As a pediatric occupational therapist, something I work on quite a bit is helping children develop handwriting skills. This doesn’t just mean teaching a child how to write their letters and numbers—it means providing them with opportunities to experiment.
Different writing instruments and tools are an important part of that experimental phase, as these help prepare them for the day when writing actual numbers and letters are the focus. So before children are expected to perfect their ABCs, it is important to give them time to learn about different kinds of lines and shapes.
When I came across these LEARN TO WRITE STENCILS on Instagram, I knew at first glance that they would become part of my therapy tool box. What a fun way to introduce lines and shapes to children! I was immediately drawn to the wood aspect (I am a complete sucker for wood toys), which makes them sturdier and easier for little hands to manipulate. The other thing I loved was the variety of shapes and patterns they offered—in my eyes, all opportunities to practice the line work needed for writing letters and numbers. And last but not least, I loved the absence of hard and fast rules on how to use them. This encourages children to come up with their own ideas, and this type of open-ended crafting is not something children are exposed to enough.
BENEFITS OF STENCILS
Discovering a tool like this is a game-changer. It’s hard to find toys that nurture a variety of developmental skills while still being fun for kids to play with. In all my years as an occupational therapist, I’ve come to love stencils for this reason. A few additional benefits of working with stencils include:
- encouraging the development of bilateral coordination and hand-eye coordination
- developing grasping skills on a writing instrument
- working on executive functioning skills, such as focus, patience and attention
- encouraging creativity and imagination
WAYS TO PLAY
One of the things I find makes a toy special and worth sharing is its versatility. When you find a toy that can be used in more than one way, children are stimulated. They won’t get bored with it as quickly, which is always a challenge. So here are just a few ways I’ve found for using the LEARN TO WRITE STENCILS:
- Using a roll of easel paper, tape a few pieces to a table or on the floor. Provide children with a variety of writing instruments and the stencils and let them explore and create without any kinds of rules. This kind of open-ended exploration is critical for the development of problem solving and critical thinking. Plus it encourages independence!
- Have them pick out a few stencils to trace on a thicker card-stock quality paper about the same size as the stencils. If the traced line is too thin, try using a thicker marker before having them cut the lines out. This is a great way to practice both handwriting and cutting skills. And once cut, they can do so many things with their creations, such as color them in and make 2-piece puzzles.
- Have them find a stencil, trace it, and create something totally different using that line. This has been a favorite of the children I work with! For example, one child traced the zig-zag stencils and turned them into lightning bolts. I encouraged him to add some details to the drawing—to think about what else you might see in the same context as lightning—so he added clouds and raindrops.
- Use in a group setting. Break kids in to small groups of 4-5 and have each child pick one stencil. Give each one a piece of paper, and set a timer while they draw. After the timer goes off, have them pass their paper to a friend. Reset the timer. Using the stencil they chose, have them add details to the drawing they received. Continue setting the timer and passing the drawings on to the next person until everyone has contributed to each drawing. This activity is a great way to work on flexibility and teamwork!