Friday, November 17, 2006

Coloring within the lines

Many believe that forcing children to color “inside the lines” of a coloring book will stunt their creativity. I have found the opposite: Children who lack strength in their writing hand cannot draw and so cannot be creative! Strength in the hand muscles is needed for drawing and writing. The development of this strength is often delayed in at risk children, especially boys.

Fine motor skills are linked to other abilities

I noticed some time ago that my son’s drawings lacked the detail expected from a child of his age and overall intelligence. I was puzzled by this until I realized that he couldn’t draw because he lacked strength in his writing hand. He uses the muscles of his upper arm to both draw and paint. The result is that his drawings and paintings are all large strokes. When children have the ability to reproduce the shapes in their minds on paper they develop important visual-spatial skills. These skills are necessary to comprehend math. Children with fine motor weakness are often delayed in math. Furthermore, the part of the brain that controls the writing hand is very close to the part of the brain responsible for impulse control. Poor impulse control, hand weakness and the use of both hands for writing are related!

How to tell if your child needs help with fine motor skills

Being ambidextrous, using both hands for writing, drawing or coloring is not necessarily good. It may indicate weakness in both hands. If your four year old is unable to color in a coloring book beyond making large scribbles over the entire page, this may indicate he has hand weakness. To test this, gently hold his wrist while he draws. Can he use his hand only to draw or is he mainly using his upper arm?

If your child has weakness in his hands, he needs to exercise them

There are many exercises that will strengthen your child’s hand. The most important thing is to have him do these exercises for short periods of time every day. Trying to color within the lines of a coloring book with large sized crayons is the best exercise. For other ideas click HERE!

Friday, November 03, 2006

Sticks of gum and bandages

Like many children between 3 and 6 my son LOVES sticks of gum and bandages. How long do these items last in your house? We visited a friend recently and were in the child's play area when the boy opened his drawer and showed us bags and bags of gum and band aids. I said to his mother, "I think my son would chew all those pieces of gum in one day and cover his entire body with band aids if he had a drawer like this!" His mother then said she was able to teach her son to conserve. What a valuable lesson!

Scientists do not understand much about how children learn to control their impulses (see However, we know that impulse control is like a muscle, it improves with exercise. Good impulse control also predicts success in many spheres including academic and emotional development.

My friend is not a child development expert or professional. She instinctively knows that good parenting means teaching impulse control. Some children are naturally born with a good deal of ability to learn impulse control while others have more difficulty learning. Children of both high and low ability need to practice.

I suspect that consistent daily practice of impulse control really adds up for kids. I found that my 3 year old was also able to learn to save his gum and band aids. It took time, and he sometimes still swallows his gum, but he is more capable than I thought.

Helping a child with daily exercise of impulse control takes time and can be very draining. For example, my son is capable of dressing himself (with minimal help), but he would rather talk and play while I dress him. If we are rushed it is tempting to just go ahead and dress him. But then he misses out on the experience of putting fun aside to concentrate on a boring task. Daily exercise of impulse control also happens when we refuse to grant a child his wishes when he is nagging and/or crying. Again it takes time to say, I'm not going to get _____ for you now because you are nagging/crying. It also takes a parent's willingness to tolerate a child's discomfort.