'Little Hands' makes a big difference for lifelong learning

9 November 2015

A new pilot program pairing Occupational Therapy students from the University of Sydney with kindergarteners from western Sydney public schools has ended its first year with breakthrough results.

The 'Little Hands' program, designed to help early primary school students develop their learning and fine motor skills, launched in term two this year at Bexley, Fairfield and Wattawa Heights Public Schools.

Over the course of 11 weeks, 20 student and alumni volunteers from the University of Sydney's Compass program assisted 180 kindergarten and year 1 students through fun occupational therapy activities based on the Fingergym™ Fine Motor Skills School Readiness Program.

After completing the program, 83 per cent of kindergarten and year 1 students showed improved fine motor skills, with 78 per cent reporting an improved ability to complete self-care tasks independently, such as dressing and shoelace-tying.

The pilot survey also revealed 100 per cent of teachers involved in the program reported a general improvement in their students' gross and fine motor skills, confidence and focus in the classroom.

"Simple skills like the ability to hold a pencil correctly or cut with scissors underpin a child's whole schooling and attitude to learning," said Assistant Principal of Wattawa Heights Public School, Nitsa Comninos.

If students can't hold a pencil correctly it becomes a burden, their fingers get tired and they aren't able to concentrate.
Nitsa Comninos

Teachers from participating schools also gained professional learning assistance from OT Kids NSW as part of the pilot to help their classroom readiness for occupational therapy activities.

"Having this structured program has been really beneficial because it broke down into five key areas what sorts of skills are needed and provided specific examples of activities to be incorporated in the classroom," said Ms Comninos.

Parents were encouraged to participate in the 'Little Hands' pilot, with 175 parents attending information sessions to equip them with the skills to practice with their children at home.

Wattawa Heights Public School parent Antoinette Mouzayek said the hands-on nature of the program meant students gained a newfound motivation to learn.

"It's not like a normal lesson where children can get easily bored. The program is so quick and fun that the students don't even realise they're developing their fine motor skills," she said. 

"'Little Hands' teaches the skills that many parents assume their children already come to school with."

First year Master of Teaching (Primary) student Jade Fogarty said volunteering with the program has helped her gain an appreciation of the importance of developing children's fine motor skills, an area not often covered in traditional teacher training.

"Comparing the students' abilities at the start of the program to several weeks in showed how helpful the 'Little Hands' program has been," she said.

"I've learnt many techniques I can incorporate into the classroom in future and it has helped me recognise when students need improvement."   

'Little Hands' is set to continue from term one next year.