Elf on the Shelf Sensory Series: Helping Your Child’s Handwriting and Fine Motor Skills
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You have probably heard about the importance of developing your child’s fine motor skills from your child’s teacher or perhaps from a book you have read during your child’s early development. On the other hand, you may have a wealth of knowledge of how important these skills are because your child struggles with their development or you may have a student who’s handwriting and pencil grip isn’t where it needs to be in the classroom.
Whatever the case, these fine motor abilities are extremely important to promote the most functional use of a child’s hands. Childhood is a critical time for these muscles and skills to be developed. Your child’s intrinsic muscles (small muscles of the hand) will be used for the rest of their life and for essential functional activities that occur constantly on a daily basis.
What Are Fine Motor Skills
Fine motor skills change and advance as your child grows older and more mature. For example, in the preschool years, an important skill may be grasping a crayon to color or learning to hold scissors. As your child matures, self-care activities become more of an importance as we see when they begin tying their shoelaces and mastering buttons, zippers and brushing their teeth correctly. Eating with a knife and fork and cutting food is an important life skill that children will learn. When formal schooling begins, if your child has good intrinsic muscle control with his or her hands, handwriting is an easier skill to grasp. If the student can concentrate less on trying to hold the pencil correctly, then there is more brainpower to actually learn the subject material.
Reminder: Your Elf on the Shelf can participate in more than just fine motor skills. Click here to find out what he’s doing in our Elf on the Shelf series to help with their gross motor skills too.
So to actively engage your kids in fine motor activities while helping them to have fun, we’ve used our Elf on the Shelf again to get them started. He’s making some mischief and getting into some trouble while having fun developing his fine motor skills.
Here’s how we are using our fine motor skills to integrate a fun holiday tradition that your kids will enjoy while creating the perfect motivation for your child or student to work on their fine motor development.
Roll N’ Paint
We love using Elf on the Shelf for this painting activity because it combines not only their fine motor skills, but their sensory input as well. It’s a great way for your children to use their fingers and hands while they roll the paint on to the paper. That downward pressing motion with the rolling pin strengthens the wrists and the hands for improved writing skills.
First, take a piece of your bubble wrap and tape it around your rolling pin. With your paint set, select a few different colors and paint a few sections of the bubble wrap on your rolling pin. Carefully roll the paint on the plain piece of paper you have so it looks like bubbles appear on your paper. When you have finished, place your elf’s hands on the rolling pin so it looks like he mischievously got into the paint over night. When your kids wake up, help them do this same activity with the paint and bubble wrap. If you have leftover bubble wrap, let them pop the bubbles or even get messy with the paint. They need these types of sensory activities to help improve their attention and focus in the classroom as you see here.
This is one of the best winter activities that anyone can do when there is snow on the ground. Ever since I did this with my kids three years ago, they have begged to do it again every time snow appears. What makes this activity an important fine motor tool is the motion of the child squeezing the spray bottle’s handle. It triggers very important fine motor skills to enhance development with those intrinsic hand muscles. This motion is called the grasp-release motion. It’s the very skill that is essential for the use of scissors, which combines releasing and letting go of small objects.
Elf set up
Take the empty spray bottles and fill them with water. Then take a couple different food colors and place a few drops into separate bottles. I like doing red and green for Christmas, but you can do whatever colors you are in the mood for. Mix well.
There are two great options in setting this scene. If you feel like you want to brave the cold, go ahead and place the elf outside on a mound of snow. Near the elf, take the spray bottle and write a note in the snow with it, such as “hello” or “Merry Christmas.” Place the spray bottles by the elf and go back inside to get warm. Remember, I did this on a weekend and placed all of the items outside a few minutes before the kids woke up. Don’t leave the items outside overnight or the water will freeze in the bottles and the elf may not enjoy being cold either.
