• Hannah OT

Putting Movement Into Learning

I spoke a lot about how I encourage teachers to add movement challenges in their lessons in my post Vestibular spinners and movers explained, and it is clear how much I favour the 'tummy time' position when practising handwriting due to the challenge to core strength, and the stimulation of the visual system through the activation of the vestibular system - all encourage a child to focus by increasing their arousal level and ensuring that the internal engine of theirs is on green (See How is your engine running?). Changing position is essential to maintaining a child's arousal level, and through being creative with movement you can increase a child's ability to learn and make the learning experience far more fun! In this time of home schooling, try new things and enjoy being free of the constraints of the classroom!

Writing obstacle course

This exercise can be done with pretty much anything - you don't have to practise full sentence writing like we did - you could practise numbers, drawing or reading whilst changing position. You could turn it into a treasure hunt, leaving clues to where the next picture is, or you could turn this into a moving gallery - where by your child looks at the same picture and describes what they can see in different positions - due to an increase in visual acuity through changing positions, you will find that your child spots different things when looking at a picture from a different angle.

The reasons for doing writing practise in this way (see my post on how 'Practise doesn't make perfect' for a recap of motor skills):

  • Develops core strength

  • Develops sequencing, motor learning and motor planning skills through thinking about what step comes next and how you can position your body in the correct position

  • Increases proprioceptive feedback through hard work in the muscles which contributes to good fine motor control

  • Develops hand-eye coordination as your visual system is stimulated through activation of the vestibular system

  • Encourages crossing of the mid-line through large movements

  • Your child will get a good work-out which will develop muscle strength

  • Develops muscle memory through increasing the demand on muscles and practising known movements in different contexts and positions

  • Develops key gross motor skills such as balance, bilateral coordination (using two sides of your body at once) and body awareness

  • Encourages sensory integration as all senses are working together

  • Facilitates active engagement and delivers a challenge but in a non conventional way thereby your reluctant writers are far more likely to get involved!

See the following video for how we did it - I've included the parts where my older daughter is being like a typical 6 year old because I feel it is important to recognise resistance and an "I can't be bothered attitude" as a sign that a position might be particularly challenging.

For my daughter she was most comfortable on her back where she was fully supported and did not have her core strength challenged i.e. lying on her back under the table - this is still a good position for her to switch things up a bit as she still had to hold her arms up against gravity which challenges the strength in her wrists and hands which she often struggles with.

Her most challenging position was over the Swiss ball and under the large table - the Swiss ball exercise challenged her ability to maintain posture (she has low core strength) and under the large table challenged her motor planning - she could not see how she could problem solve, but with encouragement she did it!

All in all despite a few difficulties we managed to write all sentences, she really enjoyed it and she of course got crisp and tv time afterwards as requested:-)


Summary of obstacle positions:

1) Under the table - I love this cave drawing position and you can use this position in so many different ways - we had great fun doing a shadow puppet show, shining a space torch and my youngest loved doodling under here (I just sellotaped a large piece of paper underneath and she was able to let loose!)! I've also used this idea within sessions to encourage children to write/ draw a secret message or you could even get all historical and ask your child to imagine they are leaving a message just like the Egyptians or the Cave men did.

And both girls loved experimenting with lights under the table:

2) Against the table - here you can see my daughter was very comfortable and it served as a change of position. I particularly liked how she was able to lean back and bounce on her peanut ball to self-regulate whilst thinking.

3) Over the peanut ball - this you can really see is a tricky position for my daughter, but she persisted and we got there eventually!

4) Against the wall under the stairs - I love this position, and although my daughter wasn't immediately comfortable, once she had found her balance I would say this produced some of her best writing because she was balancing and exerting pressure through her upper body which increased the level of proprioceptive feedback that she was receiving which maintained her arousal level and enabled her to modulate the pressure she was exerting on the paper. In this picture you can see that she is leaning and fully balanced - this position also simulates a table top position so trains the body up for good writing posture:

5) Under the large table - this was really tricky for my daughter as it demanded problem solving and motor planning ability. Despite the grumbles she did get there and she surprised herself at how easily she could do it once she'd found the correct position. This is a lovely way for children to experiment and increase their body awareness.

6) Outside on the skateboard - I think we probably need a bigger skateboard:-) but regardless I think it demonstrated how you can use outside toys in a different way to add challenge to a standard chalk drawing activity. My little one loves skating down penguin style and so I aim to encourage her to do this activity:

Fine motor skills

We are focusing on the story "The Very Hungry Caterpillar", and have been for the last two weeks. We are focusing on my older daughter's reading and writing through lots of practise of the same sentence composition but in different ways - we are also doing loads of arts and crafts focusing on developing her hand strength, postural control and tool use:

1) Painting using different brush strokes - focuses on fine motor control

2) Tracing on reflections from pictures in the window - fine motor control and practising of pre-writing shapes

3) Drawing and cutting of shapes

4) Painting/ colouring on the window - postural control and something different and fun

5) Fruit printing - a child is never too old for a bit of fruit printing and I made it extra challenging by seeing whether my oldest could put equal pressure all around to print a complete shape, thereby encouraging her to control her movement and the pressure she was exerting - excellent for someone who struggles to gauge the pressure they exert on the page

6) And of course everyone is a fan of finger painting - I framed it as creating the hungry caterpillar pattern for my older one and challenged my younger one to not get her whole hand involved - trickier than it sounds, but with the help of a song we managed:-)

6) Hole punch eating of an apple - lovely exercise to practise control, develop hand strength and creatively create patterns!

Gross Motor Skills

1) Hopscotch maths - one of my favourites - we managed to do numbers up to 20 asking my daughter to jump on: double 5, 1 less than 8, 7-3, 4+6 - this is a really lovely way for visual and movement learners to grasp mathematical concepts! You can make the questions as complicated or as simple as you need to and your child can use the hopscotch to support them in working out the answer - I encouraged my daughter to jump backwards and forwards depending on the question.

2) Obstacle courses - you can always add additional learning challenges here in addition to obstacles (see my guide to obstacle courses here)

3) Trampoline maths - if you don't have a trampoline you could just ask your child to jump in the centre and then onto the numbers - this is a lovely activity which can also be done with pictures for little children e.g. animals (jump on the animal that has pointy ears/ legs/ feathers/ fur), fruit (jump on the fruit that tastes sweet/ sour/ starts with a 'b'/ has pips/ your favourite)

4) Themed maths - we did rocket maths when we were doing our space theme, and we plan to do hungry caterpillar maths through being a caterpillar (worm)

I've been asked to write a guide to support left handers in developing in a right hand world - stay tuned for this and a post on the magic of Swiss balls!

Hannah OT:-)

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