The important role of visual-spatial skills in independent feeding

Pouring liquids on her own using both hands, or cutting her food and feeding herself using a fork involves much more than just having the required muscular strength and hand and finger coordination to hold a cup or pick up utensils. Beyond the physical skills, archiving independent feeding relies heavily on the visual-spatial ability of a child to process where the food and feeding utensils are in relation to the body, particularly the hands and mouth, and the coordination of movements needed to eat.

Between 3 and 4 years of age, kids are continuously developing their capacity to organize the information of what they see, interpret it according to the context of the environment and compare it with previous experiences, and integrate it efficiently in the body movements.

If your child is still young, you will notice how, in the beginning, she might err when evaluating how much force is needed to hold a fork in the hand, and either drop it alongside the food or have such a firm hold on it that moving becomes hard. Your kid might be very intent in eating independently, have a pretty good grasp of the spoon and nonetheless miss her mouth!

Considering the complex task your baby girl is undertaking, you can help her early on by offering finger foods to try and exercise her hand-eye coordination, have child-sized utensils and training cups or attachable bowls if possible. But most importantly, encourage your daughter to try and be as independent as possible and be very supportive and encouraging when you see she’s getting frustrated.

It’s never too early to reap the emotional benefits of exercise!

You may have noticed how the media has been reporting that in the past prekindergarten children would be seen running and engaging in physical play and activity all day long, and that this has changed in our digital era. There’s some truth to that! Data suggests that nowadays, unless kids are involved in sports, gymnastics, dance or other structured activities, they engage in little exercise during the day. Although many aspects of child-rearing have changed with the turn of the century, the benefits of engaging in physical activity surely haven’t! In fact, researchers continue to find more and more proof of its benefits, regardless of age. In this article, we’ll focus on how exercise is beneficial to the emotional skills of developing children.

Both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Center for Disease Control recommend that children as young as 2 years old get at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day. This daily time of moderate to vigorous activation doesn’t necessarily mean you have to get your kid to commit to an hour of running every day! You can go out for a walk, play throw and catch, have fun at a playground, dance to your favorite music, etc.

Here’s a list of some of the emotional benefits of doing physical activity every day:
• Helps them unwind and vent their frustration
• Strengthens their self-esteem and trust that they don’t need to be extremely good at a game to have lots of fun playing with others
• Encourages them to try different things, persevering when encountering a new task
• Boosts their confidence and their feelings of accomplishment and self-mastery
• Encourages cooperating with others, building personal relationships in a fun and structured context

Hand coordination skills as a precursor to handwriting

Hand coordination skills are the ability to control the movements of hand and fingers, and to integrate this motor mastery with visual and other perception capacities in order to archive tasks like shaping objects, opening and closing jars, building structures, picking small objects while holding others, amongst others. Closely related to this, handwriting refers to the complex skill of using language by integrating body posture, good pencil grip and letter formation. It involves a lot of different systems and abilities, both cognitive and physical. Although, according to The Child Development Centre, it’s usually acquired around the age of 6, handwriting needs the mastery of a wide array of previous skills, including being familiar with the shape of letters, having developed finger dexterity, understanding left to right and top to bottom progression, and having good attention, concentration and memory skills. And most of these skills are developed between 36 and 48 months of age.

Your little one has been on the developmental pathway of handwriting acquisition since he was born. First, your newborn started interacting with you using the grasp reflex, then during toddlerhood this transformed into the pincer grasp. And around 3 to 4 years he will develop a grip adequate and strong enough to hold writing tools.

Decades of research have shown that there’s a link between visual-motor skills, like hand coordination, and academic achievement. What this means is that every little opportunity for growth and development during the preschool years will help your child develop the skills needed for school later on. In 2011, a group of researchers from the University of East Carolina published a paper on the American Journal of Occupational Therapy that showed that fostering hand coordination, visual-motor skills, finger dexterity, alphabet familiarization and first-name writing in prekindergarten children had long-lasting benefits for the handwriting skills during the school years. In the study, children were assigned randomly to either a program that developed these skills, or to a control group of unstructured activities appropriate for their age. They found significant improvements in the skills development program when compared to the control group.

Following the guidelines and recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics, here are some ideas to help your kid develop his hand-coordination:
• Opening different types and sizes of boxes and jars.
• Providing lots of opportunities to scribble, trace and draw abstract and free figures, lines and shapes.
• Encourage good posture and activities that strengthen the core muscles to help support those hand movements.
• Look for activities that exercise your child’s hand-eye coordination, like throwing and catching.

