Fine Motor Activities Gross Motor Activities Handwriting Sensory Activities Visual Perceptual Activities

Top Ten OT Things to do with: BALLOONS

You know I’m always looking for fun inexpensive and light ways (I travel to schools) to use children’s favorite toys and tools to teach important skills. Balloons are one of those magical items that makes every child rise to their feet and motivates them to participate!



Here are my TOP 10 + WAYS that I like using balloons!
1- Gross motor skills:
  • Play a version of Musical chairs by tapping balloons when music stops whoever doesn’t have a ballon sits out. Remove one balloon each time.
  • Great for eye-hand coordination and team building. Children tap the ballon to each other but it can’t touch floor.
  • Write letters on a balloon as children tap it to each other they must name a letter from the balloon or name the letter and a word that begins with that letter.
2- Bilateral Coordination:
  • Use balloons to work on bilateral arm and leg skills such as tapping the balloon with alternating hands or alternating feet.
  • Use chopsticks to have children pick up the balloons and walk over to a target where they have to drop them. You can increase the difficulty by adding a balance beam, items on the floor to step over, cones to go around! You cannot drop the balloon.
3- Sensory:
  • Dipping balloons in different colored paints and stamping them on paper makes beautiful Artwork (hint: keep balloons small) I love doing this activity with children that require simple activities as it requires very little skill but produces beautiful results.
  • Fill balloons using a funnel with rice, beans, flour, beads and use as a fidget toy or to improve hand strength as you squeeze or finger isolation as you squeeze with (the thumb )and one finger at a time. You can even blow them up and then shake as musical instruments!
  • Put shaving cream on a balloon and have children write their letters!
4- Drawing: Learn to draw a face. You can add paper feet so that it stays up!
5- Handwriting:
  • Have a balloon with letters written on it. Children Write a word for each letter. Or 2 children pick either the same letter.
  • Or 2 different letters and write as many words as possible for that one letter.
  • Write Who words on one balloon (nouns) and What words on another (actions). Children pick two words to make a fun sentence. Kids can also do this as a game by tapping the balloon to each other and each call out a word from one of the balloons. They then each have to make a sentence combining the words that they each called out.
6-Letter Concepts: Write upper case letters in a balloon,”. Ask children to match the lower case letter sticker to the correct letter.
7-Number Concept: Children pick 2 numbers on the balloon, write down the number sentence to add them up.
8-Reading/Spelling: This can be a fun way to learn spelling! Write your child’s spelling words on the balloon as they tap the balloon they pick a word and spell.
9- Visual Tracking Skills: Blow up a balloon do not tie it, let it go and children have to track where it lands. To make it more challenging, do 2 balloons at the same time!
10-Science: So many science activities involving sound, electrostatic E, blowing it up by using a solution of baking soda and vinegar, poking a ballon with a skewer without popping it, centrifugal force with a penny, power a lego car to move by letting the air out of a balloon…the possibilities are endless!!!20151022_162507-1

10 Things All Teachers Need to Know When Teaching Handwriting

I wanted to share a few tips of the trade when teaching handwriting to young children. There are several approaches but mine has always been eclectic and varies greatly depending on the child’s strengths. But here is a little bag of tricks I like to use!

1-Do not look at the final product, look at the process that the child uses to make sure the approach is correct.

2- Teach letter writing from top to bottom, left to right (for lefties it’s ok to go from right to left)


3- Do not teach letter formation in alphabetical order. Follow this order:
First teach letters with vertical and horizontals: L F E H T I
Then teach circular letters: U C O Q G S J D P B R
Lastly teach letters with diagonals: K A M N V W X Y Z

4- Make sure you draw a box within which children have to copy letters (gives them a framework within which they remain focused, otherwise letters are all over the place)

5-Have children trace highlighted letters rather than dotted lines.

DSCF04386- For children who have difficulty remembering the order of a stroke, I like providing them with an auditory cue. I therefore associate each stroke with a sound ex: diagonal is going down a slide weeeee

7- Some children may need you to create a storyline behind the formation of certain letters. Ex: lowercase letter e, I tell children they are in a car with the family driving vroom across (horizontal line) and we forgot the dog so we stop and go back around around around and stop (creates an e)

8- Teach formation of uppercase letters first then graduate to lowercase letters

9- Use a whiteboard to teach letter formation. The low friction allows children to focus on the formation of the letter instead of losing focus trying to maintain the pencil in their fingers caused by the higher friction of a pencil on paper. Once a child practices the formation on a whiteboard, you can then practice on paper with pencil.

