The critically important concept of fine motor skills development for toddlers and preschoolers cannot be stressed enough. Efficient fine motor skills enhance a child’s ability to succeed in future academic settings with confidence, dexterity, and poise in addition to succeeding in performing the skills found in everyday life.
When children experience an inability to perform simple everyday tasks, their self-esteem can be immensely compromised, resulting in poor academic performance and limitations in social interaction with their peers.
Involving the use of the smaller hand muscles and hand-eye co-ordination, motor development is commonly found in basic activities, such as using pencils, opening boxes and lunch pails, and playing with Legos. For a child to be efficient in fine motor skills, they must be readily exposed to the daily opportunities to practice and perfect their skills, in order to influence the speed, agility, and outcome of the tasks performed.
Mastering fine motor activity skills are a part of the basic foundational framework that enables children to transition into becoming more independent when doing things like tying their shoes and feeding themselves. An inability to perform basic tasks often hinders children from necessary maturation levels needed to succeed in future grades.
Read on below for more valuable information on fine motor skills.
Many parents find themselves confused about what exactly fine motor skills are and how to successfully train their children into using them. At its most basic level, the definition of fine motor skills for toddlers and preschoolers is the daily and repetitive use of hands that serve to efficiently and quickly master the skills required for performing a wide variety of independent work in a successful fashion.
Examples of children using fine motor skills are:
- Tying shoelaces, doing/undoing straps/buttons/zippers/snaps/belts
- Hygiene - brushing teeth and hair, going potty
- Eating and using utensils like a fork and spoon and opening and closing food containers
- Using pencils to scribble, draw, write, doodle, and color
- Using play scissors to cut and create shapes
- Use of technology such as a computer mouse and stylus
- Construction skills with blocks, Legos, and puzzles
The aforementioned fine motor skills are important may seem basic to many parents but are critically important in getting a child ready to grasp the concept of independence. Fine motor skills are essentially about exposure; exposure to basic life situations such as eating, bathing, communicating, and playing. When children are continuously exposed to these basic life situations, their ability to use their hands and visual senses become stronger, and as a result, their level of dexterity and confidence grows as they become better acclimated to handle new skills and situations found in later grade levels.
Examples of identifying a child struggling with fine motor skills:
- Lack of interest in using a pencil or scissors to cut shapes or draw and doodles
- Avoiding opportunities to use fingers in play activities
- Asking peers to draw, write, cut, or create for them
- Ongoing preference for physical activity as opposed to learning activities or sit-down activities
- Preference for non-interactive, passive activities like movie-watching over opportunities to use fine motor skills
- Waiting on parents to tie shoelaces, help them get dressed, and fix other basic problems
- Refusing to address personal challenges and asking parents instead of addressing it themselves
- Expecting parents to help them brush teeth and go to the bathroom without trying to do so themselves
- Refusing to use basic technology like a stylus or mouse
The situations listed above are indicators to parents and teachers that a child may be struggling with the implementation of fine motor skills. However, it is not a definitive list; other situations may present where a child could be struggling with fine motor skills even though they do most of the activities above. Use the above information as a guideline to survey your child and make estimations about their fine motor skills to see if they could use some improvement. By providing children with ample play opportunities, coupled with patience and ongoing parent interaction, a child’s fine motor skills can easily become perfected in a short amount of time.
Perfecting and mastering fine motor skills are paramount in getting a child ready to grasp the concept of independence. Fine motor skills are essentially about exposure; exposure to basic life situations such as eating, bathing, communicating, and playing. When children are continuously exposed to these basic life situations, their ability to use their hands and visual senses become stronger, and, as a result, their level of dexterity and confidence grows as they become better acclimated to handle new skills and situations found in later grade levels.
Fine motor skills for toddlers:
- Tummy time – A quintessential favorite activity for toddlers and parents, tummy time offers babies and toddlers their first experiences with dexterity and movement. Toddlers are able to spend time pushing up, swiping at objects in the air (such as nursery carousels and hanging toys), and moving from side to side as they roll and rollick in their toddler glee
- Playing with smaller items – Providing babies and toddlers with simple stacking blocks, large beads, and single-piece puzzles will give them opportunities at safe, unencumbered play as they start self-mastering their fine motor skills from a very young age
- Feeding with fingers – Toddlers will pick up food with their fingers in a simple grasp that is similar to holding a crayon or other coloring device. As such, letting your toddler finger feed as much as possible will guarantee future ease for your child in using writing utensils and more
- Playing with Play Dough – Play Dough is a classic favorite among parents and children. Its mushy consistency and bright colors afford children endless delight while also helping them safely build hand and finger strength via resistance
- Finger painting – Finger painting gives toddlers a creative outlet and allows them to use their fingers to develop fine motor skills in fun ways
- Simple/One-piece Puzzles – Simple puzzles that feature one piece are safe ways to let children learn about object manipulation as they turn and flip the large puzzle pieces
Fine motor skill development differs vastly between children’s ages. What may be entirely appropriate for an eight-month-old might prove to be boring, irritating, and cumbersome to a two-year-old. For example, an eight-month-old can develop their fine motor skills by rocking about during tummy time but a two-year-old will desire a more hands-on and independent experience via drawing, playing with blocks, or cutting shapes with scissors.
