Tag Archives: Fine Motor

Book Activity: Planting a Rainbow

Planting a Rainbow: Lap-Sized Board Book

Planting a Rainbow is one of my many favorites by Lois Ehlert.  Her illustrations are striking and her text is simplistic yet descriptive.  Planting a Rainbow follows the story of a mother and child as they plant a rainbow of colors in their garden.  It follows the process of planting bulbs, seeds, and seedlings, and tending them as they grow, and grow, and grow.  Finally they can gather a rainbow bouquet, knowing they can grow another rainbow the following year!

You can make this part of an author study by pointing out other books by Lois Ehlert (with one particular group, we had read Growing Vegetable Soup in conjunction with this seed activity, so I was able to hold the two up and make comparisons.)  Talk about how Lois Ehlert is unique in that she doesn’t do her illustrations using crayons or markers or paint.  She makes her pictures by cutting paper and gluing the shapes to make a picture.  Go through the book a few pages and look at some of the shapes she uses to make different images.  (Some children may be a little confused, since they can only see one smooth picture in the book.  It may help to make a similar picture yourself so that the children can see the paper pieces put together.  Then explain that Ehlert’s pictures are copied onto one flat paper that they see in their book.)

After reading the story, Planting a Rainbow,  show the children how to make their own rainbow garden by using paper to create a picture.  Please be careful here!  Do not show them a model of what to create, but do demonstrate some techniques they can use if they wish.  After the demonstration, they should be able to use the materials as they see fit.  (Read more about my thoughts on the Spectrum of Preschool Arts and Crafts.)

As supplies, gather background paper, colored crepe paper or tissue paper cut into small squares (about 2 inches square), glue, and unsharpened pencils.  Tell them that the different colors can be used to make a picture of a rainbow garden, similar to the one they read about in the book. 

Show them that they can glue the colored paper onto their background paper.  They can glue it right on, they can crumple it a little and glue it on, or they can wrap their colored paper onto a pencil and dip it in the glue and stick it on that way.  Ask if they have any other ideas about how to use the materials to make a garden picture.  Tell them to let you know if they get any new ideas as they’re working!  Let them know that they can also use the crayons to add to the picture if they need to (markers don’t fare so well in the glue).  Then set them loose!

Some will experiment with different ways to apply the colored paper.

Others will know exactly what they want to do.

This is the way I learned to do this technique way back when I was a child.

However, I’ve also seen it done this way, which may be easier for younger children.

Either way, the children are building fine motor skills as well as creativity.  As you talk about the pictures and make connections to the book, the children are also building language and literacy skills and becoming more familiar with names of colors.

Enjoy watching your rainbows grow!

For more Seeds & Plants activities, click here.

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Do the Write Thing

Photo courtesy of hworks.

red-pencils2The advent of writing is a momentous time in any child’s life.  It is important to realize that the process preparing a child to write begins very early in life; long before she puts pencil to paper.  I view the development of writing as having three major components:  1.  Fine motor control,  2.  Understanding that print carries meaning, and  3.  An increased awareness of the alphabetic principle, leading to more conventional spelling. 

 

Fine Motor.  The first obstacle to the physical act of writing is obviously the physical skills of fine motor control and hand strength.  Until a child can grasp and control his writing instrument of choice, his paper will remain blank.  Children begin this process of physical development from infancy.  As a baby, first larger muscle coordination is honed then fine muscles can be developed.  As babies become mature enough to use a finger and thumb pinching motion to pick up small pieces of food from a high chair tray, they are beginning to progress in their fine motor control.  Throughout early childhood this skill continues to be practiced.  This is done through any fine motor activity like painting, sculpting playdough, or tearing paper, activities children begin doing in their very early years.

 

Print Carries Meaning.  The thing that gives writing value and makes the task intrinsically motivating for any of us is that it carries meaning.  Think about it.  When was the last time you sat down and wrote random letters just for the sake of writing letters?  You wouldn’t waste your time because there is no pay-off.  Similarly, children are unlikely to learn to write simply because you’ve told them to sit and write letters.  They must first appreciate that what they write carries power.  It conveys a message.  It becomes almost magical to them; the idea that their thoughts can remain even when they leave the room.  Even when a child scribbles unrecognizable figures on paper and hands it to you explaining that it’s a letter, that child is demonstrating a knowledge that print carries meaning.  Though the mechanics of writing and the concepts of spelling remain underdeveloped, the primary concept that ideas can be recorded is a huge milestone!  As a student teacher in a kindergarten classroom I was handed a small card from a student with a series of intentional scribbles.  I asked the author to tell me what it said.  Her response still makes me laugh.  “I don’t know,” she said, almost indignantly, “I can’t read yet!”  As she was growing in her awareness of reading and writing, she had become increasingly aware of what she didn’t yet know. 