10- Make letter formation fun! Use as many sensory components as possible ex tactile: sand, paint, shaving cream, pudding etc… Use stickers, wiki six, magic markers, Popsicle sticks, music games, childrens’ bodies to form letters, glow in the dark sticks etc….



Summertime Handwriting Kit

pinterest Summer kit

Summer is here!!!! This is a great opportunity for parents to work on handwriting skills including a correct grasp and proper letter formation.

I have just finished doing OT screenings at various schools in my community and I noticed that many pre-K and Kindergarten children still show poor grasp and letter formation despite all the great literature and resources out there for teachers.

I believe that many teachers are taught to look at the final product instead of the process of handwriting and therefore they don’t readily pick up on the children with “handwriting issues” unless the writing is illegible.

Many parents are told to work on handwriting with their children but they do not know where to start. I therefore created a little kit so parents can work on handwriting and grasp over the Summer. Armed with the knowledge of what a correct grasp looks like along with proper formation of letters, parents can work on this at home.

For teachers who believe their students have difficulty with handwriting skills, this kit is a great recommendation for parents. You can shop for it right here!


Rainbow Words

You Will Need:

  • Different colored alphabet stickers
  • Different colored markers
  • Lined paper (you can print here)

The Activity:

Fun and simple way to work on handwriting skills. I begin by asking children to find the letters of their name and stick them one under the other on lined paper.


Then pick markers that are the same color as each letter and have children write or copy words that begin with each letter of their name. This makes a fun and colorful worksheet!





Alphabet Skeleton Bones

LOVE LOVE LOVE these!!!!

This is such a fun way to teach letter formation to young children with a Halloween twist! You can purchase this activity on MissMancy’s Shop.

Draw letters that contain horizontal, vertical and diagonals only (A,E,F,H,I,K,L,M,N,T,V,W,X,Y,Z). Give children a sack of bones and have them practice their letters!!!



Paper–The Canvas

We don’t always realize the importance of the surface we write on. Paper is an important piece of the puzzle to mastering handwriting.

Consider the following:

Blank piece of white paper: This is too much of a blank surface to write on. You end up seeing different size letters and words that start at the top of the page but end up at the bottom of the page :)…when using blank paper, use a highlighter to make boxes as a frame within which your child has to write. It will help them learn to stay in the lines and size accordingly.

Wide/pre write: To a young child who is starting to write, solid lines and dotted lines have absolutely no meaning. (this needs to be taught)..this kind of paper can actually look confusing. I like to use this paper and highlight as I go (if you highlight the whole page…it’s not teaching them where to write, it’s just that their page is now yellow!!)

Note: I like to cut the paper in half (chances are with little ones you won’t be using a whole page AND it’s less overwhelming)

You can print out this type of paper here.

You can also get this paper with raised lines. This is great for children with visual difficulties to help them judge boundaries without visually monitoring. Available for purchase at MissMancy’s AMAZON Shop.

Wide rule: for older kids I like to use wide ruled but with dotted lines too. I find that the older children who come to me with handwriting difficulties still need the visual cue of dotted lines when forming lower case letters. Once again I highlight as I go.

You can print out this type of paper here.

You can also get this paper with raised lines. This is great for children with visual difficulties to help them judge boundaries without visually monitoring. Available for purchase at MissMancy’s AMAZON Shop



Plastic Sleeve Perfection

You Will Need:

Tricks of the Trade:

Using plastic sleeves is one of my favorite tricks of the trade. It allows me to avoid making so many photocopies (while saving trees:) and kids love to write with dry erase markers. They are more willing to complete worksheets this way!

My Favorite way to use Sleeves:

With Worksheets: Place worksheets in the plastic sleeve, have your child complete with a dry erase marker and reuse!

Mazes: Great for mazes so children can erase easily and try again if they make a mistake.

Tic Tac Toe: Fun reusable way to play Tic Tac Toe word games

Tracing: Write words or letters with a highlighter on white paper, place it in a plastic sleeve and have your child trace letters with a dry erase marker!

