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What Are Fine Motor Skills?

Fine motor skills are one’s ability to control the use of the small muscles in the hands and fingers. Fine motor development is an important part of the toddler and childhood years to help the child be more independent in day-to-day tasks. Think about zipping a coat, buttoning pants, unlocking a door, writing your name, these all require fine motor skills with the use of those small muscles in our hands and fingers.


Why Are Fine Motor Skills Important?


You may be wondering what the importance of fine motor skills are, and if you think about it, these skills are used daily in almost every task that a child completes. Fine motor skills such as a pincer grasp and hand strength are essential for a child’s development and ability to use their hands in small motor movements.


Self-care activities involving fine motor skills include but are not limited to tying shoes, using a fork or spoon to feed yourself, managing clothing fasteners, holding a toothbrush, and cutting food with a knife.


Fine motor skills are necessary for many other tasks as well, such as handwriting, holding utensils, cutting, and isolating the index finger to control a touch-screen tablet.


What Affects Fine Motor Development?

As with all areas of child development, a lag or delay in one area can impact on other areas of development. If your child has developmental delay, they may be delayed in fine motor skills, gross motor skills, or both. A developmental delay can be caused by many factors.

A delay in larger muscle movements, such as poor trunk control or poor shoulder strength can impact your child’s ability to use the hand and finger muscles effectively. In turn this may lead to a fine motor delay. The development of fine motor skills relies on the development of physical skills such as controlling one’s core and shoulder strength, providing a stable base from which the arm and hand can then move with control.


Bilateral coordination is another area of development that is essential for fine motor development. Bilateral coordination is using both sides of the body together in one movement or activity. It may seem like a strange foundation for fine motor development, but if your hands don’t work well together your ability to do many fine motor tasks will be affected. Some fine motor activities that require bilateral coordination include cutting food with a knife and fork, holding a piece of paper while cutting with scissors, and tying shoelaces. All of those fine motor activities need both hands to work together in a coordinated way. A child who has poor bilateral coordination skills may end up avoiding those fine motor activities and adversely affect their fine motor skill development.


How to Improve Fine Motor Skills?


If you notice your child is having a difficult time with fine motor tasks such as drawing, writing, manipulating small items, tying shoes, etc., your child may benefit from an occupational therapy evaluation. Your child will also benefit from daily activities completed in the home.


Here are Some fun learning activities you can do at home to work on fine motor skills: 


-Work on strengthening hand muscles with rolling out play dough (you can even search for a recipe to make your own play dough and work on following directions and sensory play!)

-Use pipe cleaners, noodles, googly eyes, etc. to place in play dough and create a silly face or monster

-Place beads in play dough and have child use pincer grasp to pick out beads

-Take one step further and have child use bilateral coordination skills to then place beads on string or a pipe cleaner

-Use fork and knife to cut play dough to simulate food for working on cutting with knife

-Create a sensory bin with beans, rice, cotton balls, etc. and have child use pincer grasp to pull out hidden items (tokens, small toys, puzzle pieces, etc.)

-Use spoon to scoop out items from sensory bin to work on holding spoon accurately

-Color or print out pictures to use as background, then have your child use tweezers or pincer grasp to pick up small items such as a cotton ball, cereal, etc. and place on picture

-Ex: have your child use tweezers to pick up fruit loops cereal and glue onto a picture of a rainbow

-Build a tower or other patterns with Legos or blocks

-Decorate/play with stickers, using pincer grasp to peel a sticker off and place it onto a surface

-Have your child use both hands to pull rubber bands around a small ball, canned good, etc. to work on hand strengthening and bilateral coordination skills

-Work on drawing shapes or writing letters into kinetic sand or shaving cream

-Place stickers on paper, forming a line or other shape. Then have your child practice cutting the stickers in half

-Write letters on clothespins and around a paper plate, then to work on hand strengthening by having your child squeeze a clothespin onto a  plate, and match the letters together.

These are just a few ideas that you can use to help your child develop fine motor skills. Have fun!