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In meeting with the Southington elementary school principals, they said one of the largest issues they are seeing with incoming kindergarten students is a decline, over the last several years, in fine motor skills. This could be due to the increased use of electronic devices and a decline in traditional childhood play activities.
As a result of this conversation, the Early Childhood Collaborative of Southington coordinated a workshop with the Southington Public School OT/PT staff. The workshop, titled “Fine Motor Skills for Kindergarten” (view slides) was presented on April 19, 2017 by:
• Bethanie Connelly, Lead Therapist
• Susan Spatafore, Occupational Therapist
• Maureen Casey, Physical Therapist
Fine motor skills for kindergarten are required to accomplish a variety of activities including writing, artwork and cutting with scissors. When children don’t have the muscle strength or coordination to do these activities, they struggle and become frustrated. This manual dexterity needs to be practiced and developed just like any other skill.
But the gross motor development of the child’s core needs to happen first. It’s not so important how quickly a young child moves on to sitting, crawling or walking, but developing strength and skill at each stage. Infants and toddlers who skip the crawling stage or spend much of their time sitting in a bouncy seat or activity station don’t have the opportunity to build those core muscles. Core strength is needed to balance, perform coordinated movements, sit up straight in a chair, and later, to hold a pencil and control scissors.
Bethanie, Sue and Maureen discussed the importance of encouraging a variety of body positions that help to build the trunk and arm strength needed to provide stability for body alignment during fine motor tasks. Looking at books when propped up on elbows while lying on the floor or bed builds core strength. Sitting with legs cross legged or to the same side allow the body to rotate. Kneeling at a tall desk or activity board helps with balance. These positions will help to develop midline crossing and help to stabilize the body to develop isolated arm and finger movements needed in preparation for writing. They will also help to develop appropriate weight shifting needed for balance. Sitting with the legs out to both sides in a “W” shape should be avoided since you can’t rotate or adjust weight in this position.
Play and movement, especially outside, also helps develop trunk and arm strength as well as teaching spatial concept. Activities ranging from running, using playground equipment, swimming, and riding on bicycles or scooters (with a helmet) are all great. Using descriptive language when a child is playing/moving helps to teach them concepts, such as body parts and directionality (top/bottom, over/under, around, up/down, left/right, etc.).
Excessive screen time (TV, tablets, etc.) can limit social skills, language, creativity, attention and fitness. One of the other concerns the elementary school principals had about children entering kindergarten is a lack of empathy, most likely from increased screen time and reduced social interaction.
The OT/PT team brought a variety of toys and materials that are good for developing fine motor skills. They showed how a favorite stuffed animal can be hidden inside a pouch or pocket to teach the use of zippers. Beads come in many sizes and can be used to create patterns on a string, or jewelry. Beans, coins or other small objects can be put into a coin purse or through a small slit of a coffee can lid. Here is their handout of Fine Motor Activities.
There are prerequisites for handwriting success and multiple stages of grasp and finger skills. Use a variety of methods to teach children letters such as sand, shaving cream, chalkboard and paper. Once children have the motor control to write, they suggested that you teach them the letters of their name first since children will be asked to write their name in kindergarten. As children are practicing their letters, encourage them to start at the top and show them where to start. Draw boxes the shapes of the letters with a dot that indicates the starting point. The handwriting handouts showed examples of this.
The team’s presentation slides also cover school motor readiness and has links to online resources. Thank you to the Southington OT/PT staff for putting together a helpful and informative presentation on developing fine motor skills for kindergarten.