While the development of fine motor skills remains the same in terms of mastering the use of the hands and fingers, the activities that school-aged children will engage in to achieve this mastery will be very different.
Read on below to learn more about some of the many activities preschool children will engage in to master their fine motor skills.
Preschoolers will perform tasks that require the small hand muscles to work in conjunction to result in efficient performance of movement. Tasks and areas of play that train the small hand muscles in the development of fine motor skills include the following:
- Writing and drawing – Provide a child with pencils in a variety of colors to let them use their imagination to draw, doodle, and scribble while they build their coordination and hand strength
- Buttoning, tying, lacing – Practice with buttons, zippers, fasteners, snaps, and other things by opening and closing them to help build understanding, strength, and finger and hand dexterity
- Cutting – With child-safe scissors, your child can safely cut out shapes for a fun way to build scissor-using comprehension and hand coordination
- Beading – Large beads provide children opportunities to thread and make beautiful strands in their first experiences using creative expression
- Using Legos – Legos will provide your child hours of fun and give them ample opportunities to build, construct, and survey as they use all sorts of muscle and hand movements to create their Lego projects
- Coloring – With an array of colorful and vivid crayons, your child can express their inner artist and creative tendencies while using a variety of strengthening hand movements
Additional fine motor activities for toddlers and preschoolers:
- Use empty water bottles and a handful of pom-poms and let your children play and push the pom-poms into the water bottle opening
- Use empty bottles and fuzzy wire cleaners to let your children wrap the fuzzy cleaner around the bottle and poke at it
- Use an empty box (cardboard) with holes poked into it for toddlers and preschoolers to poke and insert pom-poms and pipe cleaners into
- Use ice cube trays and large colorful beads or pom-poms to encourage toddlers and preschoolers to sort, arrange, and organize the colors by the ice cube tray squares
- Use contact paper to let small children stick things to it and create their own great works of art
- Construct simple sensory bags that will provide young children with hours of exploratory fun
- Let kids color match by providing them matching sets of colored beads and other play items
- Give young children tissue paper that they can crumple, twist, and manipulate to their heart’s content
For those parents who are concerned about their child’s adeptness at learning fine motor skills, below are some simple activities that can be used in repetition to ensure your child learns the mastery of basic movements.
Basic activities for improving fine motor skills in the preschool years:
- Clapping hands
- Pasting objects on to paper
- Manipulating a simple zipper
- Manipulating a simple button
- Building and constructing with ten or fewer blocks
- Simple puzzles
- Using pencils and crayons to facilitate color, drawing, and self-expression
- Rolling balls of dough and “cutting” with hands
- Playing with clothes pins by hanging pictures or pages onto a simple clothesline
To conclude, fine motor skills are vastly important skills that must be learned by children from an early age. The development of fine motor skills involves continuous, repetitive exposure to basic elements and components of a child’s life; from crayons and pencils for drawing, toys and blocks for playing, and Legos and beads for constructing these things serve to provide children with the opportunities of fine motor skill self-mastery.
Mastering fine motor skills enable children to succeed in their present-time grade but also prepare them for the challenges and new concepts that await them in future grade levels. For those children who are keenly adept at drawing, writing, communicating, building, cutting, and fashioning, the coming challenges of the following school year will come easy.
In contrast, a student who has not mastered fine motor skills will essentially be ill-prepared for many challenges. As their peers readily engage in classroom activities, these children lacking motor skills may experience low-self-esteem, a sense of panic and fear, or a feeling like they don’t belong.
It has become abundantly clear in early childhood education that the development of fine motor skills is integral to the success of all students. Mastery of these skills not only promotes a sense of autonomy and independence but also can result in healthy levels of self-esteem or conversely, degrading levels of self-esteem that potentially could last throughout a child’s formative years.
As such, the development of fine motor skills is of the utmost importance in any child’s education. Through the development of the fine motor skills, children are able to successfully complete important tasks such as bathing, feeding themselves, writing, communicating, drawing, playing, dressing, and more.
As these abilities continue to develop through time, it is the repetitive exposure to education materials, toys, foods, visual stimuli and other objects that keep these skills sharpened and efficient. With the strength and dexterity that comes from motor skill mastery comes from a sense of confidence that cannot be found elsewhere. The abilities of a child not only define their present-time experience but can serve as a blueprint for the rest of their lives. As such, it is of critical importance that educators and parents spend as much time as possible on the development and reinforcement of these all-important skills.