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Vertical Plane Activities Help Students with Developmental and Learning Disabilities Improve Fine Motor Skills

written by: Barbara Smith • edited by: Elizabeth Wistrom • updated: 8/2/2012

Students who have difficulties maintaining visual attention to hand activities often benefit when activities are adapted to be used in the vertical plane or on an angled surface. These activities might include construction toys, games, arts and crafts and writing tasks.

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    Vertical Plane Activities - Improving Fine Motor Skills for Students

    Children with learning and developmental disabilities often have difficulties with visually attending to develop fine- motor skills. For children with ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) or on the autism spectrum this may especially impact abilities to develop the finger dexterity required to use scissors and control a pencil. Occupational therapists frequently work with these children to increase hand strength,eye-hand coordination and develop more mature grasp patterns.

    Vertical plane activities help students with developmental and learning disabilities improve fine-motor skills because the surfaces are right in front of their faces- promoting visual attention. Readily available vertical surfaces include classroomchalk and dry erase boards that are perpendicular to the floor. Large pieces of paper taped to the wall or coloring on large cardboard boxes can also provide vertical surfaces at home. Art easels, both the large ones that children stand up to use and the tabletop styles are also vertical but usually slightly angled. Both vertical and angled work surfaces provide the following advantages:

    • ·They promote good posture and discourage slouching over a tabletop.
    • ·A child will be automatically at the correct height when standing to face the writing surface; whereas, tables and chairs need to be adjusted to the child.
    • ·Writing on a vertical surface makes it easier for the child to coordinate eyes and hand movement because the hands are right infront of the eyes. Therefore, it is easier for the child to see what she is doing.
    • Writing on a large surface such as a chalk board makes it easier for a child to use large arm movements. Large arm movements help a child learn to form shapes, letters and numbers.
    • A child must use both hands together when pressing a stencil to color inside or shape to trace around against the vertical surface.
    • It is easier to interpret position concepts such as top and bottom when using a vertical surface because these will be on the same plane as the child's body unlike when the student is seated at a desk.
    • Vertical surfaces strengthen shoulders, arms and hands since a child will need to work extra hard to reach forward, to press, for example- chalk against the board. Working in the vertical plane promotes a good extended wrist position that helps a child to stabilize his hand while writing and to open up his fingers to manipulate small objects that he attaches to a board.

    Small, angled surfaces called “slant boards" or “table easels" can be purchased and used for handwriting activities at home or on a classroom desk. These are available in educational/therapeutic stores and catalogs. or can be home-made by taping a large binder closed and attaching a clip to stabilize paper.

    Many toys and activities can be adapted to use in the vertical plane. For example, the Lego building base and Magnadoodle drawing toy can be attached to the wall. Children can put stickers on calendars and magnets on the refrigerator. Attaching shapes to Flannelboards and Colorforms backgrounds are naturally best used when positioned vertically. In addition, using tub paint on the bath walls is not only a fun activity, but washing the paint off with a sponge develops hand strength and dexterity.

    As you can see, there are many reasons why all children should be encouraged to play and work on vertical and angled surfaces. But children who struggle with maintaining visual attention and developing eye-hand coordination may benefit most of all.

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