- Associated Press - Thursday, September 11, 2014

LAFAYETTE, Ind. (AP) - Kindergartners at James Cole Elementary School are being put through boot camp and working their muscles.

Small motor skills boot camp, that is, to fine tune the muscles between their thumb and forefinger - muscles they need to properly hold a pencil or a pair of scissors.

For 20 minutes each day, kindergartners in Ginnie Sheets and Theresa Swindle’s classes work through exercises that will make those muscles strong and help students learn how to write.

At the start of the school year, educators found that many kindergartners had never held a pencil or practiced using their fine motor skills before coming to class. Parents worry about other motor skills - such as like skipping, jumping and hopping - so when it comes to holding a pencil or a pair of scissors, students struggle, Sheets said.

“It’s very obvious because they hold at pencil in their fist at the very top when they try to write their name,” Swindle told the Journal & Courier (http://on.jconline.com/1nNWnXv ). “How can we teach writing if they can’t hold a pencil?”

Having their thumb on top when cutting with scissors and squeezing a glue bottle also are new to students. “Just a dot, not a lot” has become the classroom’s mantra as students figure out how much pressure is needed to squeeze the bottle, Swindle said.

To solve these issues and get to academics, Sheets said she turned to Pinterest and other websites for ideas in strengthening fine motor skills. On Wednesday students spent time stringing beads on pipe cleaners, using clothespins to pick up pom-poms and placing marbles on golf tees - all using what students call their “pincher fingers.”

These exercises are designed to fine tune their motor skills. Teachers used to hear kids say they were tired or their hands hurt; now they hear how easy it is becoming for them, Sheets said.

“We’re forced to wake our muscles up,” said kindergartner Emma Boyer.

Kindergartner Ansley Howard said learning how to hold a pencil the right way has helped her draw cats.

For more feline artwork and stronger hand muscles, educators said they hope parents will start introducing these muscles early. At kindergarten round-up in the spring, teachers hand out information on little things parents can do to help their child. Practice with buttons and snaps on their clothes, for example, is an easy way to start.

“It’s the little details that make a big difference and will really help them when they come to school,” Sheets said.

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Information from: Journal and Courier, http://www.jconline.com

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