A coordinated effort for an 'In-Sync Child'

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By Mari-Jane Williams
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 4, 2010

In a hurry-up world in which doing more and doing it faster is often the goal for children no matter how old they are, authors Carol Kranowitz and Joye Newman are spreading a different message: Slow down.

Give children time to explore, play, engage in lots of physical activity and do things for themselves and they will get the basic skills they will need for reading and writing, the Bethesda authors say in their recently published book, "Growing an In-Sync Child" (Perigree, $15.95).

By "in sync," Newman and Kranowitz mean a child who is comfortable in his body, able to move efficiently and fluidly and can focus on a task without becoming excessively distracted. Sounds pretty basic, but as children spend more time at a desk or in front of a computer or television screen, and less time playing, kids are increasingly out-of-sync, the authors say.

"Our society is based on rushing," said Newman, the director of Kids Moving Co., a for-profit firm that offers movement therapy in Bethesda. "And anything that can make things go faster, we do. We don't let kids tie their shoes; we use Velcro. We don't let kids get in their car seats; we put them in. We don't let kids put on their clothes; we dress them. We're rushing all the time. Part of it is for ourselves, and part of it is that we want these kids to do it faster."

"We have cut out the things that are important for development that everyone used to have: the play, the work, the chores," said Kranowitz, who taught music, movement and drama to preschoolers for 25 years. She has previously written books about sensory processing, which means how well a child is able to handle all of the information coming from his senses. "We use this darn video to teach a kid how to count, and play dates where the children come together and they sit and play video games."

Something as simple as climbing in and out of a sandbox, rolling across the floor or wheelbarrow-walking can help kids develop balance, bilateral coordination (using both hands together to complete a task) or their ability to cross the midline of their bodies with their hands or eyes. These skills, in turn, are crucial to reading and fine motor skills, such as cutting and writing.

The book lists dozens of activities for children of all ages and ability levels to improve body awareness, visual processing and balance, among other skills. There is almost no special equipment required; everything involved can be found around the house.

Here are a few of the authors' favorites:

Car-seat scramble. Instead of lifting your child and placing her in her car seat (or stroller), let her climb in. In doing so, Newman and Kranowitz say, you can improve your child's motor planning (figuring out how to move her body efficiently), proprioception (awareness of messages coming from her muscles and joints), and spatial awareness (knowledge of where her body is in relation to her surroundings).

Flashlight tag. Get a flashlight and turn off the lights. Shine the light on the wall and ask your child to touch the light with his hand. Move the light around and ask him to touch it each time, shifting its location so he will be forced to cross his midline to get to the light.

Tap me silly. Stand up and face your child, and tell her you are going to spell "silly" while tapping hands. Then hold up your right hand and ask her to say "S" as she taps your hand. Make sure she uses her right hand so she crosses her midline. Alternate hands for the rest of the letters, or ask her to tap your hand with her foot or her head.

Paper plate play. Give your child a paper plate and ask him to move across the room with one foot on the plate and the other foot on the floor. Have him switch feet, and then give him two plates and move around with both feet on the plates. This is another way to work on his ability to move each side of his body independent of the other, his ability to plan his movements efficiently, and his understanding of the messages coming from his muscle and joints.

Reach for the sky. A basic stretch that can be energizing and calming, this exercise strengthens your child's ability to use both hands together. It also helps her body awareness and her motor planning. With your child lying on her back, ask her to raise one arm up and bring it back down. Repeat with the other arm and both legs, then have her do arms together, legs together, arm and leg on the same side of her body and arm and leg on opposite sides of her body.

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