Strong Fine Motor Skills are Important

Parents are their child's first and most important teacher and we strive to give parents the tools and confidence they need to successfully work with their children at home.

Time and time again in the classroom, we are reminded just how important strong fine motor skills are for young children. So much learning happens through touch and manipulation. Not to mention the necessity of strong fine motor skills when learning to properly hold a pencil and write!

This page will help you understand the importance of strong fine motor skills for young children and introduce numerous activity suggestions for things you can do to help your children develop strong fine motor skills.



What are Fine Motor Skills?

Fine motor movements are the actions performed with the small muscles in the hands, fingers and wrist. Whether your child is holding a pencil, holding a pair of scissors or putting clothes on her doll, she will require precise movements of her small muscles to accomplish her task satisfactorily. When a child develops his fine motor skills, he is gaining competence using the small muscles in his hands.

Fine motor skills, as with gross motor skills, develop only through practice and more practice. And as small muscles repeat motions over and over and over again, those muscles remember the movement (called "muscle memory") and the movements become automatic. A prime example is seen in the process of learning to play a piece on the piano. At first the person slowly and methodically plods through each note and measure of the song. But with continued practice, eventually the piece is played smoothly and almost without thinking.



Why Fine Motor Skills are Important

Even in this age of technology, it is still important to be able to manipulate a pencil, pen or crayon with ease. Your child will need strong fine motor skills to hold a pencil correctly and to move the pencil in all the complicated ways required to draw letters and shapes with precision.

Using scissors correctly is another lifelong skill that is reliant on fine motor skills. Your child will need well-developed muscles in his thumb, index finger, middle finger and wrist to open and close the blades of the scissors.

Playing any musical instrument requires finely honed fine motor skills. And think about the demands on small fingers and hands when children play with video game controls and use cell phones and computer keypads. Those little fingers need to be able to move with precision! Even getting dressed and manipulating buttons and zippers requires strong fingers.


Tips for Improving Your Child's Fine Motor Skills

Babies first exercise their small muscles when they begin to grab objects. Their motions are not refined to start, and they are lucky if what they are reaching for actually lands in their little hand. But they don't stop trying and eventually toddlers become adept at retrieving exactly what they want when they reach for it.


As a toddler practices and exercises the small muscles in his hand, his movements become more controlled and precise. He begins refining this initial "fist grip" into what is perhaps the most important fine muscle movement in the hand called the pincer grip. This grip occurs when the pointer finger works with the thumb to pinch and grip an object.

Strengthening the muscles in the fingers (and thumb) takes work and fortunately little ones are very industrious. But parents can do a lot to provide opportunities for their little guy to exercise, move and learn to control his finger muscles and strengthen his pincer grip.


Fine Motor Skills and Writing

Children initially grab a pencil with their whole hand in what is known as a "fist grip." Some children keep their fist upright, with their pinkie finger towards the paper. Other children turn their fist over with their thumb closest to the page. Either variation of this fist grip is not correct. Children need to be deliberately taught how to hold a pencil correctly. This is generally not a skill children develop on their own or through play.

First, demonstrate the correct pencil position by holding the pencil between your thumb and pointer finger in a pincer grip. Allow the pencil to rest on the area of the hand between the finger and the thumb. Finally, bring the second finger under the pencil for support.

After your child observes the correct pencil position, take a small pencil (I like the size of golf pencils) and place it correctly in your child's hand.

Finally, supervise your child as he practices with the pencil (or crayon or marker). Children often slip into old, incorrect habits if they are not watched while they are learning the correct grip.

Look for some of these extra tools to help make the pencil grip more comfortable. Your child will be able to tell you which tool is helpful and feels comfortable for him.

"Strong handwriting skills will last your child a lifetime!"


Assess Your Child's Fine Motor Skills

If you have a child at home that is getting ready to start school and you are curious about how well developed his fine motor skills are, consider completing a basic kindergarten readiness test that includes questions relating to fine motor skills. The fine motor section of an assessment will introduce you to a variety of fine motor skills your child should likely be able to complete by the time he or she starts kindergarten and will give you a nice sense of your child's existing skill set.

If your child's fine motor skills are not yet fully developed, consider working with your child on some kindergarten worksheets that focus on tracing lines, shapes and curves. Once your child can successfully trace these lines and shapes, he will be ready to write more complicated figures like letters.


