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If you haven’t already I’d love you to check out my previous review post for Nexus and their art materials – you can find the post here. I first came across Nexus resources as a reception teacher. My class had varying fine motor needs and we were looking for ways to develop their co-ordination, control and strength. One of the resources Nexus introduced our school to was their Link and Lace Board. They became one of the most popular resources in the classroom and were asked for if they weren’t already out. There are 2 versions of the Link and Lace Boards, so I was delighted when Nexus asked if I’d review the version that I hadn’t already used.
Having the ability to communicate through drawing, creating and writing is something that most of us take for granted. Children develop these essential skills through a complex range of precursory milestones; each one building upon the previous. Fine motor skills are not just developed in isolation and gross motor skills opportunities, development and mastery are required to to progress fine motor skills that allow us to hold and use tools effectively.
Promoting Motor Development
In my experience as a teacher, there has been a decline in fine motor skills as children have entered my reception classes. There has been much promotion of the importance of ‘Tummy Time’ for babies to ensure they get the opportunities to explore early skills that are the foundations to later fine motor skills (if you’d like to know a little more this is a helpful little article) Our ever increasing digital world has also modified how our children use their hands leading to over and underdevelopment of some muscles. Specifically, using games console controllers and swiping functions on touch screens have meant that some digits are over used while others get very little opportunity to develop.
The great news is there are lots of things that we can do to support our children to help hone the skills needed to be able to adeptly use tools for drawing and writing successfully. Here is a superb resource on both gross and fine motor development including stages of development and practical ideas to support. This PDF is a quick read and shows the different stages of pencil grasp and ideas to promote pencil skills.
Nexus have an evidence based Pegs to Paper programme to help develop the tripod grip needed for skilled pencil control. The Lace and Link set is an extension activity to this programme, but also a stand alone tool to be used to aid fine motor skills, concentration and mathematical concepts.
Link and Lace sets come with boards, applicators and laces. There are a couple of different designs and the Link and Lace set we have reviewed are blue boards with a 10 hole by 10 hole design. This set includes triangular applicators to help promote a tripod grip and laces in two different lengths (50cm and 100cm).
We’ve loved exploring this set, but by far my daughter’s favourite thing to do is thread the lace into the triangular applicator. The look of concentration and determination on her face is incredible to watch and she has such a sense of achievement when she accomplishes threading the lace. This small step in using the kit is a great motor skill activity in itself requiring hand eye co-ordination, skill and strength.
How It Works
Once the lace has been threaded into the applicator you press the applicator into one of the holes and then remove. The clever design of the board holds the lace in place once the applicator has been removed. Again, hand eye co-ordination is developed alongside both control and strength in movements.
Top Tip – once you’ve finished using the boards ensure that all laces are removed. This helps to make sure that the holes are not over stretched and keeps a good grip each time.
“It’s waves from the sea. Wavy wavy. I made waves.” – Floss describing what she’d made.
I’ve found while using the boards with Floss, who will be 3 later this year, there has been rich communication and language coming out of playing alongside her with the kit. She’s been narrating what she’s been doing and giving descriptions of what she has been making on the boards.
Learnt Through Play
Play is so important; through play, children learn. Learning isn’t an add on to play – it’s intrinsic. Play is self motivated, child-led and fun and through play children can safely explore the world around them, hypothesise, test out theories, fail, try again and succeed. Through careful observation of your child playing and sensitive questioning you can help to enhance their play experiences.
It’s important when talking to children about their creations whether that be on a Link and Lace Board or otherwise that we use non judgmental language. If your child brings you a picture and you say, “That’s great”, how will you respond each subsequent time they bring you a picture? Will they all be great? How will your child feel if you don’t respond with great? Will they feel this latest picture isn’t as good as a previous one? Will their motivation come from the reward of your praise rather than an inner motivation? Using open questioning helps to take away judgment while still exploring creations.
Tell me about your picture? What made you choose that? Where did you get the idea? How did you do that part?
Below are some ways that I feel Link and Lace Boards can enhance learning opportunities through play. I’ve added some questions that you might find helpful to use in play situations with your children. Although the questions are linked to the Link and Lace Boards many can be adapted for a range of play situations.
The laces come in a beautiful, rainbow assortment of 10 colours. Therefore, giving little ones plenty of opportunity to practise their colour recognition while they use the boards. Selecting and choosing colours for a purpose is the start of creative thinking.
