp corner)
  • Smooth pencil strokes to create a curved line of a circle
  • Connecting shapes completely to close the shape
  • Hand strength and endurance to color in the shapes
  • Lifting the pencil and placing it on a specific point (Like adding a triangle to the top of a square to create a house, which is a skill needed to form some letters like adding the middle line to an “A”)
 
 
This DIY worksheet is similar to the one described above. Simply draw shapes using a marker. Create thicker or thinner lines. Then ask the child to trace over the lines.
 
You can then ask the child to color in the shapes using a crayon. We explained the skills behind this task in our pencil control activity which used colored pencils to fill in circles. 
 
 


DIY Pencil Control WORKSHEET with Line Awareness

The next worksheet idea focuses on spatial awareness skills in handwriting. This is also a pencil control technique.
 
  1. Use a blank piece of paper and using a marker, draw a shape such as a square.
  2. Draw a square around it. 
  3. Take turns with your child to make larger and larger shapes.

This activity is an easy way to work on pencil control skills using pre-writing shapes, but also focuses on the sharp angle of lines as they turn a corner. 

When the child makes the shape around your shape, they can work on pencil control for evenly spaced pencil strokes.

 
It’s a lot like doodling you did in your notebooks or while talking on the phone, right?
 
 
Taking turns with your little handwriting student helps them to see an accurate shape right next to the lines that they are drawing…with sharp edges and straight lines.
 
 
 

 


DIce Pencil Control Worksheet

Big Sister LOVED doing this one.  She filled out the whole sheet and had so much fun!  She would roll the dice, count the dots, and draw the dots (in the correct arrangement) in the squares on the page.
 
To create this DIY worksheet, you’ll need:
  • Blank paper
  • Marker
  • Dice
  • Pencil, crayon, or marker

You can work on so many skills with this activity. Counting, Copying, and Drawing with accurate spacing all work on her visual perceptual skills and spatial awareness.  

Set this activity up by:

  1. Draw lines to create a large grid on the paper. 
  2. Roll a dice. We used a large dice but a regular game dice would work too.
  3. Count the dots on the dice using the point of the pencil. Touch each dot. (A GREAT activity for targeting graded precision skills with the pencil)
  4. Then draw the dots on the paper in one of the spaces. Draw the dots exactly as they are on the dice.
 
These skills are essential for forming letters on lines, placing letters close enough to others in a word, and when copying lists of words. It’s a great beginner activity for near point copying skills.
 

 
 
 
 
Make early handwriting fun and your preschooler will have success…and love it!
 
 

Printable Pencil Control Worksheets 

Printable pencil control PDFs are an easy way to work on skills in therapy. You can print off a handful of the worksheets for your therapy caseload and use them in a variety of ways to target different OT goals and by grading the activities.

In The OT Toolbox Membership Club, we have over 130 printable pencil control worksheets (along with a thousand+ other skill-building activities and PDFs!). Membership Club members can log in and then head to our Pencil Control Skill to access them all.

Some of our favorites include:

  • Pencil control mazes
  • Dot games
  • Simple line printables
  • Eraser skill PDFs
  • Pencil control roads
  • Mazes
  • Connect the dot PDFs
  • Pre-writing pencil mazes
  • Pencil shading worksheets
  • Pencil line drawing activities like adding textures, dot features, or symmetry activities
  • Word search printables
  • Connect the matching items
  • So many more!
free pencil control worksheets

20 Free Pencil Control Worksheets

To get some printable pencil control worksheets, head to these blog posts. Each one addresses various aspects of handwriting skills, but in them, you can get a free printable pencil control PDF.

To get these printable worksheets, simply go to the bottom of the blog post and enter your email address into the form. (Each printable is also found in Level 1 of our membership, where are all “freebies” can be found. Level 2 members also get this benefit as well).

  1. Pencil Control Exercise– Copy pre-writing lines and shapes in a given space, between writing lines
  2. OT Coloring Pages– target hand strength and coloring in the lines
  3. Copy OT Words onto lines
  4. Mitten I Spy and Writing Pages– Color the shapes with a colored pencil and then write the words on the lines
  5. Number Formation Worksheet– Trace numbers on the shaded numbers
  6. Winter Color By Number– Color in the given space with controlled pencil/crayon motions
  7. New Years Maze– Keep your pencil in the path of the lines
  8. Number Road Playmats– Great for pencil control when making numbers
  9. Blank Word Search– Place letters inside the squares of the wordsearch grid
  10. 100 Snowballs Worksheet– Place numbers inside the circles
  11. Snowball Letter Practice– Trace letters on snowballs
  12. Holiday Lights Letter Tracing worksheet
  13. Hannukah Word Scramble– write the letters in the boxes
  14. Christmas Word Match– write the letters in the boxes
  15. Arctic Animal Word Search– circle single letters or the words to work on pencil skills
  16. Shadow Matching Worksheet– Connect the matching animals with pencil lines
  17. Dinosaur Worksheet– Connect the matching dinos with lines
  18. Owl Directed Drawing– Use pencil lines to create a simple owl
  19. Cotton Swab Art PDF– Break a cotton swab in half and use it to dot the lines
  20. Fine Motor Writing Sheets– Place play dough or small objects in the dots…or mark each dot with an X to fill the picture. Then write on the lines

For more resources, check out our library of letter formation worksheets. These printables are free and can be used to target a variety of skills.

The OT Toolbox membership club

Get all of the items listed above when you join The OT Toolbox Member’s Club! Free printables are available in our Level 1 membership and the freebies PLUS 1500+ more printable tools are available in our Level 2 membership!

Join The OT Toolbox Member’s Club today!

Colleen Beck, OTR/L has been an occupational therapist since 2000, working in school-based, hand therapy, outpatient peds, EI, and SNF. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. Read her story about going from an OT making $3/hour (after paying for kids’ childcare) to a full-time OT resource creator for millions of readers. Want to collaborate? Send an email to contact@theottoolbox.com.