Practice Writing With Tracing Worksheets


tracing worksheetBefore children can learn to properly write each letter or number, they need to be able to control the pencil and move it where they want it to go. Tracing worksheets are a wonderful way to help children practice this important skill.

Begin with tracing worksheets that feature short straight lines and then progress to the more challenging tracing worksheets that have curvy lines and loops. Remind your child to hold the pencil firmly in his dominant hand using the correct pencil grip and to use his non-dominant hand to hold the paper steady as he writes.




Practice Handwriting Skills

letter tracing worksheets

Letter tracing worksheets are a fantastic way for children to practice the fine motor skill of writing. Encourage your child to hold the pencil correctly while he traces over the dashed lines. Also, since many letters require children to lift up the pencil a few times as they write the letter, your child will get great practice not only tracing lines with a pencil, but also controlling the pencil to ensure he starts and re-starts each line in the correct place. Here are my favorite letter tracing worksheets and here are my favorite kindergarten worksheets on tracing lines and curves.


Keep early handwriting worksheets to show your child. He'll be proud of his progress!



Practice Drawing Shapes


shapes worksheet

Another wonderful way to strengthen fine motor skills is by drawing shapes. A great amount of pencil control is required to correctly draw each shape, since each one has a very specific formation that needs to be followed.

The easiest way to introduce your child to drawing shapes is with a shapes worksheet that shows the proper formation of each shape and gives your child an opportunity to practice tracing the shape before drawing it himself.


Strong Fine Motor Skills Contribute to Proficiency With Scissors

Children also need specific instruction when learning how to hold a scissors. Many children grab the handles in their fists, putting fingers through any available hole and pointing the blades down toward the table or desk. Other children grab the scissors and turn their fist over with their thumb closest to the table.


The correct way to approach the scissors is to place your hand straight out as if you are going to shake a person's hand. In this position, the thumb is pointing up. Direct your child to greet the scissors (my son used to introduce himself as he grabbed his scissors!) with his outstretched hand. Hold the blade of the scissors and point the handles toward your child. Direct him to put his thumb in the small hole and two or three fingers in the larger hole of the handle. Have your child practice opening and closing his thumb to make the blades open and close, also. When your child is comfortable operating his scissors, hand him small pieces of construction paper to snip.



Great Practice Cutting

cutting worksheetsLet's face it, the scissors grip is awkward at first. Children are unfamiliar with the idea of putting their fingers in opposing holes and then opening and closing their fingers to make the blades of the scissors cut. And while the dominant hand is manipulating the scissors, the non-dominant hand needs to hold the paper and move it in the correct way. Practice cutting is the best way for children to learn how to cut with scissors.
Special training scissors may be something you would like to consider.  With the double-handled design you can actively help teach your child how to cut.
First begin by letting your child cut short, straight lines. Then you can progress to cutting curves and shapes. Here are some favorite cutting worksheets.



Special Considerations for Left-Handed Children

All children need strong fine motor skills. And it's important to help your child develop these skills. For left handed children, there are a few added considerations.

First, invest in a quality pair of "lefty" scissors. The blades are attached in the opposite way and allow left-handed children to see the line they are cutting.

Also, direct your child to hold the pencil about an inch further from the tip than he normally would. Having a little extra distance between his fingers and the lead of the pencil will help your child avoid smudging his work as he moves from left to right across the page.


Simple Activities to Do at Home

You don't need fancy toys or equipment to help your child develop strong fine motor skills. In fact, most of the things you need you probably already have at home in a cupboard, drawer, or sitting on a table. Try these simple activities next time you have a few free minutes with your child. Short bursts of practice a few times a day will help your child develop strong fine motor skills.

– Ask your child to hold the end of a piece of yarn while you try to pull it out of his fingers.

– Give your child some puffy, round cereal pieces and ask him to crush each piece over a large bowl by squeezing it between his pointer finger and his thumb. Try it for yourself – this takes some serious finger strength!

– Buy a small tub of beads and ask your child to sort them into separate bowls based on their color and using only his pointer finger and his thumb to move the beads. Great beads for this purpose are called "pony" beads so ask for them by name at a craft store to get the perfect bead!

