The early years provides the foundation for being successful in school and in life. I have also seen the early years referred to as the developmental years, which I like, because it makes it clear that the emphasis in the early years is on development goals and not academic goals. One developmental goal in the early years, is developing pre-writing abilities or skills. When these skills are adequately developed a chid will then be able to hold a pencil and write using a tripod grasp.
To enable children to form a tripod grasp on a pencil between four and seven years of age, they first need to adequately develop the different abilities or skills. During a workshop on pre-writing skills, the Ontario Parent Resource Centre stated that encouraging “proper” pencil grasp before these abilities are adequately developed often will lead to children developing unusual grasps or even discourage children’s interest in drawing and/or writing. So it seems that the best way to help our young children in the developmental years learn to write effectively (later on), is to focus on developing the pre-writing abilities.
When watching children use markers or crayons, it seems that there is less opportunity to develop these pre-writing abilities as it goes directly at requiring a certain grasp, which could result in them developing the wrong grasp. Waldorf early childhood programs have an alternative to stick crayons and markers, the block crayon.
After watching tutorials about using block crayons and reading about them, block crayons look like they will provide an opportunity to develop the pre-writing abilities more effectively and hopefully will provide a better foundation for the little ones in my daycare to form a proper tripod grasp later on. These are the pre-writing abilities:
1) To hold something in your hands while using your fingers ( e.g. sort items into a container using a pincer grasp)
The block crayon is held in the fingers and hands and any edge or surface of the block may be used. Markers or stick crayons, for the most part, only provide one surface to draw with.
2) To use different amounts of pressure (e.g. use tweezers to pick up objects without denting them)
The block crayons are made of beeswax and appear to provide a greater range of contrast depending on the amount of pressure applied compared to regular wax crayons. Also, when too much pressure is applied to traditional stick crayons they break. The number of online posts and tutorials with suggestions for how to use broken pieces of crayons are a testament to have frequently this happens. Online reviews for block crayons suggest that bock crayons are quite unlikely to break and often can last many years.
Markers provide almost no opportunity to experiment with different amounts of pressure. Whether you press firmly or softly, the mark on the page is the same.
3) To have general hand development, including the arches of the hands (e.g. roll a ball of playdough in the hands or roll a set of dice)
Markers and stick crayons are intended to be held in only one manner and do not provide an opportunity for using the palm of the hand. Block crayons do provide the opportunity to use the palm of the hand for drawing.
4) To develop wrist strength and ability (e.g. use a roller to flatten playdough)
I am not entirely sure if block crayons provide a greater range of motion in the wrist then with stick crayons or markers, but it is at least comparable.
5) To have hand strength (e.g. string beads) and to develop the ability to manipulate objects with the finger tips (e.g. open jars or containers)
Again, markers and stick crayons are intended to be held in only one manner and do not provide different edges or surfaces for drawing. Block crayons, on the other hand, can be held and manipulated with the finger tips to change surfaces or edges for drawing.
For more information on the pre-writing abilities, you can download the resource From Scribbling to Writing: A Guide to Fine Motor Development from the OPRC.
Also, I have observed the toddlers in my care, when presented with different colours to choose become pre-occupied with making choices e.g. changing colours. I am hoping that with more edges to use for drawing, they can assert their desire to make choices through exploration of the different drawing effects that the block crayons make. And in turn, if their focus is on the drawing and the different effects they can make with colour, hopefully that will that result in a richer and more meaningful art experience overall.
If you are interested in giving block crayons a try,