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 these 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 or her 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 in particular 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 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, among 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. Continue reading →
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 play-dough 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!
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.
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! Continue reading →
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.
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 our hand do what we 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
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 their parents or 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 to regulate one’s emotions, develop a sense of mastery, better emotional awareness, negotiation skills, and develops a good spatial intelligence.
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. Continue reading →
“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 after-school 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.