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School Readiness Series. Physical Development (Self-care) part 1 (cert-4-£1)

Updated: May 15, 2021

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As part of our 'School Readiness' series, today's post will look at 3 important self-care skills that early years practitioners can encourage once settings re-open and parents can encourage during lockdown and the summer holidays if applicable. These skills are bottom wiping, nose blowing and self-feeding. I’ve been fortunate enough in my work to see some fantastic activities for encouraging self-care and over the years I’ve collected hundreds of ideas from SENCOs, occupational therapists, early intervention teams and of course the internet but I only want to share the very best activities that I know work!


As explained in my introductory post last week, a key skill that Reception children need but often lack is the ability to wipe their own bottoms. This post is very useful for Early Years Practitioners because some of the activities can be carried out in settings but please note: some of the activities outlined below can only be carried out by parents at home due to the intimate nature of this topic and potential safeguarding issues. Early Years practitioners – I recommend you add this to your range of tips and advice for parents as part of your usual transition preparation and share with parents during lockdown so that they can work on these skills before September if and when school starts.

Parents and Early Years Practitioners - Can the child wipe themselves independently? Flush the chain, wash and dry their hands thoroughly? Your immediate answer will either be ‘yes’ or ‘no’ but think about each and every step involved in this and how it will be different at school – door handles, light switches, locks, different types of flush pulls, different types of toilet paper and ways of dispensing, clothing, fastenings, different taps, different soap and ways of dispensing, different ways of drying hands. (I don’t know about you, but I’m exhausted already! – these steps highlight just how complex using the toilet can be for little ones!)

You won’t be there to check their bottoms, or offer a ‘just in case’ wet wipe so we need absolute confidence that the child can perform these tasks as second nature. Reception teachers and classroom assistants are great at introducing the new toilets and helping children get used to things at first but they won’t have time to start with the very basics – that’s where parents and early years practitioners come in!

Many children have difficulty with learning how to wipe them-selves. This is because it is a very complex task and as such, it is a skill that needs to be taught, unlike other skills that children seem to naturally acquire as they develop.

As adults, we are so used to performing this task ourselves that we often give little thought to the various skills needed to perform it successfully.

So, what does bottom-wiping require?

1. Good balance

2. Good proprioceptive feedback (Proprioception is the awareness of where the body is without using vision e.g. aware that hands are behind back even though we can’t see them)

3. Good sense of touch and fine motor skills

4. Good range of movement in the shoulder and arm to be able to reach behind them

5. Motivation to want to be independent in bottom wiping

Let’s take each of these steps and consider the most useful ways to support and encourage them.

1. Good balance

Both feet should be placed firmly on the floor, providing the child with a stable base. If this is not possible, provide a step for the child to place her feet on. Having a hand rail or something to hold on to provides stability to begin with but children will need to practise without steps and rails eventually.

2. Good proprioceptive feedback (bodily awareness)

Any physical activity will encourage bodily awareness. The more active the child is, the better. So continue to encourage rough and tumble play, sports, garden play, dancing and releasing energy in their usual way according to the child’s needs. Some more specific activities that really hone in on the proprioception required for bottom-wiping, include the following:

Crab walking – This requires a lot of co-ordination and is particularly useful at encouraging children to co-ordinate their shoulders, arms and hands without seeing them.

Mirror play - In front of a mirror, ask the child to close their eyes then move one of their arms to a position and ask them to copy it with their other arm without looking. Then ask them to open their eyes and see how close they got to getting the same position.

Bum bag Games - Fill a bum bag up with familiar items such as key, coin, peg, cotton wool ball, teaspoon, etc. Put the bum bag on the child and have it loosely positioned around their waist with the bag hanging over their bottom. Sit them sideways on a chair so that their bottom is hanging just off the side and the backrest is not in the way. Call out one item at a time and see if they can search for it behind their back using their “wiping” hand.

3 Good sense of touch and fine motor skills

The sense of touch plays an important role so anything that encourages children’s senses in their hands will be useful. Continue to encourage children to manipulate different textures with their hands (playdough, clay, mud, shaving foam etc) and use a multitude of tools and fine motor equipment (interlocking blocks, crayons, knife and fork, tweezers etc)

How does it feel? - Children need to know how it feels to wipe their bottom, so help them consider how it feels to wipe their bottom properly and in the right place, rather than just wiping their cheeks or lower back.

Bath time - Parents can help children develop a better awareness of their bottom by encouraging them to use a thin wash cloth to wash themselves in a way that mimics the wiping action with toilet paper. Also encourage them to dry their own bottoms with their towel after washing.