Fine motor skills have come into focus in schools and preschools in a big way. But what are they and how do they develop?
What are they?
The term ‘fine motor skills’ refers to the accuracy in which we can use the small muscles in our body, that of the hands, fingers, feet, toes, eyes and mouth.
In teacher speak though, we’re really only ever talking about the hands and fingers.
Being able to use these muscles with strength and coordination is crucial to being able to write with ease and to successfully do 101 fiddly things with loom bands!
How do fine motor skills develop?
Hands and fingers are an extension of the upper body. If our shoulders and arms are weak and floppy, so too will be our hand grip and fine motor skills.
This means that you can do hand strengthening activities all day long, yet if you’re not also working on the upper body, the child’s progress will be frustratingly slow.
So here are four suggestions that incorporate both approaches.
1. Fiddly Fine Motor Activities
Yes, these are wonderful to do, just make sure they aren’t the only things you’re doing!
Some ideas to get you started: plasticine, clay, therapy putty, threading, posting, finger painting, transferring small items from one container to another (with fingers or a tool such as tongs).
Head down to the comments section after reading and add some of your fiddly fine motor activity gems.
Holding our own body weight is an incredible strengthening activity, as I’m sure any Personal Trainer will tell you!
Find a playground with monkey bars. Begin by holding your child at the hips, asking them to reach up and hold onto one bar for as long as they can. The ideal grip is fingers over the top and thumbs under.
Over time, they can build up to hanging by themselves without you supporting any of their body weight. Focus first on just one bar, then as confidence and strength build they can begin to brachiate, swinging from bar to bar like a monkey. Eye-hand coordination is also practised in this motion.
In a school setting, omit the holding stage but visit the monkey bars regularly. If they are too high for some children in your class, look for other hanging opportunities that are closer to the ground.
Wheelbarrows are a wonderful and fun experience for building upper body strength, which can be done with children from the time they are crawling on hands and knees.
Ask him/her to lay down on their tummy, then pick them up at the waist, supporting some but not all of their weight. Ask them to walk forwards on their hands and walk behind them, still supporting their lower body. Ta da, a wheelbarrow!
Older children who have increasing muscle tone can be held lower down on their body, such as at the thighs, knees or feet, however, if their arms weaken it is a sign that they need more support (and therefore, resume a higher hold on the body).
A tricky one with wheelbarrows is doing them in a learning setting. To deliver a similar strengthening hit to the shoulders, arms, hands and fingers, I recommend push-ups. Try regular push-ups on the ground, against a wall or even upright against a friend for resistance.
4. Primitive Reflex Integration
Poor fine motor skills are often connected with a retained Palmar Reflex from infancy. The reflex can be seen in a baby when an object is placed into the hand, the palm and fingers curl up around it tightly.
If you’re a school aged child and this reflex is lingering, the instinctive reaction when holding an object will be to curl up the hand in the same way. You can try and try with all of your might to use the correct pencil grip but your hand won’t obey over a sustained period of time.
The rocking and crawling movements within the Move to Learn program help to integrate the Palmar Reflex and improve a child’s fine motor skills accordingly.
So now it’s over to you…
Do you have a new perspective on what it takes to develop fine motor skills?
What fine motor activities can you share with our community of readers?