Benefits of Vertical Surface Activities for Kids (30+ Ideas)

Benefits of Vertical Surfaces for Kids

Vertical surface activities are an easy way to promote an upright posture and work on core strength and postural stability needed for fine motor skills development. This post shares 10 benefits of a vertical surface, as well as over 30 examples of vertical surface activities for preschool and school age children. (Free PDF Printable.)

As a pediatric occupational therapist, I always make sure that I have kids work in a variety of different positions.  Using a vertical surface for play and learning activities is such an easy way to build foundational skills that their bodies need.  

Many children that I work with typically need the extra work in this position.  But with so many changes in play from infancy on, I’m finding that a lot of kids need this now.  Several kids in schools have poor posture and difficulty sitting and attending. 

In babies, I’ve seen decreased tummy time and play on the floor.  In place of this, there is an increased time spent in seats, swings, and saucers.

I’ve witnessed changes in outdoor and gross motor play in toddlers and preschoolers.  I see more technology, more motorized toys and decreased movement activities.

Young children are not getting the typical play opportunities that naturally progress their physical and motor development.  In addition, they are playing or lying in the wrong positions while overly engaged in screens.  

The muscle (proprioceptive) system and movement and balance (vestibular) system don’t get enough input.  This impacts the development of muscle tone. It affects strength and stability throughout the body, especially the core. 

This causes difficulty using core muscles to sit upright on the floor for circle time or in a chair for learning tasks when the child gets a little older. 

Kids end up frequently shifting positions and they have trouble paying attention due to this difficulty sitting upright. 

Correct Sitting Posture for Your Student explains the importance of why children need to sit upright for school tasks.

Using vertical surface or an upright surface is a simple way to work on some of these basic developmental skills that all kids need.

10 Benefits of Using Vertical Surfaces and Vertical Activities During Learning and Play

There are so many benefits of using a vertical surface for toddlers, preschoolers, and school-age children.  And it’s such an easy way to simply change the position of what the child is already doing during play and learning activities. 

The following is a summary of the ten benefits to vertical surface activities for kids. 

1. Working on vertical surfaces gives proprioceptive input through the lower body

The pressure input through the feet and legs can be alerting for children while standing or kneeling.  It increases blood flow through the body and brain. Alerting input increases attention and wakes up the brain for learning. 

2. Vertical surface activities work on core stability and balance

Slight shifts in weight when standing up impacts core stability and balance.  Kids reach up and around at a vertical surface which activates core muscles and strengthens the back muscles.  This shifting and swaying stretches core muscles which also works on and supports balance skills.  

3. Activities on a vertical surface improve posture in the spine and neck

Standing upright at a vertical surface (with objects at eye level or higher) aligns the spine and improves neck position. Children aren’t able to prop or rest on another surface when standing upright.  They keep their trunk or core in a more upright position when working at a vertical surface and looking at their work directly in front of them. 

4. Vertical work increases upper body strength and shoulder stability

The shoulder works against gravity when standing at a vertical surface.  A child’s body requires the shoulders and muscles of the arms to be strong and stable in order for the hands and fingers to work well during fine motor tasks.

5. Activities in a vertical plane help with bilateral integration and stability in the non-dominant arm

If a child holds a piece of paper against a flat vertical surface, the non-dominant hand is required to work harder at keeping the paper still.  The kid has no other way to keep the paper in front of them without the helper hand!

This also improves the shoulder stability in the non-dominant hand.  Bilateral Coordination is important for motor and brain development.

6. Vertical surface activities improve forearm and elbow stability and wrist extension needed for functional hand movements

The shoulder works against gravity, but the forearm and elbow need to work against gravity as well when at a vertical surface. 

Wrist extension is when the wrist slightly bends so that the top of the hand lifts up and back toward the body and shoulder. An extended position in the wrist naturally curls the fingers toward the palm and improves smaller movements of the hands and finger dexterity.  

