From holding to scribbling to writing

By Jennifer Fontaine

focus-on-edu-2-w2014Research over the last 25 years has provided evidence that the early years of a child’s life are a crucial period for their development.

Your child’s brain develops at a dramatic rate from conception until their first birthday, and then nurturing and sensory early experiences support continued growth that will have long-lasting effects on their learning and behaviour.

You can support your child’s development by providing love, attention, good nutrition, and environments with opportunities to use their senses and play.

Development Continuum

Although most parents are anxious to provide the best opportunities for their children, you should not feel pressure to force activities your child is not ready for.

Children generally develop skills at their own pace but in a predictable progression.

Just as children crawl before they run, your child’s ability to write will emerge in a predictable sequence of baby steps. Preschoolers usually do not have the skills required to write; they lack hand-eye coordination, dexterity and muscle strength in their hands and fingers required for pencil grip.

Know that playing with your baby is helping them to develop important cognitive, social, emotional, communication and physical skills.

Your toddler at play will be practicing prewriting skills while having fun.

Fine motor skills

Fine motor skills are defined as small muscle movements which occur in the fingers, hands and wrists in coordination with the eyes.

Improvements in fine motor skills depend on the gradual development of motor systems as well as continued opportunities to practice these skills.

Infants: Beginning at birth and up until around 24 months, children will reach for objects and hold on with their whole palm. Imagine tiny baby fingers wrapped around a parent’s finger: that’s the palmar grasp.

Soon coordination increases, and babies are able to transfer an object from one hand to the other and manipulate small objects. Despite the fact that they may
now be able to lift, drop and throw objects, letting your child eat independently will allow them to practice their dexterity. At this stage your child may be able to hold a crayon or marker (possibly with a palmar grasp) to make some first scribbles.

When your child can pick up small objects like cereal or berries with their thumb and index finger they have developed the all-important pincer grasp – which is
eventually important for pencil grip. If they haven’t mastered this yet, use your imagination (and ideas below) to include different ways of practicing pincer
grasp and fine motor skills in your everyday routines, during eating or playtime, and be patient in order to support your child in acquiring these new skills.

Toddlers: As hand-eye coordination continues to develop (14 months to 3 years) parents should continue to provide opportunities for their toddler to practice their fine motor skills while encouraging independence.

Continue to encourage eating independently, adding utensils and cups. Provide dolls or soft books with practice buttons, zippers and laces.

Eventually you can cut out a shoe outline from cardboard, punch holes and practice lacing and tying shoes. But at first, start with a zipper and let your toddler finish zipping while you hold the bottom in place, or let them try a few buttons on their own. Give yourself a few extra minutes to get out the door so your toddler can participate in some part of the getting dressed routine.

As your toddler becomes more capable, they will become more independent. Build your child’s self-confidence by giving positive encouragement and celebrating small but age-appropriate successes.

With practiced dexterity, your child will begin to be able to use toddler-safe scissors and scribbling will expand to include lines and shapes. Improved fine motor skills will also help your child manipulate board books and turning book pages.

Enjoy time with your child

Language, reading and writing skills develop at the same time and are intimately linked. Physical development (fine motor skills) and emotional development (attention regulation) are also part of this learning process. These are skills children can learn throughout the day: during active play, reading time, or daily
routines. Don’t worry about the academic achievement of your pre-schooler; play with them, talk with them, read stories with them, be patient, and through it all,
enjoy it while it lasts.

Jennifer Fontaine is an early literacy specialist at
the Parent Resource Centre.

Photo: © Ivan Danik