Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Importance of Play

It is the last week of school for our little preschoolers. They have grown considerably in this one year of school with new structures and new friends in their lives. With the thought of three months of unstructured time, parents might be worried that the lack of organization will put their child at risk when September and school comes again.

Actually, just the opposite may be true. I am reading a document from an organization called the Alliance for Childhood. It is a short book, just published in March of this year. It contains research about kindergarten structures and calls for administrators to support practices in kindergarten that value and promote children's self-motivation to play.

No Child Left Behind has left play behind. It has downplayed the value of play in favor of teaching to the test of academic standards. When this happens, the child's innate ability to want to learn is severely curtailed.

What's a parent to do? In the short term, meaning this summer, try not to over structure activities for your children. Join them in play when you can, letting them take the lead in spinning richly imaginative stories. Let your children spend their summer in play. In the long term, be an active supporter of play in school next year. Let your child's teacher know that you support play in the kindergarten classroom and let administrators and the school board know about the book, Crisis in the Kindergarten: Why Children Need to Play in School. I will place a link to the pdf file on the website.

Toad House Publishing

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Monday, May 25, 2009

Fine Motor

Over the past two weeks we have been following our baby’s development of fine motor skills. We have seen the reflexive action of the little hand closing on our finger and the brief holding and exploration of a toy in her mouth. We have been amused at attempts to feed herself by using her whole hand to ‘rake’ in a fistful of food. We have also observed the refinement of the raking movement, allowing her to use her thumb and forefinger in a pincer grasp.

These early milestones in fine motor skills are leading to the skills which are necessary in school and in life. Our task is to work with the interests of our preschooler and provide experiences that build this skill. Sometimes these experiences are independent play with puzzles, legos, or other toys requiring children to use fine motor skills and problem solving. Sometimes these experiences are supervised play with playdoh, paints, glue, or other craft materials. Sometimes these experiences coincide with the real work of daily living.

There are two things happening when preschoolers are involved with the real work of parents. We are giving them opportunities to practice and refine fine motor development and more importantly we are interacting thorough language. When we involve them in sorting nails from screws and bolts, planting seeds in the garden, or cutting a stick of butter into small pieces for baking we are interacting in a way that builds emotional attachment, communication, problem solving, and increases the functional eye-hand coordination.

Bringing Up Baby has an assignment for you this week. Observe your child’s level of fine motor development and create an experience which gives your child practice. Observe her little hand closing on your finger and then search for other safe objects which will expand her sensations and give practice with the skill. Observe your child’s skill at using her thumb and forefinger and then search for objects that she can enjoy picking up and putting into containers. Observe your preschooler’s safety in handling small objects and look for a functional task that you can do together.

Toad House Publishing

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Saturday, May 16, 2009

Developing the Pincer Grasp

In last week’s column we left baby’s fine motor development at a stage called ‘raking’. This is where baby uses the entire hand with fingers outspread to bring desired objects into the hand and often into the mouth. Let’s talk about what happens next as the baby moves from raking to picking up an object with his thumb and index finger, using a pincer grasp.

To learn about the motor movements involved you might want to put a small object like an eraser or lump of playdoh into the palm of your hand. Without putting it back down onto the table, how do you move the lump from your palm to your thumb and index finger? Watch your thumb move from the outside of the palm closer to the index finger. You roll the object across your palm until the object is in a more manageable position.

This is what baby does. However, it takes weeks and months of practice to coordinate all the movements in order to do this. As this is happening, baby’s gross motor skills are allowing him to refine how close he gets to desired objects and eventually allow him to sit when he gets there. With these developments in place, baby will be in a position to pick up objects in a more sophisticated manner. Instead of raking, he will now pick up objects with the flat side of the thumb and index finger. It is not yet as precise as it will be, but it is more refined than using the entire hand.

Our baby is now between one and two years of age. Cheerios on the highchair tray, bits of peas or corn, and small pieces of cheese or other soft foods will give baby functional practice with this skill. While feeding himself, he also gains the knowledge that he can do things for himself. The pride of the two year old is at hand with “ME DO” and “NO” along with the development of fine motor skills.