DIY Light Box for Tracing

Child tracing letters with a pen on a light table. Text reads DIY light table for tracing

This DIY light box for tracing is an easy light box we put together in minutes. All you need is an under the bed storage container and a string of lights to make a tracing tool that kids will love. There are benefits to tracing and this tool is a fun way to build fine motor skills and visual motor skills as a visual motor skill leading to better handwriting.

Amazon affiliate links are included in this blog post. As an Amazon Influencer, I earn from qualifying purchases.

DIY light box for tracing

A light box is a fun activity, and one you see in preschool classrooms, as it’s intended for hands-on play and exploring the senses. But did you know there are many benefits to using a light box for tracing (and other exploring play)?

How to Make a DIY Light Table for Tracing

This DIY Light Box was something I’ve seen around Pinterest and have wanted to try for a while…Once we had our Christmas lights outside, I thought we would definitely be doing this project after we pulled all of the lights back in.  So, after we brought the Christmas lights in from the outside bushes, this was easy to put together for a cold evening’s play!

You need just two items to make a DIY light table:

(Amazon affiliate links)

  1. Strand of white Christmas lights
  2. Clear, plastic under-the-bed storage bin

Important: The under the bed storage bin needs to be made of clear plastic or have just a slight opaque color to the plastic. Also, the top should be smooth. Many storage bins have textured surface or a white surface. The flat, smooth lid is important for sensory play as well as tracing with paper on the DIY light table. This brand (affiliate link) is a good one to use.

Instructions to make a DIY light box:

  1. Plug in the lights.
  2. Place them into the bin.
  3. Either cut a hole in the base of the bin for the lights to go through or cut a small notch into the lid so the strand of lights can go under the lid.

To make this homemade light box safer and not use plug in lights, you can use battery operated button lights (affiliate link) inside the storage bin. Or, there are many battery operated LED lights available now too. These are a great idea because many of them have a color-changing capability and can be operated from an app on your phone.

IMPORTANT: This homemade light box project should always be done under the supervision of an adult. The lights can get warm inside the bin and they should be unplugged periodically.

This is not a project that should be set up and forgotten about. The OT Toolbox is not responsible for any harm, injury, or situation caused by this activity. It is for educational purposes only. Always use caution and consider the environment and individualized situation, including with this activity. Your use of this idea is your acceptance of this disclaimer.

I put all of the (already bundled-up) strands of Christmas lights …seriously, this does not get much easier…into an under-the-bed storage bin, connected the strands, and plugged in!

 

DIY light box for tracing

A DIY light box made with Christmas lights
 

Once you put the top on, it is perfect for tracing pictures!
 
Tracing on a DIY light box
 
 

Tracing pictures on a light table

 
This is so great for new (or seasoned) hand-writers.  They are working on pencil control, line awareness, hand-eye coordination…and end up with a super cool horse picture they can be proud of!
 
Use printable coloring pages and encourage bilateral coordination to hold the paper down. You can modify the activity by taping the coloring page onto the plastic bin lid. 
 
Tracing a picture on a DIY light table
 
 Big Sister LOOOOVED doing this!  And, I have to say, that she was doing the tracing thing for so long, that we had to turn the lights off because the bin was getting warm. 
 
 
 
trace letters on a light table
 

Other ways to use a DIY Light Table

 
We went around the house looking for cool things to place on top of the bin.  Magnetic letters looked really neat with the light glowing through…Baby Girl had a lot of fun playing with this.
 
You can add many different items onto the DIY light table:
  • Magnetic letters (the light shines through them slightly)
  • Sand for a tracing table- We cover how to use a sand writing tray in another blog post and all the benefits of tracing in a sensory medium. With the lights under the tracing area, this adds another multisensory component to the learning.
  • Shapes (Magnatiles would work well)
  • Feathers
  • Coins
  • Blocks
  • A marble run
 
letters on a light table
 
What a great learning tool…Shapes:
 
 
Letter Identification, spelling words:
 

 

 Color and sensory discrimination:
 
 
 
…All in a new and fun manner!  We had a lot of fun with this, but have since put our Christmas lights back up into the attic.  We will be sure to do this one again next year, once the lights come back out again 🙂
 

 

Please: if you do make one of these light boxes, keep an adult eye on it, as the box did warm up…not to burning warmth, but I would worry about the lights becoming over heated.  This is NOT something that kids should play with unsupervised!

Colleen Beck, OTR/L has been an occupational therapist since 2000, working in school-based, hand therapy, outpatient peds, EI, and SNF. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. Read her story about going from an OT making $3/hour (after paying for kids’ childcare) to a full-time OT resource creator for millions of readers. Want to collaborate? Send an email to contact@theottoolbox.com.

Working on fine motor skills, visual perception, visual motor skills, sensory tolerance, handwriting, or scissor skills? Our Fine Motor Kits cover all of these areas and more.

Check out the seasonal Fine Motor Kits that kids love:

Or, grab one of our themed Fine Motor Kits to target skills with fun themes:

Want access to all of these kits…and more being added each month? Join The OT Toolbox Member’s Club!

What is Visual Memory?

what is visual memory

Have you seen visual perceptual terms like Visual Memory and wondered, exactly What Is Visual Memory?  Today we’re sharing how to use our dyed lollipop sticks in a few eye-hand coordination activities including visual memory, and explaining what this term means to development of handwriting, reading, and functional tasks.

This post contains affiliate links.

Amazon affiliate links are included in this blog post. As an Amazon Influencer, I earn from qualifying purchases.

What is visual memory


What is Visual Memory?

Visual Memory is one part of a large arena known as visual perceptual skills. Visual memory focuses on one’s ability to recall visual information that has been seen.  Visual memory is a critical factor in reading and writing.  

