One of my favorite toy makers (sorry, Santa!) is Melissa and Doug. Their well-designed toys are entertaining to children and satisfy the esthetic and educational needs of parents. But did you know that you can use their fabulous coloring pads to develop pre-writing skills in your preschooler?
Their jumbo coloring pads come in a wide range of themes. You can buy a vehicle, princess or animal theme, or go all-out with a blue/pink combo pack that either has dinos/vehicles/sports and hearts/princesses/fairies. I know it is not totally PC, but I have had specific requests from little clients for themes that speak to them. You like what you like. I used the “blue” coloring pad for my illustration since my caseload is about 75% boys, and they are usually less likely to want to color. I have to work harder to engage the guys in fine motor play. The animal-themed book appeals to all children.
Now….you get the best results when you color together. How YOU color, and what you demonstrate and say about your coloring will make all the difference! When you know what will build their skills, coloring turns into a fun learning opportunity for a preschooler. I use Handwriting Without Tears in my private practice. Their preschool workbooks are designed developmentally to bring your child through the stages of pre-writing all the way to writing uppercase letters. They have a nice coloring section, and each page has some coloring opportunities with each letter. But some children need more practice with controlling a crayon. Enter Melissa and Doug and you.
Preparation: Select your sheet for maximum interest (your child’s) and target pages that have a variety of vertical, horizontal, and circular shapes. If you know that your child loves cars and is not making a circular scribble yet, then you really want a picture of cars, a sun, or an animal sheet with lots of little animal heads to color in. You are going to color upside down, with your paper directly above your child’s. He can see the compelling details of your picture, and can more easily mimic your strokes. Feel free to ad-lib. Who says you cannot add circular clouds, vertical blades of grass, or a horizontal road?
Step 1: Identify what stroke (vertical, horizontal, circular) your child is commonly using. Commonly, young children exclusively use a vertical stroke. Older child with some fine motor delays will turn her paper to fill in shapes rather than alter her crayon stroke.
Step 2: Demonstrate a new stroke, and mention that grown-ups and older kids use their fingers in different ways to color in shapes depending on the shape they want to fill in. Mention that kids who are learning may have to go slower to control their crayon. You can offer to work on part of their sheet, or on yours. You might say that you tend to use too much force when you are trying something new, so you will be making an effort to press lightly and not break the crayon. Small people like to hear that adults make mistakes too.
Step 3: Reward and reinforce all sincere effort. Some cautious children are hesitant to try something new in front of you to avoid a witness to their failure, but will practice on their own. Some kids need more help and support from an occupational therapist. But everyone loves the Melissa and Doug pages!