Early handwriting skills can be enhanced by incorporating the senses in fun activities. As humans, we learn through the information we receive from sensations. The senses of touch and vision especially provide wonderful opportunities to explore letter formation for young students. Even big movements provide additional sensory input which little bodies crave as they are learning and processing the world around them.
Not only are multisensory activities enjoyable, but they are motivating to young students and provide that amazing amount of variation that often helps youngsters forget they are working on letter skills. Here are just a few ideas to help incorporate the various sensory systems into handwriting tasks for young kids.
- Fill an old cookie tin with a thin layer of salt and encourage your child to write the letters of their name with the tip of their index finger. The lid can go right back on and you can keep it near the homework area. For older kids, they can review their spelling words in it, or practice the loops for cursive.
- Tape down a long swatch of aluminum foil to the table and plop a mound of pudding, yogurt or whipped cream in the middle. Let your little artist explore for a while, but eventually move toward writing letters in it. Rehearse the mantra: “It’s worth a little bit of mess for my child to have a rich variety of sensory experiences.”
- Do set up your child with play dough and have them roll hot dogs and form them into letters. You can even write big letters on cards to have the child use as a template for their play dough fun. It seems like an old stand-by, but play dough helps strengthen the little muscles of the hands that will be beneficial in both handwriting and keyboarding.
- Boil spaghetti to al dente and rinse under running water. Let your child use the noodles to make their letters and numbers. This provides a bit of stickiness and warmth that give wonderful sensory input for lasting effects. Of course you can glue them to paper and add glitter once they are dried too.
- Use a bucket of plain old water and an old fashioned paintbrush to inspire your child to paint their letters on the side of the garage or fence. Not only does the water encourage sensory play, but the shoulder and wrist strengthening in this exercise is an added bonus!
- If you notice a few letters that are especially hard for your child to make, shape them out of giant pipe cleaners or cut them out of sand paper. Glue them to a box or cardstock, or use masking tape to stick them up on the wall so your child can trace them. They need to be anchored down to prevent letter reversals. You can play a game by reading a simple book, and every time the letter comes up, you can both trace the sensory letter you’re focusing on.
- Make an outside obstacle course with tunnels to crawl through, and places to hop over. Use sidewalk chalk to direct the path and write a few big letters in corners with a different color. As your child goes through the path, he or she can find the letters and trace them with their hand or their own color of chalk. Chalk gives a great amount of feedback to young writers.
- Write letters on posterboard and tape it to the wall at your child’s eye level. Then dim the lights and ask them to trace each letter with a finger light or a small keychain flashlight. Often you might have to remind your youngster to slow down to make the letter strokes purposefully, but it’s great fun to visually see the letters light up. This is particularly great to work on numbers and letters which are easily reversed like “3, 5, 9, D, S,” etc.
Watch your child for cues because they will direct what kind of sensory experiences they would like to explore. Playing in the sandbox might evolve to wetting the sand down and writing letters in it. Helping make supper might just provide a fun opportunity to try to make a biscuit look like a “T.” Keep repeating that phrase in your head: “It’s worth a little bit of mess for my child to have a rich variety of sensory experiences.”