Copy Words or practice letters: Write a word or letter and make a box under it for your child to copy.

Sizing: Practice making letters smaller and smaller by drawing different sized boxes on white paper, place in a sleeve and have your child practice!

Motor Coordination: Draw a fun curvy road with a light maker (make lines thick ) and ask your child to trace by staying in the lines the whole time and not getting out of the road. This will work on motor coordination.


Color My World

Crayon review:

All coloring crayons and markers are available for purchase here at MissMancy’s AMAZON Shop.

Coloring is a great way to work on so many important skills:

  • strengthens a tripod grasp (when crayon is held correctly)
  • child works on important motor coordination skills when having to color in the lines
  • works on isolating wrist and finger movers when coloring small items instead of using whole arm movements (an important skill for handwriting)
  • improves hand endurance/tolerance to paper pencil activities (so your child doesn’t feel fatigued with writing assignments)

Here are some tips I like to use:

Break crayon: by breaking crayons and making them very small it almost forces your child to pinch it correctly (make sure the webspace is open)

Wiki: wrap a wiki stick at the base of a crayon and ask your child to hold  by pinching on the wiki when coloring and tuck all other fingers in the palm

Gripper: I like to use grippers on pencil crayons because it’s easy to put on and off but not on crayons as these can easily break (except for Twisties)

My favorite coloring:

CRAYOLA Twisties: I love love love these crayons. They are soft and easy to color with. And the great thing about these crayons is that I can easily use a gripper on them by simply twisting the crayon into the gripper! (You can purchase here)

CRAYOLA Pip squeaks: when teaching to color you want to think SHORT and FAT…markers that are short allow for better control and fat ones provide a larger surface area for correct finger placement. (You can purchase here)

CRAYOLA Large Crayons: again when teaching to color you want to think SHORT and FAT…crayond that are short allow for better control and fat ones provide a larger surface area for correct finger placement. (You can purchase here)


Weigh Down that Pencil

What you will need:

Benefits of a Pencil Weight:

There is a definite advantage to weighing a child’s pencil:
1- the additional weight pulls the pencil down into the webspace (space between the thumb and index finger) which is where we want the pencil to rest.
2-heavier pencils slow down a child that writes too quickly
3- the additional weight of the pencil is great for children with poor awareness of their hands/fingers (seen very often with children with autism)

How to use the weight:

Place one of the plastic rings on the pencil, slide in the weight and keep it in place with a second plastic ring

Fine Motor Activities Handwriting

The Brilliance of Highlighters


Highlighters and bright markers are a great handwriting tool!

Comes included in MissMancy’s Handwriting Starter Kit. Available for purchase on this site.

I use them often and many different ways:

  • Write a word or letter with highlighter and ask ur child to trace with a pencil. Or make a highlighted dot where u want ur child to start his letters


  • For children who have difficulty staying in the lines, highlight the lined paper and say:  “Stay in the yellow lines!”
  • Always make highlighted boxes to delineate where you want your child to write. This gives them a frame within which they can write (otherwise kids tend to make letters all over the place and different sizes!!!)

  • Highlight area to cut and say Stay on the yellow road!



Erase away errors


Mini Pentel eraser comes included in MissMancy’s Handwriting Starter Kit. Available for purchase on this site.

We pay so much attention on handwriting that we forget how important the ERASING is! Children WILL make many errors while learning to write.  Therefore learning to erase will make the difference between neat assignments and one big mess of words!! 🙂
The best erasers by far are the white  plastic erasers such as Staedler or Pentel!

Teach your child to erase to the point of making mistakes disappear from the paper. Also teach them to hold the paper with a flat hand close to the area that needs to be erased (avoids crumpling paper).

The added benefit of erasing is that it strengthens little fingers so make sure your child uses a neat pincer grasp (thumb and first 2 fingers with all other fingers tucked in the palm).
You can even have children erase items on a paper that is taped to the wall that way they strengthen their shoulders at the same time!

Who knew an eraser could do so much!!’ : ))


The Mechanical Pencil

The Special Pencil

A mechanical pencil comes included in MissMancy’s Handwriting Starter Kit

I don’t know about you but I always love to write with a mechanical pencil!  The writing always seams to look neater!
When I introduce it to my kids for the first time I like to tell them it’s my “special pencil” that I’m letting them use…they all without exception pay extra careful attention to their handwriting!!

