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The preschool skills: the role of the occupational therapist

The first year of school can rhyme with excitement, for both the children and their parents. On the other hand, such a significant transition can also bring a lot of apprehensions and questionings, especially if difficulties or deficits are observed in the daily routines of the child. To ensure the proper functioning of the child as well as a smooth transition to his new environment, some milestones need to be achieved. Indeed, to be ready for his very first day at school, the child must acquire most of the preschool skills as prerequisites. The occupational therapist will observe and evaluate your child. If necessary, a rapid care will allow a better social integration of your child during his first return to school and a better self-esteem.


School Prerequisites: Essential Skills


At first, the learning process of these preschool skills can be perceived as pleasure for a child, while being a daunting challenge for another. More specifically, these are pre-writing, coloring, drawing, and cutting skills, which are recognized as fine motor skills, but also include any gross motor skills, concentration, comprehension, and communication skills. The preschool skills discussed in this article include different areas of child development and can be categorized as follows: motor skills, sensory and perceptive-cognitive skills, communication, attention and behavioral skills.

To demonstrate a proper level of functioning in the classroom and reduce the stress that can come with this new and unknown environment, the child must master or at least partly, the following sub-skills. Here are 7 categories of examples of observations that validate if the child is ready to start kindergarten:

Gross motor skills

  • Throwing and catching a ball
  • Keeping balance on one foot
  • Going up and down the stairs by alternating feet
  • Riding a tricycle or a bike with training wheels
  • Sitting on a chair with a proper posture

Fine motor skills

  • Holding a pencil with the fingers (and not with a full-hand static grip)
  • Coloring by respecting as much as possible the contours of a simple drawing
  • Threading beads
  • Cutting by using scissors while trying to stay on the line as much as possible while changing direction with the scissors
  • Using a glue stick and applying the glue correctly
  • Manual dominance should be established

Perceptive-cognitive skills

  • Understanding and following instructions
  • Recognizing the letters of his first name
  • Separating objects or images into different categories
  • Completing a simple puzzle
  • Inventing stories and being creative

Language and communication skills

  • Formulating complete and understandable sentences
  • Expressing needs and emotions
  • Maintaining eye contact
  • Listening to a story for several minutes and asking questions related to it
  • Telling the story of his day using logical elements

Attention and concentration skills

  • Demonstrating an adequate arousal level
  • Being able to sit still for about 20 minutes
  • Maintaining concentration despite minor noises and distractions


  • Playing with friends and respecting a set of rules
  • Sharing personal belongings
  • Responding appropriately when facing difficulty or failure, as well as success (being interested by his performance)
  • Keep on doing his things despite the absence of his parents (tolerating the separation)
  • Reacting differently to authority and being polite


The child must achieve to do many of these tasks by himself and requires only a light level of assistance from an adult:

  • Getting dressed/undressed
  • Eating
  • Washing hands
  • Using the washrooms
  • Handling material in class
  • Being able to play alone


When to see an occupational therapist?


Now, if difficulties arise in any of these skills categories, it becomes relevant and important to request the services of an occupational therapist, especially if the limitations interfere with the functioning level of the child in his daily routines. The occupational therapist can facilitate the learning process of each of these tasks. An early intervention will make it possible to overcome the deficit as soon as the first signs appear, in order to prevent, or at least minimize, the gap that could be created between the skills level of your child and his classmates. Early intervention will thus promote the development of a healthy image and self-esteem, as well as optimized social integration for the child.


Depending on the initial mandate that has been requested, the occupational therapist first proceeds with a complete evaluation of the child’s functioning, following his theoretical knowledge about child development. The different areas of functioning are investigated through standardized tests and adapted scenarios. If any difficulty seems to appear, the occupational therapist then identifies the causes and impacts by using his analytical capabilities based on various clinical and theoretical approaches.


In conclusion, if you have doubts about the development of your child’s fine and general motor skills, make an appointment with a health professional.


By Noémie Girard, occupational therapist at Physiothérapie Universelle Lasalle clinic



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