What are the skills needed for school? These basic tasks prepare your kindergartener and preschooler for school. Without them, academics and overall development mean nothing.
Last year, I read an article about how more and more children are entering grade 1 without having very basic fine and gross motor skills. Schools are spending a lot on hiring occupational therapists and special educators to sort reading and writing problems that could have been avoided in the first place.
Too much focus on the wrong skills
Early childhood care and development has taken an alarming turn in many preschools. Suddenly, reading, writing and math are being forced upon children as young as 3 and 4. Instead, some very crucial skills go missing.
Reading, writing and numeracy are important but these 5 crucial skills lay the foundation for development in all these areas in the higher grades. Language gaps and difficuties arise when these skills aren’t honed and strengthened.
Let me give you an example. When my daughter was 3, I put her in a school that forced her to start writing when she was 3 and a half years old. The leap to start writing immediately was so high that the teachers never focused on something very, very essential — the pencil grip.
1. Correct pencil grip
My daughter’s pencil grip is completely wrong. Occupational therapists concur that after 6 or 7, the grip is pretty much established and it is hard to correct it.
See the above picture? That is how my daughter grips her pencil, and it is completely wrong. Not only does it cause her elbow to pain. It also prevents her from looking at her page.
Of course, with intervention, she has managed to overcome these setbacks but her grip will always remain the same.
Good preschools and educationists aren’t in a rush to make the child read and write immediately. They focus on crucial pre-writing activities like building fine and gross motor skills. They also focus on getting the pencil grip right in children.
Focus on the tons of activities that are available to improve fine and gross motor skills. Sorting, tracing, playdough, and other activities make sure that the child’s fingers are strong enough to write, when they are ready.
On my part, I don’t just give my daughter these activities. I also extend them to life in general. For instance, I make my daughter open the house with our key (it took practice but she got it!) and tear open candy wrappers. Incorporating these simple tasks into your child’s life will make a huge difference.
2. Core muscle development
Pretty much many academic and physical problems can be traced to poor trunk strength. Poor fine and gross motor skills can impede a child’s progress anywhere. With poor muscular strength and muscle tone, a child will be unable to focus on activities, will have basic co-ordination issues and won’t be physically ready to do many of the skills needed for school.
Many activities develop core muscle strength. Many occupational therapists recommend tummy time. Get your child to do puzzles, color, do homework read books or build blocks when lying on ther tummy, on a mat. Remember how we used to do this as children and we loved it?
3. Movement and sensory input
Our children are spending less and less time outdoors. Their bare feet don’t touch grass or stones and they get very little sensory input. They are engaging in less movement and are going straight to their TVs or tablets.
Vestibular balance and input is important for a child and is linked to many things, including their concentration and attention spans. Swinging, climbing, crawling and jumping are excellent ways to develop the vestibular system. This arms them with the many skills needed for school.
Get a trampoline in the garden! Also get your child to do simple balancing activities. Swinging or hanging from the monkey bar or on beams are also excellent ideas. Make a small obstacle course in the house. Or better still, use boxes to build small tunnels. Crawling through tunnels is a wonderful activity!
4. Motor planning, sequencing and tracking
Ever sat down with your preschooler to get them to join the dots? Have you ever hurried them to do it immediately? Next time, don’t. The aim of a joining-the-dots activity is not that final picture. It is to encourage a child to sequence from one number to the next, and to physically track movement.
It is important to look for schools and educators who teach the child how to track and form letters the right way and in the right direction. Instead of focusing on writing quickly and well, these building blocks should be firmly in place.
Simple sequencing activities like arranging things in order are excellent. Skip counting is great too. Get your child to count backwards or say the letters of the alphabet backwards. Even making a sandwich is an excellent activity! Break the task down into simpler parts and sequence the parts so that they understand how to do it.
5. Visual spatial skills
Did you know that research has shown that improving visual spatial skills greatly impacts a child’s skill in math? Visual spatial skills and motor planning also impact a child’s reading and writing. Visual spatial skills refer to the child’s ability to understand objects and the spatial relations between them.
Whether it is estimating an object’s height or its distance from another object, or construction and navigation, visual spatial skills are crucial for both academic tasks as well as those life skills.
I noticed that my daughter’s reading skills really picked up when I added this activity to my bag of tricks. My husband and I decided that we should let her go out on her own more. We encouraged her to go down to our garden on her own or to her friends’ houses. I encouraged her to find her way to and fro on her own. This made a huge impact on her learning.
Encourage your child to build things. LEGO is superb for honing these skills. Use maps with your children. And may we also suggest a tangram? It is a genius way to help the child understand spatial relationships and spatial rotation skills.