Movement – Gross and fine Motor Skills

Gross motor skills involve the large muscles of the body and are responsible for activities like walking, running, jumping, and balancing. Fine motor skills, on the other hand, involve the smaller muscles, particularly those in the hands and fingers, and are needed for tasks like writing, buttoning clothes, and manipulating small objects.

Both types of skills are crucial for a child’s physical development and overall functioning. Gross motor skills provide the foundation for activities that require strength, coordination, and balance, while fine motor skills are essential for tasks that demand precision and dexterity.

Developing both gross and fine motor skills helps children build strength, flexibility, and coordination, which are essential for overall physical health and well-being. Mastering these skills enables children to become more independent in their daily activities. For example, being able to dress themselves (fine motor skill) or navigate playground equipment (gross motor skill) boosts their confidence and self-esteem.

Fine motor skills are particularly important for curriculum readiness, as they are directly linked to activities such as writing, drawing, and using scissors. Developing these skills early can facilitate smoother transitions to school and academic success.

Many social activities and games involve both gross and fine motor skills. By developing these skills, children can actively participate in group activities, sports, and games, fostering social interactions and teamwork.

Research suggests that there is a strong connection between motor skills development and cognitive abilities. Engaging in activities that promote motor skills can stimulate brain development and enhance cognitive functions such as problem-solving and spatial awareness.

Developing gross motor skills in young children involves providing them with opportunities for movement, exploration, and practice. Some suggestions:

  • Provide lots of opportunities for children to engage in physical activities such as running, jumping, climbing, and playing sports. Outdoor play areas, playgrounds, and open spaces are great environments for promoting gross motor skills (and all aspects of movement)
  • Provide toys, equipment and loose parts that encourage gross motor activities. These ‘objects’ allow children to explore and practice different movements while having fun.
  • Join children in active play and physical activities. Play games that involve running, jumping, hopping, and throwing, and encourage children to mimic animal movements like hopping like a frog or crawling like a bear.
  •  Activities that challenge balance and coordination, such as walking on a balance beam, hopping on one foot, or navigating obstacle courses, help children develop these skills.
  • Incorporate sensory experiences into gross motor activities, such as playing with sand, water, or sensory bins filled with various materials. Sensory play enhances motor development by stimulating different senses and encouraging exploration.
  • Outdoor play offers a diverse range of surfaces and environments that stimulate gross motor development. Allow children to play in different terrains like grass, sand, gravel, and playground surfaces to enhance balance, coordination, and proprioception.

Developing fine motor skills in young children involves providing opportunities for activities that strengthen the muscles in the hands and fingers, improve hand-eye coordination, and promote precision and control. 

  • Provide toys and activities that require manipulation and precise hand movements, such as building blocks, puzzles, shape sorters, and stacking toys. These toys encourage children to use their fingers and hands to grasp, pinch, and manipulate objects.
  • Engage children in art and craft activities that involve using tools like crayons, markers, paintbrushes, scissors, and glue (not glue sticks as these foster the palmer grip rather than pincer grip). These activities promote hand-eye coordination, finger dexterity, and creativity.
  • Provide opportunities for children to draw, colour, and trace lines and shapes. Start with large crayons and gradually introduce smaller writing tools like pencils and markers as their skills develop. Sunny Markers are designed by an occupational therapist and are great for developing pincer grip.
  • Playdough and clay offer excellent opportunities for squeezing, rolling, shaping, and molding, which help strengthen hand muscles and improve fine motor control.
  • Activities like picking up small beads, transferring objects with tweezers, or threading beads onto a string promote the development of the pincer grip.
  •  Toys that involve sorting, stacking, and nesting, such as nesting cups, stacking rings, and shape sorters, help develop hand-eye coordination, spatial awareness, and fine motor skills.

Provide opportunities for cutting activities, such as cutting paper strips, shapes, or playdough. Start with simple cutting lines and progress to more complex shapes as children develop their skills.

Observe your children to see who has strong gross and fine motor skills. Who are the ones who need development in these areas? What will you do to support the development of these skills?

Movement and Physicality – Balance, Core Strength and Coordination.

Developing young children’s balance, core strength, and coordination is paramount during the critical ages of 3 to 7, as these skills serve as the foundation for overall physical, cognitive, and social-emotional development. 

Balance is the ability to maintain equilibrium and stability while stationary or in motion. Developing balance skills allows children to sit upright, stand, walk, run, and engage in various physical activities with confidence and ease. When children have good balance, they can sit still and maintain attention for longer periods, leading to improved focus and concentration in the classroom. Balance also plays a role in fine motor tasks such as writing, drawing, and using utensils. Children with good balance are better prepared for activities that require precise hand movements.

