How play helps with handwriting

June 3, 2017


Whilst busy at play yesterday, in our Upper Playground at our Tai Shui Hang Campus, my mind got to wandering as I watched the children all engaged in various climbing activities. We had a few "monkeys" climbing a tree, brave "crocodiles" climbing on a horizontal ladder and two "aeroplanes" climbing up a short A-frame ladder and "flying" along a balancing beam.


To an outsider, perhaps they would just see the play and energy being exerted. I, myself, have had a conversation with a senior teacher, that helped me see beyond the play, and the investment in their future handwriting skills.


This senior teacher, with close to forty years experience in teaching kindergarten and lower primary, had recently told me that she had seen a decrease in hand writing ability. Curious I asked her to explain more. She expressed the opinion that the limited outdoor play experiences of most children, world wide, had led to poor core and large muscle development, (gross motor skills). Which a child needs to execute the control of small muscular movement (fine motor skills), used for handwriting.   


Back to yesterday's play session, I watched and marvelled at how our mixed age group, immersed in physical exertion, were making a deposit into their future handwriting ability. Our programs can be vaguely described as "they just play", and a few people who do not understand the natural  development  of a child, can miss the vastness of what is happening inside those little bodies as they climb, run, jump, explore, laugh, fight, make-up, run, swim and delve into imaginative worlds. 


So if you have a child who is on the brink of handwriting, or struggling to write neatly, instead of sitting them down with worksheet after worksheet, head to a playground and let them climb, swing and push.


Our friend "google" helped us find this brilliant article on this subject, from the Occupational Therapist perspective (and language), at


Within the article they have list of activities you can do with your child to help them develop. They are copy and pasted below, for your convenience. Go on over to their site to read the article to get a firm understanding of gross motor development for handwriting. 



Gross motor activities that will improve postural control and muscle strength in the proximal muscles are beneficial when it comes to developing handwriting skills.  Suggested activities:

  1. Hanging activities – practice monkey bars, chins ups, pull ups or swing from the tree limbs to increase the muscle strength in the shoulder girdle muscles.

  2. Climbing activities – climb the ladders and ropes on the playground.

  3. Pushing and pulling activities – pull a heavy wagon or push a child on a swing. These pushing and pulling  motions help the shoulder learn to coactivate to produce the right amount of force and stability.

  4. Weight bearing activities through the arms – animal walks, wheelbarrow walking, crawling, and push ups/planks all help to increase muscle strength and improve coactivation of the shoulder and postural muscles.

  5. Yoga Poses – provide muscle strengthening and postural control

  6. Large art projects – hang some paper on a wall or use an easel. Children can reach up, left and right while painting.

Motor planning skills can be practiced with the following gross motor movements:

  1. Sky Writing – air write the letters using your entire arm describing each step as you go

  2. Obstacle courses – handwriting requires the ability to formulate a motor plan to complete multiple steps just like completing an obstacle course. Include activities from the list above.  For example, crawl to a scooter board, lay on your tummy and pull yourself along a line and wheelbarrow walk to the finish line.

  3. Body Letter Formation – children can practice making their bodies into letters to improve the imprint on the brain of how the letter is formed.  Activities like the Action Alphabet are beneficial.

  4. Coordination activities – jumping jacks, jumping rope, hand clapping games, etc all require extensive motor planning and coordination skills.  Need some ideas for coordination skills – check out 25 Bilateral Coordination Activities.

Eye hand coordination activities to help develop handwriting skills include any type of ball skills – throwing, catching and shooting balls in order to practice guiding the hands to go in the proper direction and location.













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