Highly developed small motor skills are essential for many activities in life including learning how to write. In kindergarten, children are expected to trace and form letters and numbers, so during the preschool years children should strengthen their small muscles, develop fine motor control, and improve eye/hand coordination. These skills do not develop overnight; they must be practiced. Luckily, the range of activities that allow children to develop these motor skills is enormous as well as lots of fun.
- Modeling dough or clay: Let children play with clay. They don't have to make a specific project because the mere activity of kneading the clay strengthens their muscles.
- Puzzles: Puzzles are a great way to encourage eye/hand coordination. As a plus, the basic ones can be introduced at a very young age. Gradually increase the difficulty of the puzzles, so children are never bored.
- Stringing beads: Stringing objects develops eye/hand coordination and fine motor control. Wrap tape around one end of a piece of string to make a "needle" and let children string beads to make their own necklaces.
- Lacing: Make lacing cards by punching holes around the edges of a piece of cardboard, which you can cut into different shapes and decorate to make the activity more interesting. Just make a needle by wrapping one end of a piece of string with tape, and invite the children to thread the string in and out of the holes.
- Construction toys: Grasping and manipulating blocks develops a whole range of fine motor skills so encourage the child to pick up the blocks and coordinate where to place them during construction.
Using tracing pages is a classic way to practice pre-writing skills in preschool, and there are numerous websites that offer free printable pages. Alternatively, you can make your own reusable workbook. Other types of worksheets that are recommended for small motor skill practice are:
Tearing and cutting paper develops fine motor control and eye/hand coordination:
- Invite the children tear or cut strips of paper and use these to make a collage.
- Draw lines on a piece of paper and encourage the children to cut on the lines.
- Create Mexican-style lanterns.
- Draw a spiral snake on a paper plate and instruct the children to cut along the line.
Any cut-and-paste craft can be a fun way to improve fine motor skills so tailor projects to your monthly theme or unit, and let your imagination be your guide.
The possibilities for children to practice their small motor skills during day-to-day activities are practically unlimited. Just remember to let the children try to do things by themselves. They may not always be able to do it at the beginning and it probably won't be perfect, but the only way to improve is by practicing. Here are some day-to-day activities that assist in muscle development:
- Dressing/undressing: buttoning, zipping, tying shoes, and so forth.
- Opening/closing: Provide various sizes of jars and boxes for practice. Pair this activity with picking up objects to get the highest benefit for the least amount of effort. For instance, let the children sort buttons, and then open a jar, put them inside and close the jar.
- Eating: Encourage children to use their silverware properly when eating.
- Picking up small objects: Use rice and lentils and invite the children to pick them up with their fingers or sort them into groups.
Benefits of Fine Motor Skills Development
Children benefit from consistently exercising their fine motor skills in these ways:
- Buttoning or unbuttoning their clothes or zipping a zipper is easy.
- They can hold and use pencils, crayons and assorted utensils.
- As their pincer grasp gets stronger, they pick up small objects
- Squeezing, mixing, rolling and pounding modeling clay increases their hand-eye coordination.
- They can build with blocks, turn book pages, cut with scissors, and string beads.
- They assemble simple puzzles and trace or copy shapes.
Incorporating a wide range of activities and projects for fine motor skills development provides a fun learning environment for kids to experiment and exercise their small muscles. Remember that activities do not have to be time consuming or expensive to be effective. Sometimes the simplest activities like finger painting or water play are the ones that students enjoy the most.
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Author's experience as a Christian educator and lay children's minister.
SXC/ZSuzanne Kilian/used under license