Skills for School
Fine Motor Skills
Fine Motor Skills involve the development of the small muscles in the fingers and hand. Between the ages of three and five, children show rapid development of these muscles. For example, at four a child typically draws a person as a head and legs, can copy simple drawings such as a circle or cross, and can cut a straight line with scissors. By five, a child can draw a six part person, develop a tripod pencil grip, copy more complex drawings such as squares and triangles, and cut on a curved or jagged line.
If your child is showing weak fine motor skills, there are many things you can do at home to help their development. Let them practice holding and writing with golf or small pencils. Have them practice using crayons within the lines, drawing pictures, cutting out objects, completing dot to dot activities, matching pictures, using glue bottles and glue sticks in arts and crafts, tracing objects, finger painting or painting with a paintbrush.
Gross Motor Skills
Gross Motor Skills involve the movements of the large muscle groups in the body. The muscle groups are involved in jumping, running, hopping, skipping, catching, and eye-hand coordination. Children must develop gross motor skills before fine motor skills are mastered. Gross motor skills begin developing at birth and show rapid development until age 6 or 7. By age four, most children can stand on one foot for five seconds, jump with two feet, run with arm and leg coordination, and go up and down steps one at a time. By five, typically children can move up and down steps smoothly, balance on one foot for ten seconds, balance on tiptoes, walk backwards, attempt roller skates and jump roping, hear rhythm in music, and echo simple clapping patterns.
If you've noticed your child has weak Gross Motor Skills, problems with muscle tone, joints, foot bones or balance could be the problem. Exercises that increase your child's flexibility, balance, and posture can help. Practice catching and throwing a ball with your child, walking and running together, balancing on one foot at a time, climbing on play structures, hopping, skipping, and playing structured ball games together will all help their gross motor development. Provide frequent breaks when your child gets tired and keep the activities fun!
Visual Perception Skills
Visual Perception is how we see, process, and interpret everything around us. This skill is just beginning in three and four years old and will continue to develop throughout elementary school. Around age four children can match objects that are the same shape and color, make a six block pyramid, and observe differences in everyday objects. By age five, children can make a ten block pyramid, solve simple puzzles, and sort objects by their characteristics.
When you are working with your child on visual perception, there are several areas you can focus on. The first is Visual Spatial Memory. This is the ability to remember where an object is, for example: where your child left a favorite toy. The second is Figure Ground. This is ability to distinguish between important and irrelevant objects, for example: searching for a ball in the garage. The third is Visual Closure. This is being able to put clues together to identify an object before it is complete, for example: identifying what a dot to dot picture is before it is finished. The fourth is Visual Sequential Memory. This is remembering a sequence of objects, pictures, letters or numbers, for example: letters in a word or numbers in a phone number. The last is Visual Form Recognition and Discrimination. This means being able to see and discriminate the differences between everyday objects, for example: recognizing the difference between a red and blue crayon.
Self Help Skills
Self Help skills involve areas such as dressing, bathroom habits, tying shoelaces, opening and closing lunch boxes, backpacks, and food containers, keeping track of own belongings, feeding, and washing hands.
By working with your children on their fine and gross motor skills, you will also be helping their self help skills. Self help skills are developed primarily by practice. Letting your children help with dressing and undressing themselves, modeling good bathroom habits and how to wash their hands, and letting your children feed themselves will all lead to their continued development. Although they may have a difficult time with self help skills at first, like anything, with practice they will become better and more successful over time. Encouragement and love will go a long way in their comfort and self confidence.
Teaching a child how to grip a pencil can be tricky and time consuming. Children will naturally grasp a pencil a certain way. Some will want to hold it with their fist, some will try to imitate how you hold it, and some may hold it between their pointer and middle finger. It is important to gently correct a child' s pencil grip as quickly as possible. Poor pencil grip can lead to finger, hand, and arm pain and difficulty with handwriting.
By about 3 1/2 to 4 years old, you should begin see a more traditional pencil grip when your child holds a pencil, crayon or marker. Correct grip is important, as it allows the writer to use the fine motor skills and movement necessary for writing. Some problems teachers often see are the thumb over the index finger, the pencil between the pointer and middle fingers, a straight thumb, or the middle finger on top. A child should hold the pencil about 1-3 centimeters from the tip. The pencil should be grasped between the pointer finger and thumb, with the middle finger being used as support on the side. The top of the pencil should come across and lay about midway across the webbing of the hand. Pencil grips can be useful in helping children find just the right places for their fingers.
If your child is left-handed, you may find they have a slightly different grip. Generally speaking, lefties should hold the pencil slightly higher than righties. This allows them to see what has already been written. Lefties should still be able to use the same "tripod" finger formation as righties.
Correcting your child's grip may take some time and effort. It is important when you are helping fix their grip that they are not so tense that it is hard to move their fingers. You may want to use a golf or mini-pencil to help your child with their writing. Imagine how hard it is when we write with an oversized pencils, that may be what it is like for your child with a regular size pencil.
Other elements of handwriting that you should watch for are heavy pressure (lots of broken points), poor letter formation, poor spaces, minimal use of lines, taking a long time to write letters or words, and poor writing posture. If a child is truly having a hard time writing, this can affect their school work in many ways. Assistance and practice are the two ways to fix poor handwriting. If you are still concerned about your child's writing, contact your child's teacher. If they are unable to help you, they can put you in touch with an OT at the school who can give you additional tips.