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Travel Size, Please!
Many of your children’s favorite board games, such as Trouble, Hungry Hungry Hippos and Connect 4, are now available in travel size. Not only are they usually cheaper than their regular sized counterparts, but they often come packaged in compact cases that are light and easy to carry around. Aside from being fun, these smaller games serve a broader purpose. Use of the small game pieces can actually assist in the development of a variety of fine motor skills; namely, in-hand manipulation and hand separation.
This complex fine motor skill refers to one’s ability to move objects in and out of his/her hand, without the assistance of the other hand or any external supports. Translation is an important type of in-hand manipulation that is characterized by one’s ability to transfer small items from his/her fingertips to his/her palm, and vice versa. Translation begins to emerge in children as young as one, but can take years to fully develop and successfully execute with control. Handling coins and properly positioning writing tools are examples of activities that require coordinated in-hand manipulation skills.
Relevance: The small pieces that most frequently come in travel size games are great to be used as manipulates, and provide a direct way to practice translation. Prior to playing the game, have your child transfer a few of the small game pieces in and out of his/her palm. Ensure that you model this first, and pair your actions with verbal instructions. Once comfortable, incorporate this activity into game play. For example, when playing the game Connect 4, have your child translate a few game pieces into his/her palm, hold them there, and translate one piece back to his/her fingertips prior to each turn (rather than simply picking them up one at a time from a pile).
Separation of the two sides of the hand essentially involves the ability to use the pincer fingers (thumb and index) as the “doing side” and the middle, ring, and pinky fingers as the “supporting side”. Although a pincer grasp can begin to develop in children as young as 11 months (i.e. picking up Cheerios), isolation of the pincer fingers during functional activities does not typically emerge until approximately three years of age. Activities that encourage the sole use of the pincer fingers can enhance the development of this skill. Hand separation is required in order to complete tasks such as opening and closing zippers, fastening buttons, and correctly grasping writing tools.
Relevance: The small pieces that most frequently come in travel size games provide a limited surface for the fingers to grasp, making them impossible to hold onto with more than two fingers. As a result, hand separation is being encouraged, whereby the movement and control is coming from the “doing side” of the hand. For a child who is struggling with zippers, try playing a travel game before getting dressed to go outside. Keep one small game piece hidden behind the “supporting side” of each hand, and have him/her attempt to zipper his/her jacket. The hidden pieces will encourage use of the “doing side” of the hands, promoting the correct form and efficiency with this task.
So don’t just store those games away in a place where you’ll only get to them once a year. Keep them out, and make them part of your children’s daily play routine. Aside from being fun, travel sized games serve a broader purpose; they can assist in the development of a variety of fine motor skills in children.
Note: Young children playing with small items must be supervised at all times, as these often fit inside the mouth and can be considered a choking hazard. Know your child, and reference product instructions/guidelines when determining whether or not the game/toy/item should be used at all.