When a child is writing a word, he must recall the formation of parts of the letter from memory.  It can be terribly frustrating for one with a visual memory deficit to perform a handwriting, spelling, or word copying exercise.  

Children with difficulty in visual memory will have trouble copying letters, words, and sentences from a chalkboard or book.  They may present with very slow handwriting, trouble forming letters, and mixing up letters or words within sentences.  

Producing written work on worksheets and tests may be difficult.  Recalling sight words in reading exercises can be hard as well as following along in a reading activity during stop and start tasks, due to comprehension and difficulty recalling what was read.  Kids with visual memory deficits can demonstrate difficulty with formation of letters and numbers and appear “lazy” in their written work.

what is visual memory
visual memory activity with shape building


Visual Memory Shape Building Activity

We used our dyed lollipop sticks to build shapes.  Make a shape example and have your child copy the form.  You can grade the activity as more difficult by removing the example and having the child build the shape using their “mind’s eye”.  

Assistance can be provided by giving visual or verbal prompts to assist with building simple shapes.  Further extend this visual memory activity by engaging colors and building the shapes with all one color.  

Then introduce shape forms with patterning or random colors.  Once the child demonstrates succeeds with shape copying, encourage letter and number building using the lollipop sticks.  

This simple activity can be extended in so many ways to help work on visual memory!

We did a few shape copying activities as well.  Little Sister had fun creating a neighborhood of houses using our colored lollipop sticks.  

Visual Memory Activities to help with Visual Memory Deficits:

  • Memory Games (affiliate link)
    games or Concentration games (affiliate link)
  • I Spy games and books (affiliate links)
  • Encourage the child to recall the items to be found using visual memory.
  • Form copying games, such as Pixy Cubes (affiliate link)
    Shape sequencing games, like Mental Blox (affiliate link)
  • Place a tray of items in front of the child.  Allow them 30 seconds to memorize all of the items.  Cover the tray with a piece of paper.  Ask the child to recall as many items as they can.  Another version to this game is removing one or more items and asking the child to recall the missing items.

 As always, use your best judgement with your kids.  All activities that we document on this blog are supervised.  The information on this website should not be used as medical advise.  Please contact a therapist for an individualized evaluation if therapeutic advise is needed.

Visual Memory Definition

Visual memory can be defined as the ability to both store and recall visual information, and then retrieve that information for later use.

Visual input such as images, shapes, colors, designs, and patterns contain attributes that allow us to discriminate differences between items in the world around us.

This is important because we can utilize those visual attributes to identify objects and understand information during functional tasks that we complete day in and day out.

Visual memory also refers to the ability to remember what you have seen in the past and to use that information in the present or future. This involves working memory, which is an executive functioning skill and involves more advanced cognitive processes in order to pull information from the “files” in the brain to utilize visual information in a different setting or at another time.

For example, if a child is shown a picture of a pencil, they use their visual memory to remember what a pencil looks like, so they can recognize a pencil the next time they see one.

This is a remedial example, but can be expanded on for practically every aspect of daily activities.

Consider the role that recalling previously seen and understood visual information plays in the following areas:

  • Learning- Visual recall of information, seeing previously learned information, visual reasoning and problem solving, etc.
  • Safety- Seeing how the dials on the stove are placed to cook and turned off ater finishing the cooking task, seeing the door knob of the house is locked, visualizing steps to walk up or down, etc.
  • Driving- recognizing roads, traffic patterns, and even the buttons that operate the vehicle
  • Community access- Getting around in the neighborhood, recognizing traffic patterns and safety signals to cross the road, going to appointments, etc.
  • Daily self-care tasks- Recognizing clothing, seeing patterns and colors to match clothing, visualizing items needed to get dressed or bathe, etc.
  • Taking medicine- Visualizing and recalling medicine bottles, seeing colors of pills, or knowing if one medicine was taken but not the other, etc.
  • Taking care of others- Visual memory implications might include safety, care, and every aspect of caring for others
  • Reading- Knowing where you stopped reading, not re-reading a passage over and over again, identifying letters, words, etc.
  • Writing- Visual memory plays a role in writing including letter formation, number formation, and placement of letters and words on a page.
  • Math- Visual information includes understanding and knowing numbers, symbols, patterns, equations, math facts, etc. by sight.
  • Every other aspect of functional performance!

Playing a role in the visual memory and specifically the input, storage, and retrieval of visual information, includes many aspects, or attributes of vision, including:

  • Color: The hue, saturation, and brightness of an object or image.
  • Shape: The form or outline of an object or image.
  • Size: The physical dimensions of an object or image.
  • Texture: The surface quality of an object or image, such as smooth, rough, or bumpy.
  • Contrast: The difference between light and dark areas in an image.
  • Position: The location of an object or image relative to other objects or images.
  • Motion: The movement of an object or image over time.
  • Depth: The perception of three-dimensional space in an image.
  • Pattern: The repetition of visual elements in an image.
  • Context: The surrounding environment or situation in which an object or image is viewed.

These visual attributes are important for processing and interpreting visual information and are used by the brain to create a coherent and meaningful visual experience. Playing a major role in visual memory is the visual perceptual skill of visual discrimination.

Think of it this way: When you build a 1000 piece puzzle, you dump the puzzle pieces out on a table. Visual memory enables you to:

  • Sort through the pieces to find all of the straight edge pieces.
  • Select pieces that have similar colors or patterns.
  • Notice the shape of pieces.
  • Build the puzzle while holding visual information in the mind to search for a particular color, shape, or pattern on the piece. For example: you might look for a piece with white background and texture, with a straight edge and a round connecting piece.
  • Hold information in the mind to look for another particular piece of the puzzle such as another straight edge piece that is red, but when you come across the white piece with a straight edge and the round connecting piece, you recall where to place that puzzle piece.

