Screw Driver Set
A simple but effective exercise for developing motor control for toddlers and young children (or older children who might be requiring some remedial work).
The small wooden block has 6 holes and 6 wooden screws (in 3 different colours). The child can either practice simply twisting the screw to tighten and loosen it or can add the element of colour matching (putting the blue screw into blue hole and so forth). The set comes with a little wooden screwdriver, which can be used to encourage the use of tools and the "turning of the wrist" (please read the next paragraph for more info on this!) but the screws can also be twisted using the fingertips in order to encourage strength and dexterity in the 3 fingers required for the "pincer" or "tripod" grip which is used in successful writing.
One of the hidden benefits of this material is the subtle inspiration it provides for "the turning of the wrist". This is an important, but often unnoticed, stage in a child's progression towards fine motor refinement and writing skills. Younger children tend to use an "overhand" grasp for writing, painting or using scissors. This is effective in the sense that it does allow marks (or snips) to appear on paper but it is also a tiring and clumsy way of manipulating tools. The child tires quickly and the marks are less precise. This is largely because the "overhand" position relies primarily on the larger muscles to control movement - the motion comes from the shoulder and arm in this pose. As a child's motor skills develop the wrist begins to "turn" into an underhand position - the position that you will find your adult hand in if you pick up a pen right now! As you hold a pen in your fingers you are looking not at the top of your wrist but at a side-view or the underside as your wrist is turned. When a child begins experimenting with this grip it becomes apparent that the motions are more controlled, as they are based on the smaller and more precise motions of the wrist and fingers, and writing or drawing can be sustained for longer periods. As a simple experiment - try turning your wrist "overhand" and do some writing with your thumb and forefinger closest to the page...I'm sure you will find that your writing looks much messier than usual and that you become tired quickly! This little exercise will help you to understand the immense value of providing a child with experiences that encourage the "turning of the wrist" and help to make this a familiar position for the hand.
This is particularly important in a world where even our youngest children are engaging frequently with communication technology; a swipe or tap on the screen of a smartphone (or tablet) is done in the overhand position, as is typing on a keyboard. If we want to help preserve the hand-written word (rather than allowing it to become a lost art!) then it is important for children to feel comfortable with the range of motions involved in holding and manipulating a pen!
For more information about the development of the control and grips used for writing please visit this entry at the site for Occupational Therapy for Children.
Please note: Many Montessori educators/classrooms would consider that this is not to be considered a "Practical Life" exercise in the purest sense as it does not serve a "real" practical purpose (ie. the screws are simply being driven into the block, they do not actually hold anything together in a building process). It does, however, hold value as a fine motor exercise and can act as a useful preparatory (or remedial) adjunct to more practical building activities.