Activities to strengthen fingers
 
        The muscles in little fingers need lots of preparation if the child to whom they are attached is going to be comfortable writing.

        Several activities that are not even related to writing can be helpful in getting small hands ready for the task. Manipulation of clay, PlayDoh, Fimo, and similar material is a strengthening exercise for the fine muscles.

        Building with blocks can also be a significant boost to this skill. As soon as the danger in swallowing small pieces is gone (usually by the age of four, but this may vary with the child) interlocking pieces such as Legos and LinkerCubes are a fine next step. They demand a greater degree of control and manual dexterity that helps to strengthen finger muscles.

        Stringing beads, tying shoelaces, buttoning buttons, pulling zippers, and snapping snaps on clothing are other activities that help to work these muscles.

        A variety of crayons, markers, and pencils can provide your budding writer with a non-threatening experience. Provide ample time to practice drawing. 

        After drawing objects, and when children are aware that letters and words have meaning, they will naturally want to label what they have drawn. 

        For the reluctant writer, parents can help make the bridge to writing by taking the childís dictation. Children who tell a story and then watch as an adult writes the words are learning that their words are given special meaning when they are written. This can be an incentive for most children, who want to be like the adults and older siblings who model this task.

        One of the pitfalls of this activity is approached when we are dealing with a child who is a perfectionist. This child doesnít want to do something unless it is right; he is afraid of making mistakes. This is the point at which the caring adult can explain that this is a process that takes years to perfect. Explain, in a very matter-of-fact way, that making mistakes in writing is not a problem -- that everyone makes them. And, above all, that mistakes are a tremendous opportunity for learning. 

        This column has been incorporated and expanded in Teach Your Children Well: A Teacherís  Advice for Parents.

 
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