If you want more information about hand coordination and pre-handwriting skills, you can check out this link:
https://www.teachhandwriting.co.uk/hand-and-finger-muscles-and-handwriting.html

Your child’s development of finger dexterity

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, between 2 and 4 years old, children start acquiring a new and more complex array of hand movements and finger positioning, they are now able to move each finger independently and have a stronger grip. This is because at around 3 years of age they develop both the muscular control and the attention and concentration skills needed to do precision finger or hand movements. Combined with the increased spatial awareness and posture control that’s seen around this age, you’ll observe a new set of skills appear: finger dexterity. Your little one will be able to turn book pages one by one, make age-appropriate arts and crafts like pasting materials in sheets of paper, use playdough to do shapes or figures, and even insert objects in relatively small holes.

The increased sensibility to the placement of objects and the relationships and possible interactions between them, as well as the surge in controlling her own body movements, has important and exciting implications for your preschooler’s autonomy skills as well. For example, beyond being more interested in coloring and free-drawing, you may discover that your little girl starts unbuttoning some clothes, opens and closes large zippers, uses a fork to eat independently (with some occasional accidents), and is suddenly invested in exploring the endless outcomes and creations she may do by playing with dough, paper, children’s scissors, cardboard, blocks, and even plain water!

Here are some finger dexterity-developing activities that you can propose to your daughter:
• Build figures and castles in the sandbox.
• Play with pegboards is a fun and valuable way of developing both spatial intelligence and hand dexterity.
• Let her pass the page while reading together a storybook.
• Free-drawing or coloring with crayons. This activity is great for exercising hand-eye coordination, and if the crayons break that’s even better! Coloring with small pieces of crayons is a great way to encourage maintaining a good hold on between the thumb and the forefinger.
• Shape play-dough. Touching it is a great sensory experience for kids and stretching it and squeezing handfuls of it will strengthen your child’s hand muscles.
• Transfer water from one bowl to another using only a sponge. This will challenge your kid’s hands and arms, and it is a cool outside activity for a sunny day. You can add some food coloring or bubbles into the water, just make sure the bowls are not easily turned over and keep the water nicely fresh.
• Cut shapes and paste them under close supervision.

How does children develop their balance?

Balance refers to the capacity of maintaining a controlled body position during static and dynamic activities. Although this skill comprises many developmental milestones that go from birth to five years old, most children master basic balance skills around preschool age. Achieving balance is no small feat! As the American Academy of Pediatrics states, balance requires the combined and then integrated efforts of three different systems in the body. In this article, we’ll take a look into each one of them, and how they contribute to your kid’s development of balancing skills.

• We are born with a vestibular system that is a blueprint for the balancing skills. This complex system is formed by tiny organs located in the inner ear. That’s why if you have an ear infection or labyrinthitis, you experience dizziness and loss of balance!

• The visual system is particularly helpful in developing balance during toddlerhood as your kid starts adventuring into walking and exploring the world in two feet.

• The proprioceptive system refers to our brain’s capacity to sense how and where we are positioned in a place, both as a whole and with each specific body part. This is the reason you can close your eyes right now and still know where your feet are! It is based on touch, memory and perception, relies on muscles and joints, and takes a bit more time to mature than the first two.

Activities that help develop sensory processing and strengthen muscles help to develop balance skills. More direct ideas for exercising balance include playing catch, going up the stairs and down the slide in the playground, trying to move in all fours like an animal, hopping, etc. You can also improve your kid’s visual-motor coordination by drawing and making age-appropriate craft projects.

Motor skills: needs some exercising in order to develop!

Young kids are very active through the day, right? They’re always full of energy, sprinting from one place to another and bumping around the house… You may think that prekindergarten children are already engaging in lots of physical activity through the day, but is this still holding true in the 21st century?

In 2008, Dr. Harriet Williams leaded a group of researchers from the University of South Carolina and studied children’s motor development and physical activity. They assert that, actually, children aged 2 to 5 spend most of their day doing sedentary activities and only engage in moderate or vigorous physical activities for less than 5% of the day. Some studies suggest that as kids get older they are more prone to engage in exercise, but Dr. Williams published paper suggests that children that are more physically active have better motor skills than those that are not as proficient doing exercise. In their study, they measured two types of gross motor skills, locomotor skills and object control skills, to see how they related to the time and intensity of the kid’s engagement in adult-leaded physical activity. Object control skills are the ability to coordinate different muscles to do an action such as kicking a ball with good aim, or throwing and catching an object precisely. On the other hand, locomotor skills are the ones that move large group of muscles through space in a continued motion in order to do things like walking, jumping or running. The research found that locomotor skills were significantly related to physical activity!

