Before They Can Read & Write...

Children are not born able to hold a pencil, tie their shoes, zip and button.  It takes time and practice to develop the fine motor muscles and brain pathways required to succeed.  While many children will naturally begin to develop those muscles through play and other every day actions, there are activities that further promote fine muscle development.  When setting up a play area or spending time inside on a rainy day, keep these tips in mind:
  • Easel work develops more muscles than using a table to paint, draw or write.  Moving the arm up and down in an outstretched position helps to develop the muscles that lead from the arm into the hand.   It takes more muscle activity to hold the arm out than lean it on a table or have it at your side.   An easel, hanging dry erase or chalk board, or even paper hung on a wall will provide your children with a fun artistic space and gross motor development.
  • Cross lateral movements force both sides of the brain to communicate and are the precursor to moving across a written page.  In order to move across a page to read or write from left to right, both sides of the brain must work in tandem.  Activities that cross the midline of the body help develop the nerve-cell pathway required for the fluid movement from one side to the other.  Play games like Follow the Leader to encourage motions such as putting the left hand on the right leg.  Use songs that encourage movement such as windmills.  Make a game of exercising together using motions that cross the body.  When doing easel work, encourage your children to move their arms in large sweeping motions across the surface and back.
  • Ripping paper is an essential early childhood skill.  Provide your children with a bin of scrap paper that they are allowed to rip.  Great collages are made of ripped paper and the time spent ripping develops both brain pathways and finger muscles.  In order to rip, your children must use finger muscles to grasp the paper and opposing motions to tear.  You may be surprised at the effort it takes for very young children to develop that coordination but when they do, they move one step closer to writing.
  • Tweezer games are fun and develop the pincer grip.  Children love using tools such as tweezers.  Many companies make plastic tweezers especially for young children to explore at home and in nature.  Introduce tweezer games to help your children develop pinching muscles.  Race to see how quickly you and your child can pick up objects with tweezers and put them in a cup.  Try picking up cotton balls, crimpled paper, cotton swabs and other household objects.  They are great for exploring small object outside, too.
  • Use normal size pencils and crayons rather than jumbo size.  The thicker pencils and jumbo size crayons that are marketed as being made especially for your young child actually do not help to promote further development of fine motor muscles.  To learn new skills and develop new muscles, we must practice.  Stopping the pincer grip at the jumbo size does not provide that practice.  If your child fists writing implements at first, remember that is normal.  Keep showing your child how you hold a pen , pencil or crayon.
  • Move from fisting writing implements to using fingers to pinch by using short pencils and short crayons at approximately age 3-4 years.  You may wonder if stores have started selling short crayons.  No, they have not.  Break your crayons and provide your children with a nub that they must use their fingers to grasp.  Using golf pencils are also a good way to encourage your 3-4 year old to pinch between the fingers.   If your child still insists on fisting, he/she isn’t ready to use the pincer grip. As with all preschool skills, some children will master this skill before others.  If you are concerned about your child’s fine motor skill development, consult with your preschool and/or pediatrician.
  • The messier the better.  Finger painting, writing in shaving cream, playing in mud, making snowballs and even learning to eat independently may be messy but they all lead to reading and writing.  Encourage your children to do fun, messy activities that force them to use their fingers a variety of ways – to stretch and pinch.  Do activities that force both hands to work together.  Dive into the mess with your children – it really is fun and a great way to extend the time they spend developing important skills!

Copyright 2012 © Cindy Terebush
All Rights Reserved
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