Why have you chosen to use that colour?
A useful question to get children to talk about their designs more and their reasoning behind choices.
The laces on their own have proved to be very popular. The spectrum of colours allow for lots of colour matching opportunities with other toys and objects around the home. Floss has been using the two different lengths of lace to measure items and state whether she thinks an object is big or small. I’ve been introducing size language more to her as she plays with words like short and long and she is beginning to use these to describe the length of objects.
Can you find an object longer or shorter than the lace?
Another use we’ve found for the Link and Lace boards have stemmed from Floss’s interest in sewing. I’ve recently introduced some simple needlework with her after she became increasingly interested in observing me do handcrafts. On her own she came up with the idea of using some of the threads from her sewing with the applicator and board. The range of different thicknesses and textures of the yarn gave a different challenge than the laces.
When introducing new language it’s important to be repetitive and give the word in as many different contexts as possible to help these words become vocabulary for our children. Language rich opportunities are available all around us and narrating the play of children helps to give them new language to use. Too much, not enough, tight, loose, loopy, curly, straight, bumpy, wavy are just some of the words you could use while interacting with the boards.
We’ve used the kits to develop positional language too. A little game to play is to take it in turns giving instructions to make a picture or pattern. For example – make a sea at the bottom of the board – put a boat on top of the sea – add a whale next to the boat etc. For older children you could get more complicated and use co-ordinates to determine the position of things or say the whale must be 3 dots away from the boat.
I’m a huge mathematics fan. I’m incredibly lucky that my teachers initially ensured that my mathematical foundations were firmly routed in play through role play and small world play. As I went further through primary school maths became puzzles and challenges to solve for fun with hands on resources and concrete applications.
When teaching I’m a big believer in ensuring that children have resources to help visualise what they are doing. Manipulatives (resources that children can manipulate) can really help children to experiment with mathematical problems, it gives them the confidence to adopt a trial and error approach and helps them to explain how they came to a solution. They also allow children who favour either a visual or kinaesthetic approach to learning to have their preferences met.
- Counting – cleverly this board is a 100 square board (10 x 10 grid). I’d be very tempted to use a whiteboard pen to write on the numbers to 100 if we were doing mathematical problems.
- Number Line – jumps in a number line can be a hard concept for some children to grasp. The fact that a lace links one hole to the next is a superb visual representation of a jump. The ability to pull back out the lace means you can represent both addition and subtraction problems using this idea.
- Follow a Pattern – Can you complete a pattern? Can you use two colours to make a repeating pattern? What is the repeating unit in that pattern?
- Mathematical vocabulary – long, short, more, less
- Shapes – many 2D shapes can be represented using the kits, again for older children you could use co-ordinate clues for them to discover a shape.
- Area and Perimeter – using 2D shapes area and perimeter can be explored using the boards. What happens to the perimeter/ area of the shape if we make that side longer?
- Graphs – the boards can be used to make simple representations of maths through line and block graphs. Children could record how many minibeasts they see or how much rain is collected each day.
- Symmetry – 2D shape symmetry can be explored either on one board looking at lines of symmetry on a shape – mirrors can really help with this or using two or more boards together and seeing how the shapes would be reflected in the line of the board
- Multiplication – through the use of boxes you can explore the effect of numbers getting bigger or smaller on multiplication
- Vectors – is another concept that could be explored using the boards.
One thing that I loved about the boards in school were how they could be used independently, but also collaboratively. Often you would see children begin to use them on their own and then gradually would become interested in what others were doing around them and share ideas. Ultimately, there would always be some collaborative project where the whole group would start to work together on a shared vision. The boards easily fit together to be able to form a bigger board in any direction you wish.
Concentration levels are very high when playing with the Nexus Link and Lace Boards, there is a good degree of fine motor challenge for a range of needs and the open ended nature of them allows children to focus on their own ideas and concepts. They’re a really enjoyable resource to use and you’ll want to have a go yourself!
If you purchase products from Nexus Home Learning you have the option to nominate a school or nursery who then receive 20% of your purchase back in points to spend on Nexus products. What a great scheme. To find out more click here.
I only choose to review products that I think we as a family will love and use. Link and Lace Boards gifted by Nexus. The opinions in this post are my own. I hope my reviews will give you ideas of how to get the best out of the products and would love to know any thoughts you have.