Category Archives: Physical

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 do 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

It’s all connected: The link between social interactions and walking skills

When we talk about any aspect of the human experience, we tend to organize it into areas and specific parts according to its features. This is especially true in developmental psychology, but dividing early childhood development into different areas and skills doesn’t mean that they aren’t intertwined, connected or even dependent on one another.

Some of the connections between developmental skills are fairly intuitive, like the link between children’s ability to speak and communicate needs and desires, and their emotional intelligence. Life becomes considerably easier when we have the capacity to express ourselves and connect with others. However, other associations are frankly surprising, like those linking physical skills with the cognitive or social aspects of development.

For example, researchers from Whitman College Department of Psychology have found that independent walking is an important milestone for the social behavior of children. In fact, the effect of a child’s first independent steps is just as important as the onset of crawling a few months before. In 2010, they published their findings in an article titled “Learning to walk changes infant’s social interactions” in the journal Infant Behavior and Development. They directed an experiment where the social behaviors of 2 to 3-year-olds where age-matched and compared. They contrasted the interaction’s frequency and complexity between kids that were walking independently and those that mastered crawling but where walking only with the help of a baby walker. They found that the children that walked independently not only spent more time interacting with their caregivers and the available toys, but also vocalized and gestured more compared to kids in baby walkers. In another experiment, the researchers tracked the kid’s social behavior through time, starting when they learned to crawl and up until they learned to walk without support. The results showed that, regardless of age, independent walking marked both an increase in frequency and sophistication in the interactions with the mothers, like directing their attention towards a particular object in the room.

You might be surprised by the direct link between your kid’s social skills and his motor development, but is any young child anything but a magical box of never-ending surprises?

Scribbling, drawing and writing readiness in prekindergarten children

Writing readiness refers to the development of some pre-writing skills in children that are fundamental for learning how to write. As you can imagine, many of them relate to the ability of having one’s hand do what you want it to do, which is referred to as “gross motor skills”. On the other hand, the “fine motor skills” are the ones that enable us to hold writing instruments correctly and do it with the correct amount of force and speed to make a mark on a paper. That’s why for the developing writing abilities of children it’s crucial that they have plenty of positive experiences interacting with materials like paper and crayons before starting school.  Writing is a very complex process that requires the coordination of many processes at the same time: it requires managing sensory information, planning and sequencing it, and responding with the appropriate movements.

Some of the skills necessary to master handwriting are:
• Adequate eye-hand coordination
• Capacity to hold a pencil firmly in writing position
• Attention and memory skills necessary to recognize the letters of the alphabet
• Basic lines and figures stroke formation, meaning that a child can draw vertical and horizontal lines, as well as circles and basic shapes

According to a 2015 paper published by Dr. Cetin in the Educational Research and Reviews journal, all scribbling and drawing behaviors before the age of five are indispensable for their reading and writing readiness of children, as they learn through seeing and doing. During infancy and toddlerhood, kids make random scribbles where the marks for both drawing and writing are undifferentiated. Afterwards, they start doing controlled scribbling, where they can say that they are drawing an object and can identify it by its name. This attribution of meaning to drawings, regardless of their technical mastery or accuracy, represents an important milestone in their cognitive development as it attests that a child is beginning to grasp the idea that real objects can be symbolized using marks. Research shows that 2 and 3-year-old children can differentiate writing from drawing, and that many 4-year-olds know that print means something, that it is structured in small bits represented by “words”, and that their hidden message is decodified by following each line from left to right. At this point, with adequate stimulation, many kids are ready to start writing their names.

If you want to read more on the development of writing skills during the early years of childhood and get some additional ideas on how to prepare your kid for writing, check out this link:
http://www.colorincolorado.org/article/helping-young-children-develop-strong-writing-skills

Physical activity for toddlers? The how, how much, and why

You might be wondering why we’re bringing up the subject of physical activity for kids at such a young age. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), many children younger than 5 years old fail to meet the minimum physical activity guideline of at least 60 minutes of vigorous physical activity per day, and some of their research suggest that 2 to 5-year-olds should engage in more than 120 minutes of physical activity each day. Because toddlers can seem to be very active and always engaging in either exploring, eating or playing, the AAP reports that many parents thought their small children were in no need for a time dedicated specifically to physical activity.

We know that doing physical activity is extremely beneficial and necessary for a toddler’s development. At 2 years of age, kids develop large motor skills, balance, limb coordination and visual-spatial synchronicity by doing active play either indoors, outdoors, with you or with her peers. Besides, the pros of doing physical activity daily go beyond physical and motor development. Researchers from the Université de Montréal (2008) have found that exercising from an early age enhances cognitive outcomes later in life: it helps with regulating one’s emotions, developing a sense of mastery, better emotional awareness, negotiation skills, and develops a good spatial intelligence.

So, doing daily active play is very important for the development of your daughter, but you might be wondering how to set some developmentally appropriate strategies for physical activity.

• If you are out of ideas, ask yourself what physical activities your toddler enjoys and what outdoor playing spaces are available and practical for you around where you live.
• Encourage both free play, where your kid can let her imagination steer the activity, and structured play with you, where you play a game that has some directions to it. Some fun options for structured play are playing hide and seek, blowing bubbles and chasing them through the air, pretending to move like different animals, playing following the leader, dancing to some upbeat music, etc.
• Take walks with your toddler and instead of opting immediately for the stroller, let your kid walk until she is tired.
• Have toys around that encourage being active while playing like balls, kites, etc.

