Now that you have assessed your children in relation to their gross and fine motor dexterity, you can set up your Dough Gym.
What is Dough Gym?
- Dough Gym is a gym for children where you work out with dough – Simple!
- Dough Gym is a specific daily intervention - If it is going to have impact it has to be regular and consistent.
- Dough Gym is directly linked to assessment and attainment.
- Dough Gym is exclusive – You need to make the children who need this intervention feel special and chosen for all of the right reasons, not just because they are failing. I usually work with a maximum of 8 children, not a whole group.
It is not impossible to do Dough Gym with a whole class, but it is a feat of organisation and you need an inordinate amount of dough! If your children are all jumping up and down on the carpet with a lump of dough in their hand, this isn't Dough Gym. What it is is a guarantee of a grumpy cleaner at the end of the day!
Dough Gym is usually done with one group of children while the others are doing a completely unrelated task or it can be done as part of a whole class session where one group works out in the Dough Gym and the other children do dexterity related exercises.
This is where 'Funky Fingers' comes in - but more about that tomorrow.
- Dough Gym is done to music – I have found that this is key to its success. Children are highly engaged by music and the beat is crucial when it comes to performing the Dough Gym moves. Choose your music carefully. Something that is popular and current is far more likely to get high levels of engagement than working out to ‘Jesus’ hands were kind hands’!
What do I need?
1. Space – If you are working with up to 8 children who are going to be practicing a series of gross motor movements then make sure you have enough space to stop them from knocking each other out!
2. Membership Cards - Every Gym member needs a membership card that they can keep in their drawer and show to the Dough Gym leader (you!) every time they work out!
These are an optional extra. Because I first used this intervention to target children who felt they 'couldn't do' something, I wanted them to feel special. Giving them 'exclusive' membership to the Dough Gym worked a treat.
The cards were really simple, computer generated and laminated sheets about the size of a credit card with the child's photo on it.
3. Certificate – Dough Gym is an intervention. Children wouldn’t stay on it indefinitely so I always gave them a certificate when they had completed their turn (often this was around a half term)
Again, an optional extra. These are less relevant if you are doing whole class sessions like Funky Fingers.
4. Labelling/Posters – As this is a Dough Gym it is important to brand it as such with lots of fitness labels posters and information. It is good to have a mix between commercially produced and child created versions.
If you are not turning part of our space into a designated Dough Gym area, then there is no need to do this. If you have the space then 'dressing' the area often adds to the level of engagement.
5. Dough – Might seem like a bit of an obvious one, but every child needs to have a piece of dough that corresponds to the areas of development that you are working on.
As a general rule of thumb, when you are working with gross motor dexterity need a piece of dough as big as the child's head! If you make it in a pan, it is about a pan full each. If you are working on mid range development then a nice big ball and if you are working on hand and finger dexterity then smaller pieces of stiffer dough (or malleable material) that will give a higher level of resistance.
6. Music – Something current that the children will know that has got a good steady beat to it. Your Dough Gym session will last the length of the piece of music. Around three to four minutes is about enough.
7. Work Out Routine – Dough Gym has a series of moves each that supports a different area of development from shoulder pivot to pincer grip. Over time the children become very familiar with the names of each move and are able to change them on command. Never the less your workout routine should match the needs of the children in the session
How does a session work?
- Dough Gym needs to take place at the beginning or end of a session so that you are not pulling children out of Continuous Provision or away from areas of interest and exploration. I always prefer to do mine at the beginning of the day. As you want Dough Gym to carry a bit of prestige and have the ‘envyability factor’ it is better if it is done in your main space and that children aren’t taken off to the 'Sunshine Room' to do it!
- The Dough Gym children present you with their Dough Gym cards and then take up their places, STANDING at the designated Dough Gym space. As I said on Monday, it is important that the children stand as part of this initiative is to develop their balance, posture, proprioception, hand/eye coordination and bilateral movement which is less effective when you sit down.
- Children’s backs need to be straight and their legs shoulder width apart. The children will find it very tempting to bend forward thus using their back rather than their shoulders and arms to support the dough. I always tell mine to squeeze their bum cheeks as this tightens the ‘core’ and helps prevent bending.
Remember: When doing a session of Dough Gym you will be swapping between hand and finger exercises and palm, arm and shoulder workouts. The children won't constantly have their hands in the dough.
- When the music starts, begin by warming up the hands and fingers before you get onto some serious squeezing.
I have come up with tonnes of Dough Gym exercises over the years, but they are really easy to make up when you know the areas that you are targeting.
For hand warm ups you can do simple things like:
Jazz Hands - In time to the music, stretch your arms out straight and repeatedly 'flex' your Jazz Hands!
Sharks - Bend your elbows and put your flat palms onto your tummy. Stick up your thumb so it is nice and straight (like a sharks fin). Keep your fingers tightly together and then bend your knuckles, DIP and PIP joints to make your fingers move like a fishes tail. Swim your hands separately out to the side, up above your head and then back down again. Keep your fins straight and your tails tight!
1,2,3,4,5,5,5 - Count to five on alternate hands starting with the thumb. Every time you shout out a number you extend your arm until it is straight and lift up the correct number of fingers. When you get to five, repeat the number three times, really stretching out your fingers and your palm.
Easy really! Just think about the muscles that you are working and how you want them to move.
Once you have done a couple of warm up exercises then you can get stuck into your dough.
- Use the dough for resistance work. Anything from squashing it with a flat palm and a straight arm to pinching small bits out of it. The large ball of dough is also useful for developing arm muscles and pivots by lifting as well as hand arches and finger pivots by squeezing.
If you are working upper body, then you want lots of pushing, lifting, rotating and squeezing
You can use exercises like:
Around the World – children hold their complete piece of dough with both hands. With arms outstretched and with no bend in their elbow they take their dough in a complete circle as if it was a moon going around the Earth.
If you are working elbow and wrist pivots then you need lots of bending and flexing with exercises like:
Milk the cow – This can be done with completely straight arms or by bending at the elbow. With straight arms the children stretch their arms out in front of them and make a fist. They move their arms up and down alternately squeezing their fists as they do so.
Lasso – Children start with their arms out to the side at shoulder height (like a scarecrow) and then bend at the elbow. They then make a fist, as if they are holding the lasso. Whilst maintaining the bend in the elbow and a fist they rotate their wrists either alternately or at the same time ending with a complete arm extension out in front of them as if they are throwing the lasso.
Swim – The children begin with their elbows bent, palms down, thumbs touching each other and the backs of their hands under their chin. Keeping their thumbs together they push their hands out in front of them until their arms are fully extended before bringing their hand back under their chin to start again (like breast stroke).
- The session should be fast paced and hard work but most of all fun. You want to keep those children coming back for more.
The Friars Primary
The role of the Dough Gym leader is quite like that of a slightly crazed aerobics instructor. Once the children become familiar with a few basic moves then you will be able to sequence them just by calling out the name of the move when you want the children to change. As the children become more proficient, you add more moves and create a more complex and challenging work out.
After about three and a half minutes, it is all over - until the next time!
Experience tells me that if you assess well and create your exercises to match the needs you have identified, then you will see some brilliant results, especially with the children who struggle with manual dexterity. But, that is easy for me to say. Now you need to have a go and see for yourselves...
Have fun Dough Gyming!