As you can see there are many factors playing into visual memory, but this visual processing skill is an important part of functional tasks.

visual memory tests
Visual memory tests include both a functional aspect and a standardized visual memory assessment.

Testing Visual Memory

When it comes to testing visual memory, occupational therapists evaluate using several standardized tests as well as non-standardized screenings.

Essential to testing visual memory skills is the functional aspect: Can the individual utilize short and long term memory in the retrieval of visual information in order to accomplish functional tasks? Answering this question can provide both opportunities to challenge deficits, as well as target key areas of functional performance that need to be addressed.

Visual memory tests are part of a wider assessment of visual perception or tests of visual motor integration. The occupational therapy provider completes these standardized vision tests during an OT eval. However, there is more to it that the standardized testing.

Using functional performance to assess visual memory is a key part of the occupational therapy assessment. One role of the OT provider is completing a visual motor test during functional tasks, using skilled interventions.

For example, the OT can ask the client to remember items that are needed in a particular activity. They can select and/or identify several items to brush teeth: toothbrush, toothpaste, cup, dental floss, water.

The therapist could assess to see if the client can remember all four words or items after a 10 minute delay, and then a 30 minute delay. At least 3/4 of the items should be recalled. This test can assess visual memory skills in combination with a functional task.

To further analyze the visual memory aspect, the therapist could point to objects in the room and ask the client to recall them immediately, after 5 minutes, and at the end of the therapy session.

Visual Memory Tests

Some of the standardized tests that assess visual memory skills include:

  • Motor Free Visual Perception Test (MVPT)– overall visual perception screening tool
  • Test of Visual Perceptual Skills – breaks down skills into categories
  • The Developmental Test of Visual Perception – thorough test of skills
  • Test of Visual Motor Skills/Perception – a general screener to assess basic skills. Not a great test of different sub categories.
  • The Visual Memory Span Test- This test measures visual memory capacity by presenting a series of pictures to the participant and asking them to recall them in a specific order.
  • Rey-Osterrieth Complex Figure Test- This test requires the person to draw a complex figure from memory after seeing it for a short period of time. The test assesses visual memory, perceptual organization, and constructional ability.
  • Visual Patterns Test- This test requires the person to reproduce complex patterns after seeing them for a short period of time. The test assesses visual memory and visual processing ability.
  • Benton Visual Retention Test- This test requires the person to look at a series of geometric figures for a short period of time and then draw them from memory. The test assesses visual memory and visual perceptual skills.
  • Wide Range Assessment of Memory and Learning- This is a comprehensive memory assessment that includes tests for visual memory, verbal memory, and other memory domains. The visual memory tests include tasks such as recalling pictures and designs.
  • Wechsler Memory Scale- This is another comprehensive memory assessment that includes tests for visual memory, verbal memory, and other memory domains. The visual memory tests include tasks such as recognizing and recalling visual stimuli.
 

 

 
What is visual memory and why is it necessary for development of functional skills like handwriting and reading? Tips and activities from to work on visual memory in kids and adults.
 
 
 
 

 

 
 
 
 
 
Use dyed lollipop sticks to work on visual memory by copying and building shapes, forms, letters, numbers, and pictures. Visual Memory  is an important skill needed for reading and writing.
 

 

 
 

 

 


Looking for more vision activities?  Try these: 

 

    
 

 

 

Colleen Beck, OTR/L has been an occupational therapist since 2000, working in school-based, hand therapy, outpatient peds, EI, and SNF. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. Read her story about going from an OT making $3/hour (after paying for kids’ childcare) to a full-time OT resource creator for millions of readers. Want to collaborate? Send an email to contact@theottoolbox.com.

The Visual Processing Bundle has everything you need to work on underlying visual processing skills so you can help students with classroom tasks like copying written work, letter reversals, and messy handwriting in fun and engaging ways!

  • Over 235 pages of workbooks, worksheets, e-books, handouts, activity cards, tracking tools
  • Classroom accommodation ideas
  • Checklists
  • Multi-level visual-motor integration workbooks
  • Pencil control worksheets
  • Classroom and therapy activities
  • Activity cards
  • Specific and open-ended activity cards
  • Visual tracking guide

Target visual memory skills and many other aspects of visual perception and visual motor integration at a special price of just $18 (Regularly $45). Get your copy here.

Graph Paper Letter Spacing Handwriting Trick

Writing on graph paper to help kids work on visual motor integration skills and legibility through improved line awareness, letter formation, size awareness, spatial awareness, and handwriting neatness.

Today, I have a great occupational therapy trick and it uses writing on graph paper as a tool to support the spatial awareness needs. This graph paper handwriting tool is an easy way to teach kids how to place letters with appropriate letter spacing, letter size, and line awareness when writing. We’ve shared how to use graph paper for therapy including many OT goal areas in the past, but this letter spacing activity is a hit for working on letter formation and spacing. Try using this trick when visual motor integration is a concern or when students have difficulty with legibility in handwriting.

Writing on graph paper to help kids work on visual motor integration skills and legibility through improved line awareness, letter formation, size awareness, spatial awareness, and handwriting neatness.

Writing on Graph Paper for Legibility

This activity is just one of the many spatial awareness and letter size resources we have here on the website. There’s a reason why we cover so many specific tools when it comes to handwriting legibility: spacing between letters is a visual perception task that impacts overall neatness and readability of written work. 

When students who struggle with the underlying components of handwriting use regular writing paper or notebook paper, you can end up with written material with a variety of issues:

  • Inconsistent letter size
  • Mixed letter case
  • Inconsistent and sloppy line use
  • Words and letters that run together

Taking that a bit further, common handwriting concerns involve overshooting lines, poor placement of letters, and varying size of letter creation.  Using graph paper is just part of a simple trick to help with each of these areas.

All of this impacts written work.

