Below are 3 games I use to build gross motor skills, fine motor skills, pincer grip strength and balance + coordination skills.
Pincer grip + Hand eye coordination
These irregular blocks are a fun addition to my sessions.
The multiple flat faced surfaces allow for stacking.
Children use a pincer grip to pick up the blocks.
The blocks vary in size, which produces new hand positions to hold them.
Children are highly focused
Hand eye coordination is practiced to align blocks.
Patience and precision is needed.
Gross motor + Hand strength + Wrist Rotation
Besides practicing our sounds. Childrens forearms and hands get a workout.
The claw requires squeezing pressure to close the pincers. Hand and forearm activation.
To maneuver the claw and rotate it, the child activates their whole gross arm muscles and shoulder muscles.
To flip the claw and the card, I observed the child needs to supinate their wrist and maintain a squeezed hand on the handle.
“Children learn with their hands.”
– Mr Jamie
Balance + Coordination + Spatial Awareness
Simple yet an engaging activity for kids. Spoon and ball balance course.
Starting with a more stable ball and spoon, we progress to a loose slippery ball, and if the child shows good skill, we use a real egg!
Hand and eye coordination is trained, fine motor skills in the hands to balance the spoon are activated.
The child navigates a course, minding their feet and body. Spatial awareness under pressure builds dexterity and body control.
Keep it active and enjoy!
When arranging activities for early years children, try to make it as active as possible. Children learn with their hands and bodies. More physically involved they become, the better focus they demonstrate.
If your kids have been saying they have been playing the ‘hop hop game’ in our sessions, this is it.
I will share firstly what is involved, how to set up, how to merge other learning points into the game, and ways to increase the challenge.
Before preparation questions
What is the outcome from this game? What do you wish the child to gain after completing this activity?
I work with my students weekly, so I already have an idea of their current Phonics level and Sightword knowledge. For my students this game is to practice their sounds and sightwords in an active way that gets them up and moving in their environment.
Sometimes the focus is also more on the physical development side. As the child uses gross motor skills to jump, hop, crawl, bend and manoeuvre their bodies. They also train their spatial awareness skills to avoid obstacles and weave around.
Preparing the environment
This game can be played both indoor and outdoor, even at the beach! A small living room can quickly be turned into an active space to learn.
The arrangement of the environment is partially determined by the dexterity and skill of your student/child.
These are questions I think about first:
Can the child hop safely?
Are there any dangerous objects nearby?
Will this effect other people in the house or outdoor area?
Setting up the hopping pathway
Here are a few variables that determine the set up:
Timeframe of the activity – Can be shortened or lengthened by number of cards/items, and the difficulty at each point of the path.
Difficulty of the pathway – Know your student’s/child’s physical capabilities and the movements that may interest them.
Does your student/child loose focus quickly? – Place interest-related toys/items along the path to motivate them when they reach certain stages.
On the path challenges – Balance beam, a bridge to cross?
Shape of the path – Do you want your student to go under, over, around obstacles, hop forwards, hop side to side? This creative aspect is up to you.
One example: I created a zig zag styled pathway, as I wanted my student to pivot at each 90 degree, to strengthen their torso muscles and agility. All while going through their current phonemes!
“The environment must be rich in motives which lend interest to activity and invite the child to conduct his own experiences.” – Dr Maria Montessori
Merging learning points
The content of the pathway is entirely up to your learning topic. The purpose is to ‘visually’ recognise whatever is along the path, one hop at a time. I will share some ideas below:
Numbers (refer image below)
Vocab – in ANY language
Increasing the challenge
Three ways to increase the challenge mentally:
Whatever the levels of your topic are, go the next step, eg. go from single sounds to adding a blend (a to an, e to et etc.) For numbers you could increase the digits, or periodically count upwards. For vocab, the child could memorise the order as they go along (bat, ball, bag) and recall them at a midway point.
Add a time limit (as long as the environment is safe to do so)
Five ways to increase the challenge physically:
Add more obstacles to manoeuvre around, under or over.
