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An occupational therapist's favorite fine motor skill activities for kindergarten readiness

Once children reach kindergarten, fine motor skills become instruments used for learning purposes, often through crafts. If a child's hands aren't ready to perform various movements efficiently, his body will "compensate" with inefficient postures and movements. Successfully accomplishing tasks with compensations is possible, but it requires a great deal of energy. Doing so not only makes the child less efficient, it can also lead to a lack of interest in manual tasks requiring tools such as crayons, scissors, and utensils. When a child accumulates many tasks that are too advanced for his body, motor compensations become habits that can be hard to get rid of.

 

Before entering kindergarten, presenting a wide range of games requiring various motor skills involving the entire body is pertinent. Think of games where the child's body is in contact with the floor or ground (crawling, rolling around, slithering). Postural control is a prerequisite of efficient fine motor skills. During summer months, take advantage of playground facilities (swinging, crossing monkey bars, climbing structures) to refine the way the child's body interacts with its environment. Explore several different playgrounds to offer a variety of challenges.

 

As an occupational therapist, here are my favorite fine motor skill activities, the ones I feel will lead to the biggest payoff if they are presented often before a child enters kindergarten.

  1. Coloring with waxed crayons
    Have you ever wondered why children don't seem to be attracted to waxed crayons anymore or why children don't seem interested in wooden coloring pencils before they start school? Why are markers always the chosen ones? Of course, markers are popular due to their vivid colors. However, markers also earn extra points since drawing with them requires very little effort. A simple swipe of a marker results in the drawing of a pretty line. Unfortunately, markers are so easy to use that they leave no room for the development of muscles and thumb control, both required for a mature and efficient pencil grasp. Children will need this efficiency to function as writing skill demands increase beyond kindergarten. Thus, markers can give adults the false impression that a child masters the use of crayons. A problem will only be detected once the child is in school and a teacher notices an unusual pencil grasp. Of course, waxed crayons are more difficult to use. A child who is unable to press down hard enough will have trouble making colors appear on the paper. On the other hand, a child who applies too much pressure may break crayons. Note that these difficulties can be overcome with practice. Once the "waxed crayon challenge" is overcome, a child is ready to use a pencil or wooden coloring pencils. He will be able to function at school. A trick for waxed crayons: use very big pieces of paper and encourage the child to color freely, as opposed to having to color in smaller zones.

  2. Cutting
    Cutting represents a highly complex early childhood activity that leads to several learning opportunities. In terms of fine motor skills, the hand learns to separate the functions of its two sides; the thumb region and the rest of the hand perform different actions. The body is also learning to coordinate its two hands as they perform different yet complimentary actions. Hand-eye coordination is also particularly stimulated during cutting exercises (visual motor integration). Cutting stimulates capacities that help the child learn, among other things, to handle a pencil, manage buttons and zippers, and tie his shoes. Offer activities that are well-adapted to the child's capacities to avoid compensations.

  3. Modeling dough
    Modeling dough is always included in my personal favorites whenever I think of winning early childhood activities. This activity, which can call upon a child's imagination, offers numerous opportunities for the development of fine motor skills, motor planning, and the coordination of both hands. Here are a few examples of challenges involving modeling dough:

    • Forming tiny balls of dough between the palms of his hands.
    • Cutting using a knife and fork by holding the dough with the fork (non-dominant hand) and cutting with the knife (dominant hand).
    • Creating a shape using a mold and removing it from the mold without breaking it.
    • Stretching out a ball of dough by rolling it on the table to make a "snake".

  4. LEGO blocks
    This classic activity no longer requires a presentation. As with modeling dough, fine motor skills, motor planning, and creativity are called upon when a child plays with LEGO blocks. Encourage the child to play with LEGO blocks often, especially if he does not seem interested, since his lack of interest may be covering up difficulties. Trick: At first, letting the child build freely will provide a bigger payoff than asking him to build different models according to plans.

  5. Playing cards
    Have you ever noticed how young (and not so young) children hold many cards in their hands? It is not an easy task and it is often hard to resist the temptation of helping them manage their cards. Often, we end up playing with our cards spread out on the table. Manipulating playing cards stimulates wrist and thumb control as well as the coordination of both hands. Here are a few challenges you can suggest, in order of difficulty:

    • Picking a card by separating it from the rest of the stack.
    • Turning a card over on the table.
    • Holding several cards like a fan.
    • Taking cards out of a box and putting them back in the box at the end of the game.
    • Shuffling cards.
    • Placing playing cards together to build a castle.
    • Placing a rubber band around a stack of cards.

  6. Crumpling paper
    Not only is this activity quite interesting for the development of motor skills, it is also amusing for children. Crumpling paper stimulates the musculature of the inside of a child's hands as well as the ability to separate the movement of different fingers. Have fun exploring different types of papers (tissue paper, magazine pages, copy paper) to adjust the level of difficulty. I like to call this activity the "recycling game", since it nearly always ends with a game of basketball where the child attempts to toss balls of paper in the recycling bin. Here are a few challenges to try:

    • Crumpling paper without using the table or his body for support.
    • Crumpling paper with one arm stretched out.
    • Crumpling paper without moving the fingers of the other hand or his tongue.

  7. Gradually increase the level of difficulty of the activities presented to maintain the child's motivation and avoid discouragement. Whenever I meet with children in my clinic and they overcome one challenge, I tell them, "Challenge overcome!" and then give them a new challenge to tackle.

  8. Since I am also the author of The scissor skills sourcebook, I would like to take this opportunity to mention that this book contains 50 cutting projects presented in order of difficulty to help you slowly increase the level of difficulty of the activities you offer worry-free. It is available on the educatall online store.

 

Have fun preparing for kindergarten!

 

Josiane Caron Santha
Occupational therapist

 


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