Best Pre-Writing Apps
by Molly Shannon, OTR/L, ATP,
on the ATandOT Blog
When apps first emerged for handwriting, there were a wide variety for practicing letter and number formation. Yet, as an experienced occupational therapist (OT) that has worked in the public schools and has specialized in assistive technology for several decades, I was surprised that these educational apps did not include practice in many of the developmental tasks required in handwriting, such as skills in visual motor, visual perceptual, bilateral motor coordination, and fine motor. While the newer “crop” of educational apps offer many more options, few apps can target all of the skills that are necessary components in handwriting.
No listing of apps from any one source can be an all-inclusive listing, but those that I offer below can “point you in the right direction” regarding apps to support pre-writing. Obviously, as an OT I realize that use of technology is just one of many tools we have in our arsenal as therapists to augment and foster the skills required for handwriting. The use of apps with certain children with special needs on any given day can facilitate and motivate them in ways that sometimes hands-on tasks cannot do. These same apps can benefit all children (with or without special needs) to assist in developing and practicing the pre-writing skills required for handwriting. The use of these apps are meant to be used in conjunction with typical hands-on materials in the home, educational, or therapeutic settings.
Visual Motor Skills: Allow children to use their hands and eyes to form or trace pre-writing patterns or shapes, letters and numbers.
- Gaar Pre-Writing, free IOS and Android: An excellent and little known early app for tracing vertical and horizontal strokes with a basketball or train. Very motivating for young children, especially boys with autism spectrum disorder.
- Ready to Print, $9.99 IOS and Android: Developed by an OT and may be the closest to that ONE app that does have all of the pre-writing components helpful for handwriting in it. It also has data collection (paths, shapes, letters, numbers). A must have in my opinion! (Click on the picture to watch a video of the app!)
- Dexteria Junior for Preschoolers, $2.99 IOS: The Dexteria series of apps has long been popular with OTs. This preschool app has a substantial visual motor component called “Trace and Erase” with 29 lines, shapes, and mazes to trace AND erase for a second chance to “trace”.
- First Lines, $1.99 IOS and Android: This includes tracing of lines, shapes, and pictures with 3 difficulty levels, but may need to use with a stylus or on a larger tablet to increase overall accuracy.
- Writing Wizard, $4.99 IOS and Android: This includes tracing various visual motor designs, plus letters, numbers, and words. Another fairly all-inclusive app that is highly motivating, collects data, and is one of my all-time favorites due to this versatility. (Click on the Writing Wizard title above to watch a video of the app!)
Visual Perceptual Skills: Is the ability to see and interpret visual information.
- Puzzles are always an excellent source of practice in visual discrimination, form constancy, and spatial relations. My favorite apps in therapy include puzzles such as:
- Amazing Shape Puzzles, free IOS: This includes a great wealth of puzzles presented at an early level for visual part to whole perception. Many of my students with autism would want to complete all of the puzzles in a particular category, such as Space or Food.
- Kid’s Learning Puzzles Farm Animals, Tangrams, free IOS: Nice app with rotation of pieces, but must have some good fine motor skills to rotate the pieces in the tangrams.
- My First App Vol. 1 Vehicles, $2.99 IOS: This app offers puzzles where you can adjust the level of difficulty with number of pieces as well as a unique rotating pieces option.
- Match it Up (1-3), free IOS: Great app for beginning visual discrimination skills.
- Build it Up, free IOS: Good app for visual spatial and visual sequencing with virtually “building” activities. Two activities are included for free and the full version is $2.99.
- Bugs and Buttons and Bugs and Buttons 2, $2.99 IOS and Android: Award-winning app and favorites of many OTs with 18 activities for pre-writing skills including a very wide of visual perceptual and fine motor skills. Lots of bang for your bucks as therapists, teachers, and parents! (Click on the picture below to watch a video of the app!)
