Last week we posted an article from the Inspired Treehouse that discusses how and why children's fine motor skills are declining. Modern conveniences such as "carry everywhere" infant carseats and cell phones/tablets have truly limited infant, toddler and preschool movement opportunities. In addition, cultural changes and and increased curriculum demands nudge preschool and kindergarten aged children to learn and practice skills before they are developmentally "ready" to attain and achieve these skills. After school, many preschool and elementary aged children live over-scheduled after-school lives, which leads to less opportunities for unstructured play and a lack of opportunities for independent multi-sensory exploration (think mud pies and hanging upside down on the monkey bars). All of these differences have truly impacted our children's natural ability to develop a variety of necessary foundational skills. As I frequently tell my own children, when I was a kid, my mom kicked us out of the house on a beautiful summer morning and said "See you at dinner time". We were encouraged to create our own fun with whatever we found in our environment. Did we get into trouble.... sometimes :-) But more often than not, we jumped, climbed, ran and also learned how to create, explore, problem solve and independently negotiate with our peers. Valuable skill building life lessons that are occurring less and less with today's youth.
Who do parents turn to for ways to re infuse foundational experiences in our children's lives? In my house, I have opted to "revisit the 1980s" and encourage my kids to "play old school". But my background as a pediatric OT mixed with my upbringing in the 70s and 80s has created a somewhat unique perspective. In addition to working with children with identified needs, pediatric OTs are trained to observe general cultural trends in all children, and one trend we are noticing is that so many children lack important foundational skills including core strength, shoulder stability, motor planning and crossing midline (to name a few). And as we discussed last week, these gross motor skills are necessary for fine motor dexterity!
So here it is! Here is a list of KidSHINE (and OT) Inspired activities that you can do with your child to enhance, improve and facilitate development by targeting core strength and shoulder stability.
BUILDING CORE STRENGTH
OTs cannot emphasize enough how important developing core strength is. When I observe children in kindergarten and preschool classrooms, I see so many kiddos who are leaning against the wall, laying on the floor or "w- sitting". Today's preschoolers and kindergarteners lack the core strength that is necessary for upright unsupported sitting- even for something as simple as 5 minutes of circle time! How can we help build stamina for sitting? Building the core!
Sit ups, planks, table pose and burpees are great core strengthening exercises. In addition, superman (on belly with arms and legs extended in the air) and egg (on back with limbs and head tucked in) will build co-contraction, or balanced development of back muscles and abdominal muscles. When a child demonstrates good co-contraction, the muscles on the front and the back of the body are evenly developed and strong, and the result is a solid foundation for upright posture- and a strong core holding a child upright on the floor allows the child to be more engaged in what they are learning in circle. A strong core allowing a child to sit upright in a chair allows the child's hands to be free to color and write.
Another great way to build core strength is performing activities in high kneeling. The high kneeling position enhances core co-contraction. Have your child color or complete a puzzle high kneeling at a low coffee table. Or have your child high kneel near a wall and do activities on a vertical surface (color or paint at a low easel or with paper up on the wall). By performing activities in high kneeling, your child is also building another foundational skill.. shoulder stability!
BUILDING SHOULDER STABILITY
Shoulder stability is one of the most important and most overlooked areas of foundational development. Shoulder stability is a direct result of whole body weight bearing through the arms and allows for upper back and shoulder capsule muscles to develop. Fine motor fluidity requires a stable core but also strong, stable arms. Activities that build shoulder stability include exercises such as planks and burpees (there is a trend here) but also wheelbarrow walking, bear walking, wall walks or pushing a sled. Hanging activities such as hanging on the monkey bars, pull ups, or climbing a rope, rock wall or cargo net will also develop shoulder and upper back (scapular) muscles.
An easy way to build shoulder stability at home is to have your child color, play or read on his or her belly, but propped up on elbows. Another option is to revisit the "high kneeling" suggestion above and have your child perform an activity on a vertical surface. Reaching the arms above the head will strengthen shoulder muscles. At KidSHINE, we have a rock wall, a vertical Leggo wall and a large chalk wall. But at home, you can use any vertical surface you can find! Decorating a window with window markers, or using window or glass clings to decorate is a fun activity for little ones. Taping a paper on the wall and giving your preschooler stickers to design and decorate a picture is also a great way to introduce a vertical surface and shoulder stability exercise.
KidSHINE Bootcamp classes are designed to specifically target core strength and shoulder stability (along with a bunch of other foundational sensory motor skills that will be discussed in future blogs) but you don't have to run a bootcamp class in your backyard to help your child build strength and skills! Whether you encourage your child to color a picture on an easel, lay on his or her belly while reading or playing with legos, do planks, sit ups and burpees as a family, or climb a rock wall, the more opportunities your young child has to build core and shoulder muscles, the stronger his or her foundational skills will become!
Written by Amy Wheadon, MS, OTR/L
Pediatric OT and Owner of KidSHINE LLC