The Road to Writing and Moving in Early and Middle Childhood

Original Editor - Jess Bell based on the course by Tracy Prowse
Top Contributors - Jess Bell and Wanda van Niekerk

Introduction[edit | edit source]

Postural control begins in the brain and ends in the hand or foot. Typically, by the age of seven, a child's postural control should be consolidated and automatic and she/ he should be “writing ready” and “sport ready”.[1] However, some children may not develop this postural control for a number of reasons:[1]

  • They may be too floppy or bendy - i.e. they have low connective tissue tone with underlying weaknesses, even if they are sporty. This may be caused by conditions such as:
  • Lack of practice, which leads to muscle weakness
  • An inability to concentrate on a specific activity
  • Temperament
    • Too shy
    • Too nervous
    • Gives up easily
  • Learning difficulties

Learning Through Play[edit | edit source]

Figure 1. Learning through play.

As is shown in Figure 1, children typically experience by “doing” things. The more “doing”, the more learning. The more “doing”, the stronger their muscles get. Strong muscles and exercise are good for writing, reading, concentrating and exercising. Exercise also has a positive impact on happiness, health and friendships.[1][2]

The Building Blocks of Learning[edit | edit source]

Children develop motor competence in their early years (i.e. up until 5 years old). These fundamental motor skills (FMS) enable children to eventually develop specialised movement and sport skills.[3] Developing FMS is associated with physical activity levels during both childhood and adulthood.[4]

Based on research by Ayres[5] and Stock Kranowitz,[6] early learning can be broken down into four levels (see Table 1):[1]

Table 1. Four levels of early learning.
Level System / Skill Age Action
Level one Primary sensory systems Infant, 0 to 3 months, but starts in the womb Taking in sound, taste, vision, touch and smell
Level two Sensory motor skills Baby to toddler, 3 to 24 months Developing independent movement

Gaining body awareness and motor planning

Level three Perceptual motor skills 2 to 4 years Speech and language

Auditory and visual discrimination

Eye-hand coordination

Purposeful activity

Level four Academic and sport readiness 5 to 7 years Specialisation and automation

Organised behaviour

Postural control

Self-esteem and self-control

What if Children Are Not Ready for Learning and Sports?[edit | edit source]

Some children may not be ready as early as others for sports or academic learning. These children may have the following characteristics:[1]

  • Poor concentration
  • Fidgeting
  • Inactivity / withdrawing from playground activity / sport
  • Poor pencil grip
  • Low academic confidence
  • Physical and muscular coping strategies:
    • The strong child
    • The floppy child
  • Pain

Ensuring that children engage in the cycle of doing, learning and practising can, however, help them to achieve writing and sport readiness:[1]

  • Encourage playful learning
  • Be prepared for more teaching and more practice to help a child master a skill
  • Instill “grit” through understanding

[7]

Practical Solutions[edit | edit source]

  • Figure 2. Sit right then write.
    Sitting should be comfortable
    • Foot support (i.e. footstool, height adjustable chair)
    • If the child is sitting on the floor, consider the sitting position. Look at alignment, midline orientation / focus of attention, static propping versus weight collapsing
  • Allow lots of movement
    • Do not have children aged 6 to 7 years sitting still for more than 15 to 20 minutes (i.e. in Grades / Years 1 and 2)
      • The time spent sitting can be increased over time
    • Have movement breaks:
      • Send the child out on errands
      • Try programmes such as Straighten Up UK (see video below)
    • Movement plays an important part in sitting:  “a school in which movement is supported and encouraged has a positive effect on the learning ability and attentiveness of the children” (Dr Dieter Breitheckerxi)[8]
  • Practise sitting
    • Build up to 20 minutes
    • Sit right then write (see Figure 2)

[9]

Sitting in the Classroom and at Home[edit | edit source]

If a child is not coping, it can be useful to consider how this child sits and breathes while writing. If a child is hunched over a desk, head in arms, it can lead to:

  • Comments such as:
    • “I don’t want to do my homework”
    • “It’s boring”
    • “I'm tired”
  • Fidgeting
  • Slumping
  • Twisting
  • Poor attention to a task

