Sensory-Motor Handwriting Instruction

UDL 3.4 UDL 5.3

Sensory-Motor Handwriting Instruction is a developmentally appropriate approach to preparing young students before they start learning the physical act of writing by hand, and supporting them as they learn to write. The idea is to support the physical (postural and fine motor) and perceptual (visual-spatial) underpinnings of handwriting. At the pre-k level Sensory-Motor Handwriting Instruction does not actually involve writing. Instead, it focuses on developing motor and perceptual skills while students become familiar with letter and numbers shapes and spatial concepts. This can include a wide range of movement activities such as Simon Says, obstacle courses and beanbag play. It can also include tabletop activities such as using a variety of manipulatives, cutting with scissors, coloring shapes inside the lines and making letters out of playdough to match letter cards. The approach extends through kindergarten and beyond to support sensory-motor skills while students are learning to form letters and numbers, and to arrange them spatially to make words and sentences. This is a general education approach for all young students, but can be especially helpful for those who are struggling because of underlying motor, visual-motor or visual perceptual issues. OT BACKGROUND & PERSPECTIVES [[ | Pre-Writing for Pre-Kindergarten]]

Implementation Tips

Integrate Art and Music
Use music and movement! Music is always a great teaching medium for very young students. Check with the occupational therapist to see if she or he has the [[ | Handwriting Without Tears CDs]], or any other recommendations.
Integrate Sensory Motor alongside Phonics
While the physical act of forming and spatially arranging letters and numbers goes together with learning phonics and early literacy skills in some ways, literacy programs that include handwriting instruction often do not take into account physical and visual development. Sensory-motor strategies can often be used in conjunction with, or alongside, an early literacy program.
Physical Warm Ups
Brief physical warm ups, can "wake the body, hand, and mind up" before paper and pencil (or crayon, marker) activities. These can include stretching, stomping, jumping, twisting, clapping or finger circles. Include both body and hand warm ups.
Support from OT
Consult with the occupational therapist about students who are struggling. There may some easy adaptations she or he can offer.
Other Writing Options
Students who are still struggling with handwriting in the second or third grade may do better with cursive, or switching to keyboarding. Consult with an occupational therapist.
More Activities
Some activities that require little or no set up include: have students arrange classmates in the shapes of letters (with adult support as needed), trace a letter on a student's back with fingertip for him/her to guess, demonstrate forming letters emphasizing the "approach" not just what the finished product looks by marking the starting place before writing with a bright highlighter and describe the direction of the strokes and relationships to the lines on the paper.
Sensory Handwriting Example
Here's [[ | an article]] by a teacher who incorporated sensory integration theory in planning handwriting instruction sessions she called the Handwriting Club.


Gross Motor Activities
Offer many opportunities for gross motor activities that emphasize spatial concepts. Examples include: obstacle courses, bean bag or ball activities, Simon Says, dance and yoga. Use spatial language to describe what's happening (e.g. over, under, side, middle, top, bottom, far, close, in, out, touching, squished, breathing room, etc.).
Writing Activities without a Pencil
Familiarize pre-k students with the shapes and spatial qualities of letters through multi-sensory activities that do not include writing utensils. Examples include: constructing letters out of playdough on top of letter/number cards, tracing letters or numbers cut from a rough textured material (e.g. sandpaper) with a fingertip, taping out and walking on large letters or numbers on the floor, "air guitar letters” or standing at a distance from a large model of a letter or number on the board and tracing it in the air using the whole arm all the way up to the shoulder, with a pointed finger.
Fine Motor Activities
Build fine and visual-motor control with a variety of fine motor activities including resistive materials, materials and activities that require pinching, painting or coloring on an upright surface, coloring inside the lines, connecting dots, and tracing or imitating simple lines and shapes, especially the pre-writing strokes (vertical, horizontal, crossed lines, diagonals, circle, square, triangle).
Kindergarten and First Grade
Employ sensory-motor instruction and experiences for kindergartners and first graders learning to actually form letters, write words and arrange sentences spatially on the line.

Related Strategies