That’s where writing on graph paper comes into play. As occupational therapy professionals, we use graph paper as an adaptive paper format for promoting spatial use, line use, consistent letter size, and even slowing down the written work. 

Writing on graph paper is a great alternative to typical lined paper designs. In the classroom, you see many different styles of lined paper: double rule, single rule, college rule, and then letter formation worksheets with varying line size and visual prompts. When we use grid paper in handwriting, we have a consistent box for each letter and even spacing between the letters. 

This post contains affiliate links.

If you missed yesterday’s blog post, you’ll want to read over another idea that encourages development and strengthening of several skills: using transfer paper to help with letter formation, letter size, line awareness, and pencil pressure

Writing on graph paper to work on letter formation and copying skills

Writing on graph paper to help with handwriting:

Use graph paper that is appropriately sized to your child’s handwriting size needs.  

There are various sizes  available: (affiliate links included)

Each category of paper can be used with different ages or stages of writing development. And, those different types of paper variations can be used for different students. Use the larger grid paper for kindergarten or 1st grade. 

Use the middle grid paper with 2nd grade or 3rd grade.

Use the smaller gid paper with older grades and even through middle school and high school.

There are even graph paper PDFs out there. Check out our post on free adapted paper for some ways to print different options. These various templates are nice because you can try different options to find out what type of paper works best for the needs you are targeting. 

The nice thing about handwriting on graph paper is that a pack of graph paper is often used in math and can readily be found in classroom, plus it’s not a type of paper that will stand out among peers, so this makes it more likely to be used and carryover of handwriting skills to be achieved. 

 Tips for Improving writing with graph paper

Let’s take this handwriting tool a bit further and cover interventions that use graph paper as a writing strategy. The ideas listed below are some ways to improve writing skills, and you can pick and choose the activity ideas that work for the specific individual, based on needs. 

1. Using the appropriately sized grids, use a highlighter to create pyramid style boxes for practicing word copying.  For each word, create a pyramid of highlighted boxes that stack the letters so the child practices the word with increasing motor plan effort.

For example, when practicing the word “play”, the child would practice “p”, then “pl”, then “pla”, and finally “play”.  

Practicing a word in this manner allows the child to shift their vision down to the next line with a visual cue to correct any mistakes that they made in letter formation.  It is important to monitor kids’ work as they begin this activity to make sure they are forming letters correctly and not building on inaccuracies in letter formation or organizational components (size and space of letters). 

 
2. Work on letter size. Use the grid lines as layouts to define a specific writing space for letters. You can target formation of tall letters by using two grids, or target tail letters by drawing a pen line around two grids (one above the baseline and one below the baseline.

Some students might need a more concrete version of the grid spaces. Cut out two boxes or one box and use that along a baseline on a blank piece of printer paper to practice writing different sizes of letters.

You can also target letter size by using a highlighter marker to identify the writing space on graph paper.

of the paper to The grid of the graph paper is a huge tool in allowing the child to form letters with constrictions on letter size, spacing, and line awareness.  

3. Finally, when the child writes a whole word, place a piece of paper under the last highlighted grid.  The paper should have normal lines without graph paper type of grids.  By placing the paper under the grids, the child can copy the style of writing that they used when writing the whole word.  Transferring the spacing, size, and line use to regular paper uses the visual cue of the graph paper with improved accuracy.

It is important to monitor kids’ use of the graph paper and writing each letter of the word in repetition.  Sometimes, kids will attempt to complete an activity like this one quite quickly in order to “get it over with”. In those cases, letter size, letter spacing, and line awareness can suffer.  Try to limit the number of words that are practiced with this method.

More ways to explore writing on graph paper

Other ways to use graph paper to practice handwriting accuracy:

The Handwriting Book is a comprehensive resource created by experienced pediatric OTs and PTs.

The Handwriting Book covers everything you need to know about handwriting, guided by development and focused on function. This digital resource is is the ultimate resource for tips, strategies, suggestions, and information to support handwriting development in kids.

The Handwriting Book breaks down the functional skill of handwriting into developmental areas. These include developmental progression of pre-writing strokes, fine motor skills, gross motor development, sensory considerations, and visual perceptual skills. Each section includes strategies and tips to improve these underlying areas.

  • Strategies to address letter and number formation and reversals
  • Ideas for combining handwriting and play
  • Activities to practice handwriting skills at home
  • Tips and strategies for the reluctant writer
  • Tips to improve pencil grip
  • Tips for sizing, spacing, and alignment with overall improved legibility

Click here to grab your copy of The Handwriting Book today.

Colleen Beck, OTR/L has been an occupational therapist since 2000, working in school-based, hand therapy, outpatient peds, EI, and SNF. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. Read her story about going from an OT making $3/hour (after paying for kids’ childcare) to a full-time OT resource creator for millions of readers. Want to collaborate? Send an email to contact@theottoolbox.com.

Writing Spacer Craft

Writing spacer tool

This handwriting tool is a writing spacer that supports spatial awareness between letters and words. To make this writing tool we used simple craft materials of a pipe cleaner and a craft pom pom, but you could use any items. The best thing about this handwriting spacing tool is that kids can make it their own. Add this writing spacer to your list of ways to use pipe cleaners in occupational therapy…and ways to use craft pom poms in OT!

Writing Spacer

When it comes to legible handwriting, spatial awareness between letters and words makes a huge difference! One way to go about this use of space between words is using finger spacers for handwriting. However, this can become an issue when kids are self-conscious placing their fingers between each word. Also, for the left- handed writer, the spacing finger is in the way when the writing hand moves over to write the next word.

Whether you are a teacher in the classroom, a parent who is struggling to find the trick to get your child to write legibly, or a therapist working on the underlying skills needed for functional written work, you’ve probably noticed that when letters are smashed up against one another, it’s really hard to read what’s been written!

