What are fine motor skills?
Fine motor skills give us the ability and dexterity to make movements with the small muscles of our hands and wrists. These skills require coordination between our brains and muscles. Fine motor skill efficiency directly affects a child’s ability to perform everyday tasks and the speed at which they can accomplish them. These skills cross all ranges of schoolwork, playtime, and self-care.
Fine Motor Skills Include:
- Pencil skills (like coloring, drawing, and writing)
- Scissor skills (cutting)
- Construction skills (building Legos, dressing up dolls, or putting together puzzles)
- Independent dressing (buttoning, zipping, and belts)
- Eating skills (using forks and spoons or opening lunch boxes and food bags)
- Personal Hygiene (brushing teeth or hair)
These skills are all very important for children entering school and can affect their progress and self-confidence.
Signs Of A Problem
While all children develop at different rates, there are a few general fine motor skill milestones. Once children start preschool, their teachers may be the first to tell parents of any issues they have observed during the school day.
Having a hard time using scissors, holding a pencil, or buttoning up after using the bathroom can all be signs of a delay in the development of these needed skills. Sometimes, practice at school and home can improve a child’s ability without specialized help.
But when kids struggle with controlling and strengthening these skills for a long time, perhaps over years, it can be a sign of a developmental coordination disorder (DCD), also referred to as dyspraxia. When weak fine motor skills become an issue with a child’s class performance, the school may offer them occupational therapy after an evaluation as part of an IEP or 504 plan. There are also private practice options available that insurance can cover.
Occupational Therapy for Fine Motor Skills
Occupational therapy (OT) can help children grow their abilities related to sensory, cognitive, and physical skills. When focused on fine motor skills, therapists can work one on one with children to improve the hands’ small-muscle movements and dexterity needed for everyday tasks. Having that extra attention from a therapist, OT can be extremely beneficial for children with developmental delays.
Some things worked on during therapy would include the pincer grasp, which uses the thumb and pointer to pick things up. Therapists use a range of materials to get children to focus and grow hand-eye coordination such as special stickers, tracing paper, pencil grips, and scissor guides to help in the development of these skills. While therapy is more reserved for children with dyspraxia or other developmental delays, there are ways to help your child at home if you are waiting for an evaluation or have concerns of your own.
Fine Motor Activities for Home
If you have concerns about your child’s development, there are plenty of things you can try to help. And the great news is, you can make these activities fun and the children will hardly notice they’re actually practicing! You just have to gather up materials and get creative!
- Cotton balls, pompoms
- Tweezers, tongs, spoons
- Boxes, containers, ice cube trays
- Beads, shoelaces, string
- Pencil and scissor guides
- Tracing paper, coloring books
You can even use materials like dry pasta and cereal! Have a look around your pantry and cabinets for these everyday items to help keep these activities easy and fun!
For younger children, you can use the activity of sorting the cotton balls or pompoms into any boxes or containers using tweezers or tongs. This will really work on their pincer grip. Strengthening these small muscles in the hand will give them better control for coloring and future writing.
Lacing or threading exercises, using beads, dry pasta or cereal, and shoelaces can improve their hand-eye coordination, which is an essential skill for fine motor development. This can be really fun for children who like to keep their creations, you can make necklaces or bracelets!
School-aged children can really benefit from pencil and scissor guides. Not only do they allow for the correct grip on the tool, but fun ones can keep your child focused on the task! This can even make writing and cutting out shapes and pictures more exciting.
Practice, Patience, and Perseverance!
Parents and educators alike want kids to succeed both at home and in school. Trying out new activities and taking extra steps to ensure our children develop and strengthen their fine motor skills is a great way to ensure they’ll have an easier transition into school and playtime. When a child has the skills to color (nearly!) in the lines or even zip up their own jacket for recess, it can build their self-confidence so they can navigate through even the toughest days.
These skills can take time to grow. And if you have any concerns, it always worth reaching out to your child’s teacher or another professional for a second opinion. In the meantime, there are the activities above and plenty more you can start at home!
My name is John Haber. I’m a Pediatric Occupational Therapist and the founder of Nogginsland. I became a COTA in 2003, and then went back to school much later, receiving my Master’s Degree in OT from Mercy College in New York in 2016.
Over the years, I’ve worked with a variety of populations in different settings, from school districts, to developmental disability centers, to children’s hospitals.