Include balance beam. They are a great way to get kids in control of their bodies and actions.
Get children to stand on one leg for each point along the path – helps core balance.
Increase the distance between hops (as long as it is safe to do so).
Change the direction of the hop – Front, side and back and twist!
Fun hop hop variations!
I’l share five alternative ideas:
Place a small toy on each card and children use tongs to put them into their own bucket as they go along (fine motor skills and pincer grip practice).
Place a lego/duplo block on each card and the child unlocks the block when they say the vocab/sound. Then they can build something at the end!
I want to pull apart the questions and queries regarding leveled reading sets and share some of my experience working with beginning readers.
What are leveled reading sets?
Leveled reading sets systematically introduce vocab and sentence patterns in a step by step approach over leveled ranges of difficulty.
What are the benefits of Leveled reading sets?
“A leveled book set has several advantages, including the following:
An organized set of books makes it easier to select books for groups of children.
Having a gradient of text provides a way to assess children’s progress over time.
A book collection is established that does not need to be replaced but is revised and expanded over time.
As the collection expands, the varieties of text will provide opportunities for children to increase their reading power through experiencing diverse texts.” ¹
I have seen some benefits of Leveled reading sets, such as a great connection to the characters in the stories. The characters form a rich personality in the student’s mind as they experience so many different scenarios.
There’s a sense of consistency, with most sets having 50+ books in each series. Children do find some security in this predictability, which also leads me to some cons about them as well.
Most schools tend to use this system as it is easy to manage over many students and to track progress.
The downsides of Leveled reading
One of the leading literacy and Reading experts Wayne D’Orio shared, “The major criticism about leveled reading, though, is that it unnecessarily narrows the scope of opportunity, reducing exposure to books that might surprise or challenge students. Leveling can pigeonhole kids at the same reading level for too long, preventing them from progressing to more difficult books as their reading skills improve throughout the school year.” ²
I have witnessed this happen before with some of my students, where they get stuck on a level not of their own accord, but teachers and parents continually go over the same stories. This quickly diminishes the child’s enthusiasm to read.
Pros and cons of storybooks
Everyone loves a good wholesome storybook. Kids adore the unique flavor it brings to their reading experience. New text, and new characters to meet.
I personally like to see kids attempt new ranging levels of text. As challenges always bring up questions, and questions beget answers.
But, most storybooks can range alot in terms of difficulty and beginner readers that haven’t been able to build up their vocab base and phonemic awareness skills to decode text, the challenge can be too much. The last thing we want to do is give out kids material they have no idea how to tackle by themselves. It can also be overwhelming and frustrating. Storybooks of this nature, do require guidance and assistance to get through the text.
Depending on the length of the story, the amount of text on each page, and the difficulty of sentence structures, they should be chosen roughly according to the child’s literacy ability.
“It is important to know your reader’s abilities, to pick storybooks that are just a tad above their level. Enough to produce questions, but satisfying enough for them to get through by themselves.”
Children’s interest is important
If the child has a personal interest in a particular storybook, you already have the child’s motivation to read. Even if you know the level is beyond their current capabilities, from experience you want to encourage that motivation and find a way to guide the student through.
Of course for a traditional group class, tailoring to every child’s interests is impossible to do, but for one to one tutoring, or for your own child it can work well.
Which method is the most effective?
Both Leveled reading and unmatched storybooks both share a place in a child’s reading development.
Leveled readers can introduce concepts and vocab at a pace children can digest step by step generally by themselves or with little assistance.
While storybooks bring new life and new experiences of diverse text that children can explore, but often require extensive guiding reading to help them through.
The statement below sums up my thoughts perfectly:
“Leveling is an educational tool. It can be used well or used poorly,” clarifies Karen Yingling, a librarian at Blendon Middle School in Westerville, Ohio. It’s not that teachers need to stop using leveled reading—it’s that they need to be flexible in how they use it.”
How I approach reading in Eduuplay sessions
ETP sessions //
Students are generally not reading yet, and English is their second language. However reading abilities can vary, depending on the learning requests from parents.