Stretching out spaces between words makes a huge difference in legibility. And there’s more; Using consistent spacing between letters can help with legibility too. In fact, there is great benefit to using toys to support spatial awareness to develop these skills.

That’s why we’re sharing this easy DIY handwriting spacer. It’s a do it yourself version that kids will take pride in making and using.

Many of us have used and love spacing tools made from craft sticks.

Use a pipe cleaner spacing tool to write with spaces between words.
Use a pipe cleaner to make a writing spacer.

Handwriting Spacing Tool Craft

We actually have a few different options for making a writing tool to address spacing:

  • This craft stick spacing tool is very simple and has just a single visual cue to support visual tracking skills that play a role in spatial awareness.
  • This clothes pin spacer is unique in that it can be attached to a pencil pouch, folder, or papers so students always know where it is. It can also be accessorized and personalized by the student. It’s also a nice clothespin pencil gripper.

Today, we’ve got a spacing tool that doesn’t use a craft stick…it’s another fun DIY spacing tool idea, but the difference is that this writing tool can be used to space between letters and between words.

Use a Pipe Cleaner for a Spacing Tool

This spacing tool uses items that you probably already have in the house or classroom. Kids can use their creative style in making their spacing tool and really make it their own. We used a few materials to make our spacing tools.

Materials needed to make a spacing tool: 

  • Pipe cleaners
  • Craft pom poms (You could also use beads for a smaller space between words.)

This project is super simple to put together. Creating the DIY spacing tools is a nice fine motor warm up to writing, too!

If you are using a crafting pom pom like we did, use a smaller sized pom pom. A 1/4 inch crafting pom pom is a good size. Once the pipe cleaner is wrapped around the pom pom a couple of times, the size will increase.

  1. Wrap one end of the pipe cleaner around the craft pom pom several times so the pom pom is secure.
  2. A dab of craft glue can be used to secure the craft pom pom to the pipe cleaner, if you like.

You won’t want the top of the spacing tool to be too wide, otherwise the space between words will become too stretched.

A bead makes a nice spacer for spacing between words. Once the pipe cleaner is wrapped around the bead, there is a nice sized spacer for words.

And that’s all there is to it!

Use the spacing tool to space between words using the top of the space tool. The width of the pipe cleaner can be used to maintain a consistent space between letters.

Use a pipe cleaner to space between letters when writing.

These handwriting spacing tools can be as varied as the students in a classroom. Allow the kiddos to use creativity when making theirs. Bend pipe cleaners, add additional beads or other embellishments like ribbon or twine.

Students will be proud to show off (and use!) their spacing tool when practicing handwriting and spacing between letters and words!

 

Kids can use pipe cleaners and craft items to make their own DIY handwriting spacing tool for writing neatly and improving spatial awareness in handwriting.

Working on spacing in handwriting? Why not start a handwriting club for kids? Kids can work on handwriting skills in a fun way. Here’s how to start a handwriting club kids will WANT to join!

The Handwriting Book is a comprehensive resource created by experienced pediatric OTs and PTs.

The Handwriting Book covers everything you need to know about handwriting, guided by development and focused on function. This digital resource is is the ultimate resource for tips, strategies, suggestions, and information to support handwriting development in kids.

The Handwriting Book breaks down the functional skill of handwriting into developmental areas. These include developmental progression of pre-writing strokes, fine motor skills, gross motor development, sensory considerations, and visual perceptual skills. Each section includes strategies and tips to improve these underlying areas.

  • Strategies to address letter and number formation and reversals
  • Ideas for combining handwriting and play
  • Activities to practice handwriting skills at home
  • Tips and strategies for the reluctant writer
  • Tips to improve pencil grip
  • Tips for sizing, spacing, and alignment with overall improved legibility

Click here to grab your copy of The Handwriting Book today.

Colleen Beck, OTR/L has been an occupational therapist since 2000, working in school-based, hand therapy, outpatient peds, EI, and SNF. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. Read her story about going from an OT making $3/hour (after paying for kids’ childcare) to a full-time OT resource creator for millions of readers. Want to collaborate? Send an email to contact@theottoolbox.com.

Writing and Reading Stick

Reading stick

When it comes to handwriting, copying without losing place on the page impacts writing (visual attention plays a big role here), so much so that a reading stick or writing stick tool can be a huge help. Here we are showing an easy way to make a reading stick or writing stick that can be used to impact writing without missing letters or words…and why this happens.

What is a Reading Stick

Handwriting is a challenge when spacing is inaccurate.  Poorly spaced letters and words as a result of visual spatial difficulties can lead to illegible handwriting.

A reading stick is a pointer stick that kids can use to follow along with words when reading and writing.

When reading from a chalkboard or smartboard, a teacher might use a large pointer stick for this task. One tip for teachers is to add a bright visual cue to the end of the pointer stick to add a visual contrast that is engaging and visual. This might be something like bright tape added to the end of the pointer stick, neon tape or post-it notes folded over the tip of the pointer stick are some ways to easily do this.

But, when kids are reading and copying from a space on their desk, they can use a miniature version of the pointer stick as a reading tool. What’s nice about the version that we created is that the reading stick can be used in many different ways:

  • Use the pointer stick with the visual cue at the end to point along with reading from a book.
  • Turn the reading stick on it’s side to follow along line by line when reading.
  • Use the craft stick as a spacing tool when writing.

Why use a reading stick for writing?

A writing stick is a handwriting tool that can also be called a pointer stick for handwriting. Students and teachers can use a writing stick to follow along with written work to support handwriting needs so that a student doesn’t miss letters or words when writing.

Copying handwriting work requires several areas of visual processing:

Using this pointer stick to copy words can help with copying written work without omitting letters or words. The reading stick then doubles as a spacing tool.