Possible solutions to these issues include:

  • Adjusting the height of the chair
    • It is possible to purchase height adjustable chairs or alternatively to use common household items to make adjustments, such as hot water bottles, cushions, books etc
  • Raising the work surface or using an inclined sloping surface
    • Feet should be placed flat on floor
    • Avoid hooking feet around chairs
  • Consider furniture size (e.g. desk and chair height)[8]
    • When selecting furniture in schools, the age and height of the child are often not considered, so the furniture is often too big or too small
    • This can lead to discomfort and restlessness and, thus, affect learning
    • It is possible to use wedge cushions or footstools to address these issues[1]
  • Writing slopes
    • Enable children to keep their hand under the line of writing
  • The position and height of the desk need to work for the child. Consider in particular the set up for:[1]
    • Left handed children
      • Paper should be positioned to the left of the child's midline
    • Tall children
    • Short children
    • It can be beneficial to invest in a “homework chair” - examples include the: Sit Right, Enzi, Stokke and Ergochair

Sitting for Pre-Schoolers[edit | edit source]

For preschoolers, it is important to avoid W-sitting. Instead, aim for alignment with wedges and cushions and encourage positions such as:[1]

  • Kneeling
  • All fours
  • Playing in high kneeling

Children should also be encouraged to eat with good alignment - i.e. feet supported and a stable base.[1]

Practical Solutions[edit | edit source]

See Table 2 for practical solutions to help children become reading and writing ready, to develop good writing skills and to help them to "do".

Table 2. Ideas to help children with writing, reading and "doing".
Good writing skills Cross the midline

Painting

Chalk

Use an upright surface

Stick page down

Use thicker crayons

Reading and writing ready Sand / mud play

Spaghetti / string plan

Play dough

Shaving foam

Blackboards

Cut out cardboard letters

Draw lying on back

Encourage doing Find activities that a child can “excel” at and not be the odd one out (children should be grouped according to ability, not age)

Facilitate independence in activities of daily living (doing up buttons, dressing, getting changed for PE, getting school bag ready)

Break down activities into steps and have a 3 step plan for each activity

Give a child extra time (i.e. wake up early)

Provide choice (e.g. let children choose their own school bag)

Encourage children to exercise

Make time for attention (both the parent's and the child's)

Physical Activity[edit | edit source]

Guidelines for physical activity are discussed in more detail here, but it is recommended that:[10][11]

  • School aged children have 60 minutes of physical activity per day
  • Preschoolers should have 120 minutes

Recommended screen time guidelines:[10]

  • No screen time access for children under the age of 2 years
  • 1 to 2 hours of educational screen time for children aged 2 to 5 years
  • A maximum of 2 hours screen time for children aged over 6 years

The Importance of Promoting Movement[edit | edit source]

While questions remain about how physical activity can best be incorporated in schools,[12] it is important to promote movement in children for the following reasons:[1]

  • To increase muscle strength, which reduces fidgeting[1]
  • To relieve tight muscles, which results in fewer aches and pains[1]
  • To enhance motor skills and muscle fitness[13]
  • Fitness may improve reading and maths scores[2]
  • Movement and standing in the classroom promote concentration / focus and enhance health outcomes[14][15]
  • To enhance executive control processes and other cognitive tasks / performance[16][17]

NB: Increased PE time (and the associated decrease in academic time) does not cause a decline in academic performance[18]

Practical activities to encourage movement are listed in Table 3.[1]

Table 3. Activities to encourage movement in children.
Leg balance Running Stretches, active mobilisation, yoga Teach the child to ride a bike
Jumping Hiking Sensory activities Teach the child to do handstands / cartwheels
Hopping Walking Ball exercises (skills and core work) Talk about posture
Hopscotch Leg strengthening Teach the child to skip Introduce healthy eating habits

The “I Can” Attitude[edit | edit source]

A child needs a sense of self efficacy and agency to engage in challenging tasks. Agency is defined as: “being able to make choices and decisions to influence events and have an impact on one’s world.”[19]

It can be beneficial to set SMART goals for the child to enhance a child’s intrinsic motivation.[1] The following strategies can be useful for parents to further encourage intrinsic motivation:[1]

