Thursday, October 24, 2013

Selecting a Stylus: Overall Impressions

Many children find learning to write a difficult milestone. Children with fine motor delay may struggle with this task more than others.  Incorporating the use of a stylus with the multitude of drawing, tracing and writing apps available for tablets is a great way for children to learn and improve fine motor skills.

A good friend and special education teacher has been instrumental in helping me get my son prepared for school since his Asperger's diagnosis. One of the first things she recommended to me was to get him a stylus for our iPad. She knew he is drawn to using a tablet -- like most kids his age. However, using the tip of his finger to draw and trace letters was not teaching him how to correctly form them, while holding a pencil or crayon. By combining something he loved (iPad) and something he hated (practicing writing) we were able to make great strides in his grip and handwriting.

Searching for "Stylus" on Amazon returned over 1 million results. Many of these looked like a ball point pen, which I veered away from.  Most kids do not start using pencils until 6 or 7 years old, and many still need finger grips added for years. I was looking for something to help children with fine motor delay and poor hand control. An adult-like stylus wasn't the best choice in this case.

After talking to some friends, doing lots of research online, and then ultimately doing some hands-on research I discovered two stand outs: the Kidori and the Cosmonaut.  These are both great styluses, designed with a similar size that is easy for little hands to hold and use.

The Kidori Stylus is marketed for children specifically.  It is available to purchase from Amazon for $13.99.  This is a great little stylus.  It is about the size of a jumbo crayon, a familiar size for children to manipulate. For more information, please read the full review of Kidori Stylus.

The other stand out stylus is the Cosmonaut.  Though a similar design as the Kidori, it is slightly longer and heavier.  It also has a much more durable feel to it. While my kids tore part of the rubber tip of the Kidori pretty quickly, the Cosmonaut has held together through similar abuse.  It is almost double the price of the Kidori at $25 on Amazon, but it is a quality product. For more information, please read the full review of Cosmonaut Stylus.

Both styluses required the user to push down slightly in order for the tablet to register the touch. There is a small gap between the rubber and the solid core of the stylus, so a slight pressure onto the screen is needed. The gap seemed larger with the Kidori. The gap, combined with thinner rubber, seemed to make the tip more prone to rips than the Cosmonaut. Both glided easily on the screen and did not rub or scratch.

There have been times when I've had to offer extra encouragement (bribes) to get my son to use a stylus over just his finger. In the beginning, he was so excited about the new "toy" that he would only fuss when his hand got tired. Now that it has lost the new toy excitement, I'm having to occasionally remind him to use it. We sometimes offer the incentive of letting him have extra screen time when he uses his stylus.

One thing that helps is to not limit the stylus to handwriting apps. Using it to simply swipe pages in e-books or playing a favorite race car game will help develop grip. Children will not realize it's therapy when they are styling hair in Toca Hair Salon or building virtual LEGO trains.

I've noticed, for my son, the more he uses it and builds those muscles, the better he is getting with regular crayon and paper. It is a long, slow road, but progress is apparent. It may be time to start thinking about incorporating a stylus into your child's toolbox.

Rachel H's 2nd grade teacher would be heartbroken to know after trying for a solid year, she still holds her pen, pencil and now stylus incorrectly.

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