Category Archives: Physical

Tips to develop writing skills and work towards school readiness

To learn how to write, a child has to develop his fine and gross motor skills in a consistent and predictable pattern through infancy and all the way to elementary school. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, between 36 and 48 months of age comes a critical moment for the development of skills needed for mastering writing.

Here are some of the things you can do to boost your child’s writing skills before starting  kindergarten:

  • Play A-B-C bingo by either making your own or choosing from the ones available online.
  • When your child draws a person, ask and notice different body parts like the hair, arms, and legs.
  • Write a big and clearly traced letter on cardboard, put it inside a Ziploc bag and have your child trace over it with a dry erase marker that you can wipe afterwards.
  • Notice letters in signs and texts your son sees every day.
  • Play I Spy drawing games by asking him to draw something he is seeing.
  • Make a game out of copying shapes and figures.
  • When in the playground, invite your little one to make letter and shapes in the sand using his finger.
  • Have your kid make strings of play-dough and then help him make the vowels. Spend some time making the sounds of each letter.
  • Think of rhyming words and make funny sentences with them, noticing how they sound similar because they share some letters.
  • Give him plenty of opportunities to interact with writing tools and hold them appropriately using his middle finger, index, and thumb.

How children use their gestures to better understand and represent things

Children around 3 and 4 years of age still have a very limited vocabulary, so their explanations and other cognitive features can’t be really understood by what they say. The question of whether young children comprehend more than what they can express with words, is something that has both intrigued cognitive scientist and perplexed parents. Because of this, today we synthesize vast literature on how children’s gestures provide insight into their cognitive state, their process of learning, and how they represent things beyond words.

In 1986, Susan Goldin-Meadow and her colleagues from the Department of Psychology of the University of Chicago discovered that the gestures and movements that preschoolers do in problem-solving situations or while understanding mathematical, abstract, or conceptual thinking are correlated with their efficacy and skill at the task. In other words, children use body movements to better understand new things. Drawing from numerous studies and experiments, they state that children’s spontaneous gestures help them work through something they haven’t mastered yet Also, they are the mechanism they use to point out to adults and caregivers the things they are understanding without only relying on their vocabulary. This allows the adults to better communicate with a kid at a given moment of a task, and also helps the child avoid the frustration of not being able to convey something.

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Developing the skills that will prepare my child for school

According to a 2001 research paper published on the journal Early Childhood Research in Practice, there are many factors beyond a child’s age that are crucial for a positive transition into school environment. Among other things, a kid’s social skills, emotional intelligence, fine and gross motor skills, and positive relationship with his primary caregivers are all important factors that can help with the transition.

Some skills you can encourage right now to support your child’s school readiness are:

  • Express emotions, needs, and wants appropriately using words instead of acting out.
  • Engage in different types of play (play-pretend, free play, etc.).
  • Take turns while doing or using something.
  • Show interest in forming relationships with others.
  • Understand and be acquainted with basic rules.
  • Follow directions, and up to three-step instructions.
  • Pay attention to others and to the tasks at hand (between 8 and 15 minutes of attention depending on age).
  • Show curiosity and interest in learning.
  • Have interest in the world, on how it works, and in interacting and problem-solving.

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Your daughter is coloring her way into great motor skills

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics and the CDC, between the age of 36 and 48 months, most children can use play-dough to make balls, strings, and other simple figures; copy shapes like circles, lines, and squares; cut across a piece of paper using children’s scissor; put on and off some items of clothing; open jars; open and close large zippers or buttons. These activities involve coordinating many different systems and muscles, and require mastering precise movements using hands and fingers. A great way to encourage the development of your little one’s fine and gross motor skills is mixing play time with a challenge, something most children are naturally inclined to.

Coloring the pictures in coloring-books or just drawing freely is an excellent activity to help your daughter engage with her physical skills, cognition, and creativity. Here are some of the ways in which coloring can help her development:

  • It stimulates creativity and appreciation of visual similitudes and differences.
  • It cultivates your kid’s hand-to-eye coordination.
  • It helps children broaden their vocabulary, as it exposes them (with your help) to the words used to describe lines, colors, shapes, patterns, perspective, etc.
  • It benefits your daughter’s color recognition and awareness. She is more likely to discern subtle differences in hues if she gets to experience them first hand.
  • It sets a good base for her to work on her finger dexterity, hand coordination, and arm strength.
  • It provides children with small but challenging tasks, that when completed foster their confidence.
  • It’s a great vehicle for self-exploration and self-expression when words aren’t sufficient.
  • Coloring inside the lines of a picture helps your kid get a sense of structure, and of the need and benefits of having boundaries.
  • It requires her to exercise attention to detail and planning, and thus helps develop her executive functions.

Activities to encourage jumping skills

As you may know by now, kids learn by observing and then doing. So, because preschoolers have lots of energy and appetite for fun and activating games, here are some ideas on how to encourage your 4-year-old to develop his jumping skills while also getting a daily dose of exercise and playing alongside you:

•  Imitate animals and make it a game that also encourages vocabulary acquisition and cognitive skills. You can use pictures of animals and model their movements. Also, help your son respond the next questions, or similar ones.

  1. How does frogs move? And do they do sounds? Can you jump like a frog?
  2. How do rabbits move? Can you jump like a rabbit?
  3. Can you jump like a giant?
  4. Can you jump forwards? And backwards?

•  Play some upbeat music and dance to its beat. You can encourage your little one to jump in place while coordinating his arms to the rhythm of the song.

When jumping with your child, model the following things:

  1. Prepare to take-off by bending the knees.
  2. Start the movement by swinging your arms back and then forwards to gain impulse.
  3. Extend your feet and legs when you take-off to push against the ground.
  4. Maintain balance when landing.

Engage in conversation afterwards and discover together which movements your son finds easy, funny, etc., and how he would describe what jumping is.

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 other 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 between 24 and 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. 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. Continue reading

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 play-dough, 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 play-dough. 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 ribbons 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.
  • Ask your child to 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 by 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 four or five steps on their tiptoes without help. Then, approaching 4 years of age, your daughter’s balance skills will be sufficient to let her stand easily on one foot for at least two seconds. Continue reading