Having children use a vertical surface and complete tasks on the floor improves core stability, motor development and fine motor skills needed for school tasks. It also improves attention!
As a pediatric occupational therapist, I have kiddos work on the floor or at a vertical surface whenever possible! As much as possible!
They need it…
Due to changes in play from infancy to preschool, some kids’ bodies aren’t developing the core stability they need.
I’ve seen decreased tummy time and play on the floor in babies. In place of this, I see increased time spent in seats 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.
This impacts the development of muscles. The muscle (proprioceptive) system and movement / balance (vestibular) system don’t get enough input. It affects strength and stability throughout the body, especially the core.
This causes difficulty using core muscles to sit upright in a chair for learning tasks when the child gets older.
Kids end up frequently shifting positions and they have trouble paying attention due to this constant moving. (It’s also distracting for peers!)
Correct Sitting Posture for Your Student explains the importance of why children need to sit upright for school tasks.
Using a Vertical Surface or the Floor to Improve Core Stability
A teacher I worked with years ago was incredible at incorporating my occupational therapy strategies into her classroom. She was always asking for tips and even wanted to understand the why behind the strategies!
This teacher also recognized the developmental and postural changes over the years in her students. Our plan for her classroom: embed vertical work and floor activities into her routines.
Vertical work surfaces were created for her students for various classroom stations.
During calendar or story time, instead of having her students sit on her carpet, she had them lie on their stomachs. From consulting with me, she knew what cues to give when they were on their bellies.
This teacher explained to her students how to use their upper back and neck muscles to hold their head up. She encouraged them to keep their forearms and hands on the floor.
The first month involved some groans out of the kiddos. Many needed breaks to rest their heads in their hands. Some even rolled to their sides with their heads down on the floor.
The teacher gradually increased the frequency and amount of time spent lying on their stomachs.
Vertical work continued and she increased the challenge of what was expected from their muscles.
Finally, she approached me one day, a little proud and excited for her students. “They’re ALL able to stay on their stomachs during carpet time. No one props or rests their head anymore!”
The difference in their strength and stability was noted. And so was their ability to sit and attend!
5 Benefits for Kids when Lying on the Stomach for Learning Tasks
1. Increases attention
Pressure input from the floor gives sensory feedback to the brain. When lying on the belly, different muscle groups are stretched (also gives input to the brain.) The overall deep pressure input and the heavy work for the upper body is both calming and alerting for the nervous system.
2. Strengthens muscles in the back and neck for improved posture
Lying on the stomach activates muscles against gravity that are needed for sitting upright. This is especially important with increased tablet / phone use, computer time, and virtual learning that’s causing hunched necks and backs!
3. Stabilizes the shoulder
This is a simple way to provide needed strength and stability for the shoulders. It keeps the shoulders still to isolate smaller movements of the forearm, wrists and hands.
4. Stabilizes the forearm and hand
Pressure on the forearms gives stabilizing input to the pinky side of the hand. The pinky and ring fingers stabilize the hand as the other three fingers move to manipulate objects. This improves fine motor skills and dexterity within the hand.
5. Increases visual attention to the task
For children who tend to be more distracted with movement and activity around them, placing their work on the floor reduces extra distractions.
5 Benefits for Kids when Sitting on the Floor for a Task
1. Stretches core muscles
When children sit on the floor for tasks, they lean, stretch and reach for objects. They also tend to sit with legs to the side and press all their weight into one arm. This stretching through the side of the trunk activates different muscles needed for sitting and balance.
2. Enhances shoulder stability
When leaning into the straightened arm, the shoulder is being activated to keep the arm stable. Kids tend to shift around which activates more of the complex shoulder muscles.
3. Weightbearing through open palms improves hand strength
If a child is leaning into their hand, the weight through the open palm stretches and strengthens all of the muscles within the hand. This helps to activate muscles needed for writing and manipulation tasks.
4. Gives a larger visual workspace than a desk if using a bigger area
If kids need more room for a project, the floor gives a larger work area. When moving and shifting around on a firm floor, more muscle groups are activated. (More parts of the body used = more parts of the brain being activated.)
5. Gives pressure input to different body parts
As stated previously, deep pressure input from the floor gives calming / organizing input for the brain but it’s also alerting, too!
