Fostering Motor Skills for School Readiness

The latest "Oh, Baby!" column


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Did you know that as your child moves and plays in his first year of life, he is already working on getting ready for school? His movements help develop the gross and fine motor skills he needs to be ready for school.

 

What are Gross and Fine Motor Skills?

Gross motor skills are our body’s large movements — rolling, crawling, walking, jumping, running, reaching, hopping, skipping and dancing. They also include movements such as pulling, pushing, twisting, turning and swaying. They involve the ability to hold our body upright sitting at a desk or standing on uneven ground. They also help us coordinate more complicated movements related to playing a sport, such as throwing, catching, kicking, riding a bike and swimming. 

Fine motor skills involve more intricate and precise movements, such as hand use, finger use, and controlled mouth and tongue movements for a specific task. Fine motor skills include the ability to hold a pen or pencil, draw shapes and letters, cut with scissors, tie shoes, zip up a jacket, button a shirt or turn the pages of a book.

 

Why Gross Motor Skills Set the Foundation for Fine Motor Skills

The first year of life is filled with gross motor skill milestones, starting with an infant’s ability to move her arms and legs against gravity, and hold her head up on her own. Over the next few months, she learns to sit, crawl, move between positions and eventually take her first independent steps. All of these gross motor activities develop the strength she needs in order to perform more intricate fine motor skills. 

Activities such as tummy time, sitting propped on arms, crawling and climbing not only strengthen your baby’s shoulders, but also strengthen her arms, wrists, hands and fingers for fine motor skill development. Your baby is building strength in her postural muscles that allow her to hold herself upright while sitting to explore how toys work, which will help her later when she needs to sit still at a desk for a full school day. She is developing strength around her shoulders to provide stability for her arm, to allow the intricate movements of her hand and wrist to eventually be able to write. 

Gross motor skills help her build the hand-eye coordination she needs for writing and other hand-and-finger tasks, and these movements help ready her body for paying attention. As she gains competence with these gross motor abilities, she builds confidence in her ability to move and control her body. There are many research studies reporting the benefits of physical activity on learning and memory in children and adults. Helping your child gain confidence in her movement abilities early in life can set the foundation for a physically active lifestyle, which benefits her body and mind.

 

What Can I Do to Help My Child Now?

1. Starting from birth, give your child the opportunity to move in an unrestrained way by giving him lots of floor time to develop his gross motor skills.

2. Help her enjoy different types of sensory input to her hands by letting her touch and explore various textures and foods (once she starts eating solids).

3. Take him outside to play. The sensory input of movement, texture, sights and sounds provides a rich environment for learning and exploration. 

4. Avoid screen time in the first two years, when children are meant to be moving, playing and exploring to learn about their body and the world they live in, and limit it after that. Time spent watching screens may take away from opportunities to be learning by doing and interacting with others. 

5. Don’t rush your young child to practice writing. She needs to use her hands in different ways before she’s ready to hold a pencil and write.

6. Help your child develop her fine motor skills through play and daily living activities, such as brushing her teeth, playing with play dough and other tasks that will prepare her for future writing success.

 

Rebecca Quinones and Rachel Gandy, both of whom have doctorates in physical therapy, are founders of Babies On The MOVE, a Cary-based organization committed to helping children excel in motor development with in-home pediatric physical therapy and community-based infant movement classes for all abilities. Learn more about their services at babiesonthemoverdu.com.

 

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