Some kids try to incorrectly gain stability by bending their wrist but this makes it much harder to control the finger movements.  A vertical surface promotes proper wrist extension and stability for improved finger mobility.  

7. Work and play at vertical facilitates grasping patterns for better pencil grasp development

When the wrist is extended, the fingers curl toward the palm and the thumb can oppose the rest of the fingers. The pinky and ring fingers tend to curl closer to the palm for more stability.  This allows the thumb, index and middle fingers to be more available to do the grasping, moving and manipulating.  (For more info on grasping patterns, check out Development of Pencil Grasp.)

8. Vertical work helps with crossing the midline of the body

If a task is set-up properly, children can cross midline using large movements at a vertical surface.

Additionally, midline crossing occurs if children keep their core and head still and at midline.  (Click here to learn more about Crossing the Midline.) 

9. A vertical position of work improves the visual presentation which increases focus and visual attention

When a piece of paper or learning materials right in front of a student at eye level in a vertical position, it greatly helps them visually focus on a task.  This has been so helpful for my students who have visual attention difficulties.  The work is directly in front of the student, and they don’t have as many other things distracting them if they were seated at a table or desk.  

10. Vertical surface activities help with position in space and spatial awareness

Kids have an easier time making sense of position in space when the paper is oriented in a vertical plane which is the the same plane as their own body when they stand. They’re able to better see and feel directional terms (such as up and down) and concepts such as diagonal lines make more sense. Improved visual presentation makes it easier to process Visual Perceptual information. 

Vertical Surface

Examples of Vertical Surface Activities for Kids to Improve Core Stability, Postural Strength, and Fine Motor Skills

It’s so important to use the whole room for different student work areas.  The changes in positions are great for children’s bodies and brains! 

Listed below are vertical surface activities for preschoolers and vertical activities for school-age students.  

For the writing activities, I have added some examples of tools to use.  Chalk, crayons, and pencils offer more resistance and feedback for the hand which is better for development.  Markers tend to be too slippery (and the smell can be a bit much for some kids!)

[Amazon affiliate links are included below for your convenience. As an Amazon Associate, Develop Learn Grow may earn a small commission from the Amazon link at no extra cost to you. See full disclaimer and privacy policy for more information.]

Vertical Surface Activities for Preschoolers

Using a vertical surface activities for younger children and preschoolers is an absolute necessity.  There are so many activities that can simply be placed on an upright surface in any environment or room.  

Additionally, you can take a horizontal surface, like marker boards or a Lego board and place it upright for vertical surface play. 

There are many developmental benefits of writing on a vertical surface with preschoolers, especially when working on Pre-Writing Skills.

If you use a large vertical surface for pre-writing and drawing, it requires bigger arm movements and works on gross motor skills.  The bigger arm movements work on core strengthening (as the body needs to stay still.)

Large arm movements help the brain feel and understand what the movements mean when it’s time to use fine motor skills to practice lines and shapes.  For example, the use of larger vertical surfaces increases children’s ability to understand what it looks like and feels like to draw a line from top to bottom or when drawing diagonal lines.  The big movements on the large vertical surface also encourage midline crossing. 

Furthermore, when play and learning materials are placed in front of the child’s eyes, it improves the position and presentation what is being seen.  

  • Whiteboard or chalkboard
  • Pocket chart
  • Velcro board
  • Felt boards
  • File cabinet with magnets or magnetic board
  • Working at a double sided easel
  • Tall desk or shelf
  • Door or wall space 
  • Large paper taped to wall
  • Window with window crayons or window markers
  • Smooth surface with window clings
  • Table top dry erase, magnet, and felt easel 
  • Secure Lego boards or game boards to a wall, easel, or cabinet
  • Place a coloring page on a vertical surface

Vertical Surface Activities for School Age Students when Writing, Drawing or Working on Projects

Having older kiddos stand at a vertical surface has continued benefits, as previously stated.  

