All About Vertical Surfaces

L1040379One of the most common therapy recommendations I make for children with motor delays (but is also great for all children), is to work on a vertical surface.

Vertical surface?  What does that mean?
Most fine motor work (writing, drawing, coloring, playing) occurs on a tabletop or the floor- horizontal surfaces.  This works great because it is convenient and toys stay in place.  However, this position can harm some areas of development by encouraging children to look down, hunch forward, slouch posture, and limit arm movements.

By contrast, a vertical surface is something that goes up and down.  Examples: wall, window or sliding glass door, chalk board, white board, easel, paper taped onto wall, magnetic fridge or board, felt board, and large wall mirrors (if safe).   The hard part is that if you try play on a vertical surface, toys fall off.  So the activities have to be creative.

  • Magnets on the fridge or magnetic board (you can also make toys magnetic to use on a magnetic board- put magnets on puzzles, cars, or any lightweight toy. See my post on how to make a magnetic chalk board and magnetic toys.)
  • Shaving cream or cool whip to draw on a wall or window
  • Washing windows
  • Window makers on the sliding glass door
  • Draw on a white board with markers (or some are magnetic as well)
  • Felt on a felt board (see my post on how to make a felt board)
  • Easels usually come with a chalk or whiteboard (or both)
  • Large roll of paper taped to the wall (easel paper rolls or in the paint section at the home improvement store)
  • Suction cup toys or making silly faces in a mirror.
  • Stickers on a wall, mirror, or paper taped to the wall- just check first they they remove easily.

Benefits?  Working on a vertical surface helps to promote gross and fine motor development.

  • The upright posture engages the core muscles (abdominal and back muscles).  A child can sit, kneel, half-kneel or stand based on specific needs.
  • It tends to be a larger surface area with more reaching and movement, so the shoulder and whole arm moves to work on strength and coordination.
  • Fine motor skills, such as coloring and writing, tend to develop first as large movements, then get refined to smaller movements.  Working on vertical surfaces supports the progression towards dexterity and control.
  • The vertical surface encourages the proper wrist position (slight extension) for grasp and writing development.
  • The upright surface encourages good head and neck position during play, promoting visual skill development such as scanning and tracking.
  • Play on a vertical surface gets both hands working together which promotes bilateral integration and crossing midline skills.

Modified versions:

  • Using a slant board for writing (see this post on how to make your own at home) or a small stand to hold a iPad, book, or paper.
  • Using an easel to prop up other toys to make them vertical for play to work on posture and arm strength.
Paige Hays is an occupational therapist who provides in-home, pediatric occupational therapy services in the south metro area of the Twin Cities, MN. She is a mother of 2 girls, avid DIYer, and a highly skilled and experienced OT. She specializes in working in pediatrics, with diverse expertise ranging from cognition and sensory issues to working with children with neuromuscular disabilities or complex medical needs.