Although children exposed to the COVID-19 virus have generally fared well, child development during the pandemic itself has become a cause of concern. Researchers from the New York–Presbyterian Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital found that babies born before and during the crisis showed significant neurodevelopmental differences, specifically with gross motor, fine motor, and communication skills. One theory is that carer stress, along with the environment of the pandemic, led to a lack of human-to-human interactions. Without one-to-one parent time or play with other children, infants and toddlers are experiencing developmental delays due to a lack of practice.
Children are extremely resilient, but some significant effects may not manifest until they grow up. As we discussed in our article on Life After Lockdown, parents and nannies have to work hand-in-hand to provide adequate childcare. To face these developmental challenges, caregivers should help children build their motor skills. Here are three ways to help:
Set up a supportive environment
Gross motor skills focus on large muscle movements that allow for actions like independent sitting, crawling, walking, running, jumping, or climbing. Montessori settings encourage gross motor development by providing a supportive physical environment. These spaces allow children to perform activities that build muscle memory, motor planning, and creative movement. Do emphasise freedom of choice when organising this area.
Try to have open spaces so infants can roll or crawl, and make sure early walkers can toddle without bumping into things. You can plan an indoor obstacle course — as recommended by FamilyEducation — with ten stations that feature a new activity, challenge, or movement a child must complete to move forward. Get creative with household items like chairs, pillows, or baskets for a child to walk around. It would also help to offer a wide range of gross motor equipment like bean bags, climbers, swings, balls, trikes, and scooters.
Choose the right toys
Fine motor skills are more concerned with how the smaller muscles operate by grasping, drawing, or object manipulation. These small hand gestures can only be mastered with a lot of practice, so toys are a fun way for young children to learn and improve. However, it’s important to find age-appropriate toys. It shouldn’t be too challenging for a child but can help them meet their milestones. Safety is also a crucial factor, as smaller toys that can build fine motor skills often come with small parts a child could potentially choke on when ingested. The Montessori method recommends parents to choose sustainable toys made from natural materials like wood, metal, or cotton, rather than plastic.
Toys also shouldn’t move or make sounds on their own; children should be able to physically manipulate them with their hands, such as a musical instrument or a small wooden broom. With regards to toy clean-up, most children are independent with time and practice. However, explosive children can be trickier to manage. According to The Explosive Child: A New Approach for Understanding and Parenting Easily Frustrated, Chronically Inflexible Children, these children are prone to mood swings and noncompliance with parental directives. They may throw temper tantrums if they feel overwhelmed with the chore. If your child is showing signs of difficulty with flexibility and frustration tolerance during playtime, it’s important to teach them skills they lack. The best thing to do is to ask them to work alongside you, so you can model how things should be done, then slowly let them perform tasks on their own.
Practise practical life skills
Humans are skilled with our hands, but it takes us a long time to exert our dexterous abilities. It’s essential for children to have enough practise when learning how to use tools like writing implements and cutlery. The development of fine motor skills should exercise the fingers, wrists, and hands for a wider range of physical manipulations.
According to the Montessori method, you can further encourage children to build their motor skills by practising daily life tasks such as dressing, sewing, or weaving. These will help them become more familiar with the intricacies of zips, buttons, shoelaces, and other fasteners as well. These practical life skills are useful, with the bonus of improving hand-eye coordination and visual perception. As author Madeline Levine points out in Ready or Not: Preparing Our Kids to Thrive in an Uncertain and Rapidly Changing World, parents should seek to empower their children with hope and optimism. By teaching toddlers that they have some control over the environment and themselves, they’re better prepared to face the future with confidence.
Written exclusively by Joan Brown for happy-nest.co.uk