What do Kindergarten children need to have in place before learning to write and work on higher order academic challenges? They need to coordinate the two sides of their bodies for bilateral activities, they need strong bodies to sit upright to work, they need strong hands and they need to pay attention. Paying attention needs to happen when the teacher is talking and when engaged in a task. Paying attention also has to occur on the playground; running, climbing and navigating around children and obstacles.
The eyes need to guide all of these activities. Looking at the teacher when directions are being given. Guiding the hands as they place chips on a bingo board or put Unifix cubes together. Having the eyes and hands working as a team makes acquiring these skills a whole lot easier. As we know, sustained attention is important for EVERYTHING! Especially learning.
The eyes need to direct all of our movements. When vision is coupled with any motor activity, there is a more efficient and effective result. Think of putting a new earring on without a mirror or trying to do something in the dark. It gets done eventually but it takes longer. Or think of the child in the outfield planning to catch the ball but the eyes are looking somewhere else.
As the K-kid becomes immersed in the Kindergarten curriculum, use of tools such as scissors now requires some precision and accuracy. While the preschool child could blissfully snip little pieces of paper to make tickets, or randomly cut out chunks for shapes, the Kindergarten student is asked to cut out a circle for a pumpkin or a square for a house. Scribble now needs to morph into a picture of Mommy. All those vertical and horizontal lines need to organize themselves in specific directions to form letters!
Encouraging eye-hand coordination
- On the playground, catching a ball into open hands should develop. Swatting needs to be refined into a specific motor sequence leading to contact with a ball on a tee. Learning to bounce a ball occurs. Helping your Kindergartener to guide these actions by looking is not always automatic. Teaching visual focus begins in the crib and requires practice every day.
- The trick is to keep your child motivated and challenged. Getting on the floor to play with familiar toys will help her feel confident. Structuring activities so that the eyes have to guide the toys will help build that eye hand connection.
- Continue playing with toy cars and trucks, draw a pathway or spread out strips of paper/fabric to create a roadway. Have your child create the pathways. The more elaborate the scheme, the more visual focus will be required to stay on the road.
- Real eye hand gross motor activities can begin in earnest. Bopping, big bright, slow moving objects like balloons are a good beginning. They are slow enough that it is easy for the child to coordinate the motor act of hitting the balloon at precisely the right moment. As your child gets proficient with this, Kooshes, fabric and foam balls make excellent intermediate challenges. Faster objects such as tennis balls move quickly so make sure your child is ready for this type of challenge.
- If your child struggles with the balls listed above, go back to rolling a ball slowly. Gradually increase the speed and change the directions just a little so she has to visually pay attention to know where the ball is headed. Introduce other toys that help build eye hand coordination too.
- Bubbles are a treat. The Kindergarten aged child can perfect blowing the bubbles, watching them move and then catching them. This requires nice coordination between the eyes, mouth and hands. When chasing bubbles, the whole body gets involved. It is a very integrating activity!
- Hand sequencing games also require the hands and eyes to work as a team. The sequenced movements have to be coordinated with the partner’s hands.
- Toy stores offer many toys that require the hands and eyes to work together. You can make up your own games though. Make some bean bags and find a bowl, box or basked. You have just created a perfect toss game.
- Your Kindergartener should still play on the floor. By sitting in various positions: on the tummy, side lying, sitting and crawling positions, the child will stay interested longer. Assuming new positions also helps make the body become more flexible for bigger motor challenges and motor planning as he develops.
- Visual attention is the key not only to strong motor development but learning as well. Keeping your kindergarten student gazing at you will help build the visual focus necessary for later eye-hand activities.
Here are some ways you can play with your Kindergartener to help encourage visual attention and visual tracking eye hand coordination:
- Be sure to be looking at your child when talking. Exaggeration of expression still intrigues and delights the young child. When the grown-up has a wide-open mouth in surprise, or a very large pout, your child will keep focused on the unusual facial features to see what will happen next. This extends visual attention. Kindergarten students can be quite serious but still have a great sense of humor. They love seeing grown-ups do funny things.
- Hand-play games with a partner helps the child focus on her hands while acquiring more complex motor sequences.
- Simple sign language can be introduced. This helps improve fine motor coordination in preparation for writing, as well as building eye hand coordination.
- Activities that require the use of hands and eyes are great at this age. Puzzles, board games, arts and crafts all bring the eyes and hands together.
- Card games are fabulous for building fine motor control as well as visual scanning and focusing.
- When your child is sitting in a car seat, provide feeling and squeezing type toys for her to hold, along with other manipulative toys. This will help increase the awareness, strength and coordination of the hands for future athletic work (like throwing a basket ball, or squeezing a racquet).
- Continue to encourage your Kindergarten student to explore textured surfaces and shaped objects. Finger paints and shaving cream play are terrific for this age group. Tactile stimulation helps build early precepts for later visual spatial reasoning (like figuring out where to run on the soccer field).
- When talking to your child, always be looking directly at him and be sure to have him look at you. . That way visual attention will increase, and establishing eye contact with an adult will be come an automatic response or habit. Auditory and visual attention will be increased! Integration of all the senses occurs. This facilitates motor planning and motor coordination.
When your Kindergartener is around, put away the iphone and other electronic devises. Give your child 100% of your attention!
By Jill Mays, author of Your Child’s Motor Development Story: Understanding and Enhancing Development from Birth to Their First Sport. Jill has worked with children for more than 30 years. A mother of three children, she has juggled motherhood with her work in a private occupational therapy practice and consulting where she helps parents and educators understand the complex concepts of sensorimotor development.