Brushing the teeth is an amazing eye‑hand coordination activity. For that reason, I recommend that children come home after school, perhaps have a light snack, brush their teeth, and then initiate homework. No, I don’t have stock in toothpaste.

Brushing the teeth involves individuation of the finger muscles from those of the hand and wrist. In other words, your finger muscles must work separately from the muscles of the hand and wrist.

Asking the fingers to do one thing and the wrist to do another can be very hard for young children. Brushing teeth allows an opportunity for this skill to develop. The more skill in this area, the easier it becomes to draw, print, write, and type.

Children will want to squeeze utensils, such as a fork, toothbrush, or pencil with a full grasp and stiff wrist with stiff full‑finger grasp. This makes printing very tiring.

Too many times, students become “hung up” on labor intensive printing. So much effort is required to move the pencil or pen that understanding the lesson gets lost in frustration. Many conclude that they aren’t as smart as the quick printer in the chair next to them, when what is needed is hand development.

Other activities that promote hand development, which leads toward competence in writing, include any activity where the fingers hold one posture and the wrist holds a different posture.

When a child uses a watering can to water flowers in a pot, their fingers and thumb tightly grip in a steady and stiff manner around the handle while the wrist does an entirely different action, leaving the muscles free enough to tip the wrist so that the water moves out of the watering can. Thus, individuation of the finger muscles from those of the wrist is accomplished.

Another activity? The correct use of a fork and knife. Even the use of a spoon requires that the fingers be held still while the wrist rotates in order that the spoon balances properly to bring the soup successfully to the mouth. If you don’t want to start with something easily spilled, try having the child scoop up a cotton ball with the spoon and dump it in a bowl.

The use of a pen or pencil requires the fingers to be nimble and moving while the wrist maintains a still and mid line [or neutral] position. Too often, students will do the opposite. They will grip too tightly to the pencil in their fingers and thumb and power the pencil with the wrist joint.

The wrist is too large a joint to perform the subtle nuances of lines and loops typical of the printed language. When the wrist incorrectly powers the pencil, reversals become more natural and the failure to stay on the lines also becomes a more natural error. (So instead of fussing at the child about reversals and running out of the lines, first observe how well they can properly power their pencil.)

A teaching strategy I use in the occupational therapy clinic is placing a bandage lengthwise across a straight wrist. The pull of the bandage becomes a gentle reminder to the student to maintain the wrist in a still and neutral posture, therefore powering the pencil properly by the nimble fingertips.

The tip of the finger has a great representation on the brain’s cortex to identify small changes in their position and pressure. The wrist is too poorly represented and, therefore, too awkward and clumsy for the fine motor skill of printing and writing.

So, “brush your teeth three times a day” takes on a whole new meaning in light of the fine motor skill development that is simplified by difficult hand activities, such as teeth brushing.

Pin It on Pinterest