Using Bubbles to Support Handwriting? Really?
by Stacy M. Turke
on the On the Road with @stacyturke OTR blog
Another amazing school year is about to come to a close in my county, and staff and students are looking forward to some well-deserved time off. We will spend the summer wrapping up year-end paperwork, planning for the next school year, and hopefully getting a few moments off with our families to refresh and reconnect. Some of us have to-do lists longer than there are days in the summer, which we will tackle with various levels of intensity and focus. All of us will find the time flying by too quickly without a doubt!
At this point in the year, parents are asking School OTs what they can do over the summer to support their children’s handwriting and fine motor growth and successes so that they don’t lose too much of their skill during this down time. I know most are expecting to be provided with a list of “homework” looking activities, such as practicing grasp patterns using tongs to sort tiny objects, hunting for seasonal words in Word Search puzzles, and using handwriting books to practice correct letter formation. These are certainly favorites of mine and are important components to include in a summer program designed to support improved visual motor skills. But I don’t like to ask families to do these kinds of things exclusively. Summer is a time off from the usual demands of the school year and busy families often find it challenging to get their kids to do the more “schooly” looking tasks. I remember well trying to get my own kids to use the practice materials their teachers sent home at the end of the school year in an effort to reduce lost skills…and it wasn’t pretty! So when parents ask “What should I do with my children to help improve their visual motor skills this summer?”, I suggest the tongs and the letter formation practice, and I add this sure fire way to get kids engaged:
Play with bubbles! Seriously!
I’ve never met a kid who doesn’t love bubbles, so this will be an easy one for you. There are so many benefits of bubbles, all of which contribute to improved focus, visual tracking, and eye-hand coordination. First, let’s talk about the more standard types of bubbles, the ones in which children hold the bubble bottle (of various sizes and shapes) in their non-dominant hand, then dip the bubble wand carefully into the bottle to load it with the bubble solution using their dominant hand. To begin, the children use fine motor skills to grasp and twist open the top of the bottles, which requires strength and coordination of the shoulders (for stability) and hands. Kids have to dip carefully or the solution will spill, and in order to do that they are using eye-hand coordination and bilateral hand skills. Bringing the loaded wand to their mouth involves visual-motor coordination using both eyes together and good visual tracking so that they don’t stick the wand over their noses or in their mouths (which I’ve done on many occasions…yuck!). Kids must grade and control their breath to gently and continuously blow to allow for as many bubbles as possible to come out of that wand. And then the visual tracking that happens when they watch (and chase!) the bubbles as they move away is where the magic happens, right?
So think about this. When kids are using standard bubbles, they are working on or getting:
- Upper extremity strength and coordination
- Bilateral hand skills
- Motor planning
- Grading of movement
- Grasping skills
- Eye-hand coordination
- Visual tracking
- Convergence (eyes working together)
- Focus and attention
- Focused breathing
- Aerobic exercise (as they chase the bubbles)
- Tactile and olfactory input from the bubble solution
I love using different kinds of bottles of bubbles with kids, even in the same session. I’ve used the more typical bottles, that hold 4 ounces or so of the bubble solution, but I also enjoy bringing out the tiny bubbles that you find in the party section of discount stores because the fine motor and visual motor skills needed are different. And who doesn’t love the bubble wands that look like long, colorful tubes and have really large bubble openings? These are especially great for bilateral control.
But if my students love standard bubbles, they ADORE this next method of bubble delivery (to sound scientific!). This is so simple, you probably have all of the materials needed for this bubble process in your house already. There may be a more official name, but we call them Bubble Cups because, well, we make them out of cups! For each child, you will need:
- 1 Disposable plastic cup
- 1 (or more) Straw
- 1 piece of an old towel or wash cloth, just large enough to completely cover the top of the cup
- 1 rubber band
- 1 pie pan (or similar dish for dispensing the bubbles)
- Bubble solution
To make the cup, simply make a hole approximately 1 to 1-1/2 inches from the top of the cup using a sharp scissor. (Please do this for your child in advance of the activity so they don’t hurt themselves). Cover the opening of the cup with the piece of washcloth and use the rubber band to secure it so that it’s snug across the top. Invert the cup and dip it into the bubble solution (in your pie pan) until the cloth is soaked, then lift and allow the extra to drip back into the pan. Invert the cup again so that it is right side up and insert the straw into the hole. Blow into the straw (making sure that it is not pressed against the side of the cup or nothing will happen) and you will see the coolest bubble rope develop. Your child will be amazed as will you, especially when you look at your watch and notice all the time that has gone by!
Using bubbles can be a great precursor to a more traditional handwriting practice activity because you will have helped your children prepare their minds and bodies for the focused work that comes with writing or coloring. The whole body will have been engaged by way of motor skills, visual processing and visual tracking, and self-regulation support. And the child will have had a chance to enjoy and wonder at the beauty and simplicity of bubbles while getting fresh air outside. This will be the kind of “homework” that everyone wants to complete!
A hint about bubble solutions: Add a little bit of glycerin (available at most pharmacies in the diabetic supplies section) to make the bubbles super bubbly! I add a teaspoon or so to the large bubble wands and maybe that much to the pie pan when I add the solution for the bubble cups. You’ll notice that the bubbles coming from the wands and cups have greater staying power and your child will likely have greater success blowing lots of bubbles.
Do you have a favorite way to play with bubbles? Please share in the comments section!
Stacy M. Turke, OTR/L: “On the Road with @stacyturke OTR blog.” Stacy has been a school OT for 30 years with the same school district in Michigan in what she describes as “my dream job.” Her career has ranged from working in a “center-based” school to working in public and private schools throughout the county, including those in the rural, suburban, and urban areas. She has experience working with students with a wide range of educational needs, to include cognitive impairments, Autism Spectrum Disorder, physical challenges, sensory processing needs, and many other learning challenges. She expresses her enthusiasm when she says “This career has been fulfilling, always presenting new and interesting challenges, and is NEVER boring!” You can connect with Stacy on Pinterest at https://www.pinterest.com/stacyturke/ and on Twitter at @stacyturke.
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