Core strength refers to the muscles of the abdomen, back, and pelvis that provide stability and support for the spine and pelvis. A strong core is essential for maintaining proper posture, balance, and overall body control. Core strength contributes to stability and proper posture, allowing children to sit comfortably and attentively during learning activities. A strong core facilitates gross motor skills such as running, jumping, and climbing, enhancing overall physical coordination and confidence.

Coordination involves the ability to synchronize movements of different body parts efficiently. It encompasses both gross motor coordination (whole-body movements) and fine motor coordination (small, precise movements). Good coordination enhances spatial awareness, allowing children to navigate their environment effectively and understand concepts such as directionality, position, and orientation.

If young children’s balance, core strength, and coordination are underdeveloped, it can have significant consequences for their learning and overall development.  Children with poor balance and core strength may struggle to sit still and maintain attention during classroom activities, leading to distractions and disruptions.

  • Challenges with Fine Motor Skills: Weak coordination can hinder the development of fine motor skills, making tasks like writing, drawing, and buttoning clothes challenging and frustrating.
  • Reduced Confidence: Children who struggle with balance and coordination may feel insecure and hesitant to participate in physical activities and social interactions, impacting their self-esteem and social development.
  • Academic Delays: Poor balance, core strength, and coordination can impede children’s ability to engage in learning tasks effectively, potentially leading to academic delays and difficulties in school.

These foundational skills provide the stability, control, and coordination necessary for children to thrive physically, cognitively, and socially. By prioritizing the development of these skills through purposeful movement activities and interventions, teachers can support children in reaching their full potential and laying a strong foundation for lifelong learning and success.

Developing balance, core strength, and coordination in 3-7 year olds requires a variety of engaging and developmentally appropriate activities that promote physical movement and skill acquisition. Here are just a few ideas:

  • Encourage free play in safe environments where children can run, jump, climb, and explore different movements. Outdoor playgrounds, parks, and open spaces provide ample opportunities for active play.
  • Introduce simple games that challenge balance and coordination, such as Simon Says, Red Light/Green Light, and Follow the Leader. These games promote body awareness and spatial orientation.
  • Practice static balance exercises like standing on one leg, walking along a straight line (e.g., drawn on the ground, playground markings, masking tape line on the carpet and balance beams), or standing on tiptoes.
  • Use balance boards, wobble cushions, or stability balls to add an element of challenge and fun to balance exercises. These tools help children develop core strength and stability while improving balance control.
  • Incorporate core strengthening exercises into daily routines, such as “planks” (holding a push-up position on elbows and toes), “superman” (lying on the stomach and lifting arms and legs off the ground), or “bicycle kicks” (lying on the back and pedaling legs in the air).
  • Include activities that engage the core muscles indirectly, such as climbing on playground equipment, hanging from monkey bars, or swinging on a swing set.
  • There are lots of kids yoga programmes on the internet which they really enjoy
  • Practice bilateral coordination activities that involve using both sides of the body simultaneously, such as throwing and catching a ball, jumping rope, or skipping.
  • Provide opportunities for fine motor coordination development through activities like stringing beads, cutting with scissors, drawing shapes, or building with construction toys like LEGO or DUPLO blocks.
  • Encourage children to participate in dance and rhythmic movement activities, such as dance classes, follow-along dance videos, or creating their own dance routines to music. Dance promotes coordination, rhythm, and body awareness.
  • Incorporate movement-based games like “freeze dance” or “musical statues,” where children must freeze in a balanced position when the music stops, promoting body control and spatial awareness.
  • Be a role model by participating in physical activities alongside children and demonstrating proper form and technique. Children are more likely to engage in activities when they see adults enjoying and participating actively.
  • Provide positive reinforcement and encouragement to motivate children to practice and persevere, even when activities feel challenging.

How often can you provide opportunities in your learning environment that will foster these functions and skills?

The Importance of Developing Movement in our Young Learners.

As educators, we understand the importance of fostering holistic development in our young learners. From academic skills to social-emotional well-being, we strive to provide a comprehensive foundation for their future success. However, one aspect that often gets overlooked in the classroom but is absolutely crucial is the development of movement skills in young children.

Between the ages of 3 and 6, children are in a critical period of growth and development. Their brains are rapidly expanding, and they are forming the foundational skills that will shape their future abilities and behaviours. It is during this time that the promotion of movement skills becomes paramount, as it not only contributes to physical health but also lays the groundwork for cognitive, social, and emotional well-being.

The body gives priority to movement. If our tamariki (children) do not have balance, core strength, fine or gross motor skills, the brain has to concentrate on these, leaving little room for higher-order thinking and learning. Movement skills need to become automatic to reduce the possibility of cognitive overload.

Consider core body control, for instance. If a child lacks muscle control and finds it hard to sit still or focus for extended periods, it becomes challenging for them to engage in learning tasks effectively. Until a child has full control of their balance, their ability to focus and concentrate will be in conflict with their brain’s need for vestibular (balance) stimulation.

