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The Importance of Fine Motor Skills
As a child’s brain matures, gross and fine motor skills develop at different stages. While gross motor skills involve large movements of the body, fine motor skills require small, more precise movements of the hands and fingers in coordination with the eyes. Fine motor control takes more time and practice to develop than gross motor movements do. Activities from tying shoelaces to cutting food with a knife and fork require fine motor coordination.
From the time they are born, children should have toys and activities that promote the use and control of the hand and fingers. As they begin school, students work to develop and improve fine motor control for the primary purpose of getting ready to write. Students gradually learn to manipulate and draw with crayons and markers, then begin to form letters and numbers with pencils.
Students need and should receive specific instruction and repetitive practice to develop coordination and control of hands and fingers. Various disabilities can impair the fine motor development of students and require additional intervention and occupational therapy. Parents and classroom teachers can use many activities and instructional techniques to help students develop fine motor skills, too. Use these articles to develop and strengthen these important skills in children in different stages and with varying abilities.
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You do not have to buy expensive infant toys to encourage fine motor development. You can make your own! Learn how to make toys using household items to promote grasping, lifting, turning, and pinching.
Simple games with water, ice cubes, and boxes can improve a toddler’s hand dexterity and hand-eye coordination. These games also encourage sensory integration. Plus, the whole family can participate!
Young children need lots of practice cutting and pasting to build muscle strength in hands and fingers. Art projects using clay or dough, scissors, and glue spreaders provide this practice. They also decorate the classroom with students’ creations.
Art is not the only activity to develop hand and finger coordination. Lacing, stringing beads, and putting together puzzles improve fine motor skills. Coloring and doing dot-to-dot and mazes require fine motor control, too.
Preschoolers should be prepared to begin forming letters and numbers. Teachers should follow these tips of using tracing and dot-to-dot activities with colored pencils. This instruction emphasizes the necessity of going from left to right on paper.
Arts and crafts allow children to practice fine motor control while having fun. Working with different art supplies can encourage both coordination and creativity. Tips on creating clay sculptures, making beaded jewelry, and using needle and thread to create simple decorations are included.
The activity of weaving can be adapted to fit students’ needs. Weaving can turn into a long-term project as students’ skills progress over several weeks. The needed supplies and detailed instructions are included in this article.
Before using scissors, children need to have certain skills. Grasping small objects and squeezing them between the thumb and fingers prepares students to cut. Opening and closing lids, screw caps, and clothespins are among the suggested activities found here.
Children with autism often experience delays in developing fine motor skills. Occupational therapy is typically necessary in school or in private settings to develop skills. Parents, however, can use therapeutic techniques at home to improve daily functioning.
Autism can affect fine motor development. Activities usually have to be adapted to help and encourage children with autism to practice important skills. Experimenting with seating positions, providing sensory integration, and offering reinforcements can aid in regular practice sessions.
Children with sensory processing disorders have impairments that affect hand functioning. Activities to help these children should promote bilateral hand use, build strength, and provide sensory integration. They should be fun, too!
A sensory processing disorder, dysgraphia affects the ability to write due to fine motor impairments. Students with this condition need practice away from pencil and paper. Grasping objects, manipulating small objects, and using both hands together strengthen writing abilities.
Spasticity, often associated with conditions such as cerebral palsy, causes muscles to tighten and become resistance to movement. To help children with spasticity use their less affected hand, therapists, teachers, and parents should use specific strategies. These include stabilizing objects on tables and using or making large handles for children to better grasp.
Vertical surfaces can help students with fine motor difficulties improve skills by promoting correct posture and hand-eye coordination. Using chalkboards or dry erase boards can make it easier for students to see what their hands are doing. Writing on these surfaces also strengthens shoulders, arms, and wrists.
Students with profound disabilities have very limited hand use due to decreased muscle strength, range of motion, visual attention, and motivation. Therapists and teachers should encourage hand use by adjusting the child's positions and demonstrating activities with large and stimulating objects. Bilateral hand use can be improved with heavy objects and those that require stabilizing with one hand.
With lots of patience and practice, children of all ages and abilities can gain better control over their hands and fingers. Precise fine motor skills will make learning and functioning in daily life easier.
- Berger, Kathleen Stassen. The Developing Person Through Childhood and Adolescence. Worth, 2009.
- Author's own experience.