Tag Archives: fine motor skills

Lumpy Dough

Play dough and other sensory materials are very popular with children of all ages.  I like play dough because unlike paint and many of our other sensory activities there is little set-up time required for play dough.  I always have a batch of prepared play dough stored in my refrigerator.  The fact that it is cold at the beginning of the activity and warm at the end is an added sensory experience.

The recipe I like to use most often is;

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup salt
  • 3 Tbsp cream of tartar
  • 2 Tbsp vegetable oil

Combine flour, salt and cream of tartar in a medium sized saucepan.  Add water and oil: cook over medium heat stirring constantly.  When mixture pulls away from side of pan and forms a large ball, remove from heat and let cool.  Knead dough, divide and add food colouring if desired.

I do usually add some time of colouring to the dough and sometimes I add herbs, spices or some other scented material as well.  I have plenty of tools to use with play dough – knives, scrapers, icing decorators, cookie cutters etc but I find that many of the children become so focused on tool ‘ownership’ that the play dough gets forgotten.  Since this is a ‘process’ activity there is never a required product so I rarely offer tools unless the children specifically ask for them.

I chose not to add any colouring or scents to the latest batch of play dough.  Instead, I started the activity by introducing foam ropes and tissue paper.  The children then got to rip the tissue paper into tiny pieces and cut the foam rope – this was more challenging than I anticipated.  The foam was so dense that none of the children’s knives could cut through it.  Scissors worked but the cut pieces tended to fly everywhere – amusing to some of the children but annoying to anyone (me) trying to collect all the pieces.

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The children then had the opportunity to mix the foam and paper into their dough – three very different textures.

15-10-LD02Some chose to add their ‘decorations’ one at a time while others did so by the handful.  Some used tools and played with their play dough as usual during the decorating process.

15-10-LD03Interestingly several of them mixed the paper and foam pieces in the dough and then meticulously picked them all out and then mixed them in again.  In fact, we have played with this dough several times since we first made it and ‘undecorating’ it has been a very popular activity – fantastic for fine motor skills.

15-10-LD04By far my favourite response to this activity came from the school-age children.  When they arrived after school and went to wash their hands for snack they saw the post-activity play dough on the counter.  They were super excited about having ‘cookies’ for snack – followed by a little disappointment that it was just play dough.

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Introductions & Outcomes

I think of a ‘Lesson’ as a planned activity with an expected outcome – structured and defined.  An adult led activity with a predefined goal that upon completion is either right or wrong.  Any activity that requires me to constantly ‘correct’ or ‘redirect’ what a child is doing with the supplies is not a learning activity – it is an obedience activity with the goal of conformity to rules and following directions.

Learning through play is all about exploration, experimentation and observation.  Unstructured play offers opportunities for learning without a predefined result – no right or wrong conclusion – no pass or fail.  I consider the majority of our activities to be unstructured.  ‘Planned’ activities are generally just activities that require some type of advance preparation rather than a specific outcome.

Last week I introduced the infants and toddlers to a new sensory bin.

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You might think that the bin has a Valentine theme but that was not intentional.  I wanted the flower petals and the dollar store only had red ones in stock.  If they had had other colors I would have used more than one color.  The foam hearts were chosen for their texture not their color or shape.

The various pieces of green wool were also added for their texture – I have many different colors and types of wool but these ones were left over from another craft and already cut into small pieces so I used them.  The metal trays, paint brushes and water were ‘extra’ textures outside the bin.

Throughout the activity I didn’t instruct the children but I did describe and comment on what they did.  The baby insisted on sitting in a chair;

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Normally the smaller children just use these chairs when they are sitting at the little table because it is difficult for them to reach items on the table when they are sitting on the floor. The sensory bin was on the floor so it was easier to access without the chair but he wanted to sit in it.  His preferred activity didn’t involve the bin anyway.  He enjoyed using the water to paint his hair;

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That’s still a sensory activity using the supplies provided.  It also helps to develop motor skills and coordination.

Some painted individual hearts;

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And arranged them – sorted by colour – on a tray.  Wet foam pieces stick to the metal trays but dry ones slide off;

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Others enjoyed a more physical approach diving into the bin – stirring, tossing, and squishing the items at the same time as another child was meticulously balancing the white hearts around the edge of the bin;

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And the baby moved on to pushing the hearts and petals through the little hole in the top of his paint container and down into the water.

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All of them are learning and developing new skills. The learning outcome is not their ability to copy what I asked them do.  It is their demonstration of what they have discovered and how they put it to use.

We’ll use this bin again in the coming week(s) and I’ll add some other items too.  Maybe the children will continue to pursue these same activities.  Maybe additional equipment will enable them to expand on these activities.  Maybe they will try something completely new.  I’ll make the introduction but we’ll have to wait and see what the outcome will be.

Right or Left?

I watched with amusement as my teenage son attached his camera to the tripod.  I wasn’t the trial and error method he used to accomplish the task or the way he talked to himself as he tried to figure it out that amused me. It was my husband’s growing frustration that made me laugh.

You see, my son’s dilemma may be hereditary.  I know the rhyme ‘Righty tighty, lefty loosey’.  I also know that I should turn something clockwise to tighten and counter clockwise to loosen but, when I am actually turning something I sometimes have difficulty associating the thought with the action.  I think it is a problem with hand/eye/brain communication.

Maybe I over think it.  Staring at the screw/knob or whatever it is — my hand poised over it – pretending to turn it first one way, then the other.  I am distracted by my husband’s exasperation when he can’t tolerate it any longer.

“Turn it right” he says “Clockwise”

“I know”

“Then do it!” he says, louder this time.

“I’m thinking” I reply, “And you’re not helping”

Tentatively I try turning it

“The other way!!!!” he yells “Don’t you know right from left?”

“Yes, but I’m thinking that although I’m turning it to the right, if I turned the whole assembly over and looked at it from the bottom, the same motion would be turning it to the left – so I could be loosening it.”

My husband is speechless – he looks like he might be having a stroke.

Back to my son and his camera – he starts turning the knob on the tripod but then hesitates.

“That’s right – correct” my husband acknowledges.

The boy replies “but I’m holding it upside down so I should turn it left”

I burst out laughing.  My husband is annoyed – possibly jealous that he can’t relate.

Anyway, in the workshop area of the playroom I have this;

I thought it would be a great tool for the children to develop eye/hand coordination and fine motor skills.

Every once in a while someone will get one of the nuts tightened at the top or bottom of the threaded rod.  They’ll ask me how to loosen it.  In response I will tell them to turn it the opposite direction to what they had been turning it.  They are usually pretty good at understanding opposites.  They’re preschoolers – they still have some difficulty with right and left or clockwise and counter clockwise.  I could teach them the rhyme but I don’t think it would help – either of us.

I think it is better to let them figure it out themselves.  Try something new, make mistakes and try again – without interference.  Right or left, tighten or loosen, correct or wrong.  It doesn’t matter. They are practicing and they will discover a method that works for them.

The knowledge, the grade on the written test, doesn’t matter without the opportunity to use it.  What is important is the ability to figure something out.  To learn from mistakes.  To practice.  To persevere.  To face a problem and conquer it.  That’s something you can’t do if you’re worried about being wrong — worried about pleasing the observer.