+ Modern Toys Don’t Develop a Child’s Handwriting Skills

 source: Meaghan at Blue Mango Blog (see link below)

Unstructured outdoor play  improves handwriting skills. Meaghan from Blue Mango Blog offers  other simple changes you can make in your child’s daily routine and indoor environment to promote the development of fine motor skills.

In years past, toys and daily life provided lots opportunities for children’s fine motor growth.   But today experts find a large number of children are lacking the adequate core, upper body,  finger strength and dexterity to successfully pick up a pencil and write with ease.

Has home life really changed that much in the last 25 years to affect children’s fine motor development? How?

Think about paper dolls and jacks. We’ve replaced toys that involved a lot of loose parts and manipulating with your hands with ones that require just a push of a button to make a sound or light up.

Meaghan, blogging at Blue Mango LLC,  spoke to some experts in pediatric occupational therapy.  Consistently the message was that modern electronic toys  deprive children of practice using the necessary skills for fine motor and handwriting.

Toys are, of course, meant to entertain, but the purpose of play in early childhood is to learn about manipulating objects,  performing experiments and examining the world. Many toys today may keep a child busy, but they are doing nothing to actually enhance their development.

Rachel Coley, OT and founder of CanDo Kiddo,  was asked  if anything has changed in the last 25 years in regards to kids’ activities that develop fine motor skills. She said

Through the materials and toys we choose for our kids and the way they spend their time…we over-emphasize the skills of pushing buttons with their thumbs and pointing, dragging and clicking with their index fingers.

Because there aren’t any more hours in the day than there use to be, these activities come at the expense of our kids learning to cut, glue, pinch, put together, pull apart, squeeze, twist, hammer and screw, lace, string and other important fine motor skills.

Take a moment to remember and think about the toys you — and your parents and grandparents –played with as a child.

Modern Convenience = Lazy Fingers

Mom’s life got easier: Click Connect car seats & strollers,  Bumbo chairs.  But it was at the expense of  babies’ gross motor skills development. Modern convenience also strips  children of everyday fine motor skills practice.  Childhood is now really convenient and easy with velcro and slip on shoes, food that can be slurped from pouches and zippered lunch boxes.  It is also true that in the course of a parent’s busy day, he or she will often do things for a child that they should be learning to do on their own…

What are fine motor skills? Why are they so important?

Writing expectations for early elementary students have increased significantly. Some kindergartners have writing workshop for as long as an hour every day. At the same time more academic demands are being placed on children,  activities and tools that naturally promote the development of fine motor skills are being replaced by those that are less demanding of them.

Once adults  understand what fine motor skills are, they are able to seek out and promote experiences for children that will help develop these important muscles and skills.

And the great news is that you don’t need to learn and prep a lot of fancy activities. Once you understand the basics of fine motor skills, you can prioritize the materials in your house or classroom to facilitate this development in your kids.

Understanding the pincer grasp: the pincer grasp is the ability to pick up small objects using the thumb and forefinger. This is developed by age one (and continues to mature);  babies move from a raking grasp with all fingers to picking up individual cheerios with just the two fingers.

Pincer grasp is very important in handwriting. It enables children to hold a pencil correctly and develop a mature tripod grip around a pencil.  Why is something that ought to be simple so important?

Children with nonfunctional pencil grips can’t  keep up with the demand expected of them in school. They begin to avoid writing tasks.  Not only academic accomplishment, but also self-confidence, is diminished.

The importance of hand and arm muscles:  writing uses many different muscles in the hand and wrist. In addition to developing a good pincer grasp, children need to make sure their hand and arm muscles are also strong.

Meaghan spoke with Christie Kiley, and OT who blogs at Mama OT.  Kiley explained how complex and important these hand muscles are.

There are all sorts of small muscles in our hands that make up three main arches around our hands. These arches work together to help our hands accurately form around objects as we hold and manipulate them, such as when we hold a ball, build with blocks, or brush our teeth or hair. These palmar arches are also responsible for helping kids develop in-hand manipulation skills and dissociation of the two sides of the hand.

Christie advocates for weight bearing activities on kids’ hands — such as crawling through tunnels, doing crab walks down the hallway, yoga (downward dog) and gymnastics (handstands) — in order to properly develop these arches.

Strategies to improve handwriting skills.   Rachel Coley:

The biggest things that parents can do to promote their kids’ fine motor skills is to evaluate the toys and materials in their homes and evaluate their family schedule.

Many parents are surprised to find that Occupational Therapists don’t have much specialized equipment for treating their children’s fine motor delays or handwriting difficulties.

What we have are toys and time  [for] being fully present with a child.

Five tips for improving handwriting skills in your own home or classroom, with ideas for materials and toys to stock.

