Research has shown that a multisensory approach to learning is beneficial for a wide variety of children, particularly with teaching handwriting and reading skills. Many children who struggle with the formation of letters will show reluctance to complete class work or homework and may write the shortest answer possible rather than demonstrating their full grasp of the concept.
In the clinic, we see children who glaze over at the thought of practicing letter formation and other handwriting skills but are willing to participate in novel multisensory activities such as those listed below.
- Write or print out letters that take up an 8×11 piece of paper. Place a sticker or other indicator for where to start the letter. Have your child drive a car or walk a stuffed animal along the letter’s path.
- Use the same printed letters from the first activity and place them on a cork board. Have your child press push pins (with close supervision) into the start and end points for the strokes, then stretch elastics over the pins to create lines for the letter.
- Assemble a rainbow salt tray. In short, glue colored construction paper into the lid of a shoe box and pour a thin layer of salt on top. Your child can form letters with her finger or use a paint brush or other tool to write. For complete step-by-step instructions, visit http://www.learning4kids.net/2012/06/05/rainbow-salt-tray/
- Shaving cream is a tried and true OT modality. Squirt a small amount of shaving cream on a cookie sheet, or right onto the tabletop if you don’t mind the mess. As with the salt tray, your child can use her finger or a tool to write and draw in the shaving cream.
- Pour finger paint on a plastic plate or small tray. The paint won’t adhere to the surface and provides the opportunity to practice letters repeatedly and correct errors easily.
- If you have a child who is over-responsive to tactile input, and therefore would run for the hills if you asked him to touch shaving cream or finger paint, try squirting hair gel in a sturdy zipper bag. Double bagging is probably the best approach. You can add glitter or food coloring for extra visual appeal. Here is a great example: http://playathomemom3.blogspot.com/2011/07/squishy-bag-tactilemultisensory.html
- Roll play-doh or other modeling clay into “snakes” and form them into the letters. Encourage your child to build the letter in the correct stroke order, for example, to make a “T”, start by forming the vertical line and then place the horizontal line on top.
- Wiki Sticks are a fun tool for learning letter formations. They are a combination of yarn and food grade, non-toxic wax that can be bent into any shape you wish. They will stick on a piece of paper, a sliding glass door, a smooth easel or the tabletop. Start by having your child bend the Wiki Sticks to “trace” on top of a printed letter. Then have him copy the letter by looking at an example and work up to forming the letter on his own. http://www.wikkistix.com/
- To work on letter identification, play a mystery letter game by tracing on your child’s back with your finger. For extra motivation, give your child 100 points for every correct guess. Please note: this would likely not be an appropriate activity for children who are over-responsive to light touch and tactile input.
- Many kids have difficulty sitting long enough to practice letters and reading and need movement to stay regulated. So you can print out letters or sight words and tape them firmly to the floor, or write with sidewalk chalk on the driveway. Call out a letter or sight word and have your child jump on the correct answer. Make this a little harder by giving instructions such as “Jump on the letter that makes the sound ‘sss’”, or “What does ‘lion’ start with?”.
- For a spin on the jumping activity listed above, try the same activity but give your child a (clean) fly swatter to smack the words or letters.
- Children who naturally have a low arousal level and children who seek intensity may benefit from using a wiggle pen. Their legibility may decrease with this pen, but it is great for repetitive assignments such as writing out spelling words. These same children may enjoy using scented markers as well.