It’s really the first thing I look at as an OT when a teacher asks me to “screen” a child for OT difficulties. Shoulder stability should be established by the time a child starts kindergarten.
When it isn’t, it can lead to difficulties in the classroom, especially for writing and drawing.
What you need to know about child development…
This toddler has her arm up off the table – that demonstrates lack of shoulder stability.
Do you remember when you first started coloring?
Toddlers use their whole arm to scribble. Then, as the child progresses developmentally, they begin to rest their forearm on the table. This helps them to start using their hand and fingers (instead of their shoulder and arm) to control the crayon.
They develop the ability to keep their shoulder stable during fine motor activities, which helps them to use the small muscles of their hand. This is called shoulder stability. Shoulder stability is an important developmental milestone for children who are learning to color and write. A child should be able to rest their arm on the table and use only their fingers to move the pencil by the time they enter kindergarten. Check out your child – is their elbow off the table? Are they moving their pencil with their fingers or their whole arm?
Writing on the Wall is a Big Help!
Laying on your belly to color and play helps to develop shoulder stability
Tummy Time Works! You’ll see one of my success stories on the right. Look at that perfect Shoulder Stability! And look at the smile on one of my favorite students who spent A LOT of time on his belly with me. Mom followed through at home and NOW he is a Kindergarten Success Story!
I hope you try some of these techniques—remember developmental progress takes time and patience, but it happens!
Interesting Fact: Babies who don’t crawl for very long or can’t tolerate “tummy time” are often delayed in developing shoulder stability.
This makes it harder for them to learn how to write. As they reach first or second grade, they often complain that they are too tired or that their arm hurts during writing assignments. That’s because they are using their entire arm to try to make a tiny letter, which is very hard work!
Tummy time is really important as a baby. It helps children to develop shoulder stability and good fine motor skills down the road.
So what can you do to help?
Encourage your child or your student to write on a vertical surface, such as a chalkboard or a dry erase board. Tape a worksheet to the board or a wall and let them write standing up. Did you know that they make the chalkboard and dry erase contact paper? This is a great way to encourage shoulder stability.
The child will lean on the wall which forces them to use their fingers! Give your student a slant board or a six-inch binder that slants downward to the child. This forces the wrist to extend upward, forcing the fingers to do the work. For younger children, encourage laying on the tummy to read, play games, do puzzles. Encourage crawling, wheelbarrow walking and using their arms to hold their body up.