1. Give time for independence in daily routines

Build independence by scheduling time for children to “do it yourself.” Meal times, grooming and getting dressed are great opportunities to let kids take charge and strengthen those little hands and fingers! They can be

  • peeling fruit (oranges, bananas)
  • pouring drinks
  • using knives to cut food
  • using knives to spread butter (or jam, cream cheese, PB) on bread
  • opening & closing lunch containers, snack bags and water bottles

Encourage self-feeding as soon as possible. Toddlers should be using forks and spoons on their own and drinking from real cups.

Toddlers definitely still need some help getting dressed, but older children can learn to be be doing this independently; only a little support and adult encouragement needed. You can add finishing touches, but have children participate in their own grooming.

Kids can:

  • put on & take off socks and shoes
  • do zippers, snaps and buttons
  • learn to tie their shoes
  • brush their hair
  • squeeze their toothpaste
  • begin to learn to floss

2. Help out around the house

Having young children at home – especially if they aren’t in school yet – makes it difficult to get anything done around the house. But you can provide kids with lots of great fine motor experiences by having them help you out.

They can tear lettuce for salads, smash avocados for guacamole, grate cheese, scrub potatoes, mix  batters.  They can knead & roll dough. Doing laundry, kids can help pull clothes out of the hamper, washer and dryer. Even young children can fold socks while older children can help with shirts and pants.

3. Buy the right toys

Meaghan at Blue Mango uses these simple guidelines when purchasing toys to promote fine motor skills:

  • Avoid anything with batteries if it lights up, moves on its own or makes noise count it out
  • Stick with natural materials it’s much harder to go wrong with toys made out of wood
  • Look for toys with “loose parts” check Etsy or DIY – sometimes the best toys are not really “toys”
    Look to Reggio Emilia and Montessori schools for inspiration

Need some more ideas? Here are some examples of great toys to buy:

  • Mancala
  • Traditional wooden blocks
  • Legos – opt for loose blocks and not themed sets
  • Guidecraft construction blocks
  • Tool sets
  • Pegboards – buy one from Etsy, Amazon or DIY
  • Geoboards – buy from Etsy, Amazon or DIY
  • Build & paint car kits
  • Rainbow Loom
  • Perler beads

4. Make use of everyday objects

Consider having these available for play:

Christie Kiley often tells parents of children receiving OT services they can provide the same type of therapeutic practice in their own homes:

Some examples include pinching toothpicks and dropping them into an empty spice container, squeezing chip clips onto the edge of a box, playing with a squirt bottle, and pushing pipe cleaners into the holes of a colander.

5. Have great arts & crafts materials on hand

Promote fine motor skills by encouraging kids to make art or create inventions by cutting & pasting, threading & beading, working with small objects and building with clay or cardboard.  Have your own family “Creation Station,” as some classrooms do. Here are materials to have on hand at home or in the classroom.

Build: cardboard, recycled cardboard boxes, recycled plastic containers & bottles,glue, masking tape.

Sculpt: clay,  play dough (make your own!), Wikki Stix

Meaghan adds kid-friendly knives and scissors for working with play dough, and sometimes hides plastic “jewels” in the clay for kids to find. Use any of these materials to help build letters or sight words in the classroom.

Sew & Make Jewelry: plastic needles (real ones for older kids!); thread, yarn, string; wire; pipe cleaners; beads;  noodles

According to Meaghan, boys love this too! In her class kids made “pattern bracelets” with beads and pipe cleaners at a math center. They made necklaces with fruit loops (arrange by color in groups of 10s) for the 100th day of school.

Sewing can be just putting yarn through punched holes in construction paper to actually sewing real things. Don’t just make beaded necklaces:  teach kids how to braid friendship bracelets.

Cut, Paste & Fasten:   scissors; hole puncher; glue, glue sticks or paste (all use different muscles); scotch tape, colored masking tape; paper with assorted thickness (tissue, construction, card stock); fabric squares; brads (brass fasteners); stamps & ink.

Improve handwriting skills by adding small objects to art area to work on pincer grasp:

  • buttons
  • pom poms
  • jewels
  • stickers
  • toothpicks

Use your whole body, she advises: any activity done in a standing or prone position will also help with overall core and upper body strength. Use sidewalk chalk outside, have clipboard available for work on the floor and use easels for drawing and painting.

Meaghan asks “What will you implement today?”

Thanks to the source blog by Meaghan at Blue Mango LLC . I  edited for clarification since text imported without photos got confusing. Read her intact post at http://www.bluemangollc.com/the-unconventional-guide-to-improving-handwriting-skills-part-iii/

Orton-Gillingham tutoring in Columbus OH: Adrienne Edwards 614-579-6021 or email aedwardstutor@columbus.rr.com

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