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Practical Homeschooling® :

Learning Motor Skills

By June Oberlander
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #59, 2004.

Learning hand/eye coordination.
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June Oberlander

Every child deserves the best education possible. An individualized educational program is the best method of teaching a child. The goal is to train the child to be the best that he can be. Public-school teachers strive to meet the basic needs of each child but often fall short of the task due to large class sizes.

This is where homeschool parents have an advantage. Statistics have proven that most children progress more rapidly in a one-on-one teaching situation. However, it's easy to concentrate primarily on the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic while forgetting other readiness skills that aid in developing a child to the fullest potential.

Skill development involving large muscle activities is an area of training that is often overlooked. Preschoolers are very active and often welcome this type of play. Promoting gross motor skills that enhance the child's imagination and interest will encourage him to respond favorably. Activity suggestions such as pretending to run through a forest, jump over a big wide lake, skip to the store, hop like a bunny, gallop like a horse and trot like a pony are fun activities. This may spur a child to suggest other ways to use his large muscles.

Another way to aid in gross motor development is with the use of a balance beam. Many preschoolers will walk on straight lines whenever possible during free play. A mock balance beam can easily be established by obtaining a long narrow board approximately three to four inches wide and five feet long. It should be resting on the floor or ground (if it is an outdoor activity). Later, the beam may be raised to an appropriate height depending on the skill of the child. If no board is available, then a wide piece of yarn may suffice for balance development.

A child may enjoy following various commands while walking on the balance beam. He may be instructed to stand in place on his right foot and balance his body with the arms stretched out and parallel with the floor. This may be repeated with the left foot. Some children require help to balance their bodies to prevent falling.

Next, the child may be instructed to walk forward across the balance beam with arms outstretched. Allow the child to do this several times until he seems secure in performing this task. Then instruct the child to walk forward across with hands down by his sides. Encourage the child to go slowly so as to maintain his balance. Walking across the balance beam backwards may prove to be a real challenge for some children, while others delight in doing so. Children may make other suggestions, such as walking sideways on their heels or on their toes etc. Honoring a child's suggestions will tend to build his or her interest and enthusiasm.

Throwing and catching a ball is also a good gross motor skill that develops eye-hand coordination. If the preschooler has difficulty throwing and catching, a beanbag will provide more security until a better skill has been developed. Throwing and catching a beanbag or ball while walking on the balance beam will require even greater skill for the child. Select a ball that is not too large or small that can easily be grasped by the child.

Subsequently, balls and beanbags may be used and thrown a distance. Measure the distance to determine how far the child can toss the ball or beanbag. Use a tape measure or yardstick to measure in inches first. Later, introduce the number of inches in a foot. Encourage the child to throw the balls or beanbags as far as he can. This activity will encourage number skills as well as arm and hand muscle development.

Balls or beanbags may also be used to toss up and catch. Balls may be thrown against a wall or backboard and then caught. Counting the correct catches increases the child's interest in the sport and aids in understanding number concepts. Also, a ball may be bounced on the floor or ground and caught a given number of times. This increases learning with listening, following directions, number skills as well as eye/hand/arm coordination. Some children will need much practice in tossing and catching.

Here's a good party game for preschoolers that you can easily make yourself. Obtain a rectangular corrugated box from a grocery store. Cut the top away and use felt markers to draw and color a clown face on the bottom of the box with the shorter ends of the box in vertical position. Draw the clown mouth large enough for beanbags to be easily tossed through. Place the box against the wall or a door for stability. Tell your child to stand a given distance and begin to "feed" the clown by tossing a beanbag through the clown's mouth. The child will develop more confidence if he is given three tries to feed the clown.

Additional gross motor skills may be introduced to further refine the child's large muscle skills. An obstacle course may be established inside or outside the house. More simple gross motor skills may be used to teach many concepts such as commands to encourage listening and actions and at the same time develop large muscle skills through play. These actions require only little preparation. Some suggestions are: "jump over a box," "crawl under a table," "sit on the floor," "walk through the doorway," "crawl in the box," "go behind the table," "stand beside the chair," "walk around the bucket," "stand in front of the TV," "walk forward five steps," "walk backwards five steps," etc. The child will undoubtedly suggest other things that he can do that will enhance the development of his gross motor development.

These simple activities and concepts need much repetition so that they become second nature to a child. Adults need much practice and repetition when they learn to drive a car. After that the skill is learned it remains programmed in the brain. The same is true for preschoolers. They need to learn basic readiness skills as part of their foundation for learning. Parents of preschoolers should strive to be aware of every readiness avenue and ensure that their child's patterns for learning are set.

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