Movement foundation skills, including core strength, balance, crossing the midline, fine motor skills, and spatial perception, play a crucial role in a child’s overall development. These skills form the basis for various physical and cognitive activities and contribute to the child’s readiness for academic and everyday tasks.

The development of movement skills in young children is essential for their physical health and well-being. Engaging in various physical activities helps strengthen muscles, improve coordination, and enhance balance and flexibility. From running and jumping to climbing and throwing, each movement skill learned builds upon the last.

The acquisition of movement skills plays a significant role in cognitive development. Research has shown that physical activity stimulates the brain, leading to increased cognitive function and academic performance. When children engage in activities that require coordination and motor skills, they are also developing neural pathways that support learning, problem-solving, and critical thinking.

It’s essential to recognize that children develop at different rates and may have diverse needs when it comes to movement skills development. Some children may require additional support or modifications to fully participate in physical activities. As educators, it’s our responsibility to create inclusive environments where all children feel supported and encouraged to explore and develop their movement skills.

Incorporating movement into the classroom is not just about physical activity; it’s about nurturing the whole child and supporting their overall development. By prioritizing movement skills alongside academic learning, we can help our young learners thrive in all areas of development, setting them up for success now and in the future.

Our next blog will get into the nitty gritty of coordination, balance, core strength, gross and fine motor skills.


Know Your Learners Foundation Skills

Knowing your learner is critical for teachers to create a personalized, inclusive, and effective learning environment that supports the needs of all. When you know your learners well, you can personalize the learning experience to meet the diverse needs of each individual. 

I hear so many teachers say to me that children starting school just ‘aren’t ready’ for the more formalised NZ curriculum. Current NZ research (MSD – Growing up in NZ) would also suggest this as they state that 25% of our children starting school are developmentally delayed.

If you’ve read our previous blogs, you’ll understand the importance of children having key foundation skills in moving, seeing, hearing, speaking, print and social/emotional automatic so the brain can focus on new higher order learning.

This means, we need to really know what foundation skills our learners do and don’t have and use this information to tailor our learning environment and our teaching practice. 

Many of us provide wonderful rich learning through play environments that help to naturally foster and develop these skills. However, if a child has a poorly developed foundation skill they will tend to avoid doing activities that involve using these skills/functions. For example if a child has weak core strength, balance, gross motor etc they will tend to avoid the playground activities that require these skills. However, it is precisely what they do need to develop these skills. Children with poor fine motor skills may avoid colouring, cutting activities in preference for something they find easier to do.

We believe it is important to know what strengths and areas for development your children have in order to help plan your classroom activities. We have a foundation skills assessment that gives you an overall picture of your class strengths and needs right down to individuals needs and strengths. This gives teachers a great place to start, and then they use the process of Notice, Recognise and Respond to follow progress and use formatively  to guide their practice. However, you don’t need an assessment. You just need to know what the foundation skills are and then observe what is and isn’t happening.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with NRR:

Noticing refers to observing and paying attention to children’s behaviors, actions, and expressions. Noticing involves being attentive to both verbal and non-verbal cues that children display. It includes observing their interactions with others, their play, their mood changes, and any signs of distress or discomfort. Noticing allows adults to gain insights into children’s needs, interests, strengths, and challenges. 

For example – You may notice a child who can’t sit still on the mat, they like to move, wriggle and roll around. When they sit at a table they slouch over it and lean on their arms or hands.

Recognition involves interpreting the observed behaviors and understanding their underlying meanings or messages. It requires reflecting on the observed cues in the context of the child’s development, experiences, and unique personality. Recognizing involves making connections between what is observed and what it might signify about the child’s needs. Recognizing enables us to respond appropriately to children’s needs and emotions. 

For example – The child rolling on the mat may suggest the child has poor core strength or balance. Poor core strength and balance will impact their learning if they have to sit at a table to read or write when they start school. The brain gives priority to movement and will focus on sitting upright rather than the higher order cognitive task of reading and writing.

Responding is the action taken by you based on their noticing and recognition of children’s behaviors and needs. Responding involves providing appropriate support, guidance, comfort, or intervention as necessary to meet the child’s needs effectively. It includes offering encouragement, engaging in meaningful interactions, setting boundaries, offering assistance, or seeking additional help if needed. Responding in a timely and sensitive manner is crucial for building trusting relationships with children and promoting their well-being and development.

For example – The child with poor core strength and balance needs support to develop this function. They don’t have to be singled out as many children can benefit from this development. Follow the leader using heal-toe on lines, balance beams (cheap from K-Mart) even just pieces of 4×2 on the ground, cosmic kids yoga (, balance boards etc

The important message in this blog is that you need to be clear about what the children need (and why) and then become clear about who has what strengths and needs and then plan how you will support their development. ongoing monitoring and tracking is also really important to notice if what you are implementing is making a difference.


What are foundation skills and why are they important?

