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Fine Motor Skills and Gross Motor Skills: What's The Difference?

Permalink by Tikal, Categories: Toddlers, Babies, Child Development , Tags: child development, fine motor skills, gross motor skills

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ToucanLearn activities are designed to promote and assist with the development of fine and gross motor skills, as well as other skills too, but do you know what fine and gross motor skills are?  Here's a simple outline of what they are and how they develop.

What is a Motor Skill?
This is an action that involves movement of muscle in our body: walking, writing, clapping, painting.  Any movement at all.

What are Gross Motor Skills?
These are the larger movements involving limbs such as arms and legs plus feet.  Or, indeed, using the whole body.  Examples include crawling, kicking, running, jumping.

What are Fine Motor Skills?
These are finer movements that we use, specifically the fingers and thumbs, and toes, to do smaller and more specialised actions such as picking things up or wriggling toes.

How do they develop?
Both gross and fine motor skills tend to develop in tandem as so many activities rely on both gross and fine motor skills.

At 3 months: a baby will wave their arms around across their chest and will then play with their fingers.  This practices both gross and fine motor skills.

At 18 months: a toddler will use gross motor skills to reach for a toy or puzzle and to sit up and play with it and fine motor skills to do the puzzle or post the shapes into the box.

Gross and fine motor skills Milestones:

At one month a baby can:

  1. Move a leg when a foot is tickled
  2. Grasp a finger when it is held out
  3. Move head from side to side when lying on their front

At three months a baby can:

  1. Support upper body with their arms when lying on their front
  2. Bear weight on legs when supported
  3. Reach for and bat a mobile or toy hanging above their head
  4. Grasp and shake small objects
  5. Follow a moving object with their eyes

At six month a baby can:

  1. Hold head steady in a supported position
  2. Move objects from one hand to the other
  3. Sit with a little support
  4. Roll over from tummy to back

At twelve months a baby can:

  1. Crawl forward (or back or side depending on their own special technique!)
  2. Pull up to a standing position
  3. Cruise round furniture (walk holding on)
  4. Pick up things with thumbs and index finger

Of course, all this can vary from child to child and some may be learn more quickly than others while others catch up later, so don't be worried if your child is not reaching these milestones precisely when they should.  If you have any doubt or fears about gross or motor skills, simply go to the doctor or health visitor for advice.

The Science behind ToucanLearn

Permalink by Tikal, Categories: ToucanLearn, Child Development, Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS), Childminders and Childminding , Tags: child development, child psychology, learning programme, toucanlearn

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At ToucanLearn we promote a 'learning programme' for children from birth to 5 years, and although we hint at how this is derived in our FAQ, we don't offer an in depth description of the processes we took to devise at our 'programme'  - we'd like to offer that detail here.

At the outset, we examined a number of key texts in child development theory.  Although these are based on science and academic rigour, they propose differences in the understanding of how children learn and develop.  We don't favour a single theory of child development, but instead looked at the practical components and created our own 'scale' based on what different proponents offer.  ToucanLearn is built on many different sources but some of the key sources include work published by The American Academy of Pediatrics, we borrow from the unique longitudanal study still ongoing as Child of Our Time and presented by Professor Robert Winston, and the work of eminent child psychologts such as Dr. Richard Woolfson, Professor Tanya Byron, Professor Linda Pound, Jennie Lindon and other less well known, but no less important, individuals.

Common to most of the developmental literature and sources was the way that they break down 'development' into a number of key areas.  These aren't static, but there are key skill areas examined by child psychologists and practitioners.  We concentrated on four particular areas that were largely common to developmental analyses, and devised our own scale unique to ToucanLearn, but based on the experiences of different proponents.  These areas of development are:-

  • Fine motor skills
  • Gross motor skills
  • Cognitive skills
  • Language development

In order to offer this to a broad audience rather than the scientific community, we refer to these as 'Making', 'Moving', 'Thinking' and 'Speaking'.

We created a scale of milestones for each of these four broad areas of development.  We took the first five years of development and created a chart based on age, from day 0 when a baby is born, to day 2,190 when our programme ends (when a child turns 6).  For example, our scale pinpoints the day when a child should be able to pick up an object, when they should be able to clap, when they should be able to understand instructions, tell a story and so on.  Our chart, which we don't publish, has hundreds of milestones across these four broad areas.   Some of these achievements are trivial, others siginifcant, but to a parent or childminder, all of these are significant in the context of their own children.