The mechanical pencil is great for kids who need to put less pressure on the paper when writing. It’s also a lot easier to erase.
Make sure you get a good quality mechanical with 0.5 or 0.7 mm lead (I personally like 0.5). I find that cheap mechanical pencils are lighter and don’t produce the same quality handwriting…and besides a good mechanical pencil looks so much more special!!


Elastic Bands

Tricks of the trade

Comes included in MissMancy’s Handwriting Starter Kit. Available for purchase on this site.

We always want children to keep their pencils and crayons in the webspace (the area created between the thumb and index finger). You will find that many like to keep the pencil straight up (perpendicular to the paper). This is an inefficient way to hold a pencil as it puts unnecessary pressure on joints.

There are several ways to keep the pencil in the webspace; you can either weigh down the pencil (with pencil weights)/use a heavy pencil or you can use the rubber band trick.


The rubber band trick: Simply place a thin rubber band around the pencil and have your child wear it like a bracelet. Make sure the pencil is at the top and place the pencil in the webspace….tada!


Easels and Slant Boards

One of the most efficient tools you can purchase to help your child with proper grasp on writing tools is by far an easel!

The reason for this is that it forces your child to bend his wrist into extension and automatically close his fingers around a pencil (we call this tenodesis). You must then make sure to place a pencil correctly in the hand however this wrist position will help them maintain the desired grasp more easily.

For younger children, a high slant board or easel is best. You can also tape paper to the wall and have them color/paint/draw. I absolutely LOOOOVE this one by Parents. I bought it years ago at Target and EVERY child I meet wants to play with it! Believe it or not this easel becomes sold out every year and is hard to find. It’s just one of those products! You can purchase yours right here at MissMancy’s AMAZON Shop.

For older children, I recommend a 20 degree slant board. It’s less cumbersome in class and generally they have better wrist stability and don’t always need full extension of the wrist from a high incline. (Get a wide, long one so that papers and notebooks can both be used on it) You can purchase yours right here at MissMancy’s AMAZON Shop.

I suggest teachers and parents to provide lots and lots of coloring, drawing activities on easels and on the wall!

This will strengthen the wrist which is one of the most important joints for fine motor skills (dexterity). We say in therapy: Stability before Mobility. In this case we want to stabilize the wrist so that movements of the hand and fingers are done correctly.


Great Grippers

Great  Grippers

It’s normal for young children to use a fisted grasp on crayons (A,B on figure) however we want to make sure that they progress from holding a crayon in their palm to holding it with their fingers. An efficient grasp is one where the thumb and index finger create a circular webspace. This allows for skillful manipulation. So always look for that open circle between the thumb and index finger. Chances are your child is holding his pencil correctly!

I highly suggest that all kids use grippers on their pencils when starting to learn how to write. This will strengthen the correct muscles and help create a correct grasp on pencils. The gripper can be removed once an efficient grasp is established.

These are my favorite grippers:

You can purchase grippers right here on MissMancy’s Shop or comes included in MissMancy’s Handwriting Starter Kit

1-    The Pencil Grip. This is made of soft plastic and comfortable for kids. For a RIGHT-handed child, have him place his thumb where it’s marked by the letter R (for LEFT-handed children place their thumb on the letter L), index finger at the top and all other fingers tucked inside the palm of the hand. (I like to tell children to pinch and then all other fingers under!)

2-    The Pencil Grip Crossover.  This is the same as The Pencil Grip but it has wings. I use it for children that cross over their thumb over the index finger.


Importance of Sitting Posture

Start with Stability

In therapy we talk about the 90-90-90 rule. This means that when seated at a desk, we want to ensure the following:

  • Feet flat on the floor 90 degrees at ankles
  • Knees bent at 90 degrees
  • Hips at 90 degrees

The top of the desk should be approximately 2 inches above the elbows when the arms are bent at the student’s side. This will ensure that the child’s neck, shoulders, arms, hands and fingers are relaxed.

If the table top is too high: a child will prop his elbows up and out, hike up his shoulders and possibly lean his body against the desk.

If the table is too low: a child will slouch and lean his body on the table.