Foundation skills refer to the fundamental abilities and competencies that children need to develop during their early years to support their overall learning and academic success. These skills serve as the building blocks for more complex learning. For kindergarten children aged between 3 and 6 years old, these foundation skills encompass various domains, including cognitive, social-emotional, language, visual and motor skills.

Contrary to common belief, foundation skills extend beyond basic literacy and numeracy, such as knowing the alphabet, sounds, and counting. They encompass a broad spectrum of abilities that support a child’s development prior to and during formal education. After extensive research, Ready 4 Learning has crafted a developmental framework that categorises these skills into six key areas:

  • Moving – Fine and Gross Motor Skills: The physical abilities that enable children to perform everyday activities.
  • Memory: The capacity to store and retrieve information, which is crucial for learning.
  • Speaking: The ability to express thoughts and ideas clearly and confidently.
  • Seeing: Visual skills that help in recognizing patterns, shapes, and colors.
  • Hearing: Auditory skills important for understanding spoken language and sounds.
  • Key Competencies: Dispositions such as curiosity and the willingness to try new things.

The development of these foundation skills is critical for shaping a child’s overall development and future academic success. Studies consistently show that children who develop strong foundation skills in areas such as early literacy, numeracy, and language tend to perform better academically in later years. This, however, DOES NOT mean starting to teach reading, writing and maths to four year olds. We need to focus on the foundation skills that support development of the EARLY curriculum literacy and maths. 

A holistic approach to education that considers cognitive, social-emotional, and physical aspects of development is extremely important. Well-rounded foundational skills contribute to a child’s overall readiness for learning.

Research highlights the connection between early cognitive development and the acquisition of foundational skills. Cognitive skills, including memory, attention, and problem-solving abilities, are closely tied to a child’s readiness for learning. Foundation skills contribute significantly to a child’s social and emotional well-being. The ability to form positive relationships, regulate emotions, and exhibit prosocial behaviour is linked to early social-emotional development.

Studies emphasise the importance of early exposure to language-rich environments in fostering language development. Children who enter school with strong language and literacy skills are better equipped to succeed in reading and writing tasks. Research often addresses the role of foundation skills in promoting educational equity. Children who enter school with varying levels of readiness may face different challenges. Focusing on foundation skills development for all learners and those that need targeted support can help level the playing field.

While it may seem unnecessary to have all the skills in place before starting formal reading, maths, and writing, each can cause a roadblock. When a child has an issue in one area, such as struggling to hold a pencil correctly, they must focus hard on that area. When all of a child’s concentration is on that pencil grip, they aren’t paying attention to the correct letter formation or the next instruction a teacher may be giving. Children have to work on a skill until it takes up so little attention that it becomes automatic, then the job of learning letters and sounds can really begin. 

It’s a little like learning to drive a car. When you drove a car for the first time you had to change gears, check your speed, keep in the right part of your lane, look for vehicles, bikes and pedestrians and indicate before turning. There was so much to think about that it was terribly difficult and sometimes it ended very badly. But over time it became easier and easier, all the minor tasks become automatic and now you can drive without giving it a second thought. That is the stage that children need to reach with learning each new skill. It needs to become automatic which means that children can perform them with little effort, almost instinctively

Automaticity plays a significant role in reducing cognitive overload. When a skill becomes automatic, it means that the cognitive processes required to perform that skill become more efficient and streamlined. This efficiency leads to a reduction in the cognitive load associated with the task. This, in turn, supports more efficient learning, problem-solving, and cognitive performance.

Foundational skills often serve as prerequisites for more complex skills. When these foundational skills become automatic, children can seamlessly transition to higher-level skills and concepts in specific subject areas such as reading, writing and maths.

Automaticity contributes to a child’s confidence in their abilities. When they can perform basic skills without constant struggle, children are more likely to approach new learning experiences with a positive mindset and a belief in their own capabilities. This also promotes independence. Children can complete tasks and engage in learning activities independently when basic skills are automatic, fostering a sense of autonomy and self-efficacy.


How do we develop the thinking skills of our young learners?

The New Zealand Curriculum Key Competencies has ‘Thinking’ as one of the five main focus areas. It states: 

Thinking is about using creative, critical, and metacognitive processes to make sense of information, experiences, and ideas. These processes can be applied to purposes such as developing understanding, making decisions, shaping actions, or constructing knowledge. Intellectual curiosity is at the heart of this competency.

Students who are competent thinkers and problem-solvers actively seek, use, and create knowledge. They reflect on their own learning, draw on personal knowledge and intuitions, ask questions, and challenge the basis of assumptions and perceptions. NZC – Key Competencies – Thinking.

The early childhood years are a critical period for brain development. Providing opportunities for developing  thinking skills during this time helps shape neural connections, fostering a strong cognitive foundation for future learning.  Thinking skills encompass cognitive abilities such as memory, attention, problem-solving, and reasoning. ‘Teaching’ these skills at a young age supports the enhancement of these cognitive abilities, providing children with tools to navigate the world around them.