For more information and ideas, you can check out these links:
https://www.healthychildren.org/English/healthy-living/growing-healthy/Pages/assessment.aspx
http://www.health.gov.au/internet/main/publishing.nsf/content/9D831D9E6713F92ACA257BF0001F5218/$File/PA%20Rec%200-5%20yo%20-%20Web%20printable%20version.pdf
http://www.excellence-earlychildhood.ca/documents/parenting_2011-04.pdf

The link between physical activity and bone and muscle development in children

We know that regular physical activity is very important and that, literally, it’s never too early to start. In fact, exercising is very important during childhood because it optimizes bone strength during growth. Research on the benefits of physical activity consistently reports it to be correlated with bone and muscular strength, but also predicting better bone outcomes later in life. Moreover, physical play has been found to have immediate benefits for children’s development, like the distinctive social component of rough-and-tumble play, for example.

The bones and muscles of your little girl are the framework for her growing body. The skeleton grows in density and in size during the first two decades of life. According to the National Institutes of Health, up to 90% of bone mass is acquired during the teen years of life. How strong a person’s bones are will depend on the sum of many environmental, genetic and behavioral factors. The two most important things you can do to encourage lifelong bone health is consuming plenty of nutrients and exercising in your daily life, because, just as the muscles, bones grow stronger the more we use them.

Bones thrive with physical activity because they contain a network of cells called “osteocytes” that can detect when the skeleton has to work hard. Exercise represents a benign stress to the body. When detected, the bone cells stimulate bone formation and reabsorption, increasing the bone mass, and therefore, developing stronger bones. According to Dr. Michael Levine, form the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine, multiple studies show an association between physical activity and bone density, and children athletes have been proven to have increased bone dimensions, density, and strength during growth. But even moderate exercise, such as one hour of physical activity or play every day, has been proven to improve bone density and strength in growing children, and benefits that persist well into young adulthood.

Researchers from the University of Bristol in the UK studied the physical activity habits of 4.457 children, and found that habitual levels of physical activity not only kept excess fat tissue at bay, but directly influenced an increase in bone mass density. They also found that the timing of an exercising habit is crucial: a physical activity initiated before puberty showed to improve bone mass. Encouragingly, the benefits were sustained for more than six months after stopping the physical activity program.

The takeaway is this: it’s never too early to foster good exercise habits in your kids, like enjoying moving to the rhythm of music, loving physical activity, playing with friends, or exploring the outdoors. This can have lifelong benefits for your daughter’s health!

Perks of engaging your pre-kindergarten child in physical play and activities outdoors

“Considering the various forms play takes, it’s easy to identify the possible value of sensorimotor games for enhancing physical skills, and games with rules for modeling early forms of orderly thought or even morality”- Jerome Singer, in Toys, Play, and Child Development

In a 2014 study published by the American Academy of Pediatrics, a group of researchers from the University of Illinois and the University of Texas studied the effect of physical activity on children’s brains and behavior. They assigned 221 kids into either a year-long afterschool program of physical activity and outdoor games, or a waiting-list. Then, they asked them in multiple occasions to do tasks that measured cognition and attention. After a year, they found that only the kids that had engaged in physical activity showed a significant improvement in cognitive inhibition, attention, and cognitive flexibility, demonstrating that physical activity improves cognition.

Along the same lines, a group of brain researchers in Japan’s Waseda University conducted a study in 2015 that suggested that fit children were better at filtering information needed to solve a problem, when compared with peers that didn’t engage in daily physical activity.

So now that we’ve emphasized the importance of making sure your kid is getting his daily dose of exercise in order to be in peak physical and cognitive shape, here are some fun ideas to move those muscles and boost his cognitive development:

• Play some music and dance together. Activation songs like “head, shoulders, knees and toes”, or “Macarena” are good options.
• Imitate an animal movement, for example try to hop like a frog, leap like a rabbit, walk like a penguin, be graceful on all fours like a lion, etc.
• Play follow the leader or hide and seek.
• Take a walk into the nearest playground and explore the slides or other features.
• Play with a light inflatable ball. Depending on your kid’s dexterity you can try playing throw and catch.

If you want to try out some fun and upbeat music to play alongside your kid, this link for Songs for Teaching has a big array to choose from:
http://www.songsforteaching.com/physicalfitnesssongs.htm

Newborn reflexes

During the first weeks of your baby’s life much of her activity is reflexive due to the fact that all babies have a limited amount of control over their body. To make up for this lack of control, mother nature made sure babies were born with a set of survival mechanisms that protect them from harm. For this reason, although your little one is very dependent on her caregivers, she is not completely defenseless.

Reflexes disappear within the first few months or year of your baby’s life once she does not need them anymore. Some even turn into voluntary actions once your little one begins to gain control over her body. These innate mechanisms usually have a short duration, but they are very important. For this reason, it’s crucial to make sure your little one has all her primitive responses present, as they indicate that the brain and nervous system are doing their job correctly. You could verify your baby’s reflexes at home but know that your healthcare provider will make sure your little one displays all her reflexes during her first check-up. If you’d like to learn more about these fascinating involuntary movements or actions, check out our list of the most common baby reflexes below.

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