By: Maureen Karwowski, OT
Summer is here and that means plenty of opportunities for outdoor fun. I can only guess that the last thing that your child is thinking about is handwriting. That is okay because many outdoor activities actually help with fine motor skills such as handwriting. If handwriting skills are challenging for your child then summer is a perfect time to address them.
Fine motor skills are important for so many things. Buttons, zippers, cutting with scissors, cutting food with a knife, opening glue bottles, unlocking a door, opening a bag of chips, and writing are just a few examples of how we use refined fine motor skills every day. Many of the children that I see in occupational therapy are working to improve their fine motor skills, and especially handwriting.
Activities to help promote fine motor skills typically focus on two areas:
- Strengthening of the core and upper body
- Strengthening of the fine motor muscles of the hands.
We know that in order for our hands to develop precision, for grasping, and for handwriting, the core must be as stable as possible. Imagine sitting on a wobbly chair and trying to write your name. That is an example of how the stability of the core impacts the way we are able to use our hands effectively. We also know that in order to use both hands together the core needs to be strong. Again, sitting on a wobbly chair and stringing beads would be very challenging.
The good news is that you can incorporate activities to help your child develop core and upper body strength into outside play naturally. These will then impact fine motor skills.
- Wheelbarrow walking. Hold your child at the hips or knees, wherever you see your child have the best posture. A “sagging” stomach is not an ideal posture.
- Animal walks such as bear walks and crab walks. Donkey kicks are also great.
- Help your child climb the rock wall at the park.
- The glider at the park is a great way to promote core strength. Have your child look at his/her knees while gliding to encourage even more trunk strength.
- Help your child cross the monkey bars at the park.
- When you are swimming help your child push themselves up to the side of the pool with both arms.
- Play tug of war with your child. Encourage them to pull you towards them pulling one hand over the other.
- My favorite game to use in occupational therapy sessions is the “zoom ball” which is a great way to work on using both hands together.
Some ideas for grip strengthening activities:
- Squirt guns and spray bottles. The squirt guns that require both hands are especially good.
- Squeezing out nerf balls while in the swimming pool.
- Digging in the dirt and sand with a small shovel.
- Drawing with sidewalk chalk. Drawing on vertical surfaces such as on the garage wall is even better. Use large chalk for whole arm movements, and small chalk pieces to strengthen a pencil grip. Have your child “erase” the drawings with a squirt bottle.
- Have your child wash the picnic table, or a wagon using soap suds and a large car wash sponge. Encourage them to squeeze out the sponge in the process.
- Draw” shapes or letters in the dirt using a popsicle stick.
- Tools are a great way to build up hand strength. Make a project with kid sized screw drivers, paint brushes, nuts and bolts.
Incorporating these activities naturally throughout the summer will greatly improve fine motor skills before the school year.
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