Why Vertical or Angled Surfaces Promote Fine-Motor Skills

There are several advantages to attaching toys, creating games, and even writing on vertical or angled surfaces as opposed to using tabletops. Vertical surfaces, such as chalkboards and dry-erase classroom boards are perpendicular to the floor. Large art easels that are slightly angled also provide the benefits of a vertical surface. Drawing and writing on these large surfaces are excellent activities in preparation for the teaching of writing skills because they

  1. promote good upright posture and prevent slouching over a table
  2. enable a child to stand and be automatically at a correct height unlike chairs and tables which need to be adjusted to the height of the child
  3. help the child to coordinate eye and hand movements because the hands are right in front of the eyes where she is better able to see what she is doing
  4. enable the child to more easily use large arm movements that help her to learn to form shapes and eventually letters and numbers
  5. reinforce the use of two hands together because the child has to stabilize a stencil or shape by pressing it against the wall or slant board in order to trace with one hand
  6. strengthen the core muscles (abdominal, hips and back muscles) and the entire upper body (including shoulders, arms, and hands) because a child needs to work harder to reach forward instead of resting her arms on the table
  7. promote wrist strength and stability because these surfaces put the wrist in the extended position- enabling the wrist, thumb, index, and middle finger muscles to work together during manipulation of small objects and pencils.
  8. make it easier to interpret position concepts, such as top and bottom, because both of these concepts are on the same plane on a vertical surface and the child's body unlike when seated at a desk, the top of the page is away from the child's body.

Benefits to Older Children and Adults

Vertical and slanted surfaces continue to benefit older children and adults with learning, developmental or other types of disabilities. The young woman in the above photograph is on the autism spectrum and extremely physically active. She loves to work while standing and walking across the room to retrieve materials. Positioning her face close to the writing surface limits distractions while helping her to maintain focus.  She typically avoids using one hand, but must stabilize the stencil that I made to draw waves. Wiping the board clean, provides the heavy pressure, proprioceptive sensory stimulation that she seeks. I can reinforce directional and spatial concepts by directing her

  • "to wipe the top right corner"
  • "to clean the middle or center of the board so that the red marks disappear"
  • or "to squat when cleaning the bottom of the board".

Readily Available Vertical/Slanted Surfaces

Many vertical surfaces are readily available in your home. Show your child how to do these activities:

  1. color on large pieces of paper taped to the wall
  2. Attach magnetic letters, numbers and magnetic puzzle pieces to the refrigerator or a board.
  3. Color on large cardboard boxes to transform them into train cars
  4. Put tub paint in the tub and on the shower wall and then wash it off with a sponge
  5. Fill a large stencil with magnetic shapes as shown in the video.

Commercially Available Vertical Plane Toys

There are also several popular toys that can be adapted to be used in the vertical plane. Here are a few ideas for creating vertical play opportunities using popular toys


  • Legos (by the Lego Group) Attach the Lego toy base to the wall so that your child can build onto it.
  • Colorforms (by Uiversity games). Attach scenery to the wall so that your child can stick o the detailed pictures
  • flannel boards. these work in the same way as color Forms but with felt pieces that attach to a board to create pictures.
  • Magna doodle (by Ohio Art) This item can be attached to the wall while your child moves a small magnetic stylus to create pictures.

Book Stands and Table Easels

Smaller, angled surfaces called slant boards or table easels are available in educational and therapeutic stores and catalogs. Some books stands function in a similar way. Slant boards that fit on a desk may be more practical in a classroom and more convenient to use at home. They are typically sold with heavy-duty fastening clips so that the paper can be attached in place. Slant boards may also be made out of a binder or cardboard box as shown below.


Adapting Activities to the Vertical or Angled Plane

Attaching materials such as a pegboard to a bookstand not only promotes visual attention and strengthens the shoulders. Individuals need to use one hand to stabilize the board in order to prevent it from moving. Many children with sensory processing disorders avoid using their hands together so this is a pretty easy way to promote bilateral hand skills. Other adapted activities may include

  • placing or removing pieces of Velcro from  a vertical surface
  • sorting items into shoe  holders
  • weaving or lacing (see photos )
  • stretching elastics over board pegs
  • hook boards

Adaptations that Save Money!

Products such as the large Velcro covered Trifold board and magnetic dry erase table  easel may be on the expensive side. Alternatives include

  • Inserting a cookie sheet inside a  file organizer.
  • The yellow hook board shown above is wedged inside a green coffee container.
  • The elastics are stretched over a coat wrack purchased at The Dollar store.
  • The foam packing sheets attached to wall or table easel were donated and free.

I suggest introducing vertical activities at a very young age. Toddlers will love placing stickers on large sheets of paper or windows! This will help prepare their hands for future scribbling, forming shapes and writing.

Leave a Reply