50/50 Oral and Phonics //
Students are practicing decoding skills learnt from their Oxfordworld workbooks, and recognising Sightwords that they have practiced from their Sightword Word work books.
Catering for different reading abilities
In both ETP and 50/50 sessions the three groups below apply:
Teacher read group – listening and oral repetition on sections to build English awareness. Children select English books based on interests from my Pre – selected options.
Guided reading group – children practice decoding skills and try sections by themselves. Focus on beginning to independently read. Scanning and focus on text is important.
Independant readers – they have a broad range of decoding skills, a large data base of vocab and lexicon to use. They soar ahead by themselves. The focus with these readers is discussion and comprehension.
I use a blend of leveled reading for students that are building their reading base, and spontaneously mix it up with new storybooks from time to time.
As students demonstrate strength in a level, we keep moving up. If students show a particular interest in a storybook, I will find a way to incorporate it into our reading time, using one of the three reading groups above. Teacher led, guided or let them independently read.
Thanks for reading today’s blog, if you found it useful please share it. If you have any further reading development for early years questions, please send them through.
“Can you help my child prepare for their examination?”
I have been a tutor in HongKong for the past 5 years working with early years children. This is a line I get all the time before every new school year, but now I get it regularly and randomly.
Just about everyone knows Hong Kong kids and typically Asian kids in general are ruthlessly examined on their schooling. But not many outsiders know also the child’s extracurricular activities are ALSO examined. Activities like music, sport, art, drama – all activities that should be enjoyment based, are still used as credit points for school promotion.
With all this examining going on, how does this excessive scrutiny and pressure affect a child’s overall development?
I want to dive into some history and facts before pulling apart my thoughts on this situation.
Before I get into expanding topics and sharing real-life examples. I must share the over arching standard global view on examining students.
Examination’s expectations over history
Modern traditional Examinations are about: “Asking students to demonstrate their understanding of a subject matter, which is critical to the learning process; it is essential to evaluate whether the educational goals and standards of the lessons are being met.” (July 15, 2008: Edutopia)
To attain a broader understanding we need to look at the history of examining students, especially in the region of Hong Kong/China where my current concern is.
Examinations in regard to western schooling culture have been around for hundreds of years, dating back to the early 1700’s. These examinations were the key to higher academic learning, and in turn social influence. However in older Chinese culture, exams go back thousands of years as rites of entry into the Imperial Civil Service. “If one could impress one’s teachers for a few years, one might be invited to audition for right to be granted a degree.” (October 5, 2016: Alex Usher)
It doesn’t sound too different from today’s examinations. Using exam results as means to impress school boards to gain access to higher learning and in turn, social status. Exams have usually been the end step in tertiary education as the final testing for entry into particular Universities and courses.
So what does this look like in the Hong Kong schooling system?
Hong Kong’s Examining Pressure
Hong Kong is all about academic “impressing”. The competition is fierce and top university spots are few. The pressure is on to be the best, and to get selected. A major part of this pressure is due to Hong Kong’s population density (17,311 people per square mile (6,659 people per square kilometer). So many students are being forced through a narrow door of acceptance.
From my own observation, the pressure of this ruthless examination system trickles down through the age groups from High School to Primary to beginning Kindergarten.
It leaves me with some burning questions around the affect this has on children in the early years.
What does this excess pressure/stress do to emotionally vulnerable young children?
Stress in Early Years Development
The easiest signs of stress are seen in the physical, before we realise the changes in the psychological. “While it’s not always easy to recognize when kids are stressed out, short-term behavioral changes — such as: – mood swings, – acting out, – changes in sleep patterns, or bedwetting — can be indications. Some kids have physical effects, including stomachaches and headaches. Others have trouble concentrating or completing schoolwork. Still others become withdrawn or spend a lot of time alone.
Younger children may pick up new habits like thumb sucking, hair twirling, or nose picking; older kids may begin to lie, bully, or defy authority. A child who is stressed also may overreact to minor problems, have nightmares, become clingy, or have drastic changes in academic performance.” 3.
