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5 Ways to Improve Fine Motor Skills with Valentines

It’s that special time of the year again. Bags of candy and cards adorned with hearts and kind messages line the aisles of our local grocery and convenient stores. Our kids wait with great anticipation for their classroom Valentine’s Day parties when they are allowed to pass out and receive cards; play games, and eat delicious sugar-filled treats. While this time of the year can be difficulty to enjoy as we’re trudging through the snow covered streets, try to take time to enjoy the season and help your child to spruce up her fine motor skills!

5 ways to turn Valentine’s Day into a platform for improving fine motor skills:

  1. Cutting: This year, instead of buying pre-made cards from the grocery store, help your children cut their own cards from their favorite colored construction paper. For the younger kids, cutting straight lines for a square or cutting across a piece of paper to create smaller squares is the first place to start. For kiddos who are older (4 ½- 6), try to encourage them to cut simple shapes including circles or hearts. If your child is up for the challenge, encourage her to cut out the shape using a hole-puncher. The resistance that the hole puncher provides and repetitive motion to cut the entire shape will surely improve your child’s hand strength. Cutting is an excellent way to improve hand strength, bilateral coordination, visual motor skills, and fine motor planning.
  2. Writing Name: Making Valentines cards is an excellent way for your child to practice writing her name. Practice and repetition is key in building new foundational skills. What a better way to provide repetition than asking your child to sign a card for all of her classmates? If a child needs more help, try to show her how you would write her name, letter by letter, on a separate piece of paper. In your child’s handwriting skills are advanced, encourage her to write a short message to her best friends. The more she practices, the better her handwriting will become!
  3. Gluing: Gluing is another way to promote fine motor skills and hand strength. If your child chooses to use a glue stick, encourage her to use her dominant hand with the same grasp pattern that she uses for writing and coloring activities with her pencils and markers.
  4. Stickers and Stamps: Placing stickers on cards can also help your child to improve her fine motor control. Bending and manipulating a sheet in order to peel the desired sticker from the page and manipulating the sticker to place it on her Valentine takes a lot of patience, bilateral coordination, and fine motor planning.
  5. Folding: Folding is a very challenging activity for a lot of kiddos. Practicing manipulating paper so that the sides match up while folding and stabilizing the two ends together to create a crease in the middle of the paper requires a lot of visual and fine motor planning.

Valentine’s Day, as with many other holidays, affords children an opportunity to practice their fine motor skills. There should not be any limits to their creativity in making cards for their friends. Encourage them to practice new and emerging fine motor skills this season as they’re creating their cards!

How Does Play Help Meet a Child’s Therapy Goals?

Occupational therapists often use play as a means of helping achieve our clients’ goals. Many times, it may not look like our sessions are working on your child’s areas of need; however, when we are working with children, we often try to adapt play activities in order to help your child meet his goals. Play is a very motivating activity for a child to engage in with the therapist and work on some of his goals. Play may also mask the fact that children are working on a difficult skill by introducing fun into the activity. For example, if one of the child’s goals is to improve his handwriting skills, you could play a game that involves writing, such as Boggle, Scattergories, or crossword puzzles.

Therapist and child at Gym

Here are some play activities that OT’s use to help your child meet his goals:

  1. If your child needs to work on balance and coordination, we may play basketball while standing on top of a bosu ball (imagine standing on the rounded part of a ball cut in half).
  2. A child who needs to work on core and upper extremity strength could meet these goals by playing a game while lying on his stomach over a therapy ball, while balancing with his arms on the ground.
  3. In order to improve self-regulation for a child who has sensory concerns, we may start our session by playing on the gym equipment in order to help regulate his nervous system.
  4. To work on bilateral coordination and fine motor skills with a child who does not like drawing, we often use play-doh and have him trace shapes and cut them out with scissors.
  5. Another way to work on gross motor coordination is to practice climbing a rock wall, climbing a ladder, or swinging on the monkey bars.

Sometimes, however, it may be difficult to adapt the activity and make it fun for the child. In this case, the therapist may have the child participate in an activity to work on the skills he needs to improve, but use a play activity as a reward.  From the first example in which the child’s goal is to improve handwriting, the child may still not want to play the games that involve handwriting. Then, the therapist may tell the child that after handwriting, he can do an activity of his choice.

Hopefully, this blog provides a bit more insight into the therapist’s mindset while working with your child. The therapist is constantly thinking and problem solving about how to make an activity therapeutic and how to make it easier or harder based on the child’s ability to succeed at the tasks. If the therapist is successful, the child will not even realize the activities are working on their areas of need and will want to come to therapy every session!

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