I think we would all agree how important it is for our children to develop sound thinking skills, especially in an age where we are surrounded by ‘fake news’ and AI at our finger-tips.  With the recent poor International education rankings, I fear the focus will once again be on the three r’s of reading, ‘riting’ and ‘rithmetic’ and a focus on the KCs will go out the window. Some schools are already saying they now have no time for learning through play. This is a travesty as play is HOW children learn.

Learning through play offers a holistic approach to the development of thinking skills in young children. It  is a powerful and natural way for young children to develop a wide range of thinking skills.  It engages multiple facets of their cognitive, social, and emotional development, providing a foundation for future learning and problem-solving abilities. Play provides a context for children to explore, experiment, and make sense of the world around them. 

Play often involves challenges and obstacles, whether it’s building a tower of blocks, solving a puzzle, or navigating a pretend play scenario. These activities require children to think critically and develop problem-solving skills as they figure out how to achieve their goals.

Pretend play and imaginative activities encourage children to think creatively. Through role-playing and creating imaginary scenarios, children engage their minds in abstract thinking, storytelling, and inventing new ideas.

Play is inherently social, and children learn valuable social thinking skills through interactions with their peers. Negotiating roles, sharing, taking turns, and resolving conflicts during play contribute to the development of social and emotional intelligence.

Play provides opportunities for language development as children communicate with each other, negotiate roles, and express their ideas. Developing a rich vocabulary and the ability to articulate thoughts are important components of thinking skills.

Many play activities involve concepts of quantity, size, shape, and spatial relationships. Sorting objects, counting, and arranging items during play contribute to the development of early mathematical thinking.

Play often involves a sense of curiosity and exploration. Children naturally engage in activities that allow them to observe, experiment, and draw conclusions—essential components of scientific thinking.

Play activities, such as memory games, role-playing, and storytelling, engage cognitive functions and memory. These activities contribute to the development of memory skills, attention, and overall cognitive abilities.

Play often involves making choices and decisions. Whether it’s selecting a game to play, deciding on a role in a pretend scenario, or choosing how to build with blocks, children practice decision-making skills during play.

There are also many alternatives to develop thinking skills in our young learners. Posing open-ended questions that encourage children to think and express their ideas can be used throughout the day. Questions like “What do you think will happen next?” or “Why do you think that happened?” stimulate critical thinking.

Stories are great for engaging children in discussions afterward. Encourage them to share their thoughts about the characters, plot, and possible alternate endings. This helps develop their ability to analyze and interpret information.

Encourage children to observe their surroundings and reflect on their experiences. Ask questions like “What did you notice?” or “How did that make you feel?” This helps develop metacognitive processes and self-awareness.

Introduce age-appropriate puzzles, games, and challenges that require children to think logically and find solutions. This can include simple math games, pattern recognition, or sorting activities.

Promote collaborative learning experiences where children work together to achieve a common goal. This helps them develop communication skills, learn from each other, and see different perspectives.

Create a culture where asking questions is welcomed. Foster an environment where children feel comfortable asking “why” and exploring their curiosity. This helps them develop a natural inclination to seek and create knowledge.

Incorporate visual aids, such as pictures, diagrams, or charts, to support understanding and stimulate discussion. Visuals can enhance comprehension and encourage children to think critically about the information presented.

Model thinking processes by verbalizing your own thoughts and problem-solving strategies. This helps children see how thinking is a dynamic process and provides them with a model for their own thinking.

It is important to remember that whilst developing thinking skills in our young children to  make learning enjoyable and engaging. The goal is to create a positive and supportive environment that nurtures the development of thinking skills in young learners.


We Learn Best Socially

Miley Harris uses the story of Pete the Cat to teach her Year 2 class about resilience. Matiu Cross uses learning buddies to tutor other Year 5 students on how to find lines of symmetry in an object.

The reason both strategies are effective is because they rely on the social encoding advantage.

When children read about Pete the Cat (or watch the funky Youtube videos) they relate to Pete as a character with attributes and characteristics. That’s far more interesting to the brain and far more memorable than a book or video on the concept of resilience.

When the tutors in Matiu’s class are learning about lines of symmetry and know they’ll help their buddies with it, they are far more invested in the learning, and it becomes embedded more deeply in their brains.

The fascinating thing about the social encoding advantage is that it uses an entirely different memory system than the one we use to memorise information traditionally.

Jason Mitchell, social neuroscientist at Harvard found that the mentalizing system is active when the social encoding advantage applies. That’s the system that enables us to see the world through someone else’s eyes. It’s the one that tells us that our partner is going to be upset when they come home from a weekend away and find the place is an absolute mess.

Under certain circumstances the mentalizing system is more powerful than trying to memorise.

Numerous studies have compared groups who were asked to look at statements describing ordinary behaviours.