Signs of stress I have witnessed in young Children
Some early years children have displayed teeth grinding, scribbling with anger, crossed arms, unwillingness to participate, glazed eye look of disconnection. There are many variables that could contribute to these tendencies. For young kids stress is typically a form of suppressed energy trying to find its way out.
From my own knowledge, when expectations to perform (preparing for examinations/interviews) are placed on kids, they tend to lose a part of themselves to adapt to these external requests from parents, teachers, educators, schools.
The spark from their eyes is gone and the smile becomes forced to “keep face.” From my own observations, the higher the pressure, the less time children have to discover more about themselves and form their own identity and values.
Examinations and intrinsic values
“Assessments and Examinations distract from observing deeper intrinsic values.”
– James Nottingham
When gathering information on children’s health and how examinations affect development, I came across the work of James Nottingham (world renowned author, speaker and Child Development Specialist) He shared his views below:
“The problem with assessment is that there are just a narrow band of things that we are able to assess. So I could assess reading ability, writing progress, speaking and listening progress, I could probably assess those. But there are many things I can’t assess, such as, determination, curiosity, open-mindedness, resilience, self-belief. Those are many things that would be very, very difficult to assess…
And so the danger is, when we focus on assessments, particularly in early years, we start to narrow the field, narrow what we value.
Of course I want children to be literate and numerate. I also want many other things. I want them to be confident. I want them to be joyful. I want them to be playful.” — James Nottingham
When doing my studies into Early Year’s Education I had to save this part of James Nottingham’s conversation. It was exactly what I had on my mind, when I think about Hong Kong’s current education system. Exams aren’t the only thing stressing young kids in Hong Kong, but academic performance (including results from exams) surely is a major factor as academic performance is typically measured from these examination results. Just check out the table below of Hong Kong parent’s view of their child’s stress distribution.
Academic performance is weighted on so heavily in Hong Kong society and pushed to the extreme.
To say examinations and academic pressure have shaped the whole culture wouldn’t be a complete statement, however the percentage of contribution for “reasons to worry” is quite dominating.
For the everyday family that is raising kids in this society, how can they find their way through this education pressure cooker of examinations? Is this pressure avoidable, are there other options?
Are there ways around these examinations?
A lot of the times these exams and interviews are unavoidable, especially to progress or to be accepted in most Hong Kong schools. The stakes are high and the choices are limited. Parents feel the need to push their kids as much as possible to get them into that upper percentile that are selected. Hence the renowned title, ‘Tiger Mom’ which originates from this culture.
As the majority of Hong Kong schools follow traditional means of testing and examining through all age levels, there is no place to hide. Local school to international schools. Exams cannot be avoided.
Some schools may portray an environment that seems less stressful, but behind the scenes the pressure remains. The requirements of children performing is still there. The pride of school’s academic system is still there.
As a tutor I frequently get asked by parents to go over material their school provides; much to the child’s dismay. Another thing I get asked regularly is to help children with interview skills or exam preparation. Which pretty much means to regurgitate information on the spot with no genuine conversational interest. Kid’s hate it and it’s super awkward.
It’s a predicament I am in, as I see the need to provide a safe place children can express, yet still encourage them in English and cover points that they can use in their school life and beyond.
Many times I have chatted with destrought parents, at the end of their tether dealing with the pressure of their child’s school curriculum.
The unfortunate thing is children become the beneficiaries of stress passed down from desperate parents, which get the pressure from the teachers, which get it from the school curriculum, which get it from the school board, which must get it from the Education Bureau. Where else can it come from?
What can we do to ease the stress?
Until the Hong Kong education system catches up with children’s mental and physical health, this cycle of examining will never stop. So, how do we deal with it for now at least?
There’s a few points we must understand about our kids:
– We must get a clear understanding of our child’s personal needs.Physically, Emotionally, Mentally and Spiritually. If we want our kids to become fully developed individuals certain needs must be met first. Stress must be mitigated well to attain wellbeing.