It will take all the years from toddlerhood through kindergarten to continue refining the pincer grasp. Enjoyable explorations with coloring, painting, playdoh, and cutting grow into using pencils and scissors with accuracy. In the column next week, I will offer ideas on activities for young child which both give pleasure and fine motor practice as development proceeds.

Toad House Publishing

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Sunday, May 10, 2009

Beginning Grasp

Everyone is enchanted by the grasp of a newborn infant. “Look she’s got my finger!” exclaims big sister. In quiet moments with a newborn we gently stroke the palm of the tiny hand and the little fingers curl around our own. We feel a connection and the beginning of communication with our baby.

This grasp is reflexive. The ability to do this at birth is hard wired into our nervous system. We do not need to be taught nor do we need to practice the simple act of grasping. But baby does get practice in grasping, and one day the grasping will develop the nerve pathways to the brain to develop into a purposeful use of the hand. This growth is not isolated from the development in other areas such as strengthening the upper body. All kinds of developments are going on while baby practices holding on to whatever is placed in her hand.

When she is placed on her tummy, she strengthens her head and trunk muscles. She begins to work to bring her arms forward of her body. Then, those little hands will start a raking movement. Maybe the raking movement will help scoot her forward. Maybe the raking movement will put an object in her hand.

Raking is very functional for our baby and it continues to be the predominant method for actively putting an object into the hand for quite some time. My father enjoyed telling about how he put a cookie at the edge of the table and I, being too short to see what was on the table, would find it. I would use raking motion, grasp it in my hand, and plop down to eat. Very functional!
Babies continue to use the raking movement to feed themselves when they are placed in a highchair. As parent we are so proud our babies are beginning to feed themselves. We simultaneously are amused by the messes they make as food is fisted into the mouth and we look forward longingly to the use of a spoon and fork and less mess.

It will take some time to get there. For the moment I suggest spaghetti or chocolate pudding, patience, a sense of humor, and a camera.

Toad House Publishing

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Thank-you Mary Joslin!

Last week a number of talented musicians performed a concert for young children in our community. Children were treated to the Trumpeter's Lullaby, played by Kirk Yudes, band director at Ladysmith High School; three contrasting violin/cello duets played by Dorothy Atchley and Jonathan Stanley; piano and African Drum pieces by Ann Jerry; and folk songs by Kim Rogers. Donations from local school administrators supported the event and provides door prizes for the children who attend the concert. Everyone enjoyed the concert and the sponsor of the event, the Rusk County Children's Council, is grateful to these wonderful musicians for their donation of time and talent and to the school administrators for their financial support.

The Rusk County Children's Council is a small group of men and women who meet each year to plan two special children's events and to select a special person to be honored as the Champion of the Young Child. This year's Champion of the Young Child was announced at the concert and previously announced at the Chamber of Commerce awards banquet. Honored for his commitment to providing dental health education to young children was Dr. Stephen Reisner. Dr. Reisner visits preschools and elementary schools in our community, teaching children how to brush and floss their teeth. By visiting children in classrooms before they need dental care, his warm personality helps bridge the first visit to the unknown dental office. If you have the occasion to visit Dr. Reisner, I hope you take a moment to congratulate and thank him for his contributions to our children.

The council also sponsors the Dr. Seuss birthday party in March where parents and young children come to the lower library level to have great fun with green goop, playdoh, a fishing game, and books to make. Everyone receives a free book from the Friends of the Library and meets the Cat in the Hat for this event.

The glue that holds the council together is Exeland resident, Mary Joslin. Mary's dedication to children began years ago when she was a teacher of young children and extends through today where her vocation is to support other teachers of young children in our state. Mary is a person who understands the importance of the time parents take with their young children enjoying a simple moment such as blowing puffy dandelion seeds into the wind. Here's to you, Mary! Thanks!

Toad House Publishing

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