We then created hundreds of activities aimed at encouraging each developmental milestone, no matter how significant.  We categorised each activity against our derived scale.  Every activity is categorised across all four areas, with a score relating to the age of a child in days, pinpointing the day on which a child should be able to complete the activity.  Each activity has a single overriding focus, and this is the focus that we state for each activity, offering each as a making, moving, learning or language based activity.

Unfortunately for us, not all children develop at the same rate and although many of these milestones are linear in that they will be acquired in a certain order (for example, a child learns to stand before they can walk, and jump before they can hop), our 'programme' has to offer deviation to account for differences in development.  There is also a potential disjoint between developmental theory and real children!  This is where 'feedback' comes in.  We offer the option for every adult participating in ToucanLearn to 'feed back' in our blog area as to whether each activity was too difficult, too easy or just right.  This is a positive feedback mechanism that does two things.

First, we track the progress of each ToucanLearn child along four axes, one for each key development area, and depending on the feedback, we move them up or down each scale.  The scales relate to age, so if an activity aimed at teaching a child to clap is found to be too easy, we increase their 'fine motor' or 'making' score so that we take account of their ability; if it's too hard, we decrease their score.  This ensures that the activities offered to them are appropriate to their capabilities.  At the outset, we offer activities appropriate to their age in days across each of the four skill areas.  Over time and with feedback they are awarded a 'handicap' for each skill area that may be positive or negative.  This accounts for differences in the development of our different children across different skill acquisition.

The second feature of 'feedback' improves the placement of every individual activity.  Our scale derived from developmental literature might have walking or talking in the wrong place, but the collated feedback of each participant pushes the activity backwards or forwards depending on the response.  Over time this will have an averaging effect that refines the position of every activity thus feedback for each individual improves the experience for everyone.

Because our scales are based on age, if a parent registers their children at birth and participates intensively in our programme for a few months, but then goes away for two years and then comes back, the activities presented will still be relevant to the child.  If a childminder registers one child in order to access activities for several children of a similar age, then our programme falls down, because the benefit of individual tracking is lost.  That's not to say that activities won't be broadly relevant, but it won't be possible to drive each child according to their unique abilities.

Our feedback mechanism also allows for our programme to be used for children with special needs or different learning disabilities.  Although it can't be completely accurate for every situation, we believe that the core experience remains relevant for such children.  Their initial participation in our programme needs to adjusted according to their capabilities, and progress may be different to other children, but the linear nature of development across our key areas remains relevant and we can work with parents and carers to ensure that they remain on a suitable path.

Every activity is also rated according to the UK government's Early Years Foundation Stage Areas (EYFS) of Learning and Development.  This information is offered only to Premium Members as an enticement for people to subscribe.  We have to derive enough revenue to continue offering our service because we don't currently receive any governmental or other sponsorship!  EYFS is very much the 'icing' on a programme based on child developmental psychology, anyone participating in ToucanLearn will benefit from the underlying science whilst also being able to fulfil and track their progress through EYFS.

If you're still reading at this stage, then clearly you are interested in the route that we took to bring ToucanLearn to market and we hope that you have understood and agree with the path we have taken.  We conceived our initial ideas early in 2007 and spent over two years researching and developing the service before our formal launch in June 2009.  Every child is different, but we hope that our programme will remain broadly relevent to the majority of participants and whether the science is important to you or not, we hope that we can stimulate an interest in learning and development and foster a strong one to one relationship between every child and their parents and carers regardless!

Follow the Leader!

Permalink by Tikal, Categories: Parenting, Health, Child Development , Tags: child development, early years, learning program

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When it comes to big changes in your child's early years, you should follow your child's lead rather than relying solely on the development books and bragging friends and family!  If you think he is ready to sleep in a grown-up bed, then you make that change. If you think she needs a little longer with the stabilizers on her bike, then leave them on!

No one knows your child like you do so don't worry if it seems other children are zooming ahead.  Children that speak late can become opera singers, children that still need a sleep nappy at night will be dry one day and if your little one feels safe and comfortable in his high chair, don't evict him too soon!

