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The joy of jigsaws – 5 great benefits

With winter now well and truly on it’s way, we’re going to be spending a lot more time indoors.

What can you do to keep the kids entertained without the whole day turning into a tech fest? Simple…..

Getting started on the underground

Just choose something that’s fun, makes kids think and gives them a tangible reward at the end of their endeavours. You probably already have one of these boredom busters lurking somewhere in the house! On a recent wet weekend when helping my autistic son complete a 500 piece puzzle of the London Underground map, we re-discovered the joy of jigsaws.

The joy of jigsaws – 5 great benefits


Doing a jigsaw puzzle uses a number of cognitive skills including reasoning and problem solving. Even the simplest puzzle requires planning and thinking about where and how the pieces fit together which leads to a commitment to solving the problem and completing the task.


When working on a jigsaw puzzle we’re using memory, critical thinking and usually a lot of patience! We need to remember the shape of pieces we’ve already tried, use strategies for sorting pieces into similar types, shapes or colours and keep trying until we find exactly where every piece fits. That all requires a great deal of concentration.


Picking up pieces and having to slot them together without breaking up the rest of the puzzle can be a complex task. Puzzles require intricate coordination of hand and eye movements and can also help improve children’s understanding of colours and shapes.

Picking up the pieces


The subject of the puzzle can spark conversation around the topic. A number or alphabet puzzle can reinforce learning about letters and numbers. My son is very keen on all forms of transport so the Underground puzzle prompted him to talk about related topics.

Tackling a jigsaw together is also a great social activity and gives the chance to talk and spend time together. Keeping a puzzle on the go in the living room or kitchen is a great idea and the whole family can do a little bit whenever they fancy. Especially good for keeping the channels of communication open with teenagers!


jigsaw 3
Finished – well almost!

Solving a jigsaw puzzle gives a real sense of satisfaction. You will have practised goal-setting and patience as well as a number of different problem-solving strategies. Your brain will have had a fantastic work-out so it deserves to celebrate! It’s just a shame our puzzle had a few pieces missing. Still, another valuable lesson learnt – life doesn’t always fall neatly into place!


TOP TIP: Charity shops and car boot sales are both fantastic places to look for good value jigsaws. Return them to a charity shop for someone else to enjoy once you’re finished and the charity benefits again too.

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Improving handwriting skills – without even lifting a pen!

The ability to write legibly remains an important skill even in this keyboard-driven era.

For children with dyspraxia, difficulties with handwriting can cause significant problems at school. As part of our focus on Dyspraxia Awareness Week we look at ways of developing children’s handwriting without the need to lift a pen!

Must haves for legible handwriting

boy balnacing on high ropes trailTo develop a legible, fluent and fast handwriting style, children need to have good gross and fine motor control as well as good hand-to-eye coordination.

Handwriting requires a steady shoulder and for the wrist and elbow to move in just the right way.

The development of good posture and balance are important.

How to develop gross motor skills

girl holding onto handles, swingingGross motor skills are the controlled movements in our whole body or limbs ie arms and legs. Activities such as dance, football, cycling and gripping climbing frames can all help develop gross motor control. Try these exercises too:

  • Skywriting – ‘write’ letters and words as large as you can in the air as if you’re holding a giant pen or pencil
  • Animal walks – develop shoulder stability by pretending to walk like an animal e.g. a crab. Makes for a great party game!
  • Jumping jacks – to improve core strength

How to develop fine motor skills

Fine motor skills are the smaller movements our bodies make, usually of the hands and fingers. Activities to improve fine motor control include:-

  • Bead threading
  • Making patterns using peg boards
  • Using chopsticks or tweezers to pick up small objects – the Operation game is great for this!
  • Bursting bubble wrap – who doesn’t love doing that?!
  • Using a squirt gun to ‘shoot’ water
  • Jenga
  • Hug and Tug

What’s Hug and Tug?

Hug & Tug is an exercise that’s particularly recommended to strengthen muscle tone in the fingers. Great for warming up the fingers before starting to write and can also help as a calming exercise.

  1. Start with interlocking your index fingers. Squeeze and pull – one relaxes as the other pulls.
  2. Repeat 3 or 4 times.
  3. Unhook your index fingers and interlock your middle fingers. Repeat steps 1 and 2.
  4. Continue with all fingers, including thumbs.


Most importantly, remember to make the activities as playful as possible. Kids learn best when they’re having fun!

Hop over to the National Handwriting Association for lots more information and helpful advice.

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Dyspraxia Awareness Week

Dyspraxia awareness week logo

Dyspraxia Awareness Week

12th – 18th October 2014


Organised by the Dyspraxia Foundation this nationwide campaign aims to raise awareness of dyspraxia and this year has a particular focus on the emotional impact the condition has on teenagers and young adults.

What is dyspraxia?