Using a spacing tool can be a HUGE help for some kids!  This handwriting spacing tool pointer stick is a physical prompt and a visual cue that helps kids in handwriting and become independent with when writing.

There is a lot going on when a child is required to write.  The visual motor skills needed to accurately copy or write written work requires the processing of visual perceptual skills along with coordination and manipulation of the pencil along lines and margins.

These are a lot of different areas that can break down and result in sloppy or illegible handwriting!

Try this handwriting spacing tool pointer stick to help kids with spatial awareness when writing.

Use a spacing tool pointer stick to help with placing spaces between letters and words, assuring words, phrases, or sentences are not omitted, and when aligning columns of words, as in lists.

Handwriting Spacing Tool Pointer Stick

Affiliate links are included in this post.

Try using this spacing pointer stick to keep margins aligned too.

Looking for other ways to address spacing in margin use?  Here are a bunch of ideas for spatial awareness with margins.

use a marker to make a reading stick to follow along with words when reading or writing.
Use a marker to make a reading stick for kids.

You will need just two materials to make a spacing pointer stick:

Amazon affiliate links included:

Use the marker to make a brightly colored dot on one end of the craft stick.  You could also use a small sticker, but I wanted to ensure a bright contrast between the colored craft stick and the colored dot.

Use a reading stick to follow along when reading to make sure words aren't missed.
Use a reading stick when reading so kids don’t miss words or lines of text when reading.

And that’s it!  Show the child how to use it to keep their place when copying written work, when aligning margins, and when spacing between words.

Use the spacing tool pointer stick to help kids with spatial awareness in these ways:

  • Point to words when copying from a text or sheet on a desk.  The pointer stick can help keep the child’s place, visually.
  • Align columns in math and lists of words.
  • Align left and right margins on the page.  Keep the margin from drifting in toward the middle of the page.
  • Space between letters and words when writing.
Use this handwriting spacing tool pointer stick to align columns of words or math problems when writing, perfect for kids who struggle with spatial awareness.

Read more about spatial awareness and how it relates to handwriting.

Some spacing tools can be themed!  Go beyond the simple dot or sticker and make a spaceman spacing tool. You can also use a clothespin tool for spacing between words when writing. Finally, this writing spacer craft is another handwriting craft kids can make.

Another great way to add hands-on play to spatial awareness is an activity like these spacing puzzles.

Use this handwriting spacing tool pointer stick to help kids with spatial awareness when writing.

Need more handwriting strategies?  

The Handwriting Book is a comprehensive resource created by experienced pediatric OTs and PTs.

The Handwriting Book covers everything you need to know about handwriting, guided by development and focused on function. This digital resource is is the ultimate resource for tips, strategies, suggestions, and information to support handwriting development in kids.

The Handwriting Book breaks down the functional skill of handwriting into developmental areas. These include developmental progression of pre-writing strokes, fine motor skills, gross motor development, sensory considerations, and visual perceptual skills. Each section includes strategies and tips to improve these underlying areas.

  • Strategies to address letter and number formation and reversals
  • Ideas for combining handwriting and play
  • Activities to practice handwriting skills at home
  • Tips and strategies for the reluctant writer
  • Tips to improve pencil grip
  • Tips for sizing, spacing, and alignment with overall improved legibility

Click here to grab your copy of The Handwriting Book today.

How to Teach Spacing Between Words with a Clothespin

spacing between words with a clothespin craft

If you are working on spacing between words when writing, then this OT trick is for you. Many years ago, we created this blog post using a clothespin to teach spacing in handwriting. It’s a simple activity really, and one that kids love to use because they can make the clothespin spacing tool their own! Let’s teach spacing between words with a cute clothespin craft!

Use a clothespin to teach handwriting as a spatial awareness tool.
Use a clothespin to teach spacing between words.

Teach spacing between words

When it comes to legibility in handwriting, spacing between words makes all the! Addressing spatial awareness in handwriting can make a big difference in legibility fairly quickly given intervention, practice, awareness, and the tools to address spacing in written work.

Using a visual and physical cue to teach spacing between words is very effective. This is especially true for young students who are beginning to write with more organizational requirements: lines, margins, smaller writing spaces, and faster writing speeds are some of these organizational needs in handwriting tasks.

Let’s break those areas down to describe how each might impact letter formation and legibility of written work:

  • Line use- Line use progresses from kindergarten (where many students are exposed to writing letters and words on lines for the first time. This progresses to first grade with more writing requirements. Moving onto second grade may bring a smaller line space for written work. In third grade, writing lines may be smaller yet. In about fourth grade, many students move to a lined notebook. These pencil control and line use can impact legibility especially when handwriting lessons are rushed in the general curriculum of most schools. This blog post on line awareness is a great resource for written work requirements.
  • Margin use- One visual perception component to handwriting includes margin use in written work. This impacts legibility when writing on a sheet of paper or moving to the next line. Sometimes, margins creep over across the page as a student copies lists or words or writes sentences as in a journal. Spatial relations includes the visual perception aspect, particularly the visual processing skill of visual tracking, which includes following the pencil as in copying words. Visual attention and visual scanning are also involved. This blog post on margins in handwriting covers this area in more detail.
  • Writing in smaller spaces- Sizing in written work impacts legibility. When letters are written to large, the spacing can be crowded, leading to poor legibility. This can be especially the case when writing on worksheets or workbook pages with limited space availability. This blog post on spatial awareness is a good one to check out regarding sizing and space use.
  • Faster writing speeds- Writing sped impacts legibility because when a student writes quickly, sometimes the legibility of accurate letter formation is lost. When this is the case, adding a bit of space between words can impact overall legibility. As students progress, writing speed requirements increase. Consider the second grader that is required to copy their homework onto their notebook or homework planner. There is only so much time in the school day, so a limited chunk of time is given for this task. When a student struggles with pencil control, letter formation, motor planning, or any other contributing factor, this can really impact written work on a functional handwriting task that has dire consequences. When the student comes home for the day, they are unable to read their homework assignment. This same issue is true for older students. In middle school or high school, they are unable to copy notes in their class. This can lead to difficulty copying notes and studying. This resource covers writing speed in written work.

