Stay at home orders have put an emphasis on at-home learning and how parents can educate their children at home. Educators are tirelessly creating home programs and ways for parents to incorporate academics within the home environment. Parents and caregivers have been thrusted into a whole new realm of becoming their children’s “teachers” in addition to being their parent. All of this can be daunting on all parties involved, including the children so whenever possible, I try and recommend as much PLAY-based activities to the families I work with!
Working in the preschool setting, one of the areas parents are always curious about is whether or not their children are hitting their motor milestones. While there are so many milestones and it would be impossible to cover every one, I wanted to share some fun games and toys that can help stimulate and develop the underlying skills required for kiddos to reach some of the important academic-based milestones from 12mo-4 years of age. While milestones can give us an idea of where development is on average, every child will develop differently, and generally, there is no cause for concern should they not be doing a particular skill at the age listed.
At this age, we encourage lots of activities that allow for the child to begin refining their grasp, begin building, as well as some children may start to show signs of “pretend” playing. Numbers and Shapes Puzzle Blocks are a great tool for parents to have in their tool box as it provides the just right size for tiny hands to grasp and slowly build. Encouraging them to self-explore the blocks, toss them, pick them up and drop them, move them, slide, them, these are all ways that the child will begin to create cause and effect as well as spatial connections and is a very important task. As they get a little older, model and encourage them to try and “stack” a block on top of another works on many of the visual-motor skills that will be required when a student is school-aged. These blocks are particularly fun as it includes shapes, numbers, and vibrant colors – all of which can be included in isolated tasks such as color identification, object identification, and matching.
Another fun game for this age is Soups On. The large spoon included in the game helps kiddos practice their arm rotation, wrist flexion and extension and not to mention lots of visual-motor coordination! It is also a great game to begin pretend playing with them as well as opportunities for lots of language development.
18 months +
New Sprouts Grill it! Continuing on with developing the intrinsic hand skills – all of the muscles in the hand, this activity comes with tongs, and lots of fun objects to manipulate with them. Practicing squeezing/releasing to open and close tongs are a great way to strengthen the hand muscles. Once the kiddo is able to efficiently open and close tongs, you can amp up the visual-motor and auditory-motor demand by incorporating directed tasks such as “can you pick up the asparagus and put it on the grill”. These types of activities will prepare kiddos to be able to respond to directives and instruction in academic settings.
Smart Snacks Stack ‘em Doughnuts is a super fun and intrinsically motivating activity for kiddos – who doesn’t love a sprinkled donut rings to stack, right? At 18months + kiddo’s will begin to be able to sort and stack, but even before this age, these doughnuts are the perfect toy for little hands to grasp and release. These donuts are also great to begin teaching visual perceptual skills such as sizing and same/different. They are also fun to hide around the room to see if kiddos can search for them and retrieve them.
At two years of age, kiddos will really start to show lots of precision and control with fine motor tasks and it is a fun time to begin incorporating higher, more challenging skills! Tri-grip tongs provides prongs that begin to facilitate a “tripod” (3-finger) or “quadrapdod” (4-finger) grasp which you will begin to see kiddos start to use on their writing utensils. If they are not doing it themselves yet, it is total fine and it is recommended to continue developing and stimulating all of the important underlying skills.
Beading is a great skill to work on in this next year of development as you will start to see the kiddos be able to use their “pincer” fingers to thread and place beads through. This also works on their bilateral coordination (using both hands together) which is very important for future academic skills and learning. Ruff’s House Teaching Tactile is one of my favorite activities as it provides an opportunity for kiddos to work on their stereognosis skill – being able to identify an object without actually seeing it. Relying on their sense of touch, and their visual-perceptual skills, kiddos will feel for and match certain tactile objects.
Scissor skills is something that is a “hot topic” in this age range. Practicing scissors under supervision is recommended for kiddos who are 2.5 and older – spring loaded scissors are great for beginning users and Trace Ace Scissor Skills has one included as well as stencils and templates for them to practice.
Games and activities that are great for this age include the Take 10! Series as they continue to help build and refine fine motor strengthening, coordination, as well as visual perceptual skills. Sand and Water Fine Motor Tool Sets are also great as they can be incorporated into sensory play such as water, rice, beans, etc which increases their opportunity to engage in the movements that mimic refined tools such as scissors. Pretend and Play Teaching ATM is one that I love for this age as it includes play money. Play coins can be incorporated in SO many ways to build up those intrinsic hand muscles. Lining up coins then flipping them one by one, holding two coins in the palm of your hand – then shifting them one at a time to the fingertips in order to put it into the atm, etc! Hiding coins in dough or putty, then digging for them using the finger muscles before putting them in the ATM – the list is endless of how play money can be incorporated into visual and fine motor development!
While worksheets and crafts are absolutely great ways to teach our children, in those days when life gets overwhelming, or when your children are just not wanting to sit and do a table top worksheet, I hope it helps to know that there are so many wonderful play based products out there that can achieve the same amount of valuable skill development! The kids won’t even realize they are doing “work”.