The other option is placing the items on the kitchen table with the spray bottles by the elf and then you can direct the kids outside to write words with the colors in the snow. Either way, help your children use the spray bottle when they find the Elf to develop their fine motor skills. It’s also a great activity to help them with their letters and spelling.
Grab some Play-dough and get those hands moving! This is another fantastic exercise that is important for your child’s grasp-release motion. You can easily get this kit on Amazon like you see here or you can find it at your local store. Our students’ play with this kit for hours at our center and we consider it a prep exercise for cutting paper with scissors. It can also help your child with what we call the pincer grasp. The pincer grasp allows your child to hold objects and refine the muscles in their hands and fingers. It’s also a great way to help build your child’s muscles if they did not develop this after birth.
Elf set up
In this festive scene the Elf will be on a hard surface such as a counter or table. Put out some containers of play dough on the counter and then roll a small portion of dough into a rope. Take play dough cutters and cut a few pieces off the rope and place around the elf. Place the cutter near the elf’s hands to look like he or she has been busy with the dough. When the kids want a turn, have them roll out the dough into ropes and then snip them with the cutters. Next, have them roll the snipped pieces into balls using their palms and fingers, another excellent fine motor exercise.
Writing Santa Letters
My kids’ love writing the official Santa letter, and they also enjoy making changes and updates to their letter as the holiday season progresses. It makes me laugh when their list changes or they need to report on why they were “not so nice” to their sibling one day. This is a great way to have your Elf on the Shelf introduce a fun writing activity that your kids will enjoy and it is always a great opportunity to get your kids started on holding a crayon or pencil properly to learn writing skills.
Elf set up
Assembling this scene is easy. Grab your elf and place his legs within the open box on top of a hard surface. Make it look like the elf is sitting at a desk and include a small piece of paper where the elf has “written” a message to Santa. You can write something like “Santa loves reading letters” (in the elf’s handwriting of course). Place some paper, pencils and crayons near your elf and help your kids write a letter to Santa. Little children can draw a picture or simply practice spelling their name. Soon you will have some memorable written keepsakes to save from this particular Christmas year.
Activities that allow your child to pick up objects, especially smaller objects like these fusion beads, are great for fine motor development. It helps develop the muscles in the thumbs and index fingers used for writing. Help your child use both the left and right hands when picking up the beads. It’s also good practice for them to use one hand to pick up the beads instead of two. Younger children have a tendency to use both hands, when using one will help refine their fine motor skills better.
Elf set up
With the fusion beads, you can buy a fun Christmas kit or make a fun design with the normal kits. When you have the beads placed on the design included in the kit, fuse it together with the iron. The instructions are included. You can show your elf getting into the beads and making his or her own holiday designs. When your children find the elf, help them make their own designs and let them play with the beads as much as they want before you fuse them together.
Elf Creating a Winter Wonderland
Talk about the best thing since sliced bread! I just did this with my kids and they absolutely loved this activity. We cut out snowflakes for hours and then we then hung the snowflakes up around the house. You can hang these snowflakes on windows, the Christmas tree, refrigerator, or anywhere in the house that may be fun. You can get pretty creative too. This is such an excellent activity that focuses on those small muscles in the hand while using a pair of scissors. There are many different kinds of scissors for all different ages and skill level. Here are a few sets that may work for your child:
Learning to cut involves two basic skills. The first is mastering the grasp-release motion (see above with the spray bottle activity) and the second is the art of cutting on a line. When a child is learning to use scissors remember the following helpful tips:
- Always use age appropriate scissors; and
- Ensure your child is using the correct grasp (thumb in one hole of the scissors, middle finger through the other hole of the scissors, and the index finger can rest on the outside or place it in the inside hole of the scissors with middle finger).
Elf set up
Make a couple of snowflakes ahead of time and place by your elf. Put a half finished snowflake on your elf’s lap with the scissors near the elf’s miniature hand. You can then add a stack of white printer paper or construction paper near the scene with a few other pairs of scissors. When the kids find the elf, let the winter wonderland making begin.
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