  • Choose praise, reward effort and be specific with praise
  • Acknowledge / validate and explain discomfort:
    • “I can see you find sitting still very hard”
    • “The burning feeling in your legs is a sign that your muscles are getting stronger”
    • “Being out of breath means that your heart is working very hard and you are getting fitter”
    • “I can see that this is tricky for you”
  • Support children to manage themselves independently

References[edit | edit source]

  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 1.11 1.12 1.13 1.14 1.15 Prowse T. The Social, Cognitive and Emotional Development of Children - The Road to Writing and Moving Course. Physioplus, 2021.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Committee on Physical Activity and Physical Education in the School Environment; Food and Nutrition Board; Institute of Medicine; Kohl HW III, Cook HD, editors. Educating the Student Body: Taking Physical Activity and Physical Education to School. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2013 Oct 30. 4, Physical Activity, Fitness, and Physical Education: Effects on Academic Performance. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK201501/
  3. Barnett L, Hnatiuk J, Salmon J, Hesketh K. Modifiable factors which predict children’s gross motor competence: a prospective cohort study. The International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity. 2019;16(1):129.
  4. Collins H, Booth JN, Duncan A, Fawkner S. The effect of resistance training interventions on fundamental movement skills in youth: a meta-analysis. Sports Med Open. 2019;5(1):17.
  5. Ayres AJ. Sensory integration and the child: Understanding hidden sensory challenges. United States: Western Psychological Services, 2005.
  6. Stock Kranowitz C. Out of Sync Child. Available from: https://out-of-sync-child.com (accessed 4 August 2021).
  7. Stanford Alumni. Developing a Growth Mindset with Carol Dweck. Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hiiEeMN7vbQ [last accessed 4/8/2021]
  8. 8.0 8.1 FIRA. Safe seats of learning. Hertfordshire: FIRA International Ltd. 2008
  9. Publicasity. Straighten Up UK!. Available from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jioiv5AJtk4 [last accessed 4/8/2021]
  10. 10.0 10.1 World Health Organsation. Physical activity. Available from: https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/physical-activity (accessed 2 August 2021).
  11. Bull FC, Al-Ansari SS, Biddle S, Borodulin K, Buman MP, Cardon G et al. World Health Organization 2020 guidelines on physical activity and sedentary behaviour. British Journal of Sports Medicine 2020;54:1451-62.
  12. Donnelly JE, Hillman CH, Castelli D, Etnier JL, Lee S, Tomporowski P et al. Physical activity, fitness, cognitive function, and academic achievement in children: a systematic review. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2016;48(6):1197-222.
  13. Myer GD, Faigenbaum AD, Edwards NM, Clark JF, Best TM, Sallis RE. Sixty minutes of what? A developing brain perspective for activating children with an integrative exercise approach British Journal of Sports Medicine. 2015;49:1510-1516.
  14. Benden ME, Zhao H, Jeffrey CE, Wendel ML, Blake JJ. The evaluation of the impact of a stand-biased desk on energy expenditure and physical activity for elementary school students. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2014;11(9):9361-75.
  15. Hinckson E, Salmon J, Benden M, Clemes SA, Sudholz B, Barber SE et al. Standing classrooms: research and lessons learned from around the world. Sports Med. 2016;46, 977–87.
  16. Sibley B, Etnier J. The relationship between physical activity and cognition in children: a meta-analysis. Pediatric Exercise Science. 2003;15(3):243-56.
  17. Tomporowski PD, Davis CL, Miller PH, Naglieri JA. Exercise and children's intelligence, cognition, and academic achievement. Educ Psychol Rev. 2008;20(2):111-31.
  18. Ahamed Y, Macdonald H, Reed K, Naylor PJ, Liu-Ambrose T, McKay H. School-based physical activity does not compromise children's academic performance. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2007;39(2):371-6.
  19. Australian Children's Education and Care Quality Authority. National quality standard: Information sheet. 2018. Available from: https://www.acecqa.gov.au/sites/default/files/2018-04/QA1_SupportingAgencyInvolvingChildreninDecisionMaking.pdf (accessed 5 August 2021).