Is your child right or left-handed? It doesn't matter. First give young children opportunity to use and develop both hands.
Your child's handedness means are they right or left handed? Handedness is the ability to perform skilled fine motor movements with one hand, your dominant, while your other hand, your non-dominant, remains relatively inactive.
I have written before about a working hand and a helping hand. It is your working hand that performs the skilled fine motor movements, using the small muscles of your hand, finger and thumb, while your helping hand stabilizes, braces or holds.
FIVE fast handedness facts:
- About 10 per cent of the population is left-handed.
- If you do some skilled fine motor tasks better with your right hand and some better with your left hand you have a mixed dominance (you are not ambidextrous). Some left handers are forced to develop mixed dominance because it is a right-handed world.
- If you are ambidextrous then you truly can do all skilled, fine motor tasks equally well with either hand.
- Did you know that handedness or hand dominance can develop as late as 6 to 7 years old and possibly later for left-handers?
- Did you know that your eye dominance, your hand dominance and your leg dominance are not all necessarily on the same side?
So, what do I recommend as an occupational therapist to promote the development of handedness?
- For toddlers and pre-schoolers, I first suggest lots of opportunities to use both hands symmetrically, with both hands doing similar things.
- Play with musical instruments like cymbals, interlocking beads to push and pull together, push a rolling pin with both hands or rip paper into strips.
- Once mastered, I then suggest toys to help young children alternate their hands in play such as using drum sticks to create a rhythm, clapping games, high fives or my favourite alternative – low fives and side fives.
But for school-aged children I know the non-dominant hand will not develop into a helping hand and the working hand will not differentiate from the helping hand if both are doing the same thing or if one hand is just mimicking or copying the other in play.
What tells me as an occupational therapist that a child is not developing hand dominance?
If a four-, five or six-year-old child isn't learning to use their helping hand to steady the paper while colouring, cutting, drawing or writing. I also watch to see if a child is switching hands during the activity. I like to see that a child starts and finishes an activity like cutting out a shape with the same hand.
Here are some more occupational therapy and kid favourites to develop handedness or a working hand and a helping hand with these two-handed activities:
- Open and close jars and containers with lids.
- Use stencils (make your own first!) to colour in.
- Use a ruler to make drawings.
- Sharpen pencils with a manual (not electric) pencil sharpener.
- Put together and take apart nuts and bolts, stringing beads, any windup toy (Jack in the box, racing cars).
- Hide things in a drawstring bag and pull the string, zip closed a "slide-lock" plastic bag, and the most challenging: stack flat round objects like poker chips one at a time on a table with your eyes closed (you need to use your helping hand to stabilize the stack and substitute for vision).
Toddlers, pre-schoolers and even school aged children can benefit enormously from structured fun filled exercises to develop handedness. Learning and mastering scissor skills to improving fine motor skills and handwriting, can be done in the comfort of your home with two easy to follow ebooks available from Total Ability Solutions: Teach Cutting and Scissor Skills and Improve Cursive Writing and Fine Motor Skills. Both eBooks will help your child if they are right or left-handed.