"I want my child to be able to write their name for when they start school". It’s something I’ve heard many a time in my years as a childminder and an Early Years Educator. Many parents feel this is a milestone that children should be able to do, for when they start school. We put unnecessary pressure on ourselves to teach our children this, when many schools will say "Please don’t worry, that’s what they will come here to learn, let them play, let them LEARN through play".
So, what does "Learning through play" mean exactly? Through play activities, we can help our children learn and practice new skills, which they can take with them into the classroom. If we look at writing a name for example, it requires many skills and abilities, the ability to hold and grip a pencil, the hand eye coordination, the confidence, the physical strength. It is these motor skills we should look to help and encourage our children with, to improve their learning experience for when they start school.
You’ve quite possibly heard of the term ‘’motor skills’’, when discussing or reading about your child’s development. There are two types of motor skills; Fine & Gross. Fine motor skills are small movements, using the smaller muscles, for example, picking up small objects with fingers or hands, twisting knobs or screws, using a tool such as jug or hammer. Children will use their fingers, toes, wrists, lips and tongue. Gross Motor skills are bigger movements using larger muscles, for example, rolling, running, jumping, crawling, hopping and kicking using arms, legs, body and hands.
There are some great activities you can do with your child to help improve fine motor skills. These activities can use items from the home, or some of the wonderful TickiT toys that are shown on their website. We sat down one morning in the summer recently, whilst my youngest was recovering from a sick bug and decided to have some quieter, chilled play with our favourite TickiT toys we have at home. Our favourites are the threading, with such beautiful designs and natural textures and great colours, I always find they evoke such a curious response from children. They want to handle the pieces and engage with them and are ready and willing to play with them, as their visual stimuli are met.
These are toys that are suitable for such a wide variety of ages, my eldest who is about to turn 9, also had a great time playing with them when keeping his little brother company. These are just some of our favourite things about the sets we have:
- The Stackable Translucent Buttons, are great for older children as well as younger. We love that they can be stacked high, to make different tower challenges, there are so many ways to thread the shapes too, whether it be in types of colour, shape or number of threading holes each shape has. My eldest was delighted to make me a blue necklace from the ones that he threaded! I think it’s great how naturally I can incorporate talk of shapes, counting and colours too without it being seen as a test or forced learning.
- I love that the Rainbow Wooden Keys come with a little pouch, which is great addition and makes it very easy to pack in a change bag or backpack for a toy to keep a child occupied, when on the go. This is a great toy for a younger child, those with smaller hands and children who are practicing threading for the first time, as the keys are a great size and lovely and thick. The threading string also has a chunky end to enable easier threading for smaller children too. You can also practice number recognition, as the keys have both the number and dots to represent the number on them.
- Finally, the Wooden Lacing Fruit Set is just wonderful. We had some great conversations about fruits and vegetables and how they keep us healthy, what our favourites are and what new ones we would like to try, whilst simply playing and improving our motor skills. These were my youngest’s favourite as they are so colourful and fun.
I also think the Stackable Translucent Buttons, and the Wooden Lacing Fruit Set are brilliant sets as they enable the discussion of repeating patterns, you can ask your child to create their own repeating pattern or create one and get them to copy it.
Threading items is a fantastic way to practice and improve fine motor skills. It can be fiddly, and it can be frustrating if they struggle at first, but persevering will pay off, as you watch their confidence soar and smiles beam as they start to achieve this task. It’s a great one that can be replicated with items from the home too, such as threading pasta on to string to make a necklace, (why not paint it too, getting your child to grip the pasta between their fingers as they paint, will help improve their pincer grip which is great for finger strength). Alternatively, try dried spaghetti, stuck upright into playdoh and dropping cereal hoops onto the strands. Starting with thicker ropes and/or larger holes will make this activity easier, until you’re down to threading a thinner thread into a small hole, cotton into a button for example.
Other fine motor activities you can try are; picking up anything small, such as pompoms, with tweezers. Cutting pieces of paper or tape, squeezing wet sponges, pushing buttons into playdoh or putty, clipping pegs onto card or string, blowing through a straw or bubble wand.
If your child can strengthen their fine motor skills, it won’t just help with holding and gripping a pencil and forming letters when they start school, but also in the process of health and self-care. They’ll be able to use zips, do up and undo buttons, put on shoes, and fasten Velcro more easily, tend to their own toileting needs. These are all essential skills for helping them cope at school and feel proudly independent and full of confidence. It’ll be a great help for the teachers at school, but also for you at home too!
Gross Motor skills in some ways are easier to practice as they are incorporated into our everyday life, especially a child’s, in the form of running, hopping, skipping, jumping, crawling, swimming and many other movements. These physical gross motor skills are important to practice as they will build a child’s muscle and core strength which in turn will increase their confidence in their body’s abilities. They will also help improve a child’s hand eye coordination and control of their muscles and movements, physical activity is a great form of exercise, which keeps the brain and body healthy and ready for learning. One of our favourite activities and which is a great introduction to a PE style lesson is making our own assault courses in the garden or in the park or woods.
Whatever you choose to do this summer to help your child get ready for school, have fun!
Written by Carly Moore, mother and Early Years Practitioner.