What are fine motor skills?

You may have heard your occupational therapist, and sometimes teachers, use words such as fine motor strength, and dexterity when discussing your child’s OT goals. But what do they actually mean?

Put simply, fine motor skills refer to a person’s ability to control the small movements of the hands and fingers, as well as the small muscles of the face and mouth (tongue), and feet.

However, when OT’s use the term, they are generally only referring to the small muscles in the hands and fingers. Dexterity is a common term under fine motor skills, which refers to being able to manipulate objects efficiently, using our hand and finger muscles. Activities involving your child’s fine motor skills include, using pencils/pens, scissors, construction with lego, doing up buttons, tying shoe laces, and of course, handwriting.

Why are fine motor skills important?

Fine motor skills are necessary for performing everyday academic, play, and self care skills.

In early childhood years, being able to cut with scissors, colour with crayons and pencils, paint using a paintbrush and play with small objects such as lego, beads and puzzles, are essential to your child’s development. Your child needs to use their hand and finger muscles accurately in order to keep up with peers in these activities.

Self care activities such as buttoning a shirt, tying shoelaces and using a knife and fork to eat food, all require fine motor control. Children who have difficulty with any of these activities often feel frustrated and their self-esteem can suffer when they can’t do the activities their peers can. This can have social implications not only within the family but also within peer relationships.

Once schooling starts, good control of the hand muscles will help your child to learn to write  efficiently. Sometimes if children have poor fine motor control, it affects their handwriting, and this holds them back from showing their true potential at school. This can often lead to an unenthusiastic attitude to learning, and of course we don’t want this to happen to our kids!

How can I help build my child’s fine motor strength and dexterity?

Children need exposure to a variety of fine motor activities, just as they do gross motor, to build their hand strength. The following exercises can easily be incorporated into your child’s daily routine:

Paper Crumpling: Have your child crumple up sheets of newspaper or scrap paper into the smallest, tightest ball they can manage. As their hand strength increases, make it a challenge by having your child crumple the paper with just one hand at a time. Aim and shoot into the recycling bin when they are finished!

Sponge squeezing: Do sponge painting, making sure your child squeezes out all the paint into a bucket of water when they are finished. Squeeze bath sponges, washing up sponges, and sponge balls.