Reading the newspaper

Riding a bike

Patting a dog

Washing a car

Eating an apple

Kicking a ball

Grooming a horse

Writing a note

Watering the garden

Checking the mailbox

One group was asked to memorize the statements for a test. The other group was asked to ‘form an overall impression of what the person who performed the various actions is like’ and are explicitly told not to try to memorize the information. They are instructed that they’ll be asked some questions later based on the impression they had formed.

In reality they were both given a memory test based on the list (social scientists are sneaky like that).

In study after study, those that were thinking about the attributes of the people remembered the material better than those actually trying to memorize it.

How does this apply to our classrooms and in our schools?

In many cases we’re doing it already. We’re asking children to work in groups, to work co-operatively to research and develop solutions to problems. We’re looking at real problems that impact real people in their own environment. We’re telling stories and we’re creating our own stories around what we can do now and what we can accomplish in the future.

Activities like this are also building communication and self-management skills alongside the skills we need to work in teams, to co-operate and co-ordinate together.

In the coming decades Artificial Intelligence is going to take over many of the data and information-based tasks that we do now, our children are increasingly going to need those human skills. Those are the skills that we need to be teaching and we need to be teaching them in a human-focussed way.

Reference Social – Why our brains are wired to connect by Matthew D Lieberman



Taking Turns – an emotional intelligence

Let’s talk about taking turns! Taking turns requires a certain amount of  emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence refers to the ability to recognise and understand one’s own emotions and those of others.  Taking turns takes a great deal of practice and mastery, even as adults we can find ourselves interrupting when someone else is talking. As adults we can find it hard to wait our turn if we feel we have something important to say.  So modelling and teaching turn-taking whilst talking will really support children develop this crucial skill.

Research has shown that learning the skill of turn-taking in the first three years of life has been linked to higher intelligence levels later on.  It has been linked to increased emotional regulation, attachment, and emotional communication, and to cortical growth in language and social processing regions of the brain .

According to the latest research, the more children participate in turn-taking during a conversation without interruption with their caregivers, the more active their brain is in responding to language production and processing .

Turn-taking can teach children many things, such as hearing new words that they may use on their own when it’s time to take their turn. They learn to pay attention to what someone else is saying, how to initiate an interaction, how and when to take a turn. They learn how to clarify or repeat what they were trying to say if it was not understood, how to ask questions, how to use previous knowledge, experience, and problem-solving skills to express their point of view .

This is good for children’s social skills, and also their brain. According to research, turn-taking is strongly linked with the strength of white matter connections between two key language regions (Broca’s and Wernicke’s) in the brain . Conversational turn-taking is also linked to the increased surface area of the left Perisylvian cortex, an area of the brain associated with language comprehension and reading skills .

So how do we foster and develop this social skill which will support us through life?  Dramatic play can be the champion of growing this skill.

Role Reversal: As they step into different roles, children learn to appreciate the give-and-take in everyday interactions, just like in our world.

Communication Skills: It’s all about talking and listening! Dramatic play encourages kids to express themselves, listen to others, and patiently wait their turn to shine.

Empathy Building: Taking turns and sharing in the world of make-believe fosters empathy. Our tamariki understand the value of waiting and respecting others’ feelings.

Problem-Solving Playground: When “drama” happens, children learn to resolve conflicts, negotiate, and find creative solutions together.

As teachers, parents and caregivers, we can help children learn to take turns in conversations: 

  • pause for one or two seconds after a child talks and look directly at them, indicating it’s their turn to say something. Around five seconds should be long enough. If you’re still waiting, the child can be encouraged to take their turn to speak with a touch, a question, or a comment.
  • Encourage children to take their turn by getting face-to-face with them. Pay close attention to what the child is interested in, including eye gaze, gestures, facial expressions, and sounds, which are all clues to when they’ll be ready to take their turn.
  • Be patient and wait to give the child a chance to send you a message. Remember that they don’t need to use words – they might just give you a quick look or make a gesture. Treat any sound, look, or gesture as your child’s first “turn” in the interaction.


Learning with and alongside others.

Contribution/Mana Tangata in the NZ early childhood curriculum, Te Whariki, is about children’s growing capacity to develop relationships with other people who are different from them in diverse ways. Relationships between teachers and children provide models for the social skills and attitudes that support this capacity. With the continuing push and pressure for our teachers to timetable more of the “three r’s”,we have to press pause and reflect on the importance of the “harder to measure” competencies and how we can support our children to become connected, relational and relate well to others.

In the early years of ECE and school, social skills are incredibly important skills our children  need to interact and communicate effectively with others. These include skills and behaviours important to the development of friendships and interpersonal relationships, communication skills and an understanding of the societal ‘rules’ of behaviour across a range of social settings. Having good social skills helps our learners to develop healthy relationships with others, which is vital to emotional health and well being.

