By Sue Carr, Monona Grove Nursery School
Three and four year olds are certainly a bundle of energy with lots to do and say all day every day. In a preschool environment, in a class of 15 or 16 other kids, the collective energy can be overwhelming for some children. Often, children need to be taught how to help themselves calm down, take stock and breathe. This is often referred to as mindfulness, and here are some good techniques for preschoolers to practice. Remember that with little people, it takes a lot of practice for these things to become intuitive and regular. So keep at it!
*Breathing—with a kiddo who is really riled up we often start with breathing- “take three big breaths from your belly”. Putting one hand or both on their belly helps them to feel the movement of the air through their body. This is also a great way to get a group of kids to settle in after a transition—playing or clean up to circle time, or a singing-dancing circle time to a book. We often close our eyes, put our hands on our bellies, and sit still listening to the breathing for a few minutes. For a family, it might be a way to start a meal or a family activity—take the moment for everyone to gather themselves.
*Stretching- another way that we help kids to be very present in their body is to talk them through some simple stretches and helping them to focus on the various muscles in the various parts of their bodies- Focusing on their feet, stretching each toe, the ankle and their leg, or on the hands, stretching each finger and the palm, allows them to focus on their own body and can bring them back to a central sense of being especially when things with friends get a little crazy.
*Yoga- We use some ABC yoga cards with our kids- helping to get them to form their bodies into various letters and then holding that position carefully. There is also wonderful resources where young kids can be taught various animal based yoga positions. Yoga brings down the level of activity, and brings kids into clear focus with exactly what their body is doing.
*Focus on the Senses- Sometimes we practice mindfulness by having a noticing moment. Whether in the classroom, waiting in line, outside on the playground or on a walk, we help the kids to use all 5 senses to notice things. What do you hear, what do you smell, what do you feel (how is your body touching the ground) and what do you see. We have a bubble fountain in our classroom, and sometimes just taking a moment to focus on that sound (which is a constant background noise) brings everyone in the room back to a more calm, present, and peaceful place.
Teaching children to be present in their own bodies is a lifetime skill that in this crazy busy, media focused world can be a lifesaver for both you and them!
Sue Carr is a teacher and the director of Monona Grove Nursery School, a fixture on Madison’s East Side for almost 60 years.
By Sue Carr, Monona Grove Nursery School
Preschoolers are a bundle of energy and curious about all kinds of things. While they are exploring and playing it is important to provide some activities that aid in the development of the muscles needed to eventually have a comfortable pencil grip. In preschool, these activities can be fun and creative, while still building important muscles. Here are some of our favorites.
We use all kinds of tongs, tweezers, connected chop sticks, and pipettes to pinch, which strengthens the muscles in the thumb and forefinger. For the youngest kids, there are big, easy tongs that can be used to pick up pompoms or cotton balls. For older kids, tweezers can be used to pick of small things like beads or noodles. Think of the old game Operation! We also use pipettes to water color paint or to simply move water from one container to another. All preschoolers love that! The squeezing of the pipette and learning how it works strengthens the same muscles.
Play Doh and Clay:
We expose our kids to some form of playdoh, slime, or clay almost every day. The actions of rolling, pinching, pushing, stretching and kneading not only offer some sensory activities to stimulate the brain or calm the mood, but also builds the muscles in the wrists, hands and fingers. The strengthening of these muscles is key to being able to comfortable hold crayons, markers and pencils for future writing. Some of our favorite play doh add-ons are Potato Head pieces, birthday Candles, rolling pins and cookie cutters, and ice cream scoops. But anything that is washable can be played with at the playdoh table!
MGNS Play Doh Recipe
2 tsp. Cream of tartar 1-cup water
1-cup flour 1TBS.oil
½ cup salt food coloring
Put cream of tartar, flour and salt in pan on stove. Add water oil and coloring. Mix well. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until dough forms a ball.
Cool and kneed. Store the play dough in an air tight container in refrigerator.
On a bigger scale, working on vertical services usually engages more of the larger muscles- strengthening the shoulder, arm and core muscles of the body. We use chalkboard, dry erase boards, easels, and vertical lego walls to create spaces for kids to stand and work vertically. Other ideas would be to tape paper to the wall to allow the kids to draw or paint. Magnet games on the refrigerator, or using washable glass markers on a patio door or a large window are also fun activities. Using a big surface will usually engage the kids to use both hands and practice some of that all important crossing of the midline as well.
Easy Fine Motor Activities:
There are lots of other activities that all parents do that can be used or tweaked to specifically engage fine motor muscles. Stringing beads is an easy one. We use a piece of tape on the end of the yarn to create a hard end to string through and grab, and we sometimes use uncooked noodles (penne or wagon wheels) to string. If yarn is too hard, try using a pipe cleaner for easy stringing. Finger painting is also a great way to use those muscles, especially when you challenge your kiddos to use one or two fingers at time, or make small fingerprints. And simply putting a hole in a container, and having something for your little one work to push through the hole will really exercise those muscles. Pompoms work well, cotton balls, Cheerios.
In the end, all preschool age kids should be exploring and growing at their own rate and with their own choices. But if they are interested, you can easily provide activities that are fun and calming as well as muscle strengthening. Bonus!
Sue Carr is the Director at Monona Grove Nursery School located at 4200 Buckeye Road - a proud sponsor of LENA!
Articles are written and submitted by members of the Lake Edge Neighborhood Association, residents, business owners, community members, and elected officials in the Lake Edge neighborhood or vicinity.