This post is going to focus on how you can use common games to help develop your gross motor, fine motor, social, emotional and cognitive skills. Today’s blog is focused on the game Connect 4! This is a fun and simple game that can involve many players. Have a look at how Connect 4 can support your child’s development.
Gross motor skills
You don’t have to be limited to only following the rules when playing a board game. You can always integrate different challenges into the game to help work on gross motor skills.
- Encourage your child to sit cross legged, kneel on their hands and knees or lie on their stomach while playing to increase their core strength.
- Create a simple obstacle course using what you have at home (e.g. crawl under chairs, hop on mats, walk heel-to-toe on a line drawn in chalk or masking tape etc.) and have your child do the obstacle course each time they want to collect a coin to insert it into a column.
- Similarly, place the coins on one side of the room and the Connect 4 board on the other and use various animal walks (E.g. bear, duck, crab, frog) to get the coins and bring them to the board. Encourage your child to think up new animal walks. You can also make it a race (i.e. first person to get to the board gets to insert their coin first).
- Have the child use their right hand to pick up coins placed to the left side of their body and their left hand to pick up coins placed to the right side of their body. This develops a skill called midline crossing which is important for hand dominance and is necessary for tasks such as dressing.
- Pick 7 gross motor skills you would like your child to work on (e.g. star jumps, skipping, standing on 1 leg etc.) assign each skill/task to a column. Then, each time either player wants to inset a coin in a column, they need to do the activity linked to each column (e.g. do 10 star jumps before you place a coin in column 1)
Fine motor skills
- Ensure your child uses a pincer grasp (using the thumb and index finger with other fingers tucked away) when picking and inserting the coins.
- Ensure your child uses their helper hand (the hand not holding the swords) to hold onto the connect 4 board to help stabilise it as they insert the coins in.
- You can also practice in-hand manipulation skills by having your child grab multiple coins, keep them in their palm then use their fingers muscles to bring the coins one at a time away from their palm into their fingers.
- Similarly, improve your child’s refined finger movements by having them rotate the coin with their thumb, index finger and middle finger before inserting it.
- If your child is too young to understand the concept of how to play Connect 4, practice inserting the coins to make patterns (e.g. red-yellow-red-yellow).
- Children often find it easier to understand and make vertical and horizontal lines before diagonal lines.
- Connect 4 is in itself a wonderful game for developing planning skills as children need to plan out how they can build their own line of 4 while also watching out for what their opponent is doing so they can block their opponent from winning.
- Start by providing your child with verbal prompts (and gestures) to help them identify when they have a chance to win or when their opponent might be close to winning. Ask your child if they can predict where their opponent is likely to place their next piece and/or how their opponent might be planning to win. Give less and less verbal prompts as they get better at the game.
- This game is great for encouraging visual tracking and visual perceptual skills as your child needs to track the different coloured coins.
- Count the number of coins each player has inserted or has left.
- Prompt your child to find a fair way to decide who goes first. Playing ‘rock, paper, scissors’ can be a useful way to prevent arguing. Practice turn taking skills and if your child requires the support, give verbal prompts such as ‘who is next?’, ‘your turn, my turn’.
- You can also focus on developing your child’s winning and losing skills. Often when children become fixated on winning, they can have difficulty regulating their emotions if they lose. It is often helpful to role model good winning and losing behaviour. Also emphasize at the start of the game that it is more important to have fun and play fairly than to win. Similalry, before starting the game, brainstorm friendly things to say to one when someone wins (e.g. “You played really well”) or when someone loses (e.g. “Good game. Do you want to play again?”.
Emotional regulation skills
- If your child gets frustrated, angry or upset when they lose or because it is challenging to practice the skills listed above, encourage them to identify what emotion they are feeling. Then help them identify and use strategies (such as taking deep breaths or using a movement break) to calm down before refocusing back on the task. Also emphasize the importance of practicing so we can get better.
- You can also link each column to an emotion (e.g. column 1 is angry, column 2 is excited etc,) and have your child give an example of a time they have felt that emotion or a strategy that makes them feel better when feeling the emotion each time they insert a coin into that column.
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