Children are showing interest in drawing at a younger age today than children even 10 years ago. This piqued interest is attributed to many variables, some of which include companies developing toys that are introducing drawing to toddlers, educational video games, and preschool/daycare programs implementing the accredited curriculum. However, this is causing toddlers to hold and use writing utensils before the muscles in their little hands have fully developed and become coordinated. The result is children starting Kindergarten with inefficient and maladaptive grasps that make writing challenging and sometimes a non-preferred task. Occupational Therapy can evaluate a child’s writing grasp and help correct the grasp to decrease hand fatigue, hand pain, stress on finger joints as well as increase fine motor coordination and writing speed.
There are many fun ideas of how your toddler can enjoy and explore art and drawing but also work on strengthening and coordinating the muscles in their hand at the same time. Provide close supervision of the following suggestions if your toddler still puts objects in their mouth. Instead of handing your toddler a standard skinny crayon, which most will automatically use a “fisted grasp” to hold, try offering crayon rocks, finger crayons, or crayons broken in half. Be creative in finding alternate materials to create drawings such as using a 1”x1” piece of sponge dipped in water and draw on a chalk board, while in the bathtub have child use finger to draw in shaving cream, finger tip paint brushes, and dipping rocks/empty thread spool/wheels of a toy car in paint instead of using a traditional paintbrush. When your child is not drawing, encourage activities that are going to strengthen the muscles in the hand such as rolling and squishing playdoh, climbing at the playground, crab walking or other animal walks with hands open flat on the floor, have a sponge race where your child squeezes water out of the sponge into a bucket, and crumpling paper (junk mail taken out of the envelope) in hands and throw into a large container such as a laundry basket. Incorporating purposeful, but fun hand strengthening activities throughout your young child’s day, every day, will build a strong foundation for higher level fine motor skills to be learned.