Fine motor skills and development

Is your child having difficulties holding a pencil, doing up zips and buttons, or using a spoon and fork?

Fine motor involves the coordination, movement and strength of the smaller muscles in our body, such as our hands, fingers, feet, toes and eyes. Difficulties with fine motor skills can affect every day activities that children need to perform, such as feeding, dressing and handwriting.

When children have difficulties with their fine motor skills, they can often have difficulties at school, in play, and in their everyday activities. Children may have difficulties using utensils, doing up buttons or zips, handwriting, cutting, constructing lego and using electronic devices.

Fine motor skills can be broken down into the following categories:

Bilateral integration– being able to use two hands together such as when opening a jar lid. One hand opens the lid while the other hand stabilizes the jar.

Crossing the midline– the ability to cross your body from one side to another such as bringing your right hand across to the left side of your body. When putting a jacket on, our right hand crosses to our left side to help pull our left arm through the armhole.

Hand and finger strength- the ability to exert force against a resistance that allows for power and control. When we hold onto a water bottle, we hold the bottle tight enough, so as not to drop it, though loose enough as to not squeeze the water out.

Hand eye coordination- the ability to process information received from the eyes to control, guide and direct the hands and fingers, and their movements. When writing, our eyes and hands work together to write our letters the correct size and on the line, and make sure we have spaces between our words.

Hand dominance– the use of one hand for task performance and refined skills.

Hand division– allowing fingers to be used in isolation. When holding a pencil, the thumb, index and middle finger hold the pencil while the fourth and pinky fingers are tucked away.

Object manipulation– the ability to skillfully manipulate and control tools with your fingers such as a pencil, toothbrush and utensils.

Body awareness (Proprioception) – Information that the brain receives from our muscles and joints to make us aware of our body position, and body movement. This allows us to accurately control our movements such as when we are handwriting, doing up buttons and tying our shoelaces.

If your child is having difficulties with their fine motor skills, it is best to be assessed by an Occupational Therapist who can then provide therapy and everyday ideas to assist in developing these skills.

Here are some great ideas to try at home to assist in developing fine motor skills:

  • Using tweezers, tongs and pegs to promote using the thumb, index and middle fingers, while tucking the fourth and pinky finger away. Games such as Giggle Wiggle and Avalanche are great.
  • Playing with playdoh and putty to improve hand strength. Practice rolling playdoh into a sausage and pinch to make spikes. You can also play at hiding beads in putty and your child uses their fingers to find them.
  • Playing with construction toys such as lego. Starting with bigger lego pieces and grading them down in size as your child improves.
  • Completing craft activities such as cutting, glueing, finger painting, sticky tape etc.
  • Threading and knot tying activities.

Scheduling in 10 minutes every day to focus on building fine motor skills is a great way to assist your children in developing these fundamental skills. 10 minutes before homework to ‘warm up our hands and fingers’ or 10 minutes straight after breakfast to practice tying shoelaces for school. In this way, a gentle, persistent and effective focus on fine motor skills, can be incorporated into your everyday routine.

For more ideas on how to improve fine motor skills or to have your child’s fine motor skills assessed, please contact us at Kern 4 Kids to speak to one of our Occupational Therapists.