Category Archives: Physical

My preschooler’s development jumping skills

According to the well-known book Fundamental Motor Patterns, written by Ralph Wickstrom, jumping is a fundamental gross motor skill that involves transferring weight from one or both feet to both feet, with a mid-flight moment in between. We can divide jumping into three separate, yet interdependent, activities: take-off, flight and landing. As a parent of a preschooler, you probably care a lot more about landing safely than the other two steps.

Both horizontal jumping and vertical jumping are used in many sports, games and activities that your energized daughter will soon encounter. However, beyond how practical jumping may prove in a child’s daily life, it is a skill that encourages plenty of her developmental processes, such as visual-spatial coordination, attention, body-memory, core stability and even confidence.

Chances are that at 2 years of age your daughter was already discovering various forms of jumping, most likely forward. During her experiments, her movements may have seemed uncoordinated: she didn’t engage the arms, her the legs weren’t always flexed the same way when taking off, etc. At around 36 months of age, you will see your child’s jumps become increasingly complex. Both vertical and horizontal jumps will engage the full body in the movement. For example, she’ll start each jump by gaining impulse with the arms, and during flight she’ll have them at the sides to maintain her balance. Arriving at the 48 months mark, many children have gained enough strength and motor control to jump confidently up and down small steps, hop on one leg for a couple of seconds, start and land with both feet at the same, and even jump backwards.

Ideas for boosting your child’s manual skills and establishing laterality

The Royal Children’s Hospital states that hand dominance is the consistent preference of one hand over the other when doing the skilled part of an activity, while the non-dominant hand supports the movement. A practical example of this is whenever we are writing something and, while our dominant hand is scribbling with a pen, the other hand holds the paper.

Most children will start to show signs of exploring their laterality around 24 to 48 months of age. Usually by the time they start elementary school, they will have established their dominant and their support hand. If your son hasn’t done that yet and he still switches between hands in everyday tasks, do not force him into using only one hand. Rather, observe and encourage your little one to participate in lots of activities that will provide with plenty of opportunities for exploring hand dominance. Here are some ideas:
• Place items around your child’s midline (centered to his bellybutton). This applies to crayons, toys and everyday objects that you’d want him to reach for.
• Use hand puppets to play with your little one and let him choose which hand gets to play the puppet.
• Make finger paintings.
• Have your child help you in the kitchen. He can roll, make balls of dough, cut with cookie-cutters, open and close jars, etc.
• Do age-appropriate arts and crafts like beading, weaving, playing with pipe cleaners, etc.
• Give praise and feedback.
• Encourage your son to finish an activity with the hand he started with. It’s okay if that one hand is getting tired and he wants to have a rest. Do so, stretch and then ask him to continue. While you do these activities talk about which hand is doing do hard work and which hand is helping.

What is hand dominance and laterality?

According to the Royal Children’s Hospital, hand preference, laterality or dominance are all terms used to describe a child’s spontaneous inclination towards using one hand more than the other when performing motor skill activities.

This doesn’t mean that one hand does all the work and the other just stays in the background! The non-dominant hand has the very important role of helping with a task by supporting and stabilizing. As you can imagine, this involves the capacity to do independent and yet coordinated things with both hands. Actually, researchers have found that developing a hand dominance is necessary to achieve this asymmetrical bilateral coordination, as it is called by pediatricians.

Regarding laterality and hand skills, a group of researchers from the Baylor College of Medicine published in 2010 an article in the Journal of Hand Therapy. Their findings suggested that good dexterity in the dominant hand predicts also a good dexterity score on a test when using only the non-dominant hand. They also found that there’s a relationship between hand muscular strength and functional dexterity, or how well they accomplish tasks involving precise and complicated hand movements.

Although we might be used to laterality and having a preferred hand to write and do activities with, the establishment of left or right-handedness is a very complex process. In children, this process starts taking place early in their neural development, and usually starts being noticeable around 2 to 4 years of age when a kid’s fine and gross motor skills have developed enough for them to use crayons, scissors or other tools. If you want to encourage your daughter’s laterality development, occupational and physical therapists recommend that when handing her items, you place them in her midline, so that your little one’s brain has a more evident need to select the hand that is going to take over the task of reaching and grabbing something.

