Teaching Children to Form “Amazing Lines”

Many children first learn how to form lines when imitating others playfully zipping across media such as paint or whip cream. This is an ideal strategy for experiencing the movements of up and down, across and around. Whether using fingers, a stick in sand or paintbrush-creating straight and circular lines teaches the concepts of right/ left, big/little and on top/below. Four and five year old children need to learn these directionality and size concepts in order to correctly form letters.



Babies actually begin learning prewriting concepts as they grasp, rotate and fit objects together. A baby learns that a peg has to be correctly oriented to fit inside a tube- enabling her to later understand that letter I fits vertically between two horizontal lines on writing paper. In my book, From Rattles to Writing: A Parent’s Guide to Hand Skills (Therapro, Inc, 2011), I teach parents how these types of early manipulation activities prepare children to write. Puzzles teach 3-4 year old children that the position of the shapes determines how they fit together. When older they learn that the position of the lines in letters d and b-determine the name and sound of the letters. Stringing beads teaches about the sequencing required to spell words and moving a marker along a zig zag maze teaches how to form the diagonal lines needed to write letters W, M and Z.




There are many simple paper and pencil activities that help children form vertical, horizontal and diagonal lines, including:


  • Drawing lines to connect 2 dots or pictures
  • Tracing lines with highlighter
  • Erasing dry erase marker lines
  • Drawing lines inside stencils


These days there are also many fantastic tablet and phone apps that involve tracing over paths. For example Shelby’s Quest (DoodletherapyApps.com) provides a river for the child to trace. There is an “uh oh” sound when the finger touches the land and a water sound when successfully following the river path.Tracing with apps or on paper teaches children how lines move to create shapes and eventually letters as well as developing motor control.



Manipulation toys such as the stringing and weaving X shapes reinforce the diagonal concept that some children struggle with. Tracing and erasing (with dry erase marker) across the holes provides visual and tactile sensory cues to learn the X shape formation. 





I also recommend multisensory activities such as forming diagonal shapes with play dough snakes and stretching rubber bands on a geoboard. 






The plastic materials shown in the photos were made by cutting up detergent bottles. The following “Amazing Bottle” is made by cutting away diagonal strips in each side of the bottle. The child pushes the fish in the diagonal direction from top right down to bottom left corners. The other side of the bottle enables the child to move the fish from the top left to bottom right corners.  





The double fish shape shown below is folded, punched and connected with a paper fastener.




These are just a few of the activities designed to teach very young children how 3-dimensional shapes move in vertical, horizontal, diagonal and circular directions. Connecting dots, tracing apps and paper and pencil mazes enables older children to manipulate in the 2- dimensional plane as they prepare to become “amazing writers”.






Guest blogger Barbara Smith, M.S., OTR/L is the author of The Recycling Occupational Therapist, From Rattles to Writing: A Parent’s Guide to Hand Skills and The Almost Complete Plastic Bottle Activity Book (sold digitally on Amazon and Barnes & Nobles). Please visit her website at: www.RecyclingOT.com





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