– We need to know their learning styles to best support them! Not every child learns the same! To often activities that appeal to the written form of learning get relied too heavily upon in HK schooling.
– We need to figure out ways together to help them manage and also express their stress levels. Us teachers and parents need to be a safe place to express to.
We, as parents and teachers need to start looking at our children and students as future adults in society.
We need to start leading them with intrinsic values as priority, with grading and testing coming secondary.
We start to observe the full spectrum of their personality, not merely percentages on an exam report.
Happiness beyond examinations
I will finish with this little story that happened a few months ago with one of my students.
This particular student started out with alot of pressure from her school. She focused alot on her grades, and the stress was visible on her face. Over a few years we have worked together and quite a few times I have brought to her attention not to focus on the scores, but to enjoy the art of learning, to challenge yourself at times, but most of all- be yourself.
Last month she came up to me excitedly with her report card from school. And she showed me her grades, and she pointed to a result with her finger and said, “I know it’s a B-, but I am happy with that. I don’t mind about the score, it doesn’t mean much to me. I love doing art now.”
We have to look beyond the examining, and instill the values that takes a person through life. Perfectionism doesn’t equal happiness.
Knowing that results don’t dictate this student’s happiness and passion, is greatly satisfying.
If we want children that are happy and balanced individuals, that resonate confidence and shine their own light in society, it starts with us.
If there are any points you wish to expand on with me, I am open to new knowledge and learning. Please contact me.
Environments play a big part of shaping a child’s identity. Each experience provides new stimuli and interactions that form a child’s perspective of the world.
Children observe their parents everyday actions, such as shopping, washing dishes, doing laundry and they want to imitate these actions.
It is very common the actions we wish our children become competent in later in life are the very ones we say, ‘it’s dangerous, or wait here, or I’ ll do it” Often the internal motivation of the child is snuffed out. We have to be sensitive to a child’s willingness to help or try, because sooner or later they won’t be interested.
Outdoor Mission for this student (pictured below) was a shopping experience. We had real items to purchase, and a real environment to navigate. Children see other adults shopping, and other staff working doing their roles. It’s a different experience than being with their parents, as most kids tag along with parents through the environment, rather than lead the way as an active participator.
Children get briefed on mission rules for example:
– Running in the store is not allowed. – We stay together, or tell me if you want to venture ahead.
Basic rules based on communication and common sense.
We have a mission list. This helps to keep kids on track and following their purpose.
Jam, Bread and Peanut Butter ~ Sorry Kinder surprises weren’t on the list buddy!
Along our expedition through the food isles, we spotted signs that could help direct us on our way around the supermarket. I would bring these to the child’s attention. (Most students can’t read them yet, but the action does get children in the practice of looking for directions and being aware.)
At the end the child uses their own money to pay, and complete the checkout process. Children are left satisfied and usually pretty excited by the whole experience.
Now they finally got the chance to be just like Mum and Dad.
I’ll leave this blog post with some inspiration by one of my favourite pioneers in early years education, Maria Montessori.
“The greatest sign of success for a teacher… is to be able to say, ‘The children are now working as if I did not exist.”
I was so touched by a long term student’s farewell gift. I have been teaching them for the past 3 years.
We have shared so many different experiences from bike riding (and crashes), shopping at the supermarket, cooking chocolate cakes at home, bbq lunch up a mountain, learning to ride a bike without training wheels, so many to list!
We liked to do role play, doctors and shops.
“Do you remember this? Ouch! I find a bee in your ear. Hahaha”
We once played doctor role play and I broke my hand, thank God Doctor Ella was so kind and patient with me!
This year’s Christmas activity was the same as her first one, was so cute seeing how much she has grown.
Sometimes it’s hard seeing progress, and seeing what you’ve accomplished with a student. But hearing feedback like this makes it all worth it.
Today one of my students and I simulated the procedure of a rocket launch with Duplo. *(to the best of my knowledge)
How it came about// – My student chose a space storybook. – As it was his choice, he was excited to build a rocket and was highly motivated.
