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Development of Preschool-Aged Children ... It is child’s play!

July 2010

For an adult, it can be amusing and enlightening to watch a child play. For a child, play is so much more than just fun and games! It plays a very important role in promoting child development.

In essence, play is important because it stimulates sensory, cognitive, social and motor skill development in children.

This capsule will explain how play influences a child’s development, particularly in the area of motor skill development. The acquisition of motor skills can be divided into two main categories:

Gross motor skills

These involve the large muscles of the body and are used to gain balance. When your child jumps up and down, crawls, or bends their upper body forward to grab their favourite toy while in a sitting position, your child is using the large muscles of the body, thus contributing to their gross motor skill development.

The following are some examples of gross motor activities that you can expect to see in a preschool-aged child with normal development:

At about 3 years of age, a child can:

  • briefly stand on one foot;
  • jump up and down successively, using both feet;
  • start to throw and catch a big ball;
  • pedal a tricycle.

At about 4 years of age, a child can:

  • stand on one foot for several seconds at a time;
  • alternate legs when going up and down stairs;
  • throw and catch a big ball;
  • start to throw and catch a small ball;
  • ride a tricycle properly.

At about 5 years of age, a child can:

  • jump up and down on one foot several times successively;
  • stand on the end of their toes for several seconds at a time;
  • try to skip rope;
  • bounce a ball;
  • bounce and catch a small ball;
  • kick a ball up in the air;
  • ride a bicycle.

The following are a few examples of games that you can do with your child to help develop their gross motor skills:

  • Tell your child to crawl while carrying different objects placed on their back.
  • Ask your child to imitate the movement of different animals.
  • Have your child practice keeping their balance on a beam as if they were a tightrope walker.
  • Ask your child to carry a tray filled with objects, using both hands, and to then extend the tray out in front of them as if they were a restaurant waiter.
  • Play pretend fishing, and ask your child to stretch out both arms as if they were holding a fishing rod.
  • Play badminton together with a balloon.
  • Tell your child to draw a picture on a large sheet of paper pasted to a wall.

Fine motor skills

These involve the small muscles of the hand, which are used to grasp small objects according to size. When your child grabs a ball, holds a small building block between the thumb, index and middle fingers, or picks up a small peace of cereal with the thumb and index finger, your child is using the small muscles of the hand, thus contributing to their fine motor skill development.

The following are some examples of fine motor activities that you can expect to see in a preschool-aged child with normal development:

At about 3 years of age, a child can:

  • hold scissors without any help and cut a fringe from a paper;
  • string small pearls;
  • twist a lid on and off properly;
  • thread a string through the holes of a board placed in front of them;
  • fasten and unfasten large buttons;
  • build a tower using nine or ten blocks;
  • flip the pages of a book one at a time.

At about 4 years of age, a child can:

  • cut paper along lines;
  • hold a pencil like an adult;
  • draw simple shapes (circle, square, cross);
  • trace a line from one dot to another;
  • draw a line between two parallel straight lines (road);
  • touch each of their fingers with their thumb.

At about 5 years of age, a child can:

  • cut simple shapes;
  • draw simple shapes by connecting the dots;
  • colour within the lines of a picture;
  • place a paper clip half way;
  • fold a sheet of paper into two equal halves.

The following are a few examples of games that you can do with your child to help develop their fine motor skills:

  • Tell your child to hold their hand out like a bowl and fill it up with rice.
  • Ask your child to pick up small objects (popcorn, macaroni, playdough, etc.), using small tongs or pliers.
  • Ask your child to hang up drawings on a clothes line, or to fasten hair on top of a cardboard face, using clothes pins.
  • Every other day, have your child practice making a ring shape with their thumb and index finger, and entwine your thumb and index finger as well, then pull and resist for as long as possible.
  • Tell your child to fill up a bucket as fast as they can by squeezing the water out of a sponge, using both hands.
  • Have your child practice screwing and unscrewing bolts.
  • Ask your child to pick up small objects one at a time, using only one hand, and then ask your child to hide them in the palm of their hand to then reveal them one at a time. This game can be played with many different small objects, such as cereal flakes at snack time, or loose change to put into a piggy bank.
  • Give your child a double-ended colouring crayon, and ask your child to draw pictures, alternating colours with one hand.
  • Place a piece of playdough between two of your child’s fingers, and ask your child to pretend cutting it by pressing the two fingers together.

To conclude, keep in mind that every game your child plays, even the simple ones, will greatly benefit them. These activities help your child grow, and acquire the motor, sensory, cognitive and social skills needed for everyday life.

Notes

Jolene Boudreau, O.T. and Victoria Tang, O.T.
École Jean-Piaget

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Updated on 3/20/2015
Created on 1/19/2015
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