As soon as your baby is able to sit up on his own, she begins to manipulate objects in constructive ways, coordinating visual messages and hand motions to achieve a desired result. For example, she shakes a rattle to achieve noise, bangs toys together, places objects into a container, and (uh-oh!) just loves to dump out containers.
Container play is an important activity because it develops the child’s ability to integrate visual input (from the eyes) and muscle activity (moving the fingers, hands, wrists and arms) to achieve meaningful results. That means the child must use visual cues into order to plan accurate motions to place a toy in a bucket, or turn a bucket over. The muscles must then execute this plan accurately, and- wheee! There goes your bin of potatoes! Go, go, go visual-motor skills! I know, I know, it’s a mess.
Children with weak hand muscles, or with poorly developed skills, tend to avoid visual-motor play. They stay away from blocks, links, Duplo, puzzles, and other toys that require visual motor integration. And it’s easy to understand why. It’s no fun to do something you’re not good at, right? Unfortunately, this creates a cycle of delay. Because the child is not engaging in fine motor play, s/he has no opportunity to strengthen hand muscles and develop stronger integration of visual information. Skills are likely to fall farther and farther behind.
In terms of development, play is your child’s “work”, it is essential to every area of development. If your child is not playing with his hands and manipulating objects, s/he is missing out on important milestones in the process. So, what to do with the reluctant learner? If your child is avoiding fine motor activities, here are a few tips to get him moving in the right direction:
- Have your child play with a fluid medium. Bath water, rice bins, macaroni bins, and sandboxes are a great place to start. The more your child pours, scoops, spills, and handles the medium, the more strength and flexibility s/he is developing. And s/he doesn’t even realize it!
- Build your child’s stamina slowly. It takes attention, determination and focus to learn a new skill. Create a “block play time” each day. This should be no more than 1-5 minutes long! Here’s a sample of how your “block time” program would look.
Number of Blocks Stacked
Hand-over-hand with Mommy
Hand-over-hand with Mommy
2 independently, a little help with the third one
There’s no need to create a table, unless you want to track your child’s progress. This table was provided solely to illustrate the process of development in very small incremental steps.
- Find opportunities for development in everyday routines: When you keep your eyes peeled, your day is full of opportunities to help your child strengthen hand-eye coordination. Things like pulling up a zipper, turning pages in a book, opening and closing pots or other food containers are all fantastic opportunities. Doing these tasks will allow your child to feel like a “big kid” and boost his confidence as he gains new skills.