The great news is that they also found what many parents already know: that children are better and more comfortable doing activities to which they are frequently exposed to. The results fit with a meta-analysis published in the scientific journal Child Care and Healthy Development of 2012. In it, psychologists assessed the effectiveness of physical skills interventions in preschool children and found that they significantly improved gross motor abilities, regardless of their age. These findings are relevant because they further emphasize that the best way to get your kid to like physical activity and be good at it, is to provide her with plenty of opportunities for exploration, free play, indoor activation and outdoor activities, like the ones we suggest in the Kinedu app!

If you’re interested on reading more about this, visit this link:
http://www.aboutkidshealth.ca/En/HealthAZ/HealthandWellness/PhysicalActivitySportsandFitness/Pages/Kids-in-motion-enhancing-movement-skills-in-your-child.aspx

The fourth trimester, part 2: What to expect after expecting

“The process of pregnancy renders a woman simultaneously an individual and a crucial part of a dyad: mother and child.” -Martha Fineman

The first three months after birth are referred to as “the fourth trimester” by pediatrician Harvey Karp as they are a period of adaptation that mother and baby go through following childbirth. Below we’ll focus on tackling some of the transitions that mothers undergo during the first weeks following delivery.
Coming into the world is less a milestone than it is a gradual transition in which the baby relies on the mother’s attunement and help. With this in mind, the end of pregnancy is a process instead of an immediate and clean-cut event. This might not be what some media portrays about the firsts weeks of motherhood. However, it’s what early childhood and developmental psychologists/researchers say, and what actually fits with your intuition or past experiences as well. Reva Rubin, one of the first specialists in maternal nursing in the 1950’s, was the first to introduce the idea that motherhood as an identity is much more complex than childbirth. Thanks to her we now acknowledge that the deeply transformative process of pregnancy, birth, and motherhood require a period of restoration and adjustment.

The first weeks postpartum are full of intense emotional, social and physical changes for the mother because, according to Rubin, some of the psychological and physical aspects of pregnancy continue after birth. The Association of Women’s Health, the Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologist give some examples of what to expect during this “fourth trimester”:

• Over a six-week-period, the uterus will shrink to its normal pre-pregnancy size.
• Bleeding and discharges may continue intermittently, or a normal menstrual cycle may return. Gynecologists insist that neither this, nor breastfeeding, entail a method of birth control.
• The internal organs that were making room for the growing baby will reposition.
• Some water retention, swelling, and urinary retention may be expected while the body readjusts, and drinking plenty of fluids can help.
• There are still plenty of hormonal changes going on after delivery, so try to be gentle with yourself if you’re experiencing a rollercoaster of emotions.

With this in mind, acknowledge the impressive journey you went through, and let yourself marvel at the unbounded possibilities and journeys that are awaiting while you hold your newborn baby in your arms.

“The fourth trimester, part 1: Transitioning to life outside the womb “

Just like you, your baby needs a period of adjustment to her life-after-birth. Pioneer pediatricians have a couple of eye-opening advices that’ll ease this transition.

Have you ever wondered why is it that most mammals are born landing on their feet and ready to start walking alongside their mothers just a few hours after birth, but human babies come into the world still unprepared for life outside the mother’s womb? The answer to this paradox lies in the highly complex brain that characterizes our species. A more independent human baby would require more time to further develop the nervous system and the resulting large head-size would make delivery impossible. Although human babies are born full term after 37 weeks of gestation, they are nonetheless developmentally premature and depend on their caregivers for survival. That’s why, for practical reasons, evolution relied on our social nature to help the baby thrive.

Reflecting on these implications, UCLA professor of pediatrics Dr. Harvey Karp proposed the term “fourth trimester” as a way of describing the period of rapid growth and adjustment you and your baby go through after childbirth. From the moment they arrive, babies start soaking up new information, interacting through trial and error, practicing new behaviors, and connecting with their surroundings in an increasingly complex and fast manner that will continue throughout their entire lives.

You’ll be amazed how quickly your bundle of joy opens her eyes to the world, suddenly discovers a toe, or starts babbling, and that’s where mommy comes in! Your baby relies on you and your support system to help her adjust to the outside world, because living inside the womb is all she’s ever known. Let’s consider the characteristics of the maternal-womb: the thermostat is reassuringly regulated at 37 degrees Celsius, the baby is permanently surrounded by softness, is in constant physical contact with the mother, and soothed by her heartbeat and the rhythm of her daily movements. The uterus is very gentle with the baby’s nascent senses: there are no bright or flashy lights, no scents in this aquatic environment, and she has never experienced hunger, loneliness or had to lie on her back to sleep. So, it’s understandable that some newborns might be unable to sleep outside their mother’s arms.