There are some important guidelines that do require attention for developmental reasons. You'll be invited to health checks and if there's anything worrying you about your child's development then simply contact your doctor or Health Visitor. And, there are legal requirements for your little one's safety that must be adhered to: weight and height restrictions in car seats for example. However, when it comes to keeping up with others... ignore the bragging and boasting of others and cherish your little one for yourself!

The Montessori Way

Permalink by Tikal, Categories: Babies, Learning Play, Child Development, Preschool Children , Tags: child development, learning through exploration, montessori education, montessori schools

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There are Montessori schools for children the world over, but do you know what Montessori is all about?  The Montessori method was developed by an Italian educator, Maria Montessori who lived from 1870 - 1952.  Dr. Montessori undertook postgraduate research into the intellectual development of children.  During her lifetime she developed techniques for learning, gained worldwide fame and established Montessori schools and foundations in many countries.

Montessori techniques focus on children learning through exploration and unguided play rather than through a teacher imparting knowledge.  Montessori children are exposed to a broad range of materials and objects through which they can stimulate their senses and learn about the physical world.  Children are encouraged to learn without realising that they are learning.

A Montessori education does not set out to teach academic subjects like maths or science.  Although formal academic teaching can borrow from Montessori techniques, Montessori concentrates more on intellectual development.  Most Montessori schools cater for preschool children before they join the traditional academic stream, although Dr. Montessori developed a path for children from birth up to the age of 15.

Today the Montessori name is unprotected and can set up a school or group and use the 'Montessori' name.  There are organisations that accredit schools formally, so if you are set on finding a genuine Montessori education for your children, make sure that you verify that the establishments you are considering are at least accredited and that they really do adhere to traditional Montessori methods.

Stages of Play

Permalink by Tikal, Categories: Toddlers, Learning Play, Toys and Games, Child Development, Make Believe , Tags: associative play, child development, cooperative play, observer, parallel play, solitary play, stages of play

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Babies grow through an established pattern of play as they become toddlers: can you identify the different stages in your children?  There are five stages that children grow through as they develop:-

Solitary play: The youngest toddlers play very much on their own ignoring other children playing around them.  They can be totally caught up in their world and oblivious to what else is goin on in their immediate surroundings.

Observer: At this stage, children are looking at other children playing around them.  This is a fascinating stage because if you watch your child, you can see them looking at and taking in what other children are doing.  You can almost hear their thought processes as they analyse what others are doing so that they might learn from the experience of others.

Parallel play: During this stage children play amongst a group of children but without direct interaction.  They may share their toys, swapping colouring pens, different trucks or dolls, but they are not playing together.  Children at this stage are aware of each other but they are not interacting together.

Associative play: At this stage, children begin to play together but in a loose sense rather than by organising games together.  They interact but they don't have an overall game plan.  You'll see children chasing around a playground following each other but in a disorganised way.  It doesn't spoil the game if children drop out because there's no overall structure to their play.

Cooperative play: The final development stage emerges between 3 - 4 years and sees children playing together,  creating organised make-believe  games such as doctors and nurses, mommy's and daddy's or teachers.  They take on different roles and play out full scenarios.

The ages at which children pass through the different stages varies according to the way that they develop.  The pattern can be changed by their surroundings - for example, children with older siblings will be introduced to cooperative play sooner than their cohorts at nursery, and single children will have less opportunity to experience play with other children unless they attend nursery.

Baby Development: the Art of a Science

Permalink by Tikal, Categories: Babies, ToucanLearn, Parenting, Child Development, Kids Activities , Tags: child development, early years, learning program

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Watching your baby develop is one of the real privileges of being a parent.  When your baby is born, he or she seems to be a small, defenseless creature that needs constant care and attention.  Yet in no time, your baby has grown strong enough to start crawling, then walking, and begins to utter sounds that quickly evolve into speech.  In just a few years, you have a child that is capable and learning constantly, and amazing you with their knowledge every day.  The science of baby and child development has been with us for a long time but is still advancing as we discover new things by piecing together observations.  Although babies and children develop at different rates, the pattern is very similar across everyone, and the variation in time is surprisingly little!  Although you may marvel that some of your friends' babies may seem ahead of your own, if you look objectively you'll notice that your child can do other things that those babies can't yet.  Remember that all the activities in ToucanLearn are presented at the point at which your baby should be able to undertake them, and that they are designed to push the capabilities of your baby in a methodical way.  Give your child a head start in life by signing up for our learning program today!

