If a child dislikes to color or write and is struggling to manipulate small objects at an age-appropriate level, there is a chance that he or she is delayed in fine motor strengthen. Fine motor skills refer to the small muscles that enable activities such as writing, grasping small objects, fastening clothing, squeezing bottles, and manipulating small objects. Lacking the muscle strength can greatly deter a child from drawing, using scissors, and playing.
The great news is that there are a plethora of fun activities to increase the child's fine motor strength. Add fun activities to the child's play or follow the 1-5 Year Preschool Curricula for weekly activities specific for the child's age.
Begin with peg puzzles containing large knobs. This allow the child to gain more control over their finger movement.
- Peg puzzles are available in an array of choices. Puzzles of shapes, letters, colors, and animals provide additional learning.
- Sturdy 9-24 piece puzzles are the next step for preschoolers.
The modeling, pulling, and pushing or play dough strengthens small muscles.
- Add scissors, rolling pins, and extra equipment such as rollers and cookie cutters to manipulate the play dough.
- Hide buttons or beads in play dough for the child to discover. (image by kari)
- Cut play dough or clay snakes.
- Cut up old magazines and junk mail. This process will make a mess but can easily be cleaned up with a broom and dustpan. Sometimes learning is messy!!
- Practice cutting different shapes. The 3 Year Curriculum focuses on this activity.
- Help the child draw around their hand and let them cut it out
Manipulating a glue stick, squeezing a glue bottle, and piecing items together build fine motor strength. Removing and placing stickers requires the small muscles.
- Glue together or on paper items like cotton balls, paper, tissue, wax paper, buttons.
Threading and beading involves placing small items (e.g. beads, fruit loops, cheerios) with a hole in the middle on a string or line (e.g. pipecleaner, string, spaghetti noodle). The manipulation of the item to match the hole with the string requires fine motor, visual perception, hand-eye coordination, and muscle control.
- Beading kits are available to purchase. Begin with large beads.
- Thread colored or plain pasta on a piece of string. It may help to cover the end of the string with tape to provide a tight end for threading. Tie the string together in a loop to make a necklace.
- For many generations children have threaded empty spools of thread.
- Create patterns by beading with Primary Lacing Beads or by threading fruit loops onto spaghetti pieces stuck vertically into play dough.
- ABC Lacing Beads are available to purchase for further learning.
Playing with paper dolls allows older preschool child to develop gentleness as they match and fold pieces on the dolls.
- Magnetic, wooden doll sets are available for younger children.
- Free Paper Doll Printables at Activity Village
Manipulating a painting object or fingers in paint strengthens fine motor skills.- Alternate between large, stubby brushes and smaller, finer brushes. The smaller the brush is, the more control needed over the little hand.
Pushing together, pulling apart, and stacking blocks strengthens fine motor skills to prepare the child for handwriting.
- Begin with larger blocks like Duplo Legos and move toward the smaller variety.
- Wooden blocks add hand control to build tall towers.
Board games with pieces and parts to pick up and move are ideal for developing fine motor coordination.
- Jenga is a strategy game using fine motor skills that particularly focuses on the pincher grip, which is used in writing.
- Games like Connect Four or Battleship allow a child to create patterns. Count the disc and pegs for additional learning.
Click to see additional game ideas.
Playing with water is a fun way to build fine motor skills without the child knowing it.
- Pour water between containers. Do this activity in the bathtub or outside for limited mess.
- Squeeze a sponge full of water from one bucket to another or on a chalk drawing on a sidewalk.
- Provide the child with several nuts and bolts to put together.
- Demonstrate for the child how to hammer golf tees into Styrofoam or a large piece of play dough.
Using tools such as tongs, tweezers, hole punches, and clothes pins work the child's fine motor muscles.
- Align on a stiff piece of paper clothes pins, hair bobby pins, or paper clips.
- Transfer small items (craft pom poms) using tweezers, tongs, and clothes pins.
The ultimate goal of fine motor skills is for the child to be have the life skills to dress, write, play an instrument, and manipulate small objects.
Through out the ABCJLM Curriculum, it is suggested that a child use a broken crayon to color and write. Occupational therapists have discovered that broken crayons (under 1” in length) force a child to correctly hold a writing utensil so no bad habits develop. The end goal is that the child will hold a utensil with her thumb and index finger while supporting it on the middle finger. Use of markers or pens in craft and writing activities is discouraged as they do not strengthen fine and gross motor skills as much as crayons and pencils.
- Use of a Stetro Pencil Grip help a child correctly hold a pencil.
- Dot-to-Dot worksheets help in pencil control
- Play “Draw What I Draw” and have the child draw what you draw and then reverse. Begin with lines and then move to simple shapes.
- Give the child different shaped objects to draw around. You can also make these out of cardboard.
Children develop fine and gross motor skills best when they work on a vertical surface. While holding a writing utensil or brush against a vertical surface, muscles in the wrist and hand are strengthened. Also, additional core muscles are used when standing to write or paint. These same muscles are not used when writing or painting on a horizontal surface. For this reason, place craft, writing, and drawing projects on a vertical surface as much as is feasible.
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