Coloring in the lines is an excellent activity for developing pencil control, and contrary to popular opinion it does not stifle creativity. To develop a proper crayon grasp avoid engaging your child in a dialogue about how to hold a crayon correctly and the virtue of coloring in the lines. A better strategy is to adapt your child’s environment (e.g., drawing implements, position, image quality and drawing implements) and facilitate coloring skills by choosing appropriate materials so that he/she can enjoy and benefit from the process, with as few verbal instructions as possible.
Step 1: Set your child up for success by ensuring that he/she is seated appropriately. At the table, hips, knees, and ankles should ideally be at 90 degree angles, with feet flat on the floor. If they do not reach, you can place a stool, box, or fat book under his/her feet to “raise” the floor. Alternatively and equally acceptable, encourage your child to color while lying on his/her belly while propped up on one elbow, sitting in a kneeling position on an adult sized chair that is turned backwards to face the table, or standing at a table. Varying positions is great.
Step 2: Even better, encourage your child to work on a vertical or inclined surface, which will naturally place your child’s hand in an ideal position for a more secure and mature grasp, and better pressure regulation. The inclined position pulls the wrist into extension (bent back) and places the hand in a bio-mechanically advantageous position. If your child is seated, place the paper on a slant board (www.therapyshoppe.com) or on top of a 3 inch binder that is turned sideways. If your child is standing, affix the paper to an easel, tape it to the wall, or tape it to the refrigerator, slightly above eye level.
Step 3: Be mindful of the coloring page. Begin with a picture that has simple shapes and bold borders. To emphasize the boundaries of the picture, trace over the borders with a thick marker. For children who benefit from tactile feedback, outline the boundaries of the picture with Wikki Stix, which will create a raised line effect. Buki is a company that makes great coloring books for preschoolers (www.amazon.com). There are also many pictures available on Google Images.
Step 4: Picking the right drawing implement is critical. Children have small hands and therefore should use crayons that fit their hands. In general, short fat crayons (1" is best) are best because there is less likelihood of placing too many fingers around the crayon. The fatter and wider the shaft of the crayon the more comfortable the fit, which helps children to maintain an open, rounded web space (the space between the thumb and index finger), which is important for controlling the crayon within defined space. Long crayons have too long of a lever arm for children to control
Here are 4 of our favorite writing implements:
Crayola Pipsqueaks (not"skinnies")
Crayola oil pastels (octagonal)
Try a variety of crayons until you find the one that best fits your child’s hand. You will know you have hit the jackpot when he/she naturally assumes a more mature 3- finger grasp on the thumb side of the hand, and develops control rapidly, without verbal instructions. Breaking fat crayons (e.g., Crayola Jumbo Crayons) or chalk into small pieces will also enable children to naturally assume an appropriate grasp.
Blog written by Aviva Goldwasser, MS, OTR/L & Chaye Lamm Warburg, DPS, Director of POTS