Developing fine motor skills through play

Fine motor night activities

When a student starts kindergarten and has a hard time holding a pencil or printing his/her name, many of my parents are very keen and willing to help out at home in any way they know how.  They usually offer to do things like printing practice or buy workbooks and are open to any other suggestions I may have to help their child.  I often find myself repeating to parent after parent that, ironically, printing practice is often one of the least effective ways to help kindergarten students who are struggling, improve their printing.  In order to print (or draw, paint, cut, etc.) effectively, students need to have developed hand dominance as well as good muscle strength and control in their shoulders, hands and fingers.  There are many simple things parents can be do with their children to help develop these muscles.

This year in order to help our parents best help their children at home, we decided to try something new.  We held a parent and student evening workshop, by invitation only, targeting our students who were most in need of extra support and practice.  We had an amazingly positive response.

We started the evening in one classroom with the parents while their children played next door.  Parents were all given this “Developing Fine Motor Skills” handout and we discussed some of the simple things they could do at home with their children to develop hand dominance, shoulder stabilization, hand and finger strength and finally, better fine motor control.  After our short presentation, children were given a passport and were asked to complete at least 5 of the 12 stations with their parents.  Parents had the job of identifying how each of the activities they completed helped develop fine motor skills (they could refer to their handout if needed!).

Once done, students could turn in their passport for a goodie bag that was full of fine motor activities to do at home.  The pictures below show the goodie bags we created for each student.

OT Night - goodie bag      OT Night - Goodie bag 2b

At the end of the evening, students left excited by the chance they had to play with their parents at school and parents left with a better understanding of simple things they could do at home to help their child.

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Let’s play…

Light table

“Play is the road to childhood happiness and adult brilliance.”

– Joseph Chilton Pearce

As a kindergarten teacher, I often get questions from incoming parents about how my students spend their time in our classroom.  I tell them that we spend a good part of our day learning through play in centres, and by that, I mean they actually get a significant chunk of time to play.  On any given day, some of the choices my students may have include building with blocks or trains, exploring coloured water with funnels and pitchers, “baking” cookies with playdoh, giving a “manicure” at the salon or exploring with paint.  What is setup in our centres often comes from conversations the children have either directly with me or that I overhear between them.  I value play in early learning and I believe in giving my students choice in where they play, what materials they use, who they play with and how long that play lasts.  I believe “choice” is a key element in play because I know firsthand that what is play for others (like going for a run) is work for me and things that I consider to be play (like writing this blog post) might be work for many others!

If you are interested in learning more about play and learning, there are many great resources out there.  As a starting point, try watching Stuart Brown’s TED Talk or reading his book Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul.  You never know, it just may change the way you think about play.

If you have a different favourite resource about play, please share it in the comment section below.  Thanks!

Tree cookies and fabric – two simple things to add to your block centre

Last summer, while surfing the internet, I came across the idea of “tree cookies” and decided they would be something cheap (so cheap, they’re FREE), interesting and worthy of adding to my block and building centre.  What is a tree cookie, you ask?  Really, it is just bits of cut up tree branches.

So as I trimmed my trees in my backyard, I saved the nicer branches and cut them into small pieces.  I then put them in a bin at my block centre.  (As you can see I made some that were short and fat and others that were long and narrow).

class play - tree cookies 2

I also added bits of fabric (polar fleece, to be exact) that I had cut into strips, rectangles and oval-ish shapes.  Then I waited to see what happened.  One day, this is some of what I saw:

2012-09-24 14.47.49 tree cookies - dino paths 1

tree cookies - wood forest

The fleece became rivers and grasslands.  The “tree cookies” became pathways, bridges and forests…

tree cookies - water falltree cookies - river

The shelf in the block area also helped create a waterfall for the dinosaurs to play in and hide behind.

Tree cookies and fabric, what simple fun!

What did I learn today? – Set of Mini-Posters

Here is set of mini-posters I created this past year to help parents understand why we make so much time to play in our classroom.  They link kindergarten outcomes (from the Alberta curriculum) with different centres we have in our classroom.  I posted it just outside our room to help parents understand how play is children’s work.

Mme Melissa

Play in my Classroom

Why play in the kindergarten classroom (or any classroom), you ask?  Well, put simply, I regularly see how play captivates my students and stimulates language learning and growth (for examples of kindergarten outcomes evident during play, click here).  I have witnessed, first hand, a cardboard box in my dramatic play area become a pirate ship and my ELL students transform into the captain and crew.  As they “hoist the Jolly-Roger” and to “set sail on the seven seas” in search of their treasure, their interest in learning the desired language to enact their story is apparent.  It only takes hearing “Arrrr” “Land ahoy!” or “Shiver me timbers!” once before it has become part of the common language used regularly while playing in our classroom.

But can play be more than that?  At a recent PD session where we watched a video from the Galileo Network’s Website and looked at Stuart Brown’s seven patterns of play, I began to reflect on the the play that happens daily in my classroom and how it could help develop an even deeper understandings of the world around us.  I began to look not only at the materials that are readily available but also how the classroom environment could foster certain types of play, curiosity and exploration.  I became intrigued by the Reggio Emilia Approach and giving my classroom more of a “Reggio” feeling.  And that, my friends, is where my classroom remodel, begins.  Stay-tuned for the big reveal.

My classroom before I begin to set it up. You can see that after emptying most of it for summer cleanning, it really is a blank slate.

Another before picture, this time of the back of my room.

Mme Melissa