In the age of e-books for toddlers and endless TV programs aimed at the nursery school set, kids today become technologically savvy soon after they learn to walk. That’s not necessarily a bad thing for preschool age children, said Hamilton-based occupational therapist Barbara Smith, but the best way to prepare children for reading and writing is to focus on playtime with blocks, puzzles, and, yes, old-fashioned paper books.
Although Smith provides therapy to kids with developmental delays, she recently wrote a book From Rattles to Writing, as a guide for parents of children without these delays to help these kids develop the skills they’ll need for kindergarten. The book provides age-appropriate activities that develop gross motor skills-from tummy time during infancy to crawling, walking, jumping, and skipping, and the fine motor skills for grasping a pencil and buttoning a shirt.
Another handy new resource for movement exercises to help kids through elementary school is GraspRite, a photo-guide published last month by Sharon-based occupational therapist Lisa Shooman. The book is packaged with developmental toys and gadgets developed by Shooman that kids can use when doing some of these exercises.
Many parents, though, may just need a few reminders of some basic movement skills kids should be practicing as our modern worlds shifts away from certain practices that came as second-nature to our mothers and grandmothers. Here are some common mistakes parents make.
1. Always putting babies on their backs. Yes, this is the safest position for sleeping, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, to lower the risk of sudden infant death syndrome, but babies need tummy time during the day to strengthen shoulders and arms. “Supervised tummy time is critical,” said Smith, at three to six months once babies can support the weight of their heads.
2. Using children’s e-books instead of cardboard or paper books. While occasional use of electronic books is fine for young children, Smith said, it is critical that they experience the tactile sensation of turning pages and manipulating a book to learn how it should be opened and read from left to right. These inputs are crucial for brain development and future reading skills.
3. Too much electronic art and not enough use of real scissors. Many kids today think of cutting and pasting as things done only on a computer. Pre-schoolers should also be making art projects in the real world, using messy finger paints, ripping paper, and squeezing glue bottles. These experiences strengthen hands and develop coordination so that children can open and close scissors and color with crayons.
4. Discouraging crawling after toddlers learn to walk. “Kids should be encouraged to crawl during play—even after they learn to walk” said Smith “to strengthen their hands and shoulders and build coordination.” Gyms and playgrounds with tunnels are a great way to get them crawling. On stormy days such as today, parents can build their own tunnels by draping a blanket over two chairs or couches that are parallel to each other.
5. Pushing handwriting too soon. Many parents want their kids to be writing their names before kindergarten, but Smith advises against this. Some kids aren’t ready, and others may learn to form letters incorrectly, which will need to be untaught in school. Instead, preschoolers should be encouraged to form letters with play dough or attach clothes pins on alphabet cards in order to learn concepts and strengthen their finger muscles before grasping writing utensils such as pencils. She does, though, provide a handwriting chart in her book for parents to help the kids who seem eager to learn before school.