Enhancing Fine and Gross Motor Skills with Creative Activities
The sun rises and sets every day. It is a proven occurrence and can be documented by most human beings who live on this planet. Now if you tell a 70-year-old today he/she should have seen 25,550 sunsets and sunrises each during a lifetime, he/she will immediately tell you he/she should have but missed many of them.
Why? When the most breathtaking gift to our eyes can be seen every day, for free, how do we miss it?
When a child is diagnosed with autism, parents are bombarded with a boatload of things they need to do to fit their child in this pretty little box called ‘normalcy.’ As the child grows, parents are constantly told where the child should be, what he/she isn’t doing, and most of the time, it feels like even when you think your child is doing great, there is always something he/she hasn’t measured up to. It’s a race. Autism feels like a race, a race against nothing. No one really tells us to slow down, and that it is not a race, they just let us run. If one day you decide to pick your head up from the drowning of “not good enoughs,” “we need to stop that,” and “we need to work on this,” you will realize that you have missed many sunsets and sunrises while you were gone…and your life…is not an Individualized Education Program (IEP).
We have to remember our children need to be freed a little to become their own people, to let their intelligence shine, and to not grow into someone we robotically want them to be. We are all guilty of it, parents and educators alike. When an educator can tell everything on your child’s I.E.P but cannot tell you five things your child likes or five things he/she is good at…we have let the diagnosis take over. How do we steer away from being like those who become blind to the sunrise and sunset? We take a step back and teach to the child, not a piece of paper.
Below is a fun lesson plan to work on with your child, one that allows for creativity and critical thinking that can be tailored to current needs of the child and hones in on fine gross motor skills. Modified versions for advancement will also be explained below.
The Spider Web Lesson
Step one: Draw a large spider web with tape on the ground. If your child struggles with fine and gross motor skills, draw the lines of the spider web thicker and as they conquer make the lines of the spider web thinner.
Step two: Place random bean bags all over the spider web where horizontal and vertical lines meet perpendicularly.
Here are the rules of the game: The child and you will stand at the bottom of the spider web, choosing a vertical line as your starting point. You will point to a bean bag the child has to obtain. Here is where creativity and critical thinking takes place. It is a maze. There are many ways to get to that bean bag, but the child gets to choose what route he/she wants to take. THERE IS NO ONE WAY ANSWER. This allows the child freedom to think.
To get to the bean bag, the child must walk one foot in front of the other, or try to. This will help with balance and fine and gross motor skills. At first, you will have to prompt, asking where we should go next or you may need to redirect. That is OK. This game requires some focus. This kind of focus is built up to; you will notice the more and more you play. The more and more their focus will last. It will not be perfect at first. A lot of hand overhand may be needed at first, and that is OK. You will work up to independence.
When the child gets to the bean bag, he/she must pick it up and throw it to the center of the spider web, again catering to the fine and gross motor skills. Then the child will get on a route to get the next bean bag. When all bean bags are in the middle, REWARD!
Reward, reward, reward. What is a sufficient reward? Although this game seems as if it doesn’t work, it is. In the world of autism, this is work. In any other lesson when they achieve something they may get a timed opportunity to do something they want. That reward is sufficient when achieving the concept of this game.
Room to build and grow is the best kinds of lesson plans. This game allows lots of room for creativity for the parent/teacher just as much as for the child. If the child is learning letters, put letters on the bean bags. At the start of the game instead of obtaining all the bean bags, prompt the child what letter you want them to obtain instead. You can do the same with numbers.
- Spelling Advancements: When working on vocabulary, put letters on the bean bags. Verbalize the word you want them to spell. Have the child spell it by obtaining the correct spelling letters chronologically and throwing them in the middle of the spider web.
- Math Advancements: When working on simple math. Put the answers to simple mathematical equations on the bean bags. Show the child a simple math problem, and prompt him/her to play the game and obtain the answer to the mathematical problem and throw it in the middle of the spider web.
- Activities of Daily Living Advancements: If you are a parent or an educator of a child with autism you know that your house or your school is plastered with signs on how to complete tasks, when going to the bathroom, getting dressed, brushing teeth, or getting ready for school.Here are ways to incorporate the Spider Web Lesson Plan with your older children/students. Put the same chronological pictures (PECS) you have used on your sheets on the beanbags to prompt the child to finish a task. Start the game with a question. What do you do first when you wake up in the morning? How do you brush your teeth? What do you do when you get dressed? This is a good test to know if your child has learned how to complete the task or just follows prompts.
- Competitive and teaching waiting advancements: Make Teams!! Get two sets of colored bean bags and create competitive completion against each other. This creates a real game atmosphere for your higher functioning children and creates a game atmosphere that forces the child to learn to wait.
How is this game is tailored to the autism mind? Many children with autism have a connection to lines, therefore a game of this sort is attractive to the autism brain. Like art, children with autism can easily express themselves from mind to hand. That is why PECS work, communication devices, pointing, or even art. We limit children by forcing them to communicate the same way we communicate. And then we measure their intelligence that way.
This game allows them to acquire knowledge, express the knowledge and advance that knowledge by not saying a single word. Although communication is needed and can be incorporated into this game, we can advance/test knowledge by hand to mind thinking. It also allows children with autism to be creative and think critically while strengthening fine and gross motor skills.
Maria Rohan is a registered nurse at Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital in Cleveland, Ohio. Outside of the nursing field, Maria has dedicated her life to working with children with disabilities, trying to give the most opportunity possible. Having worked with children with autism for ten years and having the autism diagnosis in her family, Maria writes interactive workbooks for children with autism, molding each workbook to their musical voice pattern, attention span, and their likes. She currently sits on the PTO of STEPS Center for Excellence in Autism and continues to let her love for the children plant seeds of movement.
This article was featured in Issue 72 – Sensory Solutions For Life