– Ask your child to break the small bubbles on bubble wrap by pressing the wrap between his pointer finger and thumb..

– Let your child use an eye dropper to transfer water from one small bowl to another. Make the activity more fun by adding food coloring to the water. Your child can combine colors from two different bowls in a third bowl to experiment with color mixing.

– Make a "snake" out of modeling dough. Ask your child to use his pointer finger and thumb to pinch off small pieces.

– Teach your child how to play with pick-up sticks. The pincer grip will be important in picking up just one stick. In a pinch, you can play this game with toothpicks, straws, or kabob skewers.

– Introduce the game of Tiddly Winks. Your child will have to grasp the small, plastic disc between his pointer finger and his thumb.

– Introduce beginning sewing projects to your child. Holding the needle will strengthen the pincer grip. Be sure to use a large gauge needle that has a rounded tip to ensure your child doesn't inadvertently poke himself. Also, a larger gauge needle gives your child more to hold on to when threading. As your child's skill improve, you can gradually introduce a smaller needle that will require greater fine motor control.

– Teach your child how to make a potholder. He will have to hold the end of the yarn loop securely between his thumb and index finger as he places it on the loom.


Toys Can Provide Great Gross Motor Practice

Don't settle for toys that just entertain your child when you can give him toys that will require him to use strong hand and finger muscles while entertaining himself! Toys that require your child to position small pieces into a precise spot are perfect for fine motor skill development because they encourage your child to use a steady hand when holding and positioning each piece. That type of control requires strong fine motor skills. These toys are the perfect balance of being fun and engaging for kids and also giving children an opportunity to practice their fine motor skills.

When picking a puzzle for your child, look for one that has large knobs for your child to hold on to. Knobs will allow your child to grasp the puzzle piece and strengthen the muscles in his fingers, hand and wrist. As your child's proficiency with puzzles improves, you can buy puzzles with smaller (or no!) knobs.

Lacing Cards and Beads
Threading beads and lacing is one of the single greatest activities to help children develop strong fine motor skills. First, your child will need to hold the lacing string firmly in one hand. Then, your child will need to use his other hand to hold and manipulate a small bead or lacing card. Also, threading beads or lacing can be adapted to a variety of ages and skill levels.

For smaller children, begin with large beads that are 2" in diameter, or with a lacing card that has no more than 10 holes. As children get older, they can begin using increasingly small beads and lacing cards with increasingly small holes.

Finger painting
As children grow, you can provide your toddler and preschooler with even more fun play opportunities to strengthen fine motor muscles through the use of finger paint. Direct your child to use the pointer finger on his dominant (stronger) hand to write letters, draw shapes, or draw squiggly lines in the paint. Since finger paint is relatively liquid, it is easy for children to move their fingers through it.


Tweezers Aren't Just for Removing Splinters

Plastic tweezers are a wonderful tool to help children strengthen the muscles in their fingers and hands. Since tweezers are naturally open, your child will need to squeeze with his fingers to close the tweezers and successfully lift up, put down, or carry small items. Encourage your child to use just his pointer finger and thumb to hold and operate the tweezers and try these simple activities with your kids at home:

– Ask your child to use the tweezers to transfer cotton balls from one small bowl to another.

– Ask him to use the tweezers to separate two kinds of cereal into different bowls, or ask him to pick the softer marshmallow pieces out of a bowl of dry cereal.

– Ask your child to use tweezers to move dry pasta from the box into a measuring bowl. See how long it takes him to move 1/2 cup of dry pasta! And let him tell you which is easier to move with the tweezers, penne or fusilli!

Great tweezers for kids can be found at Lakeshore Learning Materials.


Building Blocks = Building Hand Muscles

wooden building blocksBuilding sets are another very easy way for young children to work with their hands and develop strong fine motor skills. It takes control and coordination of those small muscles to place the building pieces exactly where they need to go.

Large, wooden blocks are great for this purpose because of their weight — children will need strong finger and wrist muscles to move the blocks into the desired place. Be sure to work alongside your child in the beginning to help teach basic building techniques so that your child is not frustrated by tumbling towers.

Share with us!

We would love to hear your thoughts on this. Also, please feel free to share what games or activities you have found to help your child develop his fine motor skills, so we can all benefit from your experiences.