Both scenarios affect the efficiency of handwriting (because now your child has to use his energy to stabilize himself instead of using that energy to focus on the task at hand).

To help your child sit correctly, table legs can be adjusted as well as the height of the chair. You can also use a wedge on the chair to encourage proper sitting posture. I like this one by Movin’sit because one side is smooth and the other is bumpy which gives  nice tactile input to children who have a tendency to wiggle in their chairs; just enough wiggle with tactile input without having to disturb the entire classroom. (You can purchase on MissMancy’s AMAZON Shop)


Get a Grip on Pencil Grasps

Get a Grip on Pencil Grasps

I realize through my career in pediatrics that more and more children are referred to OT for poor handwriting. I truly believe that this is created in part by society’s haste to begin an academic curriculum earlier than the normal development of children’s fine motor skills. We overlook the importance of hand development and fine motor skills development. Emphasis is placed on the production of a final product (in this case writing letters) rather than ensuring that children are holding their pencils correctly while learning to write their letters.

At an early stage, when it’s acceptable for young children to produce large letters, an inefficient grasp doesn’t appear to be a big issue. Teachers are contempt that the student produced a beautiful letter rather than looking at the grasp this child used. The problem with an inefficient grasp is that as a child gets older and that the expectations for handwriting evolve (i.e. small letters, correct formation, spacing, sizing etc..) the child with an incorrect grasp is unable to formulate letters neatly and efficiently. This child can have a very difficult time performing and keeping up with the demanding and voluminous writing assignments. This in turn, can have a very negative affect on a child’s academics and love for learning/writing.


Understanding Mature Pencil Grasp Development:

It’s normal for young children to use a fisted grasp on crayons (A,B on figure) however we want to make sure that they progress from holding a crayon in their palm to holding it with their fingers.

An efficient grasp is one where the thumb and index finger create a circular webspace. This allows for skillful manipulation. So always look for that open circle between the thumb and index finger. Chances are your child is holding his pencil correctly!

Ideally, children will progress through 3 different stages of pencil grasp development:

1-    Palmar grasp (A,B on figure)

2-    Static Tripod Grasp with open webspace (G on figure)

3-    Dynamic Tripod Grasp with open webspace (J on figure)

However, there are other accepted functional grasp patterns including Quadripod Grasp with open webspace also known as the Four Finger Grasp (H on figure) AND Adaptive Tripod Grasp (this is like the dynamic tripod grasp however the pencil is held between the index and 3rd finger)


Glow Doodle App Dot to dot Shapes

You will Need:

  • Download the “Glow Doodle” App
  • I like to use a stylus with a grip

I’m sure you all know by now that kids looooove to play on the iPad!!! I use Glow Doodle App several different ways to make working on handwriting fun and motivating.

I take the opportunity to work on tripod (3 finger) grasp when kids play on the iPad since this is an activity that they are soooo motivated to do. I purchased a stylus and added a grip at the end of it. Instead of having your child use his finger, take this wonderful opportunity to master the correct way of holding a writing tool!


Draw dots on the screen for the shape you want to teach and make it glow:

Ask your child to connect the dots to form a square:

If your child draws the shape correctly, make it glow!!!!


Worm Spacers

You will Need:

  • Construction paper
  • Markers
  • Scissors
  • Wiggle eyes
This item is available exclusively at MissMancy’s Shop

The activity:

Many children have difficulty spacing words when learning to write sentences. I work on that several ways. Worm Spacers is a cute and fun way for them to create a space between two words. I cut out a piece of construction paper in the shape of a worm sticking out of the ground.

You can instruct them to line up the worm flush with the last letter in the word they just finished writing so that an appropriate space can be created to begin the next word!



Wiggle Pen Tracing

You will need:

The Activity:

This is a great way to strengthen your child’s grasp on a writing utensil and to teach children to put more pressure on paper when they write/draw. I have yet to meet a child who doesn’t looove wiggle pens!!!

Write your child’s name, letters, numbers or shapes that you are trying to teach on a piece of paper and ask your him to trace over these letters by staying on the lines as much as possible. It’s a challenge cuz the wiggle pen wiggles itself out of their hands if they don’t hold on tight enough or if they don’t push down into the paper!


