Fine motor skills are the skills related to the strength, dexterity and coordination of the small muscles in your hands, fingers and wrists.
Why are Fine Motor Skills Important?
Fine motor skills are one of the most fundamental functions developed in early childhood. They are crucial for children to be able to fulfill their basic needs, such as to buttoning a shirt. As early childhood educators, one of our main responsibilities is to offer opportunities to children to develop strengthen their fine motor skills.
There are a vast number of ways we can encourage children to work these small muscles by making certain materials available throughout the classroom. Teachers can also design specific, supervised activities to enhance these skills through play and daily actions.
Materials To Build Fine Motor Skills Daily
1. Art Station:
Provide a consistent place where children know they will be able to access art materials when they need them. Fill this area with colored pencils, a pencil sharpener, masking tape, paper, and safety scissors (for both righties AND lefties!).
2. Writing Tools:
Crayons, pencils, pastels and chalk are all different lengths. Depending on how children hold them, they will develop muscles at different points in their hand(s).
3. Loose Parts For Dramatic Play:
Offer open-ended materials such as clothes pins and rubber-bands to give children more options for connecting cloth materials together to build forts, all while strengthening their fingers.
4. Eating Utensils:
When providing group snack, place a serving spoon or tongs with the snack. Let children serve themselves and poor their own water using small pitchers. Even consider adding chopsticks for children to help children enhance their hand-eye coordination.
5. Soft Materials:
Keep stress balls and “fidgets” available in calming areas. This will strengthen children’s hand muscles while they learn to regulate their emotions or take some space to relax.
6. Connecting Materials:
Duplos and Legos are some of the most versatile materials for enhancing fine motor skills. Children pull them apart and press them together carefully, strengthening their hands in multiple places.
7. Floor puzzles:
Set out floor puzzles in different areas of the room. Putting together puzzles enhances children's pincer grasps as well as their ability to collaborate with each other.
Activities To Develop Fine Motor Skills
1. Sculpt with Clay:
Playing with clay strengthens fine motor skills as children use their hand muscles to squeeze, pinch and press. Consider offering rollers and small wooden hammers with these materials so children can exercise a variety of dexterous movements.
2. Sort Manipulatives:
Set up a table where children can sort gems, beans, or cotton balls into cups or ice cube trays. Consider offering plastic tweezers for them to squeeze these items with! Grasping and pinching small objects strengthens the small muscles in the hand and develops their pincer grasp.
3. Self Care:
Encourage children to zip their own jackets and pants, even if you help get it started. Ask them to unpack their own lunch and try to open their containers. Not only will this help build fine motor skills, but it will help children build independence.
4. Bead Patterns:
Offer string or pipe-cleaners for children to thread through beads. Beading helps children refine grasp precision. Offer beads of different sizes and shapes.
5. Reference Drawing:
Give children drawing prompts so they can practice their grip and control. Ask children to trace or create a reference drawing from a still life or book. Or, set out mirrors and markers and ask children to create self-portraits. Reference drawing is crucial for strengthening hand-eye coordination.
6. Plant a garden:
Ask children to help you in your community or school garden. Planting seeds, pulling weeds, and watering plants are all great activities that require fine motor precision.
There is no shortage of ways children can develop and build fine motor skills in authentic, play-based ways!
About the Author:
Maranda VanDeWiele is a former early childhood educator who worked at a Reggio-inspired Harvard-affiliated program. She has a Bachelor of Arts with a focus on creative writing and education from the University of Massachusetts in Boston, is currently working towards her Masters in Education at Lesley University, and works as a School Ambassador at Kaymbu.