Learn more about the benefits of working on a vertical surface and find some creative ways for kids to work in this position!
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One thing that stands out to me in the schools where I work is that you never see a good old fashioned chalkboard anymore! Gone are the days of feeling that chalky dust all over your hands, racing classmates to finish math facts on the chalkboard, and clapping out the erasers during detention! :)
Back when I was in school, I never thought about the developmental benefits of writing and working on the vertical surface of the chalkboard, but as a therapist, now I know that there are many! The occupational therapists I work with encourage children to work on vertical surfaces all the time and here’s why…
Why Kids Should Work on a Vertical Surface
1 || Shoulder/Elbow Stability
The use of larger vertical surfaces such as chalkboards, marker boards, and Smart boards allows children to use bigger arm movements that encourage strength and flexibility throughout the joints and muscles of the upper extremities. Even the hand gets a hefty boost of strengthening as it works against gravity to keep making vertical, horizontal and diagonal lines.
2 || Bilateral Coordination
Have you ever tried to use a stencil while working on a vertical surface? I once tried to stencil a pretty fleur de lis pattern on a wall — it was a disaster! This is a tough skill!
For kids, tracing an object, using a stencil, or even just stabilizing their paper to write on an upright surface requires the use of both hands (one to trace, one to hold) AND it requires proprioception and strength to hold the object that is being traced!
3 || Midline Crossing
When a child is writing or drawing across a large vertical surface, he has to cross the midline of his body with his dominant hand to reach all of the spaces. This is great practice for children who are struggling with midline crossing and establishing a strong hand dominance.
4 || Wrist Extension/Pencil Grasp
Vertical surface writing naturally puts the wrist in an extended position which encourages hand stabilization for better pencil grasp and control of writing utensils.
5 || Visual Attention and Hand-Eye Coordination
Working on a vertical surface brings the task closer to the child’s eyes. This helps kids who have difficulty maintaining visual attention to activities and can help to encourage hand-eye coordination, as the child has a better view of what they are doing!
6 || Spatial Awareness
When a child works on a large vertical surface, it makes directional terms (up, down, left, right) much easier to understand because the child can relate the words to his very own body!
7 || Sensory
Working at a vertical surface may be beneficial for fidgety kids who work better in a standing position than sitting at a desk. Let’s face it, we all work better if we can change positions!
8 || Core Strength and Posture
Working in a kneeling or standing position at an upright surface gives kids a good dose of core strengthening. There’s no slumping or leaning on the back of the chair – the only choice is to engage those core and back muscles to maintain upright posture!
Vertical Surface Activities
There are tons of fun ways to play and work using a vertical surface. Here are some of our favorites:
-Play with stickers! Have the child stick them all over the wall at different levels and then give him directions for which stickers to touch – he may have to jump or bend!
-Make your own DIY Removable Lego Wall! Building with Legos on a vertical surface? Not only super fun, but also great for all of the skills listed above!
-Tape a piece of paper to the wall and trace objects or stencils
-Paint with paintbrushes or paint rollers
-Decorate a window with window clings
-Play with magnets on the refrigerator
-Paint with shaving cream or finger paint on an easel
-Play with felt shapes and pictures on a felt board
-Stick Squigz to a wall and pull them off
-Draw and color with chalk on a chalkboard
-Writing with dry erase markers or window markers on a window or hanging mirror
-Writing/drawing activities on a Smart board
-Writing and drawing with bath foam or bath crayons in the tub
-Prop iPads and other tablets up using a slant board or the prop that comes on the case. Let kids use a stylus to encourage use of an efficient grasp.
-Wash windows and using a squigee
-Help wash the car
-Erase a chalkboard or wipe down a marker board
-Try any of the above in kneeling, standing, or while seated
Looking for more creative ways to get kids working on a vertical surface? Check out these great ideas over at Lalymom!
Be sure to grab your copy of The Hand Strengthening Handbook! More than 100 fun and engaging hand strengthening activities for kids!
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Laura @Lalymom says
Thank you so much for the awesome explanation and for sharing my posts!
And also painting while standing at an easel!
Also children should be using chalk on a chalkboard because it adds more resistance than what boards and markers. This resistance gives better control.
and no chemical smell
Maaike Bloemhard says
Another neat idea: There is now ‘white board’ paint available. my son painted an entire wall in his creative studio office white. and over that he painted the ‘white board’ paint. he draws creative ideas on it, and his 4 children love to ‘visit’ his wall.
Katherine Collmer says
Lauren, This is a wonderful article! A great resource to share with parents and teachers as it shares so much information about the key areas that vertical surface work targets. Thanks! Will share. Katherine
Rachel R. says
Dry erase or window markers can also be used on sliding/French glass doors. A lot of people might have these in their homes even if they don’t have large mirrors.
I’m curious if the same applies to left handed children? I’ve heard chalkboards/ marker boards can be frustrating for lefties since their hand/ arm accidentally erases what they just wrote.
Hennie Slotemaker says
I am a lefty who has had quite a few students who were lefties as I worked with them as an educational therapist. Lefties are used to working a little harder in some situations. We adapt and adjust because we’ve had to do it all our life. I am still using the chalkboard today as I am now working with and teaching three grandchildren.
Sarah Sagar says
Fix a tuff tray onto a wall with chalks nearby – an instant all weather blackboard for a fraction of the cost.
Thanks for very interesting factual information on this topic Another reason for not having young kids stuck on electronic devices too much. My mother was ahead of her time for sure. In the early 50s she had a large masonite board covered in a ‘plastic’ type surface that was used as a chalk board for the 3 of us (divided into 3 equal sections of course).It was used often. Thanks Mum.
Three cheers for moms! :) Love hearing that you had this great experience as a child – so important for so many reasons!
Christine Calabrese says
Great article! I posted it to my blog! We actually have a blackboard in our makeshift PreK Gym. It’s an old school, about 120 years old and this blackboard is probably the ONLY one that is not covered in contact paper. We allow the kids to use it anytime we’re in the gym and they love it.
Nedra Downs says
Lauren, I am writing a propsal to get funding for a wall of interactive surfaces ( – whiteboard, Duplo board, pgboard, flannelboard, etc.) – for toddlers in a library. I wonder if I could quote your four reasons for workin g on vertical surfcaes and your suggestions for encouraging this activity? I would credit you, of course. Thanks!
Dr. JC Thompson says
Great promotion of standing as part of the therapy
I do standing with all my therapy patients. However if they are unable to do so, I lower the vestibular demand until they can do the desired activity. Then ramp it back up again.
Note in the picture the child is resisting crossing the midline by stepping to the left.
Melody Ito says
Do you know of any academic journals or articles that talk about this?
I think I agree with everything on here, but I want to look further into it!
I am in a curriculum planning class and I want to suggest vertical surfaces in a paper I am writing. I need a research article to reference. Do you know of one. I appreciate your time and consideration.
Do you know if there are any peer-reviewed articles that support vertical writing? I am writing a paper about this concept.
Great article and fun ideas! I got the idea from another website to attach a large oil changing pan from an automotive store to the wall or to the back of a sturdy, low pegboard-backed book case. Children can play with alphabet magnets, Magnatiles, and other magnetic toys.
What about standing to do certain kinds of work, like tracing or building, if it’s not at a vertical surface? Some of my classroom activities seem to be a little better done standing (e.g. tracing large animal bones, or doing an art project with shared materials where they’ll have to reach across the table to get stuff). Sometimes we use a table that’s the equivalent of what kitchen counter height would be to an adult. That’s for some of our science-y lab work and kitchen play. Any benefit to standing for those kinds of activities, as opposed to just sitting?