Physical Readiness for School

Growing YearsConcerns about physical readiness for school are growing. Teachers and occupational therapists say an increasing number of children are entering school without fine motor skills. They are showing up for kindergarten without the fine motor skills needed to grip large crayons, hold their paper to color, or cut and glue shapes. It is estimated that only 2 out of 20 students arrive with enough hand strength and coordination to use scissors. About half use the fisted method to hold a pencil or crayon, which should have been changed to the correct grip by age 3. They believe that pressure to get children involved in organized activities at an early age leaves less time to play outside in the yard. Manipulating their environment is necessary to understand spatial concepts. Children learn by doing, not being told what to do, as in organized activities.

Between birth and age 3 children are developing the core muscles necessary for adequate trunk strength, which allows them to stay seated for longer periods of time while focusing on a task. Many therapists believe that placing infants on their backs to sleep has delayed muscle development. These children may have problems spreading their hands and pushing up with their arms, a necessary base for good seated posture and shoulder support when writing. This occurs naturally with being placed on their tummy, a position used in years past. Tummy time while awake is important for proper development of core muscles. This is often skipped due to time, or because the child does not like it.

Outside free play is at a minimum for children today. Children should have opportunities to be outside exploring how their bodies move through space, using toys and tools to determine how they respond to each other and the environment. Learning to balance their body in inner actions with logs, hills, and other objects is necessary to later learning. It is likely the problem stems from parents being afraid for their child to engage in physical play.

Parents are often afraid for their child to cut with scissors and use play dough. Others just want to avoid the mess, preferring a sterile electronic tablet. But swiping an iPad does not provide skills necessary for the fine motor tasks the child will be asked to perform in kindergarten. Remember to keep your child active in order to facilitate the development they will need early in life.