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

Parent and teacher teamwork–a must for your child with special needs!

Susan Ellis - head shot

Having two boys on the Autism Spectrum, I am reminded on a daily basis that they have difficulty understanding things the first time being presented. As with most children with Autism (as well as those with Down syndrome, ADHD, or other special needs), visuals and repetition are the best keys to helping them learn.

My boys always have a hard time with auditory processing and giving their complete focus in a typical “gen-ed” classroom.   Even if the teacher presents items visually, all the classroom activity can be overwhelming and lessons don’t “sink in” the first time.

In 2nd grade, subjects like social studies and science tend to become more abstract. This can be very difficult for children with special needs who are typically “concrete” thinkers. I have found great success when I can take just 15 minutes to pre-teach them new material over the weekend.   Reviewing a new concept by reading the chapter together in a quiet room, doing a quick reinforcing activity, or even finding a short video about it online, can make a big difference in their confidence and attentiveness in class on Monday. The repetition of hearing the material again, and in a different way, will also help children better retain this knowledge.

Having an extra copy of your child’s textbooks at home is very helpful for pre-teaching and reviewing throughout the week. Talk with your teachers and ask them to give you the topic and chapter they will be covering the following week. It will be a win-win for everyone.

NOTE: When using our TV Teacher handwriting program, make a copy of the auditory chants we use (located inside the DVD case) and share them among your parent/teacher team. This way, both team members are able to help reinforce the language and correct formation as the child learns to write his letters.

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

Using motivators to help those with Autism or Down syndrome succeed

As a mother of two Susan Ellis - head shotchildren with Autism, I have used many ways to motivate my children to stay on task, complete their homework, and behave appropriately.   One thing that always works is finding out what THEY are wanting on that day. Finding their “carrot” is always a more fun and positive path to accomplishment.

Traditional motivators could be something like stickers, food “treats”, or even a trip to the “treasure chest” filled with items from a dollar store. You could also extend the reward slightly by making a visual chart. For instance, place a check mark for each time they correctly go to the bathroom. Three check marks = their reward. I recently even used this extended reward system for my son (high functioning Autism) in middle school when we were trying to motivate him to stay on task in class (see chart below).

My friend has a child with Down syndrome who loves to simply spend time with mommy. There is your reward and motivator! Help him through his homework using this idea. Reward him for practicing his spelling words by offering to dance with him to his favorite music, or do a quick puzzle.

  • Choose the reward or motivator to be something they really want to work for.
  • Make a visual of this “offer” so they see exactly what they need to do to earn it.
  • Make it attainable in a reasonable amount of time. (Note: younger children need a reward more immediately; older children are better able to handle a slightly extended reward system.)

Using motivators also works well with teaching children handwriting–especially those with special needs that need…an extra carrot.

img015For more information about The TV Teacher’s award-winning handwriting programs, please visit our website: www.thetvteacher.com