They can also sit at a table and work on a vertical surface on a desk or table top.  Or, if the vertical surface is lower (like on a metal file cabinet) the students can sit cross legged or in a tall kneeling position.

The vertical surfaces are good for drafting, taking notes, or for practicing concepts.  If writing a final draft and neat writing is required, sitting in a chair with good posture is obviously necessary.  

When older students have to hold paper against a vertical surface, it improves the use of both arms and it greatly strengthens the muscles of the arms, especially the shoulder muscles.  Additionally, the vertical position of the paper makes it easier to see the work and focus on only the paper. 

  • Use a large chalkboard with chalk
  • Work with crayons, pencils or chalk on paper taped to the wall
  • Write on a large whiteboard with special dry-erase crayons
  • Use window crayons on a large window or glass door
  • Work on tabletop easels (such as this portable adjustable easel with storage)
  • Wipe large surfaces (use a dry cloth for more resistance or wash windows or surfaces)
  • Hold paper to a wall, door, window or other solid surface for writing
  • Tracing activities (trace shapes for math fact families)
  • Paint a picture
  • Highlight practice sheets
  • Draw diagrams, models or charts
  • Use therapy putty or playdoh at a wall; use a pen cap or plastic tool to write in it
  • Place manipulatives at a vertical surface (pegboard or game boards propped up vs. laying flat – when possible!)

Examples of Vertical Surface Activities for Spelling, Vocab, Language Arts, or Math

Adapt any of your lessons or worksheets so that the kids can complete learning activities at a vertical surface.  

Again, they can sit cross legged on the floor or work in a tall kneeling position at the vertical surface, depending on the height or the empty upright space available. 

  • Magnet letters or numbers on a dry erase board or metal cabinet
  • Sight words, vocab words or number cards with magnet tape on the back
  • Hanging pocket charts for math problems, spelling, sentence building, etc
  • Hang cards or letters on small hooks (complete problems, practice spelling)
  • Using clothespins or clips to sequence a story (hang on a string or pocket chart)
  • Felt boards with letters, numbers or words
  • Velcro strips for word building
  • Magnetic words for sentence building stations 
  • Letter or number stamps on paper taped to the wall
  • Use plain stickers to write on (or letter or number stickers) 


I hope you find the value of this information and are inspired to change up the position of your children’s play and learning.  It’s a simple change to your daily routines and learning centers with many great benefits for kids!

The info in this post has been summarized into a few PDF documents for your reference.  (Vertical activities for school-age students, vertical activities for preschoolers, and prone and floor activities for all kids.)  

Click the button below and enter your email for your FREE PDF printable. (You may be asked to confirm your email before the printable is sent as an added layer of security.)

Editor’s Note: This post has been modified from its original content for a better reader experience.  For more info on prone position activities click this link.

Related Posts 

Correct Sitting Posture for Your Student 

40 Core Strength Exercises for Kids  

Flexible Seating for the Classroom or Home 

*Help me help more kids! If you know of anyone with babies, toddlers and preschoolers, share this post with them. This is such a simple way to adapt play and learning activities, and it has so many great benefits!

Share this post with educators and homeschooling parents who could benefit from this info.  And pin it on Pinterest so others can find it!

Check out This Classroom Exercise Program to Improve Core Stability, Attention & Focus, and More… (use SENSORY and sensory-motor strategies)

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Use these specific occupational therapy exercises to improve:

Attention… focus… core stability… crossing midline… sensory processing… visual development… & more… Click for more info!

School-Based OT

Amy Hathaway MOT, OTR/L, CIMI-2 is a licensed and registered occupational therapist.  She is the founder of Develop Learn Grow. 

Amy has 22 years of experience as a pediatric occupational therapist.   She enjoys collaborating with teachers, parents, therapists, administrators, and support staff in preschools & schools, as well as coaching and guiding parents of infants and toddlers in their homes.

She is married and has three children.  Click to read Amy’s bio.  

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