Space Maker

You will need:

  • Lined paper
  • small stickers or stars

The Activity:

When children start learning to write sentences many of them have difficulty with spacial concepts. They don’t always leave enough space between words and they therefore create sentences that are difficult to read.

In order to teach spacing between words, I like to use this sticker trick! I let the child know before he starts to copy or write a sentence that for every space he puts correctly between words, he gets a sticker. This is a great way to focus your child’s attention on spacing.

I have to admit that some children are indifferent to stickers and therefore it is not a real motivator. For these children, I tell them that for each sticker they accumulate for correct spacing, they get one minute on the iPad! It’s a fantastic motivator!


Wonderful Letter Apps

Therapy Corner

Parents always ask me about the best teaching Apps.iPads are a wonderful and magical tool to teach children various concepts. Young children have been born into an era of technology. They have a natural ability to navigate this technology. I therefore encourage the use of technology to teach concepts and skills however it should be done in a VERY interactive way. Do not just give your child the iPad and have them play on it alone. Take the time to teach important turn taking skills or use it simultaneously with paper/pencil when teaching letters.

The Activity

I use one of the following App. My all time favorite right now is LETTER SCHOOL. The kids absolutely LOOOOOVE it and respond to it. When it comes to learning letters, even some of my least motivated children are mesmerized by this App. I use that to my advantage when teaching letters.

With any App you use, first make sure you use a Stylus with a Gripper attached to it (see my post The Stylus for iPad/iPhone).

You then ask your child to write one letter on the iPad App and then to PRACTICE IT ON PAPER! Once they practice on paper they can pick another letter.

You will be amazed how your child will pick up letter formation and letter recognition in no time!!!

Here are other excellent Apps for learning letter:

iWrite: Wonderful for young children that are just beginning to learn their letters.

ABC Tracer: Excellent for a bit older children that are trying to master the formation of the letters.


The Stylus for iPad/iPhone/iTouch

What you will need: 

Tricks of the Trade:

iPads and iPhones are wonderful learning tools. They offer many wonderful Apps for kids. This is a great opportunity for a child to work on a correct grasp on writing utensils. This is why I INSIST that when children play on their iPads that they ALWAYS use a Stylus that I have placed a gripper on. Children are very motivated to play on these mediums and the use of a stylus while they play will help them work on their pencil grasp so that holding a pencil correctly for writing will eventually feel more natural to them.


Reusable Plastic Pockets

You will need:

  • Clear Plastic Sleeve (I purchased this one locally at ACE School Supplies)
  • Clear Plastic sheet protectors (Easier to find…You can purchase at any Office Supply Store)
  • Dry erase markers (use thick and odorless ones)
  • Paper and light-colored markers OR worksheets you’d like to be able to reuse

Trick of the Trade:

When working on worksheets with your children, place the worksheet in a plastic protective sleeve so that you can use it over and over again with a dry erase marker. I like to use this technique for TRACING activities. I write the letters of the child’s name on a piece of paper, place it in the clear sleeve and then the child traces the letters with a dry erase marker.

The one I use is made of thick plastic. I purchased it at ACE SCHOOL SUPPLIES however you can also use regular plastic sheet protectors that you can purchase at your local pharmacy or Office Supply store.  This is a wonderful trick that I use regularly in therapy sessions for several reasons.

I like that I don’t waste paper. Think Green!! 🙂

The smooth surface has less friction than paper/pencil and this helps young children with weak pencil grasps to complete writing tasks when just starting off with learning to write.

I also like this for activities such as MAZES so that children can easily erase when they make a mistake.


The Magic Dinosaur

You Will Need:

Mini figurines such as Dinosaurs or Monkeys (Available for purchase here at Miss.Mancy’s Shop)

Tricks of the Trade

Many times young children have difficulty holding a pencil correctly. They may be able to hold the pencil with their fingers but they are unable to stabilize their hand by closing the rest of their fingers inside their palms (aka. ulnar stabilization). For these children, I like to whip out the Magic Dinosaur! (You can also use any small item such as a coin, button, cotton ball or pompom but tiny figurine are so much more fun etc..)

Once your child holds his pencil by “pinching” it, place the Magic Dinosaur in the palm of his hand and tell him that it’s a Magic Dinosaur that will help him with his writing but he must make sure not to drop him while he writes! Kids love this Magical visual.