Whatever their age or stage, our children are honing their social skills. When they are little, we watch them as they learn to share and take turns, actively supporting their development of social skills whenever they run into difficulty. As they grow, so does the outer boundary of their social world, and with it the skills and behaviours necessary for them to navigate social situations successfully, often without us as close (at least physically) offering the same level of practical support.

Relating to others/making a contribution is an important skill for children to develop. 

Some examples of what this skill looks like in practice are:

  • Sharing and explaining their ideas with others
  • Respecting and understanding different perspectives and feelings
  • Standing up for themselves and their peers when needed
  • Learning to develop a positive sense of self and recognising their own strengths
  • Taking turns and sharing with others
  • Learning to empathise with others

As educators, we can support children to develop this skill by:

  • Getting to know our learners, their backgrounds, preferences, strengths, and interests, and honouring their diversity and individuality
  • Creating and maintaining positive relationships with children, and helping them to do the same with their peers
  • Listening to and respecting children’s feelings, opinions, and needs, and encouraging them to express themselves
  • Appreciating and acknowledging children’s contributions, and providing feedback and encouragement
  • Helping children to resolve conflicts and negotiate with others in positive ways
  • Supporting children’s interests and passions, and using them as a basis for planning and assessment
  • Providing a stimulating and varied environment that sparks children’s curiosity
  • Offering play materials that are open-ended and sensory, and that allow for creativity and imagination

As mentioned in a previous blog, dramatic play can help to foster and develop many social skills which will support children through life.  Through dramatic play, children can act out different scenarios and pretend to be someone with feelings other than their own. They have an opportunity to talk through what kinds of feelings or emotions the character might be experiencing. For children who are more shy or introverted, dramatic play can also be a powerful tool for helping them to come out of their shell and express themselves. 

I reflected on a quote recently which stated “If a child can hold a pencil, write their name, count to 100 but doesn’t know how to manage their emotions, make friends and have self help skills, then none of the other stuff matters”.  Of course other “stuff” matters, however, we must pause ourselves more often and ponder on the absolute importance of these foundational social and emotional skills and what we can do as educators to prepare our learners for success in all areas of learning.

Dont make friends with students – make connections

By Vince Ford

At the start of the school year do you look for common links with your students? Do you find similarities where you have a shared interest such as swimming, or you live in the same part of town, or you’ve taught their older brother or sister?
Finding common ground with others is how we build social bonds, it’s why ‘birds of a feather flock together.’ We look for what we have in common, we move socially closer to them and act in similar ways.
 Social Anthropologist Robin Dunbar summed it up in his Seven Pillars of Friendship.

rofession – education and career

I nterests and hobbies
L anguage – shared dialect brings us closer
L ocation
A ttitudes – values and worldview
R hythm – musical taste
S ense of humour
The more of these pillars we share, the more likely we are to build a strong connection.
I believe that forming bonds with your students through what you have in common is a mistake. If you develop ties through commonality, then what does that say to those students that are different to you? If they’re from a different culture or location, then they immediately feel marginalised in a classroom that values students who are like the teacher. Isn’t that how unconscious bias forms?
The Pillars of Friendship were a natural development when we lived in small communities and villages, where gossip thrived, where we knew who we could trust and who were outsiders.
Today far more of our students are already outsiders. Migration means that many have English as their second language. Interests, music and even sense of humour are often culturally entrenched therefore they differ along with the culture. Everything from electronics to entertainment and groceries is available online now, we don’t share the experience of common markets. It’s possible that you share nothing in common with pupils in your class.
If we don’t connect through commonality, then how do we connect?
I say that we need to listen to the stories of our students. Every one of them has their own interests, their own journey, their own way of viewing the world. If we ask our ākonga for their stories, and we genuinely listen then we can begin to understand them for who they are, not just how they are like us.

We need to invite our students, their families, and their communities to share their stories so that they feel valued and accepted but also so that we can understand what makes them who they are.
As you start the year, how do you plan to discover the stories of your students?


Connection before Curriculum

By Vince Ford

In a remote school in Northland a principal was doing things very differently. In this school, te reo Māori was used in interactions with pupils, kaumātua were regularly invited to address the students and ākonga worked on real problems drawn from their local community. The community and the natural environment were incorporated into everyday learning and teaching and there was a strong focus on language, art and craft. “I felt my children were needing to express themselves about their own lives, their own homes, their own muddy tracks that led through the hills, their own fishing spots.”

Children were taught to look closely at the world around them, to observe and record their observations, to utilise scientific method and to integrate art and science into their everyday learning.

The startling thing was that Elwyn Richardson was principal of Ōruaiti School between 1949 and 1961, at a time when the use of te reo Māori was actively discouraged. The curriculum was prescribed down to what animal and bird were to be studied at what year level in the curriculum. Richardson refused to allow the education of Ōruaiti pupils to be confined in that way. He also stood against corporal punishment in schools and was labelled an ‘educational saboteur’ by James K Baxter.

