Fine motor skills…exactly what are they, and why are they so important? Fine motor skills are those skills that require refined use of the small muscles of the hand. These muscles are responsible for controlling the hand, fingers, and thumb. Development of fine motor skills make it possible for children to complete important tasks such as writing, feeding, and dressing, as well as object/toy manipulation. There is a progression of development that gradually occurs through experience and exposure to a variety of toys, textures, and experiences.
Little hands need to develop strength and dexterity. Encouraging children to play, explore, and interact with a variety of items and textures promotes development. Fine motor skills are heavily dependent on having good proximal strength and stability. Developing shoulder and arm strength begins in infancy through tummy time. During tummy time your child learns how to use arms to push up and shift from side to side. This leads to reaching for items and eventually to moving into all fours to begin the stages of crawling. While doing all this your child is building that proximal strength. In addition, your little one is gaining input through their palms and exploring a variety of textures, all of which promote fine motor skill development.
How to encourage development of fine Motor Skills
There are a multitude of ways to encourage the development of fine motor skills. Finger feeding is a great example. Allow your little one to finger feed as much as possible. Picking up small pieces of food will help develop pincer grasp (using thumb and index finger). This grasp pattern is used throughout life from writing and dressing to completing crafts and hobbies. Encourage play with small items (as appropriate for your child’s age/safety) through activities such as block stacking, bead stringing, small knobbed puzzles, and toys that connect (pop beads, Duplo blocks, LEGO). Using clothes pins to pin pictures or coloring pages on to a string or along the edges of a cup or paper plate will help develop pincer grasp strength.
Play dough is one the best ways to build hand and finger strength. These activities require use the fingers, eyes, and hands in a controlled manner. Many of them offer resistance, which builds strength.
Giving children the opportunity to play with and in a variety of textures and tactile materials is a fun way to develop fine motor skills. Hide small items in rice, beans, sand, or bird seed. Let then use their fingers to locate and pick out the items for a simple and fun activity. Use tweezers and tongs to pick up items to promote strength and grasp patterns.
As your child moves in to the 2 ½ to 3 year age, they typically develop an interest in coloring. Providing small crayons that fit small hands will help develop grasp patterns that are used for drawing and writing.
While the development of fine motor skills is important, it is reassuring to know that there are lots of opportunities throughout the day for your child to manipulate small items, push, and pull with their fingers to help them practice and develop skills. So many opportunities are just waiting “at your finger tips” to encourage development of fine motor skills! Check out LEGO…Beyond Just Play to learn more about how LEGO can be used to work on fine motor skills.