Back in 2014 I read a blog article detailing how many children in education now have issues with fidgeting in class and linking this to an underdeveloped vestibular (balance) system. The children in the classrooms the author observed were struggling to sit still through lessons with extreme fidgeting and repetitive behaviours, and the link was made with the modern emphasis on children being upright, sitting, rather than rolling down hills and flying around on roundabouts.
Fast forward two years to a conversation with an old colleague whose son had just started school. His own son had great fine and gross motor skills, being from an active family with plenty of opportunities for the kinds of activities that develop those skills. However this was not the case for the rest of his class, to the extent that the school had to bring in an occupational therapist to work with these children who had spent their first years sitting swiping and tapping screens. Time and time again I have talked to early years professionals who say things like “the parent said their child was great at jigsaws, but when I gave the five year old child a four piece jigsaw they didn’t know how to pick it up and manipulate it – all they had done before was drag and drop on a screen”.
This isn’t a rant at parents who have become dependent on screens to entertain and educate their children. Online programs, educational games, and great TV shows all add greatly to the mixture of resources available to us. It’s not a rant at schools who, for various reasons, are being pushed to cut down on activities such as art and play because these are seen as being extraneous to the school’s mission to teach literacy and numeracy, even though studies of the pedagogy of early childhood development have shown time and time again these ‘extras’ are in fact essential, especially in the first few years of school when children are developing social skills, creativity, mental resilience and those ever important fine and gross motor skills.
It’s just a shout of support out to everyone who is walking the path less travelled and trying to buck the trend for
endless screen time and a life spent sitting down. This is why you are doing the right thing when you stand up against your five year old having homework every evening, or usher your eight year old outside to play on a climbing frame when they would rather be in playing Minecraft.
Sometimes though the kids choose a really great way of developing their balance and gross motor skills which really makes me nervous. I have to admit I am rarely as stressed (but getting better at hiding it) as when I see my babies flying along on their bikes, narrowly avoiding dogs and their owners with me running along behind shouting ‘watch out for the……..oops!’ Or when the boys are venturing forth on their skateboard and rollerblades, dodging the mobility scooters and elderly pedestrians at the seafront. I take a deep breath, smile brightly and mutter ‘gross motor skills, balance, judgement of risk’ and all the other things my training tells me the boys need to do this for and which don’t involve me bubble wrapping them.
NB for a wealth of activities to encourage development of gross motor skills check out this useful resource :http://learning.gov.wales/docs/learningwales/publications/130212do-and-discoveren.pdf