Fine Motor Skills & First Grade Readiness
It is very important to master the critical skills needed for handwriting readiness before first grade, when children begin formal writing. Focusing on writing letters and motor coordination without preparing the child’s muscles first, may lead to tired hands, poor handwriting, and a lot of frustration.
There are many components important for handwriting readiness which include; good sitting posture, strong shoulder and neck muscles to give stability, adequate hand muscle coordination and strength, ability to hold a writing tool, and hand-eye coordination.
You may have been told that your child needs occupational therapy in order to prepare him/her for first grade. Here are some commonly asked questions.
My child has low muscle tone. What does that mean and how will it affect my child in school?
Muscle tone is the continuous, partial contraction of the muscles. Children with low muscle tone may have trouble with gross motor activities, like jumping, running, and climbing. They may also have difficulty with fine motor activities like holding a pencil, manipulating objects, and cutting, which require stability of some parts of the shoulder and hand muscles. Since muscle tone affects our posture, it may be difficult for these children to sit for long periods of time. It is a good idea to do exercises to strengthen the shoulder and stomach muscles as well as to encourage your child to play on different equipment in the park, as opposed to just sitting in the sand.
My four year old child cannot draw a triangle, while the other kids in his gan can. Should I be worried?
At the age of four, children should begin drawing diagonal lines in preparation for drawing a triangle. Drawing triangles usually starts around the age of five. It is usually a good idea to check the ages of the other kids in the gan before getting worried, as these skills are developmental, and emerge with increasing age.
At the age of three, your child should begin copying a horizontal line and a circle. At 3.5 years, he should begin imitating an X. By around five years old, your child should be able to copy his first name, although the letters may be large or awkward. (Beery-5 developmental scale)
My six year old child refuses to touch a pencil. Does that mean that he needs occupational therapy?
Children tend to refrain from the activity which is causing unsuccessful situations. If your child is refusing to hold a pencil, you must ask yourself and the teacher several questions: Does he use markers and crayons and does he seem to enjoy coloring, or does he refuse to use any writing utensil? Does he complain of tired hands? Do his pictures look immature for his age? Does he hold a pencil funny? Answering “yes” to several of these questions indicate that your child may benefit from occupational therapy. At the same time, try to engage your child in fun, stress-free projects that require using a pencil or writing utensil. If you are cutting a paper, have your child draw the line. Encourage him to draw a pattern which you will then use to decorate a cake. Give your children a box of colored chalk and let them have a drawing contest.
Believe it or not our children have an intuitive sense of what they need to be doing at every stage of development. Have you ever given your 3-4 year old child a pair of scissors and a magazine? It is amazing to watch our children cut everything they can get their hands on. Or how about your 5 year old’s relish to constantly print her name? The secret of occupational therapy is to make it fun while helping the child develop critical skills.
Parents, all you need to do is don your developmental glasses and turn a seemingly regular afternoon with your child to an excellent developmental opportunity. **Note** It must be emphasized that real learning occurs in a supportive, pressure free environment. All of the following activities must be used with your child’s abilities in mind. And most important make it fun!
1. Strengthening. Strong shoulder muscles come before strong hand muscles. Activities like wheelbarrow walking and hanging from monkey bars (believe it or not) are great for working on these muscles. Are you making challah or cookie dough? Have your child push and knead the dough; or squeeze sponges in the bathtub.
2. Have your child pretend to be a teacher while writing on a blackboard or even scribbling on paper taped to a wall. This is an excellent (and fun) activity to help practice keeping the wrist in extension (hand up).
3. Cutting play dough (or cookie dough) with scissors or a knife, finding beads hidden in clay, stringing beads, playing with manipulative toys, opening and closing zippers and buttons are all great for helping 2 -5 year old (or older) develop fine motor skills.
4. Fat markers and small broken crayons are great to help beginning writers get comfortable with a pencil and encourage proper grip.
5. Have your child clean windows using a spray bottle, make rain in the summer, or spray water with a water gun at a target to strengthen finger muscles. Just make sure to clean out the spray bottle very well before letting your child use it, and do not let him spray water into his mouth.
6. While building from imagination is a wonderful activity to promote creativity, encourage your child to copy a pattern as well. Design copying in this fun way can increase your child’s visual motor and eye-hand coordination. He can build a lego airplane according to the instructions, string beads according to a pattern, or copy a picture card to make a block tower.
The most important tip to remember is some advice my grandmother gave me, “T O O of anything is TOO much”. It is great to give our kids some “fine motor” time, to practice pre-writing skills like cutting, coloring, and tracing. But don’t forget to follow your child’s lead and keep it fun!
Michal Rubin, OTR is an occupational therapist on the staff at Mercaz Rakefet. She has a special interest in working with babies and young children as well as children with sensory processing disorders. She can be reached at email@example.com and at 02-992-0947.
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