Practice spelling without a pencil!

Ideas for kids with messy writing!

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Messy writing can affect your child's desire to practice spelling words. And it is easy to get frustrated when your child kicks up a fuss about having to practice spelling by writing lists of words.

These tips have helped other moms whose kids had messy writing, and I hope they help you, too!

With children in Grade 1-3, quite a bit of the pencil-and-paper work they do is repetitive drill – to practice spelling words, maths concepts etc.

Although they are expected to write the answer, the emphasis is actually on knowing how to spell the word, or how to work out the sum. If poor fine motor skills are causing messy writing, then it is tough for them to have to use a pencil just to practice spelling.

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I have found that with this age group, when poor fine motor skills are causing messy writing, then it really helps to work on skills WITHOUT doing any paper-and-pencil tasks.

That means working on fine motor skills WITHOUT writing,

and giving opportunities to practice spelling WITHOUT writing.


Because, when your child has poor fine motor skills, he/she will struggle with pencil control. And that means that pencil-and-paper tasks are tiring and frustrating, which takes away from the actual ability to DO the work.

The chances are that your child is bright and understands exactly what the teacher wants; it is just that writing it down on paper is really hard.

practice spelling with sand writing!

So if your child has to practice spelling (or maths drill) for homework, or if you are homeschooling, give the opportunity to experience success by adapting tasks a bit as suggested in the photo gallery below. In this way, messy writing on paper will not detract from the ability to spell or compute sums.

At the end of the day, your child needs to be able to SPELL the word, or UNDERSTAND the sum. Your child does not have to write it on paper to do it.

Practice Spelling - Ideas!

Most kids love the chance to write on a blackboard. If you draw lines or columns on the board ahead of time, it will help them to keep their work neat.

Hint: fat “sidewalk chalk” is best for kids with poor fine motor skills.

Graffiti appeals to most kids! Using fat sidewalk chalk on a vibracrete wall (or a sidewalk) works well, and getting to scrub the chalk off with a scrubbing brush and water on a warm day is half the fun!

Use a whiteboard marker on a mirror. (This usually wipes off easily with a DRY cloth, but test your mirror first)

A whiteboard marker is fatter than a pencil and easier to control, and working on an vertical surface develops wrist stability

Using a stick to write in the sand is appealing to most kids!

Use “Scrabble” tiles or make your own using thick card. Use lower case letters if that is what your child is using in school.

Adult “Scrabble” uses capital letters (upper case letters), but Junior Scrabble has great lower case letters to use, as well as being a fun game to enhance visual perceptual and spelling skills.

Most kids find “Magnadoodle” type boards great fun, even though the “magnet stick” is very like a pencil. The only drawback is that it is hard to erase just one little letter, as you have to erase the whole board in one go.

If you have magnet letters, do some spelling on a magnetic board or on your fridge. Lower case letters are ideal, if you can find them.

Ok, this one is really messy, but loads of fun. Stick your child in the shower cubicle with a handful of shaving cream to smear and write in. A great motivation to round off a term of hard work!

The view from the outside as Jamie spells his “shape” sight words. Caution: shaving cream can irritate sensitive skins, so use the sensitive skin variants, and don’t let your kids get it all over their bodies. Jamie keeps his clothes on and we just wash his arms and hands well afterwards. Use a window cleaning sponge and warm soapy water to wash the shower glass afterwards.

And of course, verbal dictation of spelling is also an option!

You may find that you only have to do a few of these activities to get your child to love learning once again. And if you do some hand exercises and finger exercises separately, your child will soon be able to tolerate longer and longer sessions of pencil-and-paper tasks. And then writing tasks will seem less daunting.

My Fine Motor E-books, as seen below, contain a wealth of ideas that can help your child improve their fine motor and handwriting skills.

If you have a younger child, check out these letter formation tips and fun letter formation activities.

Also check out these Tips to Improve Handwriting for more ideas.

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