By Stacy Turke, OTR/L
It’s January in Michigan. Typically that means snow, lots and lots of it, so School OT folk here naturally think “Snow!” when looking to plan fun and interesting activities that target student goals. Families wanting to support fine motor and handwriting goals at home can look to playing in snow because of all the great benefits. How? You may ask…Well let me share some thoughts on Using the Magic of Snow(people) to Improve Fine Motor Skills.
My friend Jodie is one of my OT colleagues at Ingham Intermediate School District. Jodie has a three year old son, Jayden, who is the light of her life. He is also one lucky little dude, because his OT Mommy plans the coolest, most interesting activities for after school and weekends, and then she shares them with her friends and family on Facebook. (I’m secretly hoping she shares some of these in an upcoming Guest-Blog Post…though hmm guess it’s not so secret now!) We had a big snowfall recently, and Jodie shared some of the most adorable pictures of the two of them with Jayden’s first homemade snowman. Lucky you, because Jodie has given me permission to share them for your viewing pleasure!
Playing in snow brings a treasure trove of benefits to kids. From a tactile perspective, snow is cold to the touch. Hopefully that doesn’t surprise you! But something you might not know about snow is that not all snowfalls feel the same in terms of the texture. Some snowfalls are very light and airy, and the snow does not form balls or snow people because it won’t stick together. But it’s great fun to lay in to make snow angels, or to sled or ski in. Some snowfalls are heavy and soggy, and it feels heavy to walk in and to try to move. This snow sticks together well and makes wonderful snow people and snow forts, and sends you inside with soggy clothes and pink cheeks.
Snow is a great medium for building strength and endurance, and has other health benefits as well. Playing in snow is hard work, whether you are sledding or snowshoeing or building snow people. Moving against the snow uses more muscle power, much the way walking on sand or walking in water does. Skiing and sledding and shoveling increases the heart rate, and can even become an aerobic activity. Lifting the snowballs to stack them can be tough, because snow that sticks together weighs a lot. But kids don’t seem to notice how hard they are working because they are too busy having fun!
And then there’s some of the more cognitive and social aspects of playing in snow. Building a snowman helps support body scheme and awareness, because you gotta know where to put the eyes and the arms. It works on visual memory skills, because rarely do we take pictures of snowmen outside to support our play, we just start rolling those snowballs! We work on cooperative skills, deciding together how big to make the bottom snowball, and what to use to make the eyes and arms. We work on spatial concepts of above, below, biggest, middle, next to…and so many more.
Now my friend Jodie, she really knows how to up the snowman game! She and Jayden took a Flexible Flyer Snowball Maker outside, and this giant tong-like tool uses both hands together to push snow to make baseball-sized snowballs. And then because that wasn’t enough, they used a spray bottle with colored water to “paint” their snowman. Jayden worked on hand strength and eye-hand coordination while playing in the snow, and I’m guessing he totally missed all the lessons. He just had fun…and from the looks of things, so did his Mama!
But even in Michigan there are times when there just isn’t enough snow to play in, or when the temperatures are too cold to allow for outside time. My students just hate missing out on the magic of Snow People, so as a School OT, I like to bring the snowmen right into the classroom. I make white playdough with my students, with white glitter added to mimic the sparkle of snow, so we can make snowmen while working on imitation skills and hand/finger strength. We lay on the floor or sit at a table with a towel covering it, and use a jumbo pushpin to “poke” the outline of a snow man or snowflake, which addresses not only eye-hand skills but also shoulder and arm strength and joint stability. I made a snowman out of felt, and added buttons to the body. My students are able to work on buttoning practice and finger strength by adding the body parts that color-coordinate with the buttons. And since all of the pieces are separate, the students also are able to assemble the snow person like a puzzle.
All in all, snow is lovely and fun, whether real or pretend. Make sure you take advantage of all that snow has to offer, and get your kids playing. Their motor skills, and so many other developmental areas, will benefit and so will you! And please don’t forget to make hot cocoa when you come in!
Please note: Jodie kindly shared her pictures for us to look at, but she did not give us permission to use them beyond this blogpost. Please do not “borrow” her pictures unless you are sharing this whole post! Thank you.
Stacy M. Turke, OTR/L: “On the Road with @stacyturke OTR blog.” Stacy has been a school OT for 31 years with the same intermediate school district in Michigan in what she describes as “my dream job.” Her career has ranged from working in a “center-based” school to working in public and private schools throughout the county, including those in the rural, suburban, and urban areas. She has experience working with students with a wide range of educational needs, to include cognitive impairments, Autism Spectrum Disorder, physical challenges, sensory processing needs, and many other learning challenges. She expresses her enthusiasm when she says “This career has been fulfilling, always presenting new and interesting challenges, and is NEVER boring!” You can connect with Stacy on Pinterest at https://www.pinterest.com/stacyturke/ and on Twitter at @StacyTurkeOT.
Disclaimer: The information shared on the Go-To-For-OT Blog or affiliated Twitter, Facebook, or Pinterest sites, and shared on social or public media or as links on other sites is for general informational purposes only and should not be relied upon as a substitute for sound professional medical advice or evaluation and care from your physician/medical team or any other qualified health care providers. Therefore, the authors and administrator of these posts take no responsibility for any liability, loss, or risk taken by individuals as a result of applying the ideas or resources