10 Benefits of a Using a Vertical Surface during Learning and Play
1. Gives proprioceptive input through the feet
The pressure input through the feet and legs can be alerting for some kiddos. Standing for a task can ‘wake’ up the brain!
2. Improves balance and core stability
Slight shifts in weight when standing work on balance and core stability. Reaching up and around a vertical surface activates core muscles.
3. Vertical surface improves posture
Standing upright at a vertical surface (with objects at eye level) aligns the spine and neck.
4. Increases upper body and shoulder stability
The shoulder works against gravity when standing at a vertical surface. A child’s body needs the shoulder to be strong and stable in order for the hand to move well.
5. Helps with bilateral integration and stability in the non-dominant shoulder
If a child is holding a piece of paper against a flat vertical surface, the non-dominant hand is required to work harder at keeping the paper still. This also improves the shoulder stability in the non-dominant hand. Bilateral coordination is important for motor and brain development.
6. A vertical surface improves forearm stability and wrist extension needed for functional hand movements
Extending the wrist naturally curls the fingers toward the palm. Some kiddos try to incorrectly gain stability by bending their wrist – this makes it much harder to control the finger movements. The vertical surface promotes proper wrist extension and stability.
7. Facilitates grasping patterns
When the wrist is extended, the fingers curl toward the palm. Especially the pinky and ring fingers. This helps to stabilize that side of the hand so that the “skill fingers” (thumb, index and middle) can do all of the moving and manipulating. (For more info on grasping patterns, check out Development of Pencil Grasp.)
8. Helps with crossing the midline of the body
If a task is set-up properly, children can cross the midline using large movements at a vertical surface.
I feel it’s important to note that vertical work can help with midline crossing… IF, the child keeps his / her trunk still! I’ve watched many kiddos appear as if the arm is crossing midline when working at vertical, but they actually turn their body or slightly lean to ‘avoid’ it.
9. Vertical surfaces improve the visual presentation of work, improving focus on a task
Having the paper or materials right in front of a student at eye level helps them to visually focus on a task. This has been so helpful for my students who have visual attention difficulties. Or, who just have a hard time attending to anything.
10. Helps with position in space and spatial relations
Kids have an easier time making sense of position in space when the paper is oriented in the same plane as their body. They’re able to better see and feel directional terms (up/down.) The concepts make more sense.
Examples of Vertical Surface and Floor Activities during Learning / Homework
It’s so important to use the whole room for different student work areas. The changes in body position are great for children!
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 sometimes!)
Vertical activities for school age students when writing, drawing or working on projects:
- Using a chalkboard with chalk
- Working at a double sided easel (with crayons, pencils or chalk on paper)
- Writing on a whiteboard with special dry-erase crayons
- Using window crayons on a large window or glass door
- Wiping the surfaces (use a dry cloth for more resistance)
- Hold paper to a wall, door, window or other solid surface for writing
- Tracing activities (trace shapes for math fact families)
- Painting or highlighting practice sheets
- Drawing diagrams, models or charts
- Therapy putty or playdoh at a wall; use a pen cap or plastic tool to write in it
- Manipulatives placed at a vertical surface (pegboard or game boards propped up vs. laying flat – when possible!)
Examples of vertical activities for spelling, vocab or math:
- Pocket chart activities – hanging charts or table top (math, spelling, sentence building, etc)
- Magnet letters or numbers on the dry erase board
- Sight words, vocab words or number cards with magnet tape on the back
- Hanging 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
- Plain stickers to write on (or letter / number stickers)
Floor activities, lying on the stomach as much as possible or sitting / leaning into the arms out to the side:
- Taking notes
- Listening to a story or lesson
- Board games
- Card games
- Dice games
- Project work time
- STEAM activities
Additional Thoughts and Tips for Using a Vertical Surface or the Floor
I mentioned standing for the vertical activities but there are alternate body positions for kiddos. They can kneel or tall kneel for the vertical work if it’s positioned lower. Or they can sit cross legged on the floor or in a chair next to an easel / wall / door.
Additionally, some flexible seating options are available that improve seated posture and provide sensory input so that kids can focus and attend better.
The vertical and floor activities 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.
If you know of anyone with babies / toddlers, share this post with them. It may help them encourage more floor time or start using vertical play surfaces such as an easel with their littler ones.
Share this post with educators and homeschooling parents who could benefit from this info. Or, pin it on Pinterest so others can find it!
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