Written by Allison Mell, PT, DPT and Maryann Deutsch, MS, OT/L, cofounders of Tots On Target
New Jersey, USA
No more pencils, no more books! This summer mantra is music to our ears and a chance to put all academic pressures aside, embracing relaxation and fun. Preparing the sunscreen and towels brings a new energy to the season.
As the weeks clock on, it doesn’t take long for many parents to begin thinking about the upcoming school year when September no longer seems that far away. Unlike several decades ago, parents of twenty-first century preschoolers are already in the mindset of considering whether their children have met certain academic milestones and retained enough letter and number recognition to start the next school year off on the right foot. Teachers, on the other hand, may not only think about their incoming students’ levels of intelligence, but also feel some trepidation of how to handle the ever growing number of children entering their classrooms with immature pencil grasps, poor posture, difficulty modulating their voices, and sensory related behavioral issues. So, what can you as a parent do over the summer to best prepare your child for school?
While knowledge is definitely power, a strong underlying foundation, made up of sufficient physical strength and a solid sensory system, needs to be laid in order to set our children up for academic success. Brains and brawns really DO, in fact, go together! Summer is the perfect opportunity for parents to focus their free time on activities to help their children establish these foundational skills. The best part is, this type of homework is fun!
Here are some of the many activities you can do in the upcoming weeks to help your child stay on target.
Swimming: An activity that many already participate in over the summer. Swimming strokes engage the entire body and help strengthen the arms, back, and core, which directly affect posture for sitting on a chair or on the floor during circle time.
Climbing and Swinging: Hanging and swinging from monkey bars or trapeze swings and climbing up jungle gyms builds strength from shoulders to fingers, helping to develop gross motor and fine motor skills for sports activities, writing, cutting, and buttoning jackets.
Tummy Time: This position is not just for babies! Reading books or coloring on their bellies helps children build up shoulder and neck strength needed for looking up at a blackboard. This is an easy way to fit in a mild workout to leisurely activities at home.
Playing Games: Game night isn’t only for family bonding. Playing Topple, Othello, Mancala, or Connect Four are perfect opportunities to develop manual dexterity, an ability to coordinate skillful hand motions needed for opening containers in the lunch room, zipping up a jacket, and covering markers with their caps.
Messy Play: Letting your kids run barefoot through the grass, build sand castles at the beach, paint recyclable boxes, and play with shaving cream in the bathtub, awakens and strengthens the tactile sensory system to help them tolerate the feeling of more fitted school clothing or reach into their backpacks to find a folder without looking.
Obstacle Courses: Climbing under and over chairs, rolling and tumbling on the floor, and even jumping on couch cushions helps build the vestibular and proprioceptive sensory systems, leading to a better sense of personal space and can help reduce fidgeting.
All children benefit from physical movement to strengthen their gross motor and fine motor skills while also building a strong foundational sensory system necessary to sit, write, and compose themselves properly in a classroom setting. In today’s pressured environment to make sure our children measure up academically, we may forget how important it is for kids to get out and move their bodies, explore textures, and learn through play! These skills are not only just as important as academic skills, but absolutely must be present in order for your child to even BE ABLE to learn! Whether or not you have identified any developmental concerns, take advantage of the summer months and prepare your kids for the next school year with some good quality playtime by attempting 3-4 of the above activities each week!