The process// – Upon reading the story, we had some ideas of how our set up could be for a space rocket launch. – Using our blackboard, I could give hints to the shape we wanted to build, but the child chose the parts.
– I wanted to go into details of the procedure that happens before a launch. (simplified version at least) To bring some reality into the session. Rockets don’t just shoot into the sky aimlessly.
Session Aims// Always my aim is to observe children’s interests, let them have as much choice as possible around an activity so they are internally motivated and also to get them to think through the process. While providing an environment that stimulates discussion in English.
As part of our our session routine, I let children choose their storybook.
Sometimes I preselect a few, and the child makes the final decision.
Today’s choice was about ice cream.
Unprepared activities like this are easy to do in a home based environment. Utilizing equipment like colour pens, scissors, paper, glue, stick tape etc. A big positive for this is, when kids see they have all the materials in their home environment already, they are more likely to get creative by themselves later on when boredom strikes.
We used items from around the room to find circle shapes for the ice cream balls, we stenciled, coloured, and then practiced scissor cutting skills as well. Lots of fine motor skills practice in one activity.
Themed based crafts are great to connect with stories and bring them to life.
Why stick with one activity when you can combine two!
Mixing common activities is a fun and intriguing concept for kids.
I like to call it ‘Activity Blending.’ ‘Taking one typical activity and interlacing it with an entirely different activity. ‘
My thought process when combining activities is based on observations of the child’s current abilities. Can they handle these two tasks simultaneously? Will they appreciate two different activities merging as one? Sometimes this is found through trial and error, and I may sometimes get ‘that look’ from the student. So, we find a way to adapt or change the blended activity to better suit their skill and capabilities.
Being a home-based private tutor, I have to utilise the child’s current environment, which usually means to improvise and get creative. See below (1)
From the picture below (2), the child’s balance beams have been turned into a walkway above the crocodile infested waters. Each step is a new word to unlock and another step to get to the safety of the mountains (the sofa).
My focus is about how can I engage the child more into the activity. In what ways can I spark the child’s imagination or shift the normal patterns of routine. How can I involve the child with mundane things they already have, and turn them towards the purpose of learning.
One of the children’s favourites is Phonics Smash (bowling) (3). Kids can get active and choose a ball or car to knock down their sounds. In the video below, the child used his electric firetruck! This worked out great, and I could send his card/s back to him via the truck! So as you can see we have been able to ‘Blend’ the active nature of bowling with Phonics learning.
(4) Using a small white board we were able to design our own elevator blending game. Combining some drawing skills of the child, and added sensory nature of the tiles. It was a much broader experience than blending the tiles by themselves. See the video below (3).
3 Benefits of Blended Activities
(1) New stimulation for your child’s brain! Blending activities sparks new curiosity for children, and further encourages their learning.
eg. Instead of pointing to letters to decode words. Roll up some playdoh balls for the child to squish as they blend the word. A great way to add sensory stimulation to what may seem a boring process!
(2) Blending two activities can also be a great way to save time!
eg.Taking your kid to the park but want to do flashcard practice after? Play hide and seek with some of your child’s phonics cards or vocab cards. Trust me, the child will hardly feel like its a task if it’s fun!
(3) Turn a static activity into an active one! “Physical activity and cardiorespiratory fitness are good for children’s and young people’s brain development and function as well as their intellect.” – University of Exeter (click to read article)
eg. Does your child have Sight-words to memorise? Lay some hoops in a line and place a card in each hoop. The child hops and reads the word as they pass through. Increase the difficulty by extending the gap between hoops, or take the hoop pathway over an obstacle or under an obstacle.
As a child educator and a parent myself. We have to find more ways to engage our children in learning in a fun and enjoyable way. If you have some ideas welcome to comment below this blog or send me an email. Happy learning folks!
Check out some more ideas below in the slideshow!
Would love to hear your feedback on this blog, please leave a star rating and comment below! – Mr J