Testing Reflexes

Permalink by Tikal, Categories: Babies, Parenting, Child Development , Tags: baby, child development, galant reflex, infantile reflexes, moro reflex, plantar reflex, rooting, sucking

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Your new baby has a series of reflexes that disappear within months of being born.  The Moro reflex (or startle reflex) sees your baby startle, spread out his or her arms and then retract them, and may cause your baby to cry.  It occurs when your baby is statled by a noise or believes that they are falling and is believed to be the only unlearned fear in a baby.  The Plantar reflex occurs when you stroke the bottom of your babies foot - you will see the toes splay and curl inwards.  Stroke the side of your babies back and you will observe the Galant reflex, and they should sway towards the side that you stroke.  Babies also have a rooting reflex - stroke their cheeck and they will turn towards you looking for food.  This is related to their sucking reflex which ensures that they suck on anything touching the root of their mouth.  These last two reflexes assist breastfeeding.  All of these reflexes are gone by 12 months, some last only the first few months.  Test your baby for these reflexes - you won't cause any harm and it will help strengthen the bond with your newborn!

Clap your Hands Together!

Permalink by Tikal, Categories: Toddlers, Learning Play, Child Development, Kids Activities , Tags: child development, clapping, rhythm

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Babies aren't able to clap until they are almost a year old - clapping requires greater coordination than you might think! From 24 months, babies are able to participate in clapping games.  Encourage your kids to clap along to the rhythm of a rhyme, or to repeat a rhythm back to you.  You can also experiment with different types of clap - have your toddler clap their hands on their legs, rather than just clapping hands together; or clap your hands against your children's hands.  Clapping games can be great to keep your kids occupied for brief periods, especially as you dont need any equipment and can play such games anywhere!


Permalink by Tikal, Categories: Babies, Parenting, Child Development, Kids Activities , Tags: child development, peekaboo

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For their first few months, baby's don't interpret that something exists unless they can actually see it.  If you cover your head with a blanket, your baby will think that you are no longer there.  Only at around 6 months do they begin to realise that you are still there, even though they can't see you.  The age old game of 'Peekaboo', covering your face with your hands or a blanket and then revealing yourself suddenly, is a great game for babies.  As their awareness grows, they will begin to giggle in anticipation of you revealing yourself, and they may even try to pull the blanket away from you!

Entertaining your Newborn

Permalink by Tikal, Categories: Babies, Learning Play, ToucanLearn, Toys and Games , Tags: baby activities, child development

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A newborn baby needs both stimulation, but also quiet time to ponder and analyse the world around them. At first babies are unable to see more than a few inches in front of them, so come up close and sing lullabies and show bright board books, high contrast patterns or flash cards from just a foot away. Your newborn will also enjoy the movement and rhythm of being carried places. You don't need to worry too much about toys at this stage as for a baby, everything is a 'toy' that can be explored and played with! Join ToucanLearn as soon as you have your baby and you'll find loads of activities aimed specifically at the first few weeks of your babies life!

Heads, Shoulders, Knees, then Toes

Permalink by Tikal, Categories: Babies, Health, Child Development , Tags: child development, growing, learning, making, moving, speaking

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The more you learn about the ways that children grow and develop, the more you will see in your own children. After birth, babies develop from the head downwards - first their head grows stronger, then their body, their arms and lastly their legs. Their larger muscles develop first (and therefore gross motor skills, or what we equate as Moving Activities) and then their smaller muscles (tuning their fine motor skills which are our Making Activities). As a member of ToucanLearn, our custom activity path will introduce activities to stimulate physical development from birth through to five years whilst at the same time, ensuring that you and your babies have fun! Two can learn much better than one!


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Hi! I'm Tikal the Toucan, the mascot for ToucanLearn. Follow my blog to find out interesting things relating to babies, toddlers and preschool children!

Sign up FREE to ToucanLearn to follow our activity based learning programme for babies, toddlers and children. We offer hundreds of fun learning craft, games and activities - every activity is aimed at the capabilities of your specific children. Download custom activity sheets, and log their progress in each child's unique Daily Diary!

You'll also find sticker and reward charts, certificates, number and letter practice. Every activity links into the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) areas of learning and development.

Fill in our Daily Diary to log progress against the EYFS and add photo entries instantly simply by sending them straight from your phone. You can share diaries back with parents or childminders so that everyone can enjoy watching your children develop.

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