With the blessing of Clarence Beeby the Director of Education, Ōruaiti became an experimental school, Richardson set aside the official syllabus and turned to the lives of the students and their environment as the foundation for his school curriculum.

Richardson later went on to be principal of Hay Park and Lincoln Heights schools in Auckland, he lectured internationally and wrote about his thoughts on curriculum. He was made a Companion of the Queens Service Order for his work in education and received an honorary doctorate in literature from Massey University.

Its interesting to reflect on Elwyn Richardson’s work when Te Mātaiaho, the curriculum refresh has been placed on hold. As well as understanding and valuing Te Tiriti O Waitangi, the principles of Te Mātaiaho are to hold a broad view of akōnga (student) success and to hold high expectations for all ākonga (students).

Within the principle of holding a broad view of success, Te Mātaiaho places wellbeing and excellence as important and connected. It reinforces inclusion through a focus on positive, inclusive relationships, a sense of belonging for all, and a promotion of diversity as ordinary and expected.

In describing Te Mātaiaho, Graham Hinengaroa Smith said that it was about ‘seeking ways to bring people together and to be more focused on what holds us together rather that what divides us.’

To me, this principle is about seeing every student for who they are, truly listening to them and valuing what they bring with them in terms of their culture, their experience and the people they share their lives with. It is about forming a relationship so that every child can feel safe and extend their trust to the kaiako and the class.

I believe this is the work that Elwyn Richardson was pursuing in Northland. When he began this work, he did it despite the dictates of the Education Department. Later, he came to influence a generation of teachers. I believe that his example demonstrates the influence a teacher can have on students lives when they forge deep and meaningful connections with the students themselves. Whether the curriculum refresh is on hold or not, isn’t this the work that educators and leaders in education should be undertaking?

Elwyn Richardson – Oruaiti Prinipal from 1941 – 1961

Nurturing Young Minds: The Importance of Teaching Self-Management Skills to young learners.

In the dynamic landscape of early childhood development, fostering essential life skills is pivotal for laying the groundwork for success and well-being. Among these crucial skills, self-management stands out as a cornerstone for a child’s growth. Learning to “give things a go,” embrace risk-taking, complete tasks, be responsible, persevere, stay self-motivated, and learn from mistakes are invaluable attributes that set the stage for a resilient and confident individual. The significance of teaching young children self-management skills and how these skills empower them to meet challenges head-on cannot be underestimated.

Teaching young children to “give things a go” involves instilling a growth mindset. Embracing challenges, whether big or small, allows children to develop a sense of curiosity, creativity, and a willingness to explore. By encouraging them to step outside their comfort zones, educators and parents play a crucial role in nurturing a mindset that perceives challenges as opportunities for growth rather than insurmountable obstacles

Risk-taking is a natural part of learning and discovery. Allowing children to take calculated risks builds resilience and confidence. Whether it’s attempting a new physical activity or expressing themselves creatively, taking risks fosters a sense of adventure, independence, and the ability to make decisions – essential skills that carry into adulthood.

Completing tasks and being responsible are integral components of self-management. Teaching young children the importance of finishing what they start instils a sense of accomplishment and pride. As children learn to take responsibility for their actions and belongings, they develop a foundation of reliability and accountability, essential qualities for success in school and beyond.

Perseverance is a quality that empowers children to overcome obstacles. Whether it’s learning to tie shoelaces, mastering a new skill, or navigating social challenges, teaching perseverance reinforces the idea that setbacks are a natural part of the learning process. Resilience built through perseverance equips children to face challenges with determination, adaptability, and a positive attitude.

Encouraging self-motivation in young children involves tapping into their inherent curiosity and interests. When children are motivated from within, they develop a lifelong love of learning. By providing a supportive environment that nurtures their passions and encourages autonomy, parents and educators contribute to the cultivation of self-driven individuals who approach tasks with enthusiasm and dedication.

Mistakes are valuable opportunities for growth and learning. Teaching children to view mistakes as stepping stones to success rather than as failures is essential for building resilience. By creating a safe and supportive atmosphere where mistakes are seen as part of the learning journey, children develop the courage to explore, experiment, and refine their skills.

Equipped with self-management skills, young children are better prepared to face the challenges that life inevitably presents. The ability to “give things a go,” take risks, complete tasks, be responsible, persevere, stay self-motivated, and learn from mistakes empowers children to approach challenges with confidence, creativity, and a positive mindset.

The threads of self-management skills weave a resilient and confident fabric. By imparting the importance of giving things a go, risk-taking, completing tasks, being responsible, persevering, staying self-motivated, and learning from mistakes, parents and educators provide young children with the tools needed to navigate a world full of challenges. As we invest in teaching these foundational skills, we not only prepare children for success in their formative years but also lay the groundwork for a future generation that embraces challenges with courage and resilience.