Ideas to help your child’s finger dexterity skills

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, manual or hand dexterity refers to a person’s ability to manipulate objects using coordinated hand and finger movements. Having good finger dexterity requires that a child’s skeletal, muscular and neurological systems join together to produce the precise movements needed to grasp, pinch, hold, pull and do other manual movements that we, as adults, use every day without thinking too much about it.

Around 36 months of age, you’ll notice that your son will start engaging actively with the objects surrounding him and will interact with more controlled and precise hand movements. For example, he’ll turn book pages one at a time, mold shapes with playdough and even use scissors and kid-sized tools under your supervision. Here are some activities you can do alongside your preschooler in order to help him further develop his manual and finger skills:
• Make pasta necklaces.
• Play with playdough. A fun task is creating imaginary animals using the dough and other materials, like pipe cleaners, children-friendly glitter, etc.
• Write in sand.
• Cut big and hollow shapes in cardboard, and have your children weave wool or ribbon around them. This is great for seasonal arts and crafts, you just need to cut big shapes of hearts or stars.
• Practice opening and closing big buttons or zippers.
• Do finger painting or, if your child is already dexterous, paint with Q-tips.
• Have your child help you when you bake and ask him to cut different shapes using cookie cutters on the extended dough.

My child’s balance skills

Along with gross motor control, balance is an essential skill. We use it every time we maintain any controlled body posture or position: standing up, hopping on one foot, riding a bike, walking or simply sitting without falling sideways. Children need their balance skills for many things beyond their physical actions. Increased mobility and stability of their bodies mean that children between 2 and 4 years of age start venturing more into pretend play alone or alongside peers, they begin playing games that involve sitting (like drawing or coloring) and they start asserting their independence by putting clothes on and off, or using a fork to eat with increased autonomy.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, around 36 months of age, most children can seat themselves in a child-sized chair, bend over without falling, climb the ladders in the playground, and even walk on tiptoes for four or five steps without help. Then, approaching 4 years of age, your daughter’s balance skills will be sufficient to let her stand on one foot for at least two seconds without problem.

But balance skills don’t end during the preschool years! A group of researchers from Taipei Hospital looked into how balance skills develop through infancy into what we’d think of as an “adult-level” of balance. Their findings, published in 2009’s International Journal of Pediatric Otolaryngology, suggest that balance skills start spiking around 36 months of age, and children achieve optimal balance by the time they are 12 years old. This is why it’s so important to help your child build a stable and strong base for skills like this during her early years of childhood.

There are many easy and fun ways to encourage your little one to develop her balance skills. Here are a couple of ideas:
• Dance together to some fun music. You can model moving upper and lower body parts to the rhythm. If your daughter gets really good at this, you can try playing “Musical statues”.
• When sitting on the floor playing, encourage your child to sit with her legs crossed. By doing so she’ll engage her core muscles to maintain an upright position.
• For your 3 to 4-year-old, you can practice learning to pedal in the tricycle.

There’s a link between my child’s posture and his manual skills!

Between 3 and 4 years of age, your son has already mastered many postural skills of his gross motor control. He is now able to maintain a stable posture when sitting or standing and might be venturing into walking, running and jumping. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, at around 36 months of age kids develop the muscular control and cognitive skills needed to try more complex fine motor skills, like doing precision hand movements. It might seem that this are two very separated set of skills: one involving locomotion and static control of the torso, and other regarding various forms of manual abilities (like doing the pincer grasp, picking small objects or being able to hold writing instruments in an ergonomic way). But in fact, posture control and manual skills are closely related!

If you watch your preschooler doing precise manual tasks, you’ll notice that he needs to be either sitting or standing upright in order to color, write or play on any surface. This is one way to observe the connection between posture and hand skills. In 2014, a team of psychologists from the University of Leeds in the UK published an article in the journal Experimental Brain Research in which they looked into this relationship. They studied preschooler’s stability in sitting and their manual abilities, and they found a strong association between both skills. They found that after 3 years old, and regardless of age, a kid’s posture control accounted for as high as 10% of his performance in hand-tasks.

Although we measure a child’s development by looking at specific skills within a developmental area, these findings shed light on how, in fact, most skills are complexly interconnected, and that nurturing one particular skill will be beneficial for many others! So, next time you are working with your little one in encouraging the development of one skill, remember that your efforts are helping multiple areas and skills simultaneously.

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:

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!

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