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Monday 13 December 2010

I Have 10 Little Fingers: Learning to Write

It has bones. It is echidna.
There are many fun things you can do to promote the development of fine motor skills. And this ‘winding-down’ part of the year is an ideal time to think about some fun activities with your children over the holidays where you can do something positive.

Author and KBR contributor Sheryl Gwyther writes...

How children learn to write is one of the most intriguing growth areas. What amazes me is how those little bodies eventually develop the long list of skills that enable them to become proficient in handwriting.

My biggest concern about the ‘teaching of handwriting’ is when kids are expected to ‘perform’ too early in their development stage (this does happen in some kindergartens, pre-schools and Prep classes).

They huddle over their desks, tongue sticking out in concentration, thin pencils gripped tight to control movement, knuckles white as they attempt to copy letters in a book, or even worse, from the board. No wonder so many kids give up, or develop permanent and terrible pencil grips (check out the teller’s pen hold next time you’re in the bank).

It would help if the kids had larger writing tools and if they weren’t writing on lines before they can physically control the pencil. (Boys are usually at least 6 months developmentally behind girls in the early years – especially in fine-motor skills – see below).

Some in the education field argue that children should learn handwriting skills early to become proficient. I (and many others in the early childhood education world) believe this is detrimental to many young children.

Fine-motor skills in hands and fingers are the last to develop in a child’s body. Children also develop at different rates so they cannot all be lumped together in a classroom doing the same thing – like all learning to hold a thin pencil and write on lines – and expect for them all to succeed.

It helps to be aware of the development skills a child needs to handwrite. They include, and this is not the full list:

- COGNITIVE: the brain being developed enough to be ready to form letters;
- LANGUAGE: to be able to link approximate sounds to abstract letters;
- EYE/HAND CO-ORDINATION: needed to move the pencil around, to form letters in the correct direction and to place them on lines;
- GROSS MOTOR SKILLS: the large muscles around shoulders, upper arms, hips, legs etc – they’re the first to develop and they control movement that allows a child to run, jump, to sit on a chair. These muscles also allow movement that cross the body’s midline – essential for many tasks.
- The all-important FINE MOTOR SKILLS: These small muscles control fingers, wrist and forearms – without their strength, a child cannot hold or move a pencil in the correct direction nor have the strength to persist.

I’ve included two pieces of writing my son did at 6 year old – notice the attempted spelling (a good thing!), awareness of phonics, reversed letters, large writing (imagine trying to squeeze the letters close together on a line). Yes, his teacher was an early childhood trained teacher and lots of the kids’ writing is in scrapbooks – which is why I still have David’s examples. He is now 23, has just finished his Honors year and graduates as a Physicist.

On Sunday I went on a car barge to Stradbroke

Here are some useful sites for parents to promote fine motor skills:

Kids Book Review - Ask Sheryl
NCAC - Supporting children's development
NCAC fact sheet - Supporting children's fine motor skills
Noah's Ark fact sheet - Supporting the development of fine motor skills for writing
A Finger Play website

Here’s a fun finger rhyme:

Ten Little Fingers – a finger play
I have ten little fingers,
And they all belong to me.
I can make them do things.
Would you like to see?
I can shut them up tight,
Or make them all hide.
I can make them jump high,
Or open them wide.
I can put them together,
Or make them go low.
I can fold them up quietly
And sit just so.

Yours in the love of books,


Before Sheryl became a children’s author, she was an Early Childhood-trained teacher for several years and then an Adult Literacy teacher. The skills, ideology and passion for Early Childhood Development Principles learned and developed during her training and years of contact with young children, she still believes are right and true. Learn more about Sheryl here.

© Sheryl Gwyther 2010