One area of children’s development, which I believe to be so important, is the growth and development of fine and gross motor skills. As a kindergarten teacher I see the great role that early development of the shoulders, arms, hands and fingers play in daily classroom life. Kids often come into kindergarten struggling to write legibly and it affects their confidence and sometimes their ability to learn, as they are often unsure of what they want to say. This is a hindrance as they are learning how to read and write.
The movements from infancy through toddlerhood which strengthen and reinforce the muscles in a child’s shoulders, arms, hands, wrists and fingers are spoken of and monitored often, from that first doctor visit through their pre-kindergarten screening. As babies, the smallest lift of the head, wave of the arm or grasp of the finger are indicators that your child’s body is responding and strengthening on a steady basis.
Gross Motor Skills are the skills usually acquired during infancy and early childhood; a portion of a child’s overall motor development. By the time a child reaches two years of age, they typically can stand up, walk and run, walk up stairs, etc. Such activities are improved and better-controlled throughout early childhood, while still being refined even throughout adolescence. Gross movements are made using large muscle groups and whole body movement, whereas fine motor skills are the coordination of small muscle movements. These small muscles movements occur for example, in the fingers and are usually in coordination with the eyes.
Beginning at the earliest age, we can prepare our children to excel in school by building their motor development, which will later affect their ability to learn in kindergarten, while sitting in a chair or on the carpet. Tummy time during early infancy and perfecting that pincer grip by reaching for those desirable cheerios are both early steps will are building upon a child’s ability to color, draw, trace, glue, cut and write, in their toddler years and beyond.
When a child reaches school age, shoulder stability is very important for desk posture. You need to have good postural stability and endurance to maintain your posture while seated and engaged in fine motor tasks such as drawing, coloring, cutting, tracing, gluing and writing.
Once a child has good postural stability in their upper extremity (shoulders, trunk, arms, wrists) you have the foundation for fine motor hand skills.
If your child is having difficulty with tracing, coloring, drawing, writing, gluing and cutting, there are many things that the kindergarten teacher will do in the classroom and can suggest for you to follow through with at home. Simple activities that children love to participate in, and can help prevent such difficulties are simple cutting and coloring activities. I know that once my three year old was introduced to scissors, she has not wanted to stop cutting. Despite the annoying scraps that are left behind, I now encourage her, (with appropriate material and supervision).
During hand development, there is a separation of the two sides of the hand, a skilled side (thumb, index and middle fingers) and the power side (ring and little finger). The skilled side of the hand is important for fine motor control and thumb opposition and the power side provides stability. This is very important for a mature grip and tool use (scissors).
Not only are painting, coloring, writing and drawing great activities for toddlers, but doing so with their wrist positioned in extension, such as doing so on an easel or chalkboard, will additionally strengthen their muscle development. Working in a vertical position helps strengthen the wrist but also provides stability for the hand to work. Games such as Lite Brite and Operation also encourage this position of the hand and wrist.
Other suggestions to develop arm muscles would be push ups, wheelbarrow and crab walking, propelling a scooter board, monkey bars, and weight bearing on forearms while laying on your belly, (possibly to draw, color or do puzzles).
Additional activities to aid in proper hand development are playing with putty or play-doh, doing lacing cards, manipulating tweezers to pick up small objects like erasers, pom poms, and cotton balls, and snapping fingers.
Further activities which encourage fine motor development include using an age appropriate desk and table to writing with small pencils and markers, (For example Crayola Pip Squeaks) and having children play with crayons cut into four, (which helps children to form proper grip). I have also purchased for my children Crayola Pip Squeak Glitter Markers which are small and hard to squeeze, providing additional strength practice.
Having young kids use small pictures to trace and color also encourages consistent use of emerging hand preference, (which is usually established by 1st grade).
Activities to build upon gross motor skills include age appropriate throwing, kicking, riding a tricycle and then bicycle, pushing a scooter, crawling through tunnels, climbing (on everything), and navigating a jungle gym. As parents we sometimes don’t understand our children’s constant desire to do these activities, but really it is a need.
So, next time your child asks you, “Mommy, can we please paint, color, cut, climb, or dangle”, remember that they might make you nuts with their paint splatters, scribbles, paper scraps, or bruises, but they are actually benefiting from these activities, and say, ‘of course we can’.
By Tara Hudson