If you have a baby or toddler, you may feel like learning to write is a long way off. But did you know that some things you do now can help ease your little one into writing letters later on?

Some kids really struggle with writing the ABCs when they reach their school years. No wonder! It requires a massive coordinated effort from a young child: everything from holding the pencil correctly to remembering which way the d and b are supposed to go.

My sister has passed along some tips from an occupational therapist who works with kids struggling with handwriting. These tips focus on building the muscles and motor skills needed to let your child hold and move a pencil and maintain the posture needed for basic handwriting.

Upper body strength

  • Let your child play on playground equipment, climb ladders, swing on monkey bars, even push a swing.
  • Teach him or her the crab walk or wheelbarrow walk.
  • Do activities on a vertical service, like on an easel, chalkboard or even paper taped to the wall.
  • Throw and catch balls of different sizes.

Fine motor skills

  • Let him or her tear up paper for recycling.
  • Play with spray bottles, water droppers, or squirt guns.
  • Find toys that require fine motor skills. Choose ones that really hold his or her attention. For our son, it’s Automoblox cars. For yours, it might be Legos. Tweezer or tongs are great, as well as play dough (see how to make your own play dough here).

Visual-motor coordination

  • Practice shapes and letters with sidewalk chalk, shaving cream on the side of the bathtub, in sand or dirt, with finger paint as well as crayons on paper.
  • Teach concepts like top/bottom, right/left, in/under, etc. This will be helpful as you encourage formation of letters from top to bottom, left to right.
  • Work on making simple shapes like a line, circle, cross, x and a square. Then use those shapes to create a picture or scene.

My favorite tip

Encourage the proper tripod grip by giving your child a short piece of crayon to work with (after she is no longer putting things in her mouth, of course).

Who would have thought, right? There are so many products designed to make it easy for children to hold (triangular chalk, fat, round crayons), but those are not really appropriate for small children, nor for learning proper writing basics, according to occupational therapists.

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