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Sensory Strategies for Better Handwriting

Both in the research and anecdotally we see the power of using sensory strategies for enhancing your student's handwriting skills. Whether you're student is struggling with writing due to dysgraphia, dyslexia, or ADHD, improving handwriting can be facilitated through the use of sensory strategies to aid in engagement and retention. Let's dive into the realm of ALL of our senses.... tactile (feel), auditory (hear), olfactory (smell), gustatory (taste), proprioceptive (body awareness), vestibular (movement), and visual strategies to help YOU help your child improve their writing WITHOUT the battle!

Tactile Strategies

Tactile, or touch, is one of the most beneficial senses that we use when it comes to

putting pen to paper. The smooth stroke of the pen against a sheet of notebook paper

feels a lot different than moving a marker tip across construction paper. This tactile

feedback that writing by hand gives us is known to improve our retention of information

when compared to typing. Plus there are a myriad of ways we can engage this tactile sense to stimulate learning!

  • Textured Paper : Try writing on different textured papers to stimulate your sense of touch and enhance motor skills. Writing on a piece of paper laid over sand paper or a piece of foam can provide a VERY different feeling for the writer.

  • Tactile Feedback Tools : Utilize tactile feedback tools like pencil grips or textured writing utensils to improve grip and control. Use of a pencil grip places the fingers in a more functional grasp and provides tactile input to "train" the hands for future grasp patterns. Likewise adapting the writing tool from a basic pencil to triangular pencil to a mechanical pencil to a fountain pen to a ball point pen to a marker provides vastly different tactile input into the hand and fingers. Trialing a variety of tools can help a student find the best fit for them.

Auditory Strategies

Auditory, or using our hearing sense, is one of the most powerful tools that we use in

handwriting. We take in information through our ears all of the time, and we have to

process that information and then condense it into written language. Using auditory strategies when learning to write is highly effective as we can use common language for learning letter strokes, starting points, "rules" of writing, sizing of letters, etc. It gives us cues to help stimulate our memory and, therefore, motor patterns of what comes first and next and so on.

  • Writing to Music : Experiment with writing while listening to music to improve focus and rhythm in your writing. This doesn't work for everyone, but when it works the results can be SO powerful. Playing around with various tempos and genres of music can help organize the brain for thinking and writing.

  • Verbal Prompting : Use verbal prompts or rhythmic chants while practicing writing exercises to enhance auditory processing. This is what we referred to earlier with verbal cuing. So all lines or letter strokes have a name, giving our expansive alphabet a clear concise

Smell and Taste Strategies

You likely aren't thinking about smelling and tasting senses when you think about

writing! But stimulating these two senses during literacy time can active engagement

and lead to better retention. We all know that visceral feeling we get when we get a

whiff of some nostalgic smell. It is powerful!

  • Scented Writing Tools : Explore scented markers or pencils to create a multi-sensory writing experience. You also get the perk of stimulating the visual and tactile senses with these writing tools as well! Rainbow writing can be a fun exploration of layering scents as a child practices as isolated letter or number.

  • Write in Food : Incorporate powdered or gelatin type foods in writing, such as powdered drink mix, pudding, salt/sugar, sprinkles, dried rice, and more. Use a tray to contain the mess and let your student practice letter formations, starting points, pre-writing shapes, etc. It feels silly and playful while they are working on those literacy skills! This is a great strategy for our most reluctant writers.

Proprioceptive Strategies

A lesser known, but equally important, sense that we have is proprioception. This is

knowing where our body is in space, which is critical when it comes to pencil control,

line placement, and sizing.

  • Heavy Work Activities : Engage in activities like pushing against a wall or using therapy putty to increase proprioceptive input to prepare for writing. Not only do these activities provide strengthening for the body and hands, they also give feedback through the motor and sensory neurons in the body. Increasing our awareness of our body in space also promotes improved pencil pressure as we are able to gauge the amount of force we need to place upon on the tool that we are using.

  • Adapted Writing Tools : Consider using weighted or vibrating pens or pencils to enhance proprioceptive feedback during writing tasks. These are exciting and new for kids which increases engagement and interest. But at the same time, "wakes" up our bodies and hands to encourage our brain become aware and "organize" our movements.

Vestibular Strategies

Another lesser known sense is our vestibular system, which is essentially our

equilibrium, keeping us up right in space against gravity. Clearly this keeps us from

falling out of our chair while writing. But there are ways to leverage this sensory system to help improve our literacy outcomes.

  • Seated on a Balance Ball : Sit on a balance ball while writing to improve core stability and focus. This allows for natural movement during focused tasks while also keeping our focus on task... because if we don't then we might topple over!

  • Swinging Breaks : Take short swinging breaks to stimulate the vestibular system before returning to writing tasks. Don't have a swing handy? Do some jumping jacks, cartwheels, rolls, or even toe touches to alert the brain and regulate your student's nervous system.

Visual Strategies

Finally, the most obvious sense that we think of with writing is our visual sense. It is one

of the most essential senses we use for writing as writing is a visual-spatial activity. We

need to process the lines on the paper, the spacing, the shape of the letters, the overall

layout of an essay, and more. Perhaps copying from a distant blackboard may also

challenge our visual system as our eyes zoom in and out.

  • Color Coding : Use colored markers or highlighters to differentiate key elements in your writing. For example, use a highlighted line to cue your student to write letters sititng on the line or below the line. Or using colors to Rainbow write as described above. Using green on the left margin and red on the right margin can indicate a go and stop visual cue.

  • Visual Tracking Exercises : Practice visual tracking exercises to improve eye movements and tracking skills while writing. Training our eyes to track left to right and top to bottom with improve a student's reading and writing. We love word searches and hidden picture books to make this fun!

Embracing these sensory strategies can make a significant difference in your student's handwriting journey. Remember, each individual is unique, so feel free to experiment with different techniques to find what works best for your child.

Let's make handwriting an enjoyable and fulfilling experience for all, one sensory strategy at a time.

Happy Writing!



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