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  • Ashburton Baptist Preschool

How can children’s developing physical skills support emerging handwriting?

Ever wonder about how your child became so physically amazing? How did they go from lying on the floor as an infant to running around the playground at unstopped speeds as a toddler, or how they can swing upside down on the monkey bars when they get a bit older? As they grow, they learn, and as they learn, they adapt their new learning to different skill sets – it is all in the process of learning and developing! Children develop and grow at an incredible speed during their first five years of life.

In this blog, Chantelle, one of our amazing teachers, will be unpacking and delving deeper into an aspect of your child’s development you may not have ever thought about. I mean, who would have thought that children’s growing physical skills could support their emerging handwriting skills - Fascinating, isn’t it?

Did you know that children’s muscle development and the ability to gain confidence, coordination and control of their bodies is developed in a natural, orderly way, from the top down, starting at the head and working towards the toes, from the inside out, building outwards from the torso to the child’s limbs? Now let me just give you a minute to process that as it is a lot to take in just how amazing your child’s body is!

This order of priority is established by the brain to ensure that the large muscles required for coordination and locomotion (getting from one place to another) are well developed and in control before working on the development of the 30 plus muscles that are in each hand. Wow, that is a lot of muscles for such tiny hands! No wonder children are so quick to grab the last cookie from the jar! The hands and the muscles that these comprise are the last stage of children’s physical development. However, this does not mean that your child’s hands are not actively growing as they grow and develop.

Children’s hands play a wide role in their learning. With their hands, children can explore the world around them. Sensory exploration is critical because it allows children to examine, discover and categorise, crucial to brain development. It helps build nerve connections in the brain’s pathways. Sensory is all about touching and feeling, which you can do through your hands. Their little hands are always touching and feeling everything; I mean, look around your house, and I bet you will have little fingerprints on the windows and defiantly the fridge. They can also create, build, express themselves, imagine and share stories, and one day even write them. How have you seen your child express or explore through the use of their hands? Take a minute to think back to the times your child has made mud patties for you or when they have created incredible structures out of building blocks or lego.

Young children’s hands begin with simple reflexes and hold hand grasping; with time, these develop into the pincer grip (using the forefinger and thumb together in unison). This develops by age one (and continues to mature) as infants move from a raking grasp with all fingers to picking up individual pea-sized objects with just these two fingers. These precise movements are known as fine motor skills. With time and development, children can use the small muscles in their hands to confidently control all five fingers in activities such as using scissors lego, doing buttons, zips and laces up, opening and closing lunch boxes, drink bottles, and using a pencil to write. Their fine motor skills are essential for growing their independence, too. As we all know, children are determined to want to do things themselves. You may have already noticed this in the way your toddler wants to feed themselves by holding the spoon or in the way your young child wants to put on their own shoes. All these independent acts need the support of their fine motor development.

For a child to write their name isn’t simply about their hands and wrists; it involves much of their whole body. To write their name:

  • Their upper body needs to be strong enough to hold their body upright in a standing and/or seated position.

  • Shoulder muscles need to be strong enough to control the arm for flexibility and assist the lower part of the arm and hand in meeting the paper.

  • The lower arm provides support for the wrist to be able to rotate; the wrist hen holds the hand in the correct position for the formation required of each letter or mark made.

  • The fingers fold around the pencil and are held in place by the thumb. Together, all five fingers work cohesively, placing the pencil at the right angle to meet the paper, pressing down and maintaining pressure, and coordinating directional movements.

If any of the muscles required are not yet correctly, writing their name will be challenging for them to achieve, highlighting the importance of developing those gross motor, larger muscles first.

As you can see in the pictures, our fantastic Preschool children are working really hard at developing their upper gross motor skills on the preschool outside equipment. We always move equipment around to provide new ways of learning and growing their motor development and imagination. Sometimes the children even come and help set up the equipment to practice their favourite things at preschool, like swinging upside down on the monkey bars or because they have set themselves a goal to achieve and want to master that movement.

Climbing, swinging, hanging, and any other activities that build strength in the upper body and the core muscles are vital foundations for developing fine motor skills. This includes dangling, twisting and turning to support flexibility and agility for the rotation required in the shoulders, arms, elbows, wrists and fingers. Pushing, pulling and lifting themselves up builds strength while also understanding weight and pressure. Monkey bars are a fantastic resource that meets all of these requirements in supporting your child’s gross and fine motor development. All these movements also help children develop balance, coordination, and control of their bodies, further strengthening their gross motor development.

Understandably it is not always possible to have ready access to these, so a couple of other activities that you can do at home, indoors or out, to help build up the upper body and the cores strength while the hands wait their turn in the sequence of physical development are:

Spider Walking – Children kneel down on hands and knees and raise their bodies up onto hands and feet, encouraging them to walk as slowly as they can like a spider. See how slow you can go, inching along like a caterpillar! Walk your hands out in front of you, then walk your feet up to your hands.

Wheelbarrowing- Wheelbarrowing up and down the hallway or on the grass outside is great for building up arm strength. When your child is first developing these muscles, it is important to hold their hips as opposed to their feet to prevent them from arching their backs. This will also help reduce the weight their arms are carrying while still building up strength. Once they have practiced and build their strength, it is ok to hold their feet.

Crab Walking- This can also be done indoors or out. Children sit down and raise their bodies using their hands and feet, then crab along as far as they can, encouraging them to go forwards and backwards.

Once they are all tuckered out from that physical play, messy/sensory play is ideal for building up strength and dexterity in the hand muscles. Solely focusing on hand manipulation of the substance as they investigate and explore the texture. Messy/sensory play includes sand, play dough, mud, gloop, slime, and any other tactile experiences that are great for children’s hand development, which may mean more controlled and neater handwriting.

Isn’t it fascinating how a child’s gross motor development plays a vital role in writing? As said earlier, children develop and grow at incredible speed during their first five years of life. They do not just work on one aspect of their growth. It is all developing holistically, which means everything is working and learning together in their little bodies. We hope you enjoyed Chantelle’s amazing and insightful blog, if you are ever seeking strategies or want guidance in how you can support your child’s emerging handwriting skills feel free to approach our super awesome Tuhura Teachers, Chantelle, Jess, Kate, Ana and Lisa they are always there to help!

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