This article originally appeared in Tampa Bay Parenting magazine, June 2015
Does your 3 or 4 year old seem to squirm and wiggle more than he or she sits still? Good! The majority of preschool-aged children are kinesthetic learners – they have to move to learn; it's how they are wired. It's no surprise then that using their sensory and motor skills makes little ones happy, and happy little ones learn.
So how do you prepare this little mover and shaker for a classroom setting? Approaching your daily routine differently or playing simple games using household items can work wonders in helping children develop fine motor skills, improve reading readiness and hone social skills. Corbett Preparatory School of IDS prekindergarten teachers share 10 tips to create a hands-on summer of learning with your preschooler:
FINE MOTOR SKILL DEVELOPMENT
1. Practice the "pincer" grip. The pincer grip (thumb and forefinger only) helps children develop the dexterity needed to turn pages, zip and unzip, and use pencils, crayons, and scissors more precisely. You can even work in some science, math and literacy lessons! Try these suggestions:
Use eye droppers (and create a science experiment!), tweezers (sort trail mix into muffin cups or beads to create patterns!), or clothespins (add dot sticker with a letter of the alphabet to the clothespin and attach it to a box with the same letter!).
Serve small finger foods — grapes are great as there is only one way to pick up a grape!
Get an easel- or an incline! When kids write on an inclined surface, they must start at the top so the pincer grip is forced. And if the mess doesn't bother you, bathtub crayons are fun and work on the pincer too.
2. Strengthen those little hands. Kids need hand strength for grasping, holding, and performing many of the tasks they will need in school and at home. Electronic gadgets don't require hand strength, so limit time on the tablets and hand your preschooler some barbecue tongs to pick up toys or a spray bottle to spritz the plants that decorate the driveway. Old-fashioned play dough, bought or homemade, also lets children create masterpieces while building stronger hand muscles.
3. Make predictions when you prepare to read. Note the cover art and the title, and ask your child what he thinks the book is about and whether it is real or pretend. Stop throughout the story as the plot changes to make more predictions!
4. Step into a character's shoes. Discuss the characters and the problem and solution to help your child put herself in someone else's shoes to see others' perspectives. A great example is found in "Goldilocks and the Three Bears," which has four different perspectives, says Corbett Prep PreK3 teacher Aimee Popalis.
5. Talk about book basics. How does a book work? Show your child how you read left to right, point out title pages and "the end," and let your child turn the pages.
6. Learn letters everywhere you go. In the grocery store, for example, stop in the cereal aisle, show your child the letter you choose and have him or her look for it on the cereal boxes.
7. Laugh! When you child is learning letter sounds, play the "first letter substitute game." If trash started with an "l" the word trash becomes lash! Silly! This skill also practices rhyming which is very important in phonemic awareness and the rhythm of language. Research shows that learning how to manipulate words by rhyming and playing rhyming word games is a crucial reading, spelling and writing skill.
8. Work with words. For kids who are ready, give them a sight word to find while reading a book and make it their job to read that word when they see it. Or label items in your house with cards. You can do room by room, then take them down after a week or so and move to another. In the kitchen, for example, label the sink, cabinet and trash can.
9. Make a mistake. There's an upside to slipping up! Modeling how to handle mistakes shows your child that it is OK to slip up, and that it is actually a great way to learn. In a calm voice, tell your child, "Oh, I needed to remember to ..." Little children can be hard on themselves, prekindergarten teachers say, so it is so important that parents create opportunities to show they too make mistakes, correct them when possible, forgive themselves, and move on. It happens in art, too. If your child is frustrated with a drawing that went wrong, you can teach them that even a stray mark on the paper can be turned into a creative masterpiece. Check out the book "Beautiful Oops" by Barney Saltzberg that teaches children how to embrace their mistakes.
10. Be a good friend. So simple, but not always easy. So much of what goes on in a prekindergarten classroom hinges on this concept. Learning to work together cooperatively starts early and is important throughout school and life. Point out when you see others being a good friend. It's important to continue to reinforce the idea of putting yourself in other people's shoes.
Most importantly, have fun with your child this summer as you prepare for preschool! Hands-on learning opportunities are everywhere to build the fine motor skills, the prereading and writing experiences, and the social/emotional confidence your child needs to thrive in school.