A group of researchers on early childhood from the University of South Florida recommend parents to take into account that a period of adjustment is taking place after birth. Empathizing with the newborn’s sudden encounter with the world can help them attune into her needs. Dr. Karp suggests living the first months after pregnancy as if your baby was still in-utero. Promote skin-to-skin contact, hold her in fetal positions, allow her to feed on demand, let her use sucking for comfort, rock her with rhythmical movements or sounds, and spend as much time as possible with your baby close to your body, like in babywearing.

Cortisol and your baby: Stressed about stressing out?

One of the most conspicuous advice you’ll receive as an expecting mom is that stress is bad for you and for your baby. But what’s the link between the stress you may be feeling and your baby’s development? And how much stress is too much stress? Should you be more worried about that? But, hey! Isn’t worrying a bad idea? On this article, we’re going to explain what science has to say about this and what it means for you and your baby.

To understand the role of stress in the body we need to talk about cortisol. Cortisol is an important steroid hormone that is produced by the body to kick-start some metabolic functions. It interacts with the immune system, helps memories of important events to stick and regulates the internal biological clock. It aids us in waking up and keeps us active during our work day. It is also partially responsible for the rush of energy we get when we’re anxious, or for the fast response our body provides when we find ourselves suddenly in trouble. Cortisol is the key to the proverbial fight-or-flight response. We wouldn’t be able to carry on with our lives if not for its small peaks during the day, and during pregnancy it helps the baby grow and develop his lungs.

Now, aside from its benefits, an excessive dose of cortisol is poisonous. When cortisol levels remain high, the body knows that we’ve been overwhelmed for a long time, and that can lead to insulin problems, insomnia, high blood pressure, poor immune response and fatigue, among other effects that can hinder the baby’s development. Prestigious institutions like UCLA have been studying for over two decades the link between the mother’s elevated cortisol and the baby’s cortisol levels because it travels from the mother’s bloodstream into the placenta.

But know that elevated cortisol doesn’t occur because of that one time you got worried about something for a couple of days. Cortisol can be a problem for you and for your baby when you experience very high stress levels for weeks or months non-stop. That is, when you find yourself anxious and “tired but wired” about family problems, financial or professional difficulties, the loss of a loved one, a natural disaster or other major difficulties. If this is the case, you should talk with your doctor or be referred to a psychologist or counselor.

The take-away here is that you don’t need to worry that the occasional preoccupation will halter your baby’s development or think that you could be stressing your way into a preterm delivery. As always, the best thing to do is to keep your stress in check. You can browse our catalog section to find some practical ideas to help you de-stress and relax.

There’s no such thing as a “perfect mother”

We’ve all heard the tales about a proverbial super-woman that supposedly cooks organic and Instagram-ready gourmet food she grew herself, was innately masterful at synchronizing her circadian clock with the baby’s sleeping-and-napping schedule from day one, is able to achieve a professional-family life balance without sweating, always has time to spice things up with her partner, and effortlessly holds an honorary PhD in Psychopedagogy. Well, let us repeat this loud and clear: the “perfect mother” doesn’t exist. She’s no more than a social construct.

The “perfect mother” myth encompasses a series of beliefs and expectations regarding a motherhood ideal that’s fed by our society’s pressures, unrealistic media portrayals, and family experiences. The problem is that many moms weigh themselves against this unrealistic representation, and guilt pops up when they find themselves to be ordinary women.

The detrimental role of these myths is well documented. Developmental psychologist Sarah Schoppe-Sullivan from Ohio State University found that mothers who guided themselves by comparing their parenting skills with the social ideal were actually less attuned to their child’s needs. So, in fact, worrying about being “perfect” is simply counterproductive and ends up making things more difficult for you.

Becoming a mother is a perpetual balancing act between the joys and the struggles, just as any other human relation. It is also the development of a new aspect of your identity and a continuous process between you and your baby to get to know each other and grow together.

The takeaway? Don’t fret about the inconsistencies between your experience and the shoulds, nevers, and always of what the “perfect mother” is supposed to be. Instead of putting yourself down when struggling to meet a challenge, focus on your efforts and what there is to learn from them. Undoubtedly this can set a very good example for your child!