Six Tricks to Help Motor Skills for Writing

I’ve been talking about writing and dysgraphia – how you have to lay the foundation for writing in a step-by-step manner. Like all learning, writing involves a hierarchy, and you have to have one skill down before the next one can be mastered.


This only makes sense, yet all too often this critical stage is overlooked and the student is expected to write words, sentences, and paragraphs without having a proper visual motor skills foundation. If the student has a learning disability, this can be a wall that just can’t be climbed!


Following are six tricks we use at Harp Learning Institute and Harp Learning Academy that help build the foundation for writing. This is that crucial step I keep talking about and this is how we get all our students to be not only adequate writers but above grade-level writers. And, we don’t get grumbling and excuses from our students when it comes to writing time! If there is a proper foundation, the skill becomes easy and fun, which of course, is the goal.


1. Sand, playdough, shaving cream, and pudding are all part of building those strong hand muscles. Almost every poor writer we’ve had has poor hand control. And these kids love this messy play. But the thumb must be involved or it doesn’t do much good. We have the kids push the playdough or messy substance with their thumbs and index fingers. Circles, pinching, punching, and squeezing also help. Cornstarch and water in a pan is also is a fun way to strengthen these muscles.

2. Snapping fingers. This can seem so easy, but kids with poor visual motor integration have a difficult time snapping their fingers. You can have kids do this to music to help strengthen the rhythm of language, as these kids usually struggle in this area as well.

3. Scooping. This is great for strengthening finger and thumb skills. We have kids scoop piles of bb’s, kinetic sand, and water. We gradually increase the size of the scoop to make this exercise beneficial and developmental.

4. X’s. We have our students write as many X’s that they can on a piece of blank paper in one minute. They love challenging themselves to make more X’s. If it’s too difficult to form these X’s in one minute, you can start with thirty seconds and build up to one minute. Our students get so excited to count their X’s and try to make more the next session.

5. Pancakes! We place sponges in a pan and pour water over the sponges to make them heavy. Then we give the student a pancake turner and have them flip the sponges one at a time. They love this activity, and they beg to do pancakes every session. They have no idea that it strengthens their thumb and index fingers along with their wrist muscles, which helps build that crucial writing foundation.

6. Copying shapes. A basic visual motor integration activity is so easy to do yet few people have their students or children do it. Copy a simple shape like a square or a triangle on a piece of paper and have the student copy it below the shape. Be sure to use a blank piece of paper so there are no distractions. Usually, the shapes are a mess to start with but have the student aim at copying the correct size and shape of the figure. You can then make the shapes more difficult such as using double diamonds or a square and an oval that are connected.se making that usually coincides with a writer without a proper foundation.