What do handwriting, tying shoelaces, using cutlery, playing with blocks, painting, craft activities and getting dressed have in common?
They are all examples of fine motor skills.
What are fine motor skills?
Fine motor skills involve precise and coordinated movements from the small muscles in the hands, fingers and wrists. Activities such as threading beads onto string, typing on a computer, tying up your hair with a hair elastic and putting on socks, are all examples of fine motor skills.
Many of the children I work with in my coaching sessions have difficulties with their fine motor skills. Fine motor skills are incredibly important skills for your child to develop because they can have a significant impact on your child’s participation and academic performance at school. If you child has difficulties with their fine motor skills this may also have an impact on their self esteem.
Here’s an example for a client of mine. This is a great example of how difficulties with fine motor skills can impact on a child’s self esteem, possibly even their participation and enjoyment in activities.
Louis is a 7 year old boy, who has been attending sessions because he has difficulty tying his shoelaces. This is incredibly important to Louis and his mother, because every time he plays football and his shoelaces come undone, he needs to ask his teacher to tie them.
When I asked Louis why he wanted to learn to tie his shoelaces he told me that “Asking my teacher to help do my shoelaces makes me feel sad. All of his friends can tie their own laces”. Louis told me he get’s called a ‘baby’ which understandably makes him very upset. He has told his mother on a few occasions that he doesn’t want to go back to football, which makes his mother upset because Louis is very good at football and has really enjoyed going prior to this.
Louis’ mother has been trying to help him tie his shoelaces, which as also involved exploring alternative options such as tying a double knot so his laces don’t come undone as easily, Louis is still having difficulty and really wants to be able to tie his own shoelaces.
There can be many reasons why your child has difficulties with their fine motor skills. Here are some common reasons why:
+ Hand and finger strength. Our muscles need to be ‘switched’ on to be able to perform the precise and coordinated movements that are required from our fingers for many activities. Weakness in these muscles can result in children requiring regular rest breaks when completing pencil and paper tasks, complaining of a sore hand, have difficulty keeping up with their peers and may even swap hands during tasks. Older children might not be able to write enough content to reflect their ideas which can have implications on their academic performance.
+ Pincer grasp. I talk to parents about the index finger and the thumb being the ‘doing fingers’ of the hand. Development of this grasp, which is typically refined at around 12 months of age, is essential for the precise, coordinated components of many tasks, such as doing and undoing buttons on a school shirt. Imagine how challenging many activities would be if you used your whole hand!
+ Hand preference. Before children can start to refine ‘higher level skills’ such as colouring in, doing buttons, cutting with scissors, it is ideal if they have a preferred hand. A preferred hand is the hand your child uses most often when completing activities such as playing a board game, feeding themselves and throwing a ball. A preferred hand will assist your child in being able to start to refine and develop a set of precise skills using one particular hand.
+ Coordination. Some children have difficulty using their fingers to manipulate objects with smooth movements. Children who frequently drop items, have messy handwriting or who deviate from the line a lot when cutting out shapes may all have difficulty with the coordination of their hands and fingers. Coordination of our fingers and hands allows us to complete activities with greater accuracy, speed and confidence.
How can we encourage the development of our children’s fine motor skills?
Children’s fine motor skills will continue to develop as they grow and participate in every day activities, such as dressing and feeding themselves. However there are many helpful activities you can try with your child at home.
Helpful strategies to try at home
+ Playdough. Develop and strengthen the muscles of the hand and fingers of the hand through playdough or putty activities. Knead, roll, squeeze, cut out using cutters, squeeze playdough through a garlic crusher.
+ Paper scrunch. Encourage your child to rip off small pieces of paper and scrunch them up into tiny balls. Once a few balls have been made throw them into a bin or at a target. Or your child can paste them onto paper to make a picture.
+ Tong relay. Pick up small toys or objects with tweezers or tongs and place them into a container. Time your child to see how quickly they can do this. Using tweezers can be really fun during snack time. Pick up cut up vegetables and fruit with the tongs, or small items like sultanas.
+ Hammering activities and playing with wind up toys.
+ Lego and other construction toys. Build a model or design and ask your child to copy this.
+ Colouring in and drawing. Making birthday cards, helping you to draw a shopping list are fun.
+ Drawing with chalk on the blackboard, footpath or at an easel.
+ Art activities which require the children to draw or colour in. Children can trace around their hand or around an object or complete a dot to dot.
+ Use sticky tape and glue they have to wind up and down during craft activities.
+ Children can help in the kitchen by grating and peeling vegetables, spreading nut butters onto bread, chopping up soft fruits and vegetables (with supervision!).
+ Open containers during meal times and play. I love storing pencils and small items in a variety of containers and jars so children need to use their muscles and fingers to open them (great for developing their problem solving skills too!). Children can help you open containers in the kitchen also.
+ Help you to peg clothing onto a small clothes line.
Tips for parents
// Encourage your child to be as independent as possible, assisting them when necessary. This means stepping back and letting them have a go at opening containers or packets, feeding themselves despite it being messy and trying to button up their top, even if it takes a few extra minutes.
// Expose your child to a range of the strategies above. There may be some which are easier than others for your child or which suit the materials you have a home. As your child’s fine motor skills improve you can come back to some of the other suggestions.
// Use verbal instruction and physical assistance. If your child is having difficulty with an activity a combination of verbal instruction as well as physical support can help them to learn the necessary skills. For example if Freddie is having difficulty holding tongs you could:
Verbal instruction: “Freddie, pretend you are holding a pencil. Put your thumb here on the bottom and your index finger on top”
Physical assistance: Position Freddie’s fingers onto the tweezers. You might place your hand over the top (hand over hand assistance) and together pick up a few items to help Freddie to feel the grasp and the movements required for this task.
// Try not to be too eager for your child to achieve the end result straight away. Celebrate the small achievements and the fact they are giving the activity a go. Practice makes perfect!
// Praise your child efforts and as their skills develop. This will encourage your child to develop a positive ‘I can do this!’ mindset.
// Support your child when sitting at the table. It is recommended that your child is able to have their feet flat on the floor and that their arms can comfortably rest on the table surface, without their shoulders hitching up. A stable seated position will assist your children to use their hands with more control and coordination. A stable seated posture is also an important consideration when your child is at the dinner table.
There you have it! A list of many activities which your child will love (and will never know is great for their development!). Try these activities and see how you go.
If you find that your child is continuing to have ongoing difficulties it would be worthwhile to consult an Occupational Therapist who specialises in helping children to develop their fine motor skills. You can click here to view how I can assist you and your child with their fine motor skills.
I’d love to hear any of your suggestions and comments. Know someone who would love to read this information and would find it helpful? Please share this article with them!
Images from Instagram @muskaelvis