Why are fine motor skills important anyway?
Grace is a hardworking kindergarten student who loves school…and why not? She enjoys and is successful at many activities that kindergarteners do everyday. She cuts out pictures from worksheets and glues them appropriately on paper. She colors within the lines and can write her name all by herself. During art, she molds clay into wonderful figures and she strings beads to make a necklace for her mommy. That’s all before lunch. At lunch, she opens her milk carton and uses her utensils effectively. After lunch, it’s off to the playground after she puts on and buttons her coat. Jenny uses fine motor skills all day long.
Why do some children have problems with fine motor skills?
Some children may demonstrate difficulties or delays with fine motor development due to developmental delays or medical diagnoses such as Cerebral Palsy, Autism, or Down Syndrome. Other children may develop fine motor difficulties from a lack of opportunity and practice. Children are spending much less time playing with fine motor manipulatives and constructing crafts, instead choosing to play video games and watch television. This can result in poor development of the muscles in the arm and hand which further leads to handwriting and cutting difficulties when in school.
What can I do at home?
1. Provide lots of opportunities to engage in fine motor activities.
2. Utilize vertical surfaces. When a fine motor activity such as coloring or painting is taped to a vertical surface, it engages a child’s small muscles of the hand and promotes a good position in the wrist as well as improving the use of larger muscles in the arm and back. These large muscles provide stability while the small muscles provide refined coordination when performing fine motor tasks. Think about how hard it would be to thread a needle if you were riding a roller coaster! Using an easel, chalk board, or taping a project to the wall is the easiest way to provide a vertical surface, however with some creativity you can probably come up with some more interesting ideas. Other activities I often use include shaving cream on the bathtub wall during bath time, “painting” the fence outside with water, gripping the sponge while helping to wash the car, or playing with a Lite Brite.
3. Tearing and crumpling items in the home can be both fun and help to strengthen those small hand muscles. You can have your child tear pages from a magazine or newspaper and crumple them into balls. Next, the child could stuff crafts with the balls or toss them into a waste basket and keep score. Once your child masters this task, have the child try it using only one hand. Pounding, pinching, and rolling putty or Play Doh in the hands can also help strengthen the hands.
4. In-hand manipulation requires some of the most skilled fine motor movements. We use in-hand manipulation when placing coins into a bank, turning a pencil over to use the eraser, or lace a shoe. Your child can work on these skills by doing the aforementioned activities or by playing games like Connect Four, jacks, or similar games with small pegs or pieces that need to be inserted elsewhere.
5. Children are often provided with pencils, crayons, and markers before their little hands are ready for such items leading to development of inefficient pencil grasps and poor fine motor refinement with tool use when they get to school. To encourage proper development, try giving your child broken crayons, golf sized pencils, small pieces of chalk, and Pip Squeaks from Crayola.
Been there, done that. Is there anything else I can do?
Talk with your child’s teacher or contact your school’s occupational therapist for suggestions. You can also visit the American Occupational Therapy Association at www.aota.org for more information.
American Occupational Therapy Association, Inc.
Mary Benbow (1999), Fine Motor development, Columbus: Zaner-Bloser, Inc.
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