Upper vs. lower case letters first

Marnie Danielson, MS OTR/L

This topic is frequently asked by teachers and therapists around the country, “Do you teach upper or lower case letters first?” There is no right answer to this question, but here is my attempt:

Teaching upper case first: When working with students, I almost always teach upper case letters first. I suggest Alphabet Beats UPPERCASE Letters to teachers and parents and create a ABUprogram for that class or student.

Upper case letters are bigger and easier to form for kids with motor control and motor planning issues. Visually they may be easier to form as well. I typically do not teach upper and lower case letters together when working with children with special needs.

Teaching lowercase letters first:   If a child has age appropriate fine motor skills (at a 6 year ABLlevel), then it is OK to begin teaching lower case letters first if that is your preference. Sometimes I prefer teaching lower case letters first if a child has visual discrimination issues that need to be addressed.   I use the Alphabet Beats lower case letters program.   The lower case forms are more specific than the upper case letter forms. Therefore they may be easier to identify for these kiddos.

Motivation: If a child is very motivated to learn lower case letters before upper case, I go for it! We all share the goal to make learning easy and fun. A child’s motivation is a key element to doing this.  Happy Writing!


Helping with Handwriting Practice

Marnie Danielson, MS OTR/L



As an occupational therapist and a parent, I find it is always difficult to get children to practice handwriting. Imagine if another adult was trying to get you to practice something you are not confident with and is difficult for you. Working with children who have special needs, I’ve often pondered how to motivate them to practice handwriting. Here are a few tips that have helped me:

  •  Keep is short – Give them exact expectations such as “let’s practice these 3 letters 10 times each and then we’re done!”
  •  Keep it fun– Play a board game and after each turn practice writing a word.
  • Give rewards If they earn 3 stickers for neat handwriting this week let them pick something from a treasure chest.
  • Try video modelingWatching letter formations on your electronic devices (like The TV Teacher) is fun and very motivating for children.

apple 2-boy and momTeaching children to write is challenging but handwriting is a fundamental skill needed for academic development. Keeping writing fun is a key element to success, particularly for children with Autism, Down Syndrome, or children with learning differences.


For more information about The TV Teacher’s award-winning handwriting programs, please visit our website: www.thetvteacher.com

Dough for Handwriting Development—great for those with Autism, Down Syndrome, and other special needs

Marnie headshot-2015Dough is a great way for parents, teachers, and therapists to address hand strengthening for writing. Playing with dough offers an important sensory component for children. It is resistive and requires in-hand manipulation to make different shapes. Children with Autism, Down Syndrome, and other special needs see dough as a way to create. Since creative activities are critical for a child’s development, phrase and discuss the ideas and creativity each child displays during play time with dough.

As a therapist, I try to structure the time I work with children to always address hand development for better handwriting. I like to take pictures of the dough we are using and have the children copy the image they see. This may require them to make a “birthday cake” or “3 pancakes”. I like to demonstrate with two hands (using bilateral coordination) how to roll a ball to build a “snowman”. Using cookie cutters and rolling pins is a fantastic way to address hand strengthening.   Another idea in the classroom or at home is to roll out the dough into “snakes” and make letters out of them. I hope you find your own creative ways to address handwriting development through the use of this fun and effective product.

rolling dough

For more information about The TV Teacher’s award-winning handwriting programs, please visit our website: www.tvteachervideos.com

“Out and About” Handwriting Development at Home

Marnie headshot-2015

As a parent of two and a therapist I am always thinking about better ways to help children develop. One idea I recommend and carry out in my own home I call, “Out and About”. This is the idea that opportunities to develop fine motor skills should always be available and “out” rather than put away in a tidy cabinet. I have 2 kids’ craft tables in my home; one upstairs and one down stairs. Every week or so, I rotate the activities on the tables. Some weeks it’s crayons on coloring books; some weeks it’s beading bins with fishing string; and some weeks it’s duct tape. Keeping fresh fine motor activities available and ready for kids fosters motivation to work on their fine motor skills.

As my kids have grown older, they often rotate the activities for me. They notice when the watercolors have sat on the craft table for a week and want a change. I love seeing them come up with new ideas too. Paper flowers, drawing a mural, creating pop-up cards for family members’ birthdays. It is truly amazing to see how creative they can be when left to their own devices. Children with special needs, Autism, and Down Syndrome all benefit from novelty. Some creativity requires demonstration on the parents’ or therapists’ part…but when the “wheels start turning”, prepare to be amazed.

kid-painting For more information about The TV Teacher’s award-winning handwriting programs, please visit our website: www.thetvteacher.com

Handedness for writing

Marnie headshot-2015


As an occupational therapist, I frequently get asked about handedness, or hand preference for young children. Some children will show a hand preference as early as 1 year old. Others will switch hands frequently at 5 or 6 years old. Developing a hand preference is critical to handwriting development. Children with Autism, Down Syndrome, and other special needs often have difficulty establishing hand dominance. Here are some ideas that may help parents and teachers.

  • Take note of which hand the child starts an activity with; encourage them to continue using that hand throughout the activity.
  • Present scissors, spoons, pencils (any utensil or manipulative) at mid-line or in the middle of a child’s body (think belly button) and see which hand he uses to grab that utensil
  • Verbalize to your child or students “you are using your right hand” so they learn the name of the hand they have chosen.

Establishing hand dominance is not only a frequent issue with parents, but one that teachers and therapists address as well. Parents and teachers will need to work closely with children when helping with this issue. Therefore, communication between school and home is a critical piece for maintaining consistency. Happy writing!

pens left and rightFor more information about The TV Teacher’s award-winning handwriting programs, please visit our website: www.thetvteacher.com