“My do it!” she exclaimed when I stooped to assist my two-year-old who was trying to tie her shoes. Velcro would have been so much easier, but shoe companies hadn’t thought of using it yet. Her little fingers didn’t have enough skill to manipulate the strings even though she was working them with dogged determination. Her furrowed brow and focused attention caused me to smile, as did her improper use of pronouns. She was learning fast and changing quickly, too.
Progression of development
In the progression of development in your child’s brain, gross motor skills (GMS) provide the movement necessary to connect the two sides of the brain, to develop the large muscle groups, and enhance synapse connections in the neural structure of the brain. (Please read my post, How Physical Activity Leads to Healthy Brain Development, for more information about gross motor skills.) Next in order for healthy development comes fine motor skills. With FMS, the brain experiences development that is necessary for reading readiness and early academic work.
Fine Motor Skills
As GMS are being mastered, a young child will gain more ability and skill to begin FMS. Fine motor skills require the use of hands, wrists, and fingers. These skills help develop
- hand-eye coordination
- foot-eye coordination
- manual dexterity—enhancing adroitness in the fingers
- tactile perception—distinguishing differences in texture
- brain growth through more connection development
Your child’s FMS will not develop well if GMS are neglected. All of these essential skills must be mastered before a child can learn to read. This is pre-reading development. Give your child frequent opportunities to experience the following activities.
- Working puzzles
- Playing, creating, and molding with play dough
- Threading beads or pasta
- Playing with blocks
- Using scissors (Holding scissors with the correct grip takes some time to master, but this skill is important, so don’t overlook it.)
Play is the work of childhood. Connections are being made in her brain as a child plays. You don’t need to structure her play. Allow her to choose the activities that interest her. In this way you will see where she is in her development and what other “supplies” you need to have on hand that will to encourage further growth and learning. Allowing her to choose is also an important element of development for her, building connections to the higher regions of the brain where thinking takes place.
Ocular Motor Skills
The progression of activities from GMS to FMS is not only stimulating synapse connections, it is building muscle strength and coordination throughout the body, and it is leading to even finer ocular motor skills (OMS). Ocular motor skills refer to the ability of the eyes to follow and focus on an object in the field of vision as required.
Ocular motor skills involve the ability of the eyes to:
- work together
- start and stop movement
- converge for focus
- sustain convergence for close work
- be able to move from the end of a line of print to the beginning of the next line (crossing the midline)
Gross motor and fine motor skills must be mastered before ocular motor skills can be attained. The eye contains seven muscles that must develop before a child can physically handle the motor mechanics of reading. With the mastery of appropriate gross and fine motor skills, the eye muscles develop naturally and are ready for the close work of reading between the ages of six and eight years. Prior to that time, most children do not have the strength in their eye muscles to perform the required tasks.
Children’s eyes are made for distance vision.
The process of mastering gross and fine motor skills gently and gradually strengthens their eye muscles, preparing them for the close work of reading and other academic work. Waiting for this development gives a physical as well as developmental advantage to your child. Dr. Samuel Oliphant, Developmental Optometrist, explains that extensive evidence shows abnormal nearsightedness is caused through early reading and other near work. Studies show that environmental factors play a greater role in the development of myopia (nearsightedness), than do hereditary factors.
Gross, fine, and ocular motor skills enhance development of the brain, the muscles of the body, and the muscles of your child’s eyes. As the finer skills are developed, ensure that she has ample time to spend outside for far vision. Time outdoors will reduce eye strain and relieve tension created on the central nervous system as the finer skills are being developed.
Your four- or five-year old
Do you have a four- or five-year-old begging to learn to read? Evaluate whether or not she is ready by evaluating her gross motor skills. Can she skip correctly? Jump? Hop on one foot? Can she do jumping jacks? Ride a bicycle without training wheels?
Then evaluate her fine motor skills. Can she cut using scissors correctly? Can she thread beads? Does she work puzzles with ease? If she cannot do these things, the appropriate neural connections are not yet in place, she still lacks muscle development to be successful, and her eyes are not ready for the close work of reading. And even if it seems she has mastered gross and fine motor skills, learning to read at this young age could be detrimental to her eyes and their proper development. It would be worth it to wait. Childhood is short! Let your child have time to play and naturally develop. It will be time well spent.
For over a hundred ideas of activities for motor skill development and to keep track of your child’s visual, auditory, and social development, check out The Anchor: Recording Your Child’s Pre-Academic Development for Preschool – Primary Grades. Get one today!