Literacy Challenges

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Following up on several parenting webinars since the lockdown, this series of blogs are an attempt to support parents by answering some of their most common and yet essential questions. The three questions in this blog are on literacy related skills.

The lockdown has been most stressful for young children. Children have had fewer opportunities to play outdoors and it will impact their acquisition of skills required for reading, writing and arithmetic. As much as possible, please allow children indoors to have the opportunity to use all their large muscles through, crawling, climbing, jumping, balancing, hopping, running and so on. A simple obstacle course using everyday materials within the home will be greatly appreciated by the developing body and brain. Before working on the small muscle groups used by the eyes and fingers for reading and writing the large muscle groups must be used. If this is not done, it will reflect as a lack of interest in academics, avoidance of tasks that involve focus and power struggles and tantrums during the “homework”.

1. How long can we make a 5-year-old sit to do homework at one time? 

My documentation of how children learn over two decades points to a very clear pattern. Children when occupied in self-driven play can spend any number of hours on the task. But when the task is structured by a parent or teacher and has specific goals, they can focus for chronological age plus 3 minutes. A 5- year-old will focus for 6-7 minutes but will be seated for about 8 minutes. If there has been high gadget usage this time reduces drastically. If there has been outdoor play with an opportunity to use all the large muscle groups, the child finds sitting and working on a task much easier.

2. My 5-year-old does not like to take the book and write now. She used to do it while she was at school and since the lockdown she has developed and aversion to writing. She has forgotten all that she has learnt. How do I bring her back to practice?

Since the change in her behaviour is linked to the pandemic and the lockdown, we need to consider emotional factors and anxiety before we try to “fix” the writing problem. Every behaviour is a form of communication. Please check if the home environment has gone through changes in routine. In many homes, the work from home schedule has caused serious damage to the routine children were used to following. If that is the case, please endeavour to set a clear routine now. Children thrive when the atmosphere has clarity. If there is a lot of anxious talk including about people who have died, have been taken away to hospital, who have been quarantined, news cycles causing chaos, please reduce the triggers. Make an effort to reassure your child through your calmness and let her know that safety is staying home and following self-hygiene practices. Start with playing with small dals, vegetables, door knobs and latches, do a little gardening if you can, introduce her to origami, small crafts… the idea is to keep the muscles needed for writing in good shape but through more fun activities. Introduce her to air writing, writing on wet sand or raw rice with her finger, on rangoli powder with a paint brush and so on. Different medium and textures are magical for the learning brain and nervous system. Once you have done these for at least three weeks, introduce her back to writing but for short periods of time. Even after she starts writing regularly do not compromise on the routine or the activities. Most importantly, remember that children feel anxious and many times may not be able to express themselves. Never underestimate your role in making her feel safe and secure at home, through your words, actions and support.

3. My son refuses to write and complains of pain in his fingers when he writes. What treatment is needed?

Please do not view this as a problem to be fixed through the medical model but as a skill that can be developed gently. Writing before the age of 7 is not scientific or age appropriate. However due to many unhealthy beliefs and pressures, educators and parents tend to push children to do more than is required for them at a particular age. Before working on the fine motor muscles needed for writing please ensure that all the large muscle groups are used at least for 20 to 40 minutes a day as crawling, climbing, jumping, pulling, balancing, cycling, playing with a ball and so on. The core muscles need to be developed if a child needs to be able to sit and engage other muscle groups required in writing. Have a lot of activities for eye tracking like throwing objects that children can follow and catch, write on the wall with a torch and let them follow the letters, allow for free play where children arrange objects and focus on the objects. If not for the lockdown, all these skills can be achieved through paly outdoors especially in the sand. These can be developed indoors for now. Allow your children to play with lacing boards which can be created at home with old cardboards and shoelace, let them learn to water plants, fill water bottles, measure and pour liquids into containers, do simple paper craft learning to fold, cut and paste, let them use wet cloth to squeeze out water, let them learn to manipulate door knobs, latches, locks and keys, picking stones, sticks, shells where ever they can or replacing it with a variety of lentils that can be sorted and so on go a long way in developing the muscle groups needed for writing. Start with small strokes for short periods of time and when you give them a break you can use Brain Gym activities or activities involving the large muscle groups. This needs to be just for 1 to 2 minutes. This helps children regulate brain and body functions to develop writing.

As many more questions sent involve writing, I will in subsequent blogs present more activities we can use as parents or educators to support children who find it challenging to write.

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