We’ve shared several handwriting spacing tools here on The OT Toolbox, like a cute DIY space martian spacing tool and this pipe cleaner spacing tool.

Sometimes a simple visual cue like this craft stick spacing tool and pointer stick can make a big difference in handwriting spatial awareness and handwriting legibility.

Read on for another quick craft that kids can make and use to teach spacing between words…using a clothes pin for better spatial awareness in written work.

WHy Use Clothes Pins to Strengthen Hands

There are many ways a clothes pin is a hand strengthening tool. It’s actually always found in my occupational therapy bag because it’s so versatile when it comes to hand strengthening.

Here is a video that shows the different grasp patterns that you can target with just a clothes pin:

Clothes pins can be used to work on hand strengthening and grasp pattern development!

Handwriting Spacing Between Words Tool

This clothespin spacing tool is one that can be attached to a notebook or folder and used again and again…because any school-based OT knows that those spacing tools can get lost very easily!

The best part of this handwriting spacing tool is that kids can make their own, while creating a unique tool that fits their personality!

First, read more about how spacing tools work.

Teach spacing between words with a clothespin for better legibility and spatial awareness in handwriting.

Next, get all of your materials ready, because this handwriting spacing tool is a fun activity! In fact, school-based therapists can create a group activity in a classroom with random items found in a craft bin…while boosting those fine motor skills!

To make a DIY spacing tool, you’ll need a clothes pin. The wooden type is perfect for painting and decorating, making a fine motor craft based on the child’s interests, favorite color, etc. When the child makes their own spacing tool, they are more likely to use it again and again.

Using the clothes pin clip allows the spacing tool to be saved. (Better yet, the clip prevents another lost therapy item later found at the bottom of a backpack or in the midst of desk chaos!)

Kids can make these clothespin spacing tools to learn spacing between words in handwriting for better legibility and neat written work, just clip to a notebook or folder!

How to teach spacing between words with a clothespin:

The clothes pin clip is perfect for attaching to notebooks, folders, or a pencil box on a desk. Students will always know where their spacing tool is…but how do they use it?

Use a clothespin to teach spacing between words the same way you would use other spacing tools.

Show students how to place the clothespin on the paper after the last letter of a word. They can keep the clothespin in place as they write the next word in a sentence. They physical and visual cue of moving and seeing the clothespin can make a lasting impact on spacing between words.

Think about it this way: the messiest written work is easier to read when it has space between words. As readers, we tend to fill in missing blanks using our predictive reading skills. When words are spaced out, students will be better able to read back over notes, homework assignments, and other written work.

Spacing is often times, the easiest way to make a big impact on handwriting legibility!

For younger students, using the clip portion of the clothespin spacing tool can be achieved using strips of paper to practice handwriting. Simply cut regular double ruled paper into strips and clip the clothespin between each word as the child writes.

Those strips can even be laminated and handwriting practiced with a dry erase marker.

Using the clothespin spacing tool can make a big impact on written legibility!

Use a clothespin craft to work on spacing between words.

To make the ClothesPin Spacing Tool

You’ll need some basic craft items (affiliate links are included below):

Kids can make this clothespin craft in occupational therapy or school to teach spacing between words for better handwriting.
Handwriting craft for occupational therapy
  1. Next, get the kids started on painting. Ask the child or group of kids to paint all sides of the clothes pins.
  2. On the wet paint, glitter and sparkling gems can be added.
  3. Let the paint dry and embellish with additional items including gems, stickers, puffy paint, or other items.
Make a clothespin craft to work on spacing between words when writing.
Paint clothespins and add gems or stickers for an occupational therapy handwriting craft.
Use a clothespin craft to teach spacing between words for better legibility in handwriting.

Looking for more ways to teach spacing between words? Try these ideas:

Use a clothespin craft to teach spacing between words using a clip clothespin for better legibility and spatial awareness in handwriting.

 

Visual Perception and spatial awareness in kids.  What is Spatial awareness and why do kids have trouble with spacing between letters and words, reversing letters, and all things vision.  Great tips here from an Occupational Therapist, including tips and tools to help kids with spacing in handwriting. Visual Spatial Relations activities for handwritingEasy accommodations for poor spatial awareness in handwriting.Try this line awareness and spatial awareness handwriting activity using puzzle pieces and crayons to work on handwriting in a fun and creative way that doesn't require writing.
 
 
Looking for more ways to address spatial awareness? 
The Handwriting Book is a comprehensive resource created by experienced pediatric OTs and PTs.

The Handwriting Book covers everything you need to know about handwriting, guided by development and focused on function. This digital resource is is the ultimate resource for tips, strategies, suggestions, and information to support handwriting development in kids.

The Handwriting Book breaks down the functional skill of handwriting into developmental areas. These include developmental progression of pre-writing strokes, fine motor skills, gross motor development, sensory considerations, and visual perceptual skills. Each section includes strategies and tips to improve these underlying areas.

  • Strategies to address letter and number formation and reversals
  • Ideas for combining handwriting and play
  • Activities to practice handwriting skills at home
  • Tips and strategies for the reluctant writer
  • Tips to improve pencil grip
  • Tips for sizing, spacing, and alignment with overall improved legibility

Click here to grab your copy of The Handwriting Book today.

Colleen Beck, OTR/L has been an occupational therapist since 2000, working in school-based, hand therapy, outpatient peds, EI, and SNF. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. Read her story about going from an OT making $3/hour (after paying for kids’ childcare) to a full-time OT resource creator for millions of readers. Want to collaborate? Send an email to contact@theottoolbox.com.