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5 Foundation Skills for Success

We recently welcomed occupational therapist Olivia Jackson to DMW for a series of professional development sessions - focusing on topics like communication, positive behaviour guidance and neurological development. This blog post outlines some of the key topics discussed at the session - foundation skills that set children up for success in their primary schooling journey and beyond!

Notes & references based on Inclusion Training delivered by Olivia Jackson (OT). 15/10/2019

Fine Motor Skills/Hand Manipulation

You'll notice that for the first year of their lives, children's hands are flat and squishy. That's because they haven't yet developed arches that help them to manipulate objects or manage tools within one hand. A child's hand develops from their little finger to their thumb - which is why when they first begin to grab items, they use a swiping motion. As they begin to gain more control and their muscle tone develops, they are able to eventually grasp objects using their fingers and thumb, and even transfer objects from one hand to another. Once their brain can work both sides simultaneously, the child begins to explore items by banging them together and starting to clap.

The development of these hand arches is essential for a child's fine motor skills and developing the ability to execute higher-level tasks like drawing and writing. Below are some fantastic activities that we implement daily at DMW, and you can start implementing at home to help your chid develop their hand manipulation skills:

  • Play dough and clay (squeezing, rolling, pushing, squishing)

  • Weight-bearing activities (so that the hands are bearing weight) such as wheelbarrow walking, climbing and swinging

  • Sensory balls

  • Cutting, gluing and pasting

  • Drawing/painting with an array of materials (chalk, crayons, pencils - the thicker the handle, the better!)

  • Drawing/painting on a vertical surface such as an easel or wall

Gross Motor Skills

Just as fine motor skills are developed from outwards to inwards, gross motor skills are developed from top to bottom. A baby will first begin to gain control of their head to observe their surroundings and hold it up from a lying position. They will then develop trunk stability - being able to push themselves up with their arms and use their core to remain stable. Their core strength helps them to sit in an upright position without toppling over, followed by leg strength to pull themselves into a standing position using a walker or furniture. Finally, their feet are developed enough to bear their weight and create stability as they take their first steps!

But gross motor development doesn't stop there - it continues to develop as toddlers learn to run, jump, hop and skip. At DMW, developing gross motor skills is part of our everyday routines and experiences on offer! Children participate in intentional teaching activities to develop these core skills, while also having the opportunity for spontaneous play in our playgrounds that promote the development of motor skills.

In addition, we've partnered with Ready Steady Go Kids to provide our children with weekly multi-sport classes that teach them fundamental gross motor skills! Every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, our RSGK children have an opportunity to learn different fundamental sports skills like hitting a ball with a bat, completing agility courses, practising their balance and using hand/eye coordination. These skills are essential for each child's ongoing development as they grow. Our educator team also learn from this program to further develop our children each and every day!

Social/Emotional Skills

When children are born, they immediately begin to communicate their wants and needs with us. Babies are capable of experiencing and expressing a wide range of emotions which they can communicate both verbally and non-verbally. Our Nursery educators, for example, have been trained to recognise key signs so that they can meet the needs of babies who are unable to talk - signals such as crying, rubbing their eyes, pointing and babbling.

As children grow into toddlers and later preschoolers, they can manage more things by themselves, but still need guidance and support from their parents and educators. At our session with Olivia, she spoke about the brain as if it were a hand - the thumb is our 'emotional' brain, protected by the 4 fingers which act as our 'rational' brain. When a child is unable to regulate their own emotions or communicate their wants and needs, their 'emotional' brain begins to bubble up and eventually explodes - 'flipping the lid' of their rational brain right off!

At one point or another, you've probably experienced this first-hand - when a child is inconsolable and you just can't reason with them. When a child is in this state, it's impossible for them to rationalise the situation or make decisions, because their emotional brain has completely taken over! And it's not just the case for children - as adults, we often experience times when we're just so emotional that we can't think straight. Sound familiar?

It's important that as educators and parents, we work on putting the lid back on by acknowledging the child's emotions and validating them. For example, instead of saying, "It's not a big deal, stop crying," a more effective and supportive response would look like, "I can see that this has really upset you. What can I do to make it better?"

Self-Help Skills

At DMW, promoting independence is at the core of everything we do. Our routines regularly provide children with opportunities to take learning into their own hands, develop their self-regulation and increase confidence when doing individual tasks. In her presentation, Olivia outlined the importance of self-help skills for children and how it prepares them for the requirements of primary school - starting these positive habits right from the Nursery is critical!

We empower children to...

  • Practice good hand-washing hygiene using soap and water

  • Serve and feed themselves

  • Dress themselves, asking for support when needed

  • Follow a routine using prompts and images

  • Re-set environments within the service after play

Olivia encourages parents to promote this sense of independence at home, too - you can ask your children to help with the cooking, give them achievable chores to complete, ask them to carry their own bag, let them walk rather than carrying them and set expectations for their bedrooms and play areas.

Motor Planning Skills

Motor Planning is a skill that allows us to remember and perform steps to make a movement happen. Skills that require motor planning include daily tasks such as tying shoelaces, washing hands or brushing teeth. Motor Planning is a process that helps us learn motor actions (such as fine and gross motor as mentioned above).

Trouble with Motor Planning

When you try something new, you get instant feedback on whether it worked or not. You adjust your method

and try again, over and over, until you find the most efficient way of doing it. From then on, your brain quickly plans for the action every time you attempt that particular task. When children have trouble with motor planning, they don't learn from that feedback - so it can seem like they're doing a task for the first time, even if they've done it multiple times before.

When teaching a child a new motor skill, it's a good idea to do it at a time when you are not rushed and can provide the support the child needs to learn. This may mean trying for a little longer than normal - for example, tying laces. It's best to learn this on the weekend or after school, rather than in the mornings when the family has time pressure to get to school and work on time.

Motor planning issues can be difficult to identify but could be the reason why a child seems 'clumsy' or takes a long time to do tasks that they've done before. If you think your child may have motor planning issues, Olivia recommends making an appointment with an Occupational Therapist to determine the underlying cause.

Thanks so much to Olivia for presenting this valuable workshop to our educators and parents! Please find Olivia's contact details below:

Address: G-001/16 Wurrook Circuit

Caringbah 2229

Phone Number: 0414 918 697

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