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Improving Preschool Fine Motor Skills

This was contributed by Marti Anderson.

First, as you probably already know, whatever you do with your son, make it fun.

There's nothing that squelches that inborn love of learning like turning it all into a chore. [Marti's pet peeve ]

Second, I have a terrific book that I absolutely love. It's

_The Kindergarten Survival Handbook: The Before School Checklist & A Guide for Parents_

by Alana Elovson, PhD, published in 1993 by Parent Education Resources. The ISBN number is 1-879888-06-8, and the price is [at least was when I bought it] $12.95.

It outlines skills that kids should have before beginning kindergarten and then gives suggestions on how parents can help their kids develop these skills.

Here is their list of fine motor skills helpful when starting kindergarten:

Stir something in a bowl without spilling
Pick up a palm-sized ball and roll it across the floor or table
Stack 5 blocks on top of each other
Know how to use a spoon and fork, and maybe a knife, to eat with, correctly
Hold a pencil or crayon with their thumb and fingers
Open a screw top jar, remove the lid, put it back on, and tighten it again
Open a door by turning the knob
Turn water faucets on and off
Lace a shoelace through 3 large beads
Cut with a scissors [small ones that work]
Do buttons on the front of their clothes and know how to open and close
Take a pinch of salt or sugar or anything finely ground
Pick up a small bean or pebble with thumb and forefinger

Here is their section on Helping Children Learn Small Motor Skills

Doing things well with their hands is important for many things children will learn in school, especially for writing. Children need lots of practice to get their fingers to do what they want. This is the time to encourage children to touch things!

The best toys to help children learn to do things well with their hands are the ordinary things all around the house.

One very special thing you have to make sure you have however, is patience. Expect them to do things slowly, and to need to do them many times.

Remember to encourage children and praise them for trying, especially when they don't do things exactly right.

Children can get good practice, and learn to do things well with their hands just by helping you do whatever you're doing in the house, or anyplace else.

For example, as often as you can, let them help you open the mail, put things away, clean things in the house.

Try to think of some part of what you're doing that your child could safely do, even though it's faster to do it yourself!

Stirring something in a glass, a bowl, or a pot is something children love to do. Doing it without spilling or splashing takes a lot of practice.

At first, give them a bowl or glass with just a little water in it.

Next time, you can let them try to stir something that has a little more water.

Practice is what they need, too, to learn to feed themselves neatly with a fork and spoon.

The best, and safest, place for them to learn this is at home, where people will be patient with them and encourage them, even if they make mistakes.

Opening and closing jars, and getting the lids on straight is not as easy as it seems. It's a very good thing to let children practice this. Learning to write uses the same skills.

Getting the chance to do this many times is the only way children can be sure to learn it.

If your child needs to practice this, save different kids of jars and bottles and their covers.

Let your child wash and dry these, and then let her match them up with their covers, and screw them on and off. When he or she can do this easily, take the next step.

Fill them with water, and let your child practice opening and closing them without spilling.

The sink is the best place for this. Doing this gives your child practice, too, in turning the water faucets on and off, and you get a chance to try to teach 'left' from 'right', and 'empty' and 'full'.

Let them help you open other things, too.

Milk cartons (they can practice on the closed side of empty ones you fill with water), juice cans, boxes, letters, all give children practice in small movement skills.

As always, they need practice, patience, and praise.

Children love to use keys, and that's a great way for them to get practice with their fingers.

Sometimes, when you don't mind waiting, let them try to open the door using your key.

Remember, though: Their fingers aren't very strong, and it's much more difficult from down below to turn the key hard enough to open the door. They'll need practice and encouragement, particularly when they don't get it right at first. [A Marti note: I use padlocks with keys for this.]

Be sure not to do this when you're in a hurry, or just don't feel like waiting.

Cutting with a small scissors, the kind with round tips, is something that children love to do, and it's very good practice for their fingers. [Another Marti note: Get Fiskars kids scissors. Nothing is more frustrating for kids than those awful scissors that won't work well -- Fiskars are by far the best.]

Newspapers, magazines, and flyers from the supermarkets are great for this. There are lots of brightly colored things in the Sunday paper too, and you can talk about the colors and the pictures at the same time.

Cutting things out can be an easy game. But be sure the scissors work and that children use them carefully.

To make cutting out more interesting, ask your child to find only certain kinds of things, like pictures of foods, or cars, or things to wear: things that go together in some way.

Doing this will help your child start to learn about the different ways that things can go together.

Folding a piece of paper a few times, making some cuts on the folded side, and then opening it up can be a big surprise, and interesting for both of you.

Children can get good practice in some of the skills they need to learn to write by drawing shapes, like circles and squares on newspaper, old envelopes, wrapping paper or grocery bags.

You draw the shapes first. Then, ask your child to trace around your marks with a crayon. Then let him or her cut them out with scissors.

Let them lace up their sneakers or shoes and try to tie them.

They get to be good with their hands, as well as learn to dress themselves, if you let them try to do their buttons and zippers and to snap and unsnap things for themselves.

You could let them help dress the younger children, if you have any.

All this takes longer at first, and sometimes it's really hard to hold back and wait, but once children learn these things, they are very proud of themselves, and eager to learn more.

Let children help you cook.

The kitchen is one of the best classrooms a child can have. Of course, you have to be careful, but there are many interesting things that children can do there that are safe and help them learn to use their hands and fingers well. Children love to do useful things, just as you do, and you'll both have fun.

Letting children add a pinch of salt or spice to a dish while you are preparing it makes them feel important, and is good practice for their fingers.

Stirring, pouring, opening boxes and closing jars are safe things that children can do that help them practice using their hands and fingers. You'll think of many other things they can do, too.

Marti Anderson

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