Sometimes referred to as the ‘clumsy’ syndrome, dyspraxia is a neurological condition that affects coordination and spatial awareness. It comonly also causes difficulties with planning or organising and is known to affect speech and thought. Dyspraxia often occurs alongside other conditions such as autism, ADHD and dyslexia.

Common features of the condition include:-

  • falling over frequently
  • difficulty walking up and downstairs
  • poor short term memory e.g. unable to remember or follow instructions
  • difficulties with dressing and fastening clothes
  • difficulties with running, jumping, catching/kicking balls
  • illegible handwriting
  • poor organisation skills

What can I do to help my child with dyspraxia?

Sensory integration therapy

Sensory integration therapy involves using equipment to help the child to take in sensory information such as touch, deep pressure, movement experiences and visual information. This sensory information helps improve spatial awareness and coordination.

Practice fine motor activities

Activities to improve fine motor skills will also help with handwriting and self care skills.

Encourage exercise and make it fun

Set up a mini assault course using simple household items – cushions to jump over, a long stick for a finish line, bean bags for throwing, etc. Try to include lots of running, jumping and throwing activities. Time them and challenge them to beat their personal best!

Simplify things

Opt for loose fit clothing that’s easy to take on and off. Look out for elastic waists on trousers and skirts, velcro fastenings on shoes and coats and jumpers rather than cardigans with fiddly buttons.

Easy belts have velcro closing belts in a variety of colours and sizes for children and adults.

Lock Laces elastic shoelaces can replace normal shoe laces on any shoes or trainers and come in lots of exciting colours!

Use checklists, daily diaries and visual supports such as TomTag to make day to day organisation easier and more predictable.

Where can I go for more information?

Dyspraxia Foundation – become a member of the foundation (£25 for 12 month membership) to access a host of information sheets and gain access to your local group.

Dyspraxia UK – can help with finding a specialist occupational therapist in your area who will be able to assess, diagnose and devise individualised therapy plans.

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Are you getting enough exercise?

Between us this year we have completed a triathlon and a 100k (10 x 10k) challenge.

We’re not athletes, gym addicts or super-women. It all started a few years ago when we challenged each other to enter a Race for Life 5k run. It was hard to get started but several months and lots of huffing and puffing later, we did it. The physical benefits of the exercise were obvious – we’d gone from barely managing a 10 minute jog to completing a full 5k though we weren’t going to break any land-speed records!

As busy parents we’d previously found it difficult to slot in any sort of regular exercise into our days, putting the needs of our children and families first rather than our own physical health. Although it was great to see the physical changes, what really got us both hooked were the powerful psychological benefits.

Exercise really does help to clear the mind – it gives us time away from other distractions to think more clearly and order our thoughts. If I’ve been struggling to get my head round a particular issue, heading out for a jog will often prompt new ideas to flow as well as blowing a few cobwebs away.


Setting a goal or signing up for a challenge is a great way to force yourself to keep to a regular regime and gives you a reason to take time for yourself. It’s essential for our mental health and self-esteem to remember that we are important too. Making a commitment to exercise commits us to some ‘me’ time – time away from children, housework and work worries.

I often hear people say “Well done, I couldn’t do it”. I tell them that’s what I used to say too. Go on – challenge yourself today!

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When is a child old enough to walk to school alone?

Most of us parents will remember walking to primary school on our own at some point but it’s an increasingly rare sight these days.

Practice the journet

There are actually no laws or official guidelines around age or distance of walking to school so it’s down to each of us to decide when our children are ready.

As well as the obvious health benefits, walking to school can help build independence, responsibility, safety awareness and social skills.

The biggest fears amongst parents about letting their children walk to school alone are of traffic and stranger danger. The Living Streets campaign tries to help parents understand the reality of these risks and explains that by protecting children from them they could be unwittingly harming their long-term health and well-being in other ways.

This Living Streets and Parentline Plus Walk to School report states that “Giving children the opportunity to walk to school not only reduces the risk of obesity but helps them develop independence and teaches them important life skills such as road safety and route finding”.

Start small

Build up to walking all the way by accompanying your child most of the way and letting them go the last bit by themselves. Gradually start making that last bit longer whilst they (and you!) gain in confidence until they’re doing it all themselves.

Safety in numbers

Try pairing up with other parents and taking it in turns to walk with the children to school first and then build up to the children walking together without any of you.

Road safety

Use this transition time to give reminders and tips about crossing roads and traffic awareness. If you always make the decision when it’s safe to cross, your children won’t learn what to look for to make safe decisions themselves. Talking through likely scenarios will help build their confidence to know what to do when they’re on their own. Do you know your green cross code?

Stranger safety

Agree an easily remembered code word or phrase to use in the event that someone else has to pick up or meet your children. Tell them to ask for this code word if anyone approaches them offering a lift, whether it’s someone they know or not.

October is International Walk to School Month