 

The Alphabetic Principle.  As children increase in fine motor control and gain more knowledge of the alphabet, its components, their formation, their sounds, and the way those sounds are combine to create the words of our language, the more their writing becomes conventional.  Their writing progresses from pictures and scribbles, that simply convey an awareness of meaning, to letter-like forms, and eventually actual letters in decipherable arrangements that convey the intended meaning of the author.  This process takes time and experience.  It is a developmental process with its own stages and progressions (click here for examples of developmental writing).  It is important to recognize and celebrate writing in all its phases, not just those that appear closest to our own adult attempts.  Don’t panic if a fervent writer begins to show less willingness to write.  As I mentioned with my kindergarten friend above, as children begin to “know what they don’t know” they may be a bit less willing to write.  This is actually a sign that they are advancing in the writing process and becoming increasingly aware of the alphabetic principle and conventional writing.  Support them through this period by valuing their attempts and being careful not to correct or criticize too much.  They may prefer more support than in the past to ensure a more correct result.  Offer to write the words on a separate paper for them to copy.  As you do so, involve them in the writing process so that they are, perhaps unwittingly, still putting their own skills into practice as you spell the words together.

 

It is important to recognize and encourage writing in all its stages and to support the various components of developmental writing.  Workbooks and drills may have their place within moderation and when welcomed with enthusiasm by children, but removing meaning in place of rote exercises causes writing to become less meaningful and authentic and eventually less motivating.  Here are a few ideas for encouraging writing development in the early years.

  • Strength Training.  Provide a variety of activities that will strengthen fine motor skills.  This could be anything using the hands and fingers like cutting with scissors, sewing with needle and thread, lacing beads, building with small blocks (like LEGOs), kneading dough, using basters and tweezers at the sensory table, and the list goes on.  (Search this blog for plenty of fine motor activities!)
  • Write in Front of Them.  Think of the many ways you use writing and involve your children whenever possible.  Need to make a shopping list?  Ask your children to help by making suggestions or making lists of their own!  Writing a note for someone?  Tell your children about the note and ask where you should put it so that the recipient will find it.  When children see you write and know it has a purpose, they begin to understand that the written word carries meaning.
  • Write Together.  Help your children make cards or help them record stories by transcribing their words.  When your child shows you a picture ask, “Tell me about this picture!”  Or, “Can we write down a story to go with this?”  Even if you merely write down a label or title for the picture, it is a goes a long way in personalizing the writing experience.  Involve your children in writing letters or thank you cards.  As you record what is said by your children, repeat the words as you write them to connect the written and spoken words.  To increase awareness of the alphabetic principle, occasionally stretch out the sounds as you go.  Pause now and then and “think out loud” about the spelling.  “Truck.  T…t…t…t… what letter do you think comes first?”  Invite your children to write their own names at the bottom of a letter or picture.
  • Let Them Write Their Own Way.  Provide your children with a variety of writing materials to explore and experiment with.  Make sure these materials are freely accessible for your children to be able to write independently.  You may want to set up their own writing table, drawer, or shelf, depending on the amount of space you can allot.  Incorporate writing into their play when possible.  Playing restaurant?  Give her a notepad to take orders.  Have a cop on your hands?  Maybe he could write out tickets.  Princess trapped in a tower?  A letter carried to the prince by a dove might help him find her.  Let your children experiment with different writing forms.  It may be just a drawing that conveys the message, then scribbles that follow a line, then symbols that resemble actual letters, then letters themselves, and finally words.  Whatever the developmental level of a child’s writing, honor it!  Ask what it says and commend them for working so hard.

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The Classic Playdough Recipe

playdough-truckThe ingredients:

2 cups flour

1 cup salt

4 tsp cream of tartar or alum

2 Tbsp oil

 

                                                                                                       2 cups water

(Photo provided by chrissi.)

*Food coloring or non-toxic watercolor powder or liquid base (added to the water)

The How-To’s:

Combine all dry ingredients well, then add liquids.  Cook, stirring, over medium heat for about 3 minutes or until a firm doughy ball is formed.  Roll onto your counter top.  Allow to cool enough to handle.  Knead until stiff.  Store in a ziplock bag, but allow to cool fully first to avoid condensation.

Playing with playdough yields several developmental outcomes, such as sensory experience, creativity, and fine motor development.

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Motor Skills and Physical Development

Photo provided by tridzindia.

When it comes to physical development, preschoolers are attempting to master an ever-changing task.  As a child grows (often in spurts so startling they suddenly begin looking akin to the Incredible Hulk in their own clothing), aspects such as her center of balance, strength, and limb length change with it.  This can make motor skill mastery particularly difficult (imagine trying to become a tennis pro while daily someone stealthily changes the reach and size of your racket as well as the weight and bounce of the ball), and it is just one reason why children need frequent opportunities for developing physical skills.

Motor skills can be broken down into two categories: fine motor skills, and gross motor skills.  (These may also be referred to as small motor and large motor.)  Fine motor skills include smaller movements, most often involving the fingers and hands and frequently involving eye-hand coordination and the use of a pincer grasp (the thumb to forefinger grasp used in activities such as writing, sewing, and lacing).  Gross motor skills are the larger movements using larger muscle groups, generally in the arms and legs such as jumping, running, kicking, throwing, and the like.

As children progress in their physical development and the development of motor skills, they also become more capable of developing self-help skills (dressing self, hanging up backpacks, using the restroom independently, etc.).  Developing this independence is necessary both for the child’s development of confidence and personal responsibility, while also easing the workload of the adults involved in the care of the child!

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