When children start Occupational Therapy for difficulty with handwriting and other fine motor tasks, such as buttoning and lacing, we brief the parents about the core activity we did during the session. The typical response we receive is "so are you or when are you going to work on their hands?" This question is quite understandable because we don't easily see the connection between core strength and fine motor tasks.
Picture if you will a piece of yarn with a piece of pipe cleaner attached to it as its arms. If we were to hold the yarn at the bottom and attempt to hold it up it would just fall over and the pipe cleaner attached to it would fall over also. Even through the pipe cleaner is firmer/stronger than the yarn it could only stay up as much as the yarn would let it and support it. While my example is an exaggeration, I think you can see my point. So, the first step to being able to utilize our arms and fingers effectively is to build up the support from the trunk/base forward.
The weaker the core the more support is needed to remain upright.
The stronger the core the less support is needed.
Signs of a weak core can present itself in various stages and aspects of your child's life, from when they are babies having difficulty crawling or rolling over to difficulty in school. Their difficulty in school can present itself not just with the legibility of their handwriting or physical coordination but it can also present itself in behavioral difficulties. Picture a child fatiguing easily having to remain sitting in a straight back chair to complete their class work. As the day progresses they become more fatigued which can lead to a reduced ability to self-regulate, leading to outbursts… you see where I'm going with this.
There are several ways to detect if your child has a weak core. Have you noticed that your child is always laying his or her head on the table/desk at home or at school or leans on one hand while writing or reading? Does your child's body appear to be like a noodle by the end of the day, having difficulty remaining upright? When sitting on the floor does your child sit in a W-sitting position (knees forward with lower legs on the sides looking like a "w"? Is your child always leaning on you or the furniture when standing? How about their handwriting? Is it neat or sloppy? Do they have difficulty with cutting straight? And these are just a few! Here is a handy list I found from The Inspired Treehouse https://theinspiredtreehouse.com/how-to-tell-if-your-child-has-weak-core-muscles/> (No affiliation).
You can start today making small changes to help improve core strength in your young one. Simple changes such as having them cross leg sit (commonly known as criss cross apple sauce) instead of "W." While watching television, make a game out of holding the "superman" pose the longest or have crab walk races during the commercials. You can also kick it up a notch and incorporate exercises such as sit-ups & planks while still keeping it fun. You can access other ideas and resources at our website at https://www.amazingkidztherapy.com/family-and-cargiver-resources.html to help with this endeavor.
By Allieson C. Bruce-Woolcock, COTA/L
Amazing Kidz Therapy, PLLC