- Dot to Dot or Find the Difference apps (by Michael Contento), free IOS, such as: Easter Find the Difference, ABC My Little Farm Dot to Dot, Dot to Dot for Kids and Toddlers, etc. Fun apps for visual tracking, visual discrimination.
- Color Dots, $2.99 IOS: visual tracking listed as “Infant Baby’s Starter Game”. You can adjust the speed, size, and borders of the dots.
Bilateral Motor Skills: Using both hands together in a coordinated manner.
- Labyrinths, which use two hands to roll a ball into puzzle/picture holes, are great ways to practice using two hands with a tablet. My favorite is hidden within this great “puzzle” app called My First App Vol. 1 Vehicles, $2.99 IOS: This app has puzzles (can adjust number of pieces and whether they need to rotate the pieces or not) plus the labyrinth task.
- Driving Apps, such as Dr. Panda’s Bus Driver, $2.99 IOS (or Space, Mailman, Airport): Great use of both hands for “driving” the bus or other transportation. Very entertaining and fun!
Fine Motor Skills: Ability to manipulate small objects, pinching, finger isolation, or grasping.
- Dexteria Junior, $2.99 IOS (tasks: Squish the Squash and Pinch the Pepper) and Dexteria, $3.99 IOS (tasks: Tap It and Pinch It): Both of these apps target fine motor skills required in using touch screens on tablets.
- Bugs and Buttons and Bugs and Buttons 2, $2.99 IOS and Android: As noted above there are many fine motor skill components in the 18 tasks included in each of these apps. Fantastic!
- Ready to Print, $9.99 IOS: As noted above, this app by an OT has 10 different activities including pre-writing skills of visual-motor, visual-perceptual, fine motor, and letter/number formation.
- Lazoo Squiggles! $2.99 IOS: This is a great first “doodling” app with structured prompts that makes early drawing easier AND more enticing for young children.
- Early and structured drawing/coloring apps are important for young children and those with special needs as they are another motivating way to practice fine motor skills. Some of my favorites as an OT include:
- Paint my Wings, free IOS: An unusual app in that what is colored on one side of the butterfly is mirrored on the opposite side.
- iLuv Drawing Animals, $2.99 IOS, series includes dinosaurs, people, vehicles (each priced $1.99-$2.99): These are structured drawing programs to help with fine and visual motor skill development and are very motivating to children.
- KidsDrawing: Princesses, Pirates, Dinosaurs, free on IOS: More fun topics for structured drawing using fine and visual motor skills. A student favorite!
- Drawing Programs that record voices and the drawing strokes to make a video: Kids Doodle, free IOS, and Sago Mini Doodlecast, $2.99 IOS
While these are some of mine and my student’s favorite apps, each of us undoubtedly have our own particular “must haves.” These apps can assist with the pre-writing and developmental skills required for handwriting. Technology can never replace the need for using crayons and markers for coloring, drawing, or tracing with pre-writing and early letter/number formation tasks, but the judicious use of apps can be a great motivator for some children and provide wonderful sensory feedback. Let me know some of your favorite pre-writing apps too!
Molly Shannon, OTR/L, AT , is an occupational Therapist with 33 years’ experience and currently working in the public schools as a school-based Occupational Therapist in NC. She has specialized in the provision of Assistive Technology for 29 of those years and is RESNA certified as an Assistive Technology Professional. In addition, Molly is an Adjunct Professor of Occupational Therapy at Cabarrus College of Health Sciences in the Master’s Program teaching Therapeutic Adaptations/Assistive Technology in OT. She loves to present and train others in Assistive Technology and has been a national-level conference presenter since 1989. She has worked with clients of all ages and with a wide range of disabilities in public/private school settings, non-profit educational/therapeutic agencies, outpatient/inpatient rehabilitation, and with the North Carolina Assistive Technology Program. You can connect with Molly on Twitter site, Pinterest Boards, or her ATandOT Facebook page.
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