Learning at Home: Fine Motor Fun with Creative Expression
Last week, we discussed avoiding worksheets and instead, engage our children in fine motor activities that will prepare them for writing the letters of the alphabet and numbers – which they will be ready for later- not now.
Earlier is not always better when it comes to handwriting and children. Parents can help provide a strong foundation for later writing by having lots of fine motor fun now.
Here are some ideas that also allow children to express their creativity…
Spray non-menthol shaving cream on a cookie pan and draw shapes and designs (add in some vocabulary words such “I noticed you just drew a line that is … horizontal, vertical, diagonal, curved, straight, wavy, etc.) Note: If you want your child to practice writing the letters in his/her name- this is a great developmentally appropriate learning tool. Ask your child to write his/her name in the shaving cream.
Allow your child to tear apart pieces of paper (old magazines, junk mail, etc.) and
make a picture of him/herself. (note: tearing is a GREAT fine motor activity since your child has to use both hands and use them in opposite directions)
3. Make a “chandelier” by weaving or tying ribbon onto an old bike wheel, an old tennis racket, chicken wire or empty picture frame.
4. Make a cotton ball picture. Pinch the cotton balls and tear them apart to make wispy clouds or designs. Read the book, It Looks Like Spilt Milk by Charles B. Shaw and make your own cloud pictures.
5. Tear tissue paper or magazines into small squares. Roll them in your fingers and glue them on paper to make a picture.
6. Cut apart paint samples and then use the pieces to design a greeting card.
7. Finger-paint or paint with a small square of a sponge (pinching the sponge between your index finger and thumb).
Using an eyedropper, squeeze one drop of colored water at a time on to a coffee filter – watch the colors mix.
Reason Number Six: Worksheets do NOT develop social skills.
In the adult world, it is rare that we are told to do our own work and keep our eyes on our own paper. We collaborate on challenging tasks with colleagues. We gather information and learn new perspectives when we can work, brainstorm, and problem-solve together. This is the same for children. They are social beings who need multiple opportunities to engage in hands-on and inquiry learning experiences with their peers.
Reason Number Four: Worksheets do NOT develop problem-solving or critical thinking
If we want children to learn to solve problems we must create safe environments in which they feel confident taking risks, making mistakes, learning from them, and trying again (Fordham & Anderson, 1992). Worksheets do not involve critical thinking or problem-solving. Children instead develop a habit of guessing with passive thinking.
Reason Number Five: Worksheets do NOT develop Fine Motor Skills
NAEYC developmentally appropriate practices (Bredekamp and Copple, 3rd Edition) states, “Writing, drawing, and cutting with precision are activities that can be difficult for young children, who are still developing comfort and agility with fine motor work… Young children should have access to many kinds of materials and objects to help them develop and practice fine motor skills, such as small objects to sort and count and pegboards and beads to string… Pushing children too early into precise fine motor activities (as required on worksheets and color in the lines coloring sheets) is likely to be both unsuccessful and frustrating for young children and may leave them feeling incompetent and stressed.”
The clipping clothespins activity above not only accomplishes the same objective as the worksheet pictured but it also serves to strengthen students’ fine motor skills!
Reason Number Three: Worksheets shut down thinking and only require passive thinking.
Worksheets are stressful since they usually have a right or wrong answer. When children are just starting to learn how to navigate school, how to learn and how to become confident learners, they will gain more from open-ended, hands-on activities that promote risk-taking and persistence. A worksheet shuts down thinking and promotes a mind-set that learning is all about guessing.
NOTE: Response sheets where students are illustrating or writing an idea based on a response to a prompt from a piece of literature, such as draw the setting or draw your favorite part of the story OR a documentation sheet, data collection sheet or “lab report” where information from science observations or data is begin recorded are NOT considered worksheets. Worksheets typically have one correct answer such as “circle all of pictures that start with the letter H” or “underline the words that rhyme with car.”
NO Worksheets in Early Learning (Grades Pre-K through 3rd)
Reason Number One: Children learn best through hands-on experiences.
NAEYC shares with us that children learn best through hands-on experiences. In order for learning to stick with them, they need to feel it, touch it, manipulate it, and experience it. Worksheets are a passive activity that does not activate the learning center in young children’s brains.
Reason Number Two:Children need real objects to develop symbolic thinking.
Based on Piaget’s stages of cognitive development, most young children, including Kindergarten and many first grade children, are in the preoperational stage of cognitive development. Letters and numerals abstract symbols that hold very little meaning. Children require play-based activities to begin to understand symbolic thinking. A play-based curriculum offers children opportunities throughout the day to develop the ability to think abstractly by experiencing real objects using their senses (Kostelnik, Soderman, & Whiren, 1993).
I recently had the privilege of working with some amazing teachers at Union Public Schools in Tulsa, OK. We discussed the benefits of dramatic play for children and the critical role of children developing complex play within dramatic play experiences for the development of their executive functioning capabilities.
PreK and K teachers are first and foremost teachers of social and emotional skills, self-regulation, attention, engagement, persistence, thinking symbolically, and cognitive flexibility. If students do not first learn these skills, then the academics and life with always be a struggle.
Research links dramatic play activities with the support of the teacher to move students to more complex play as one of the best strategies for developing social/emotional and executive functioning skills.
The teachers developed visual analogies to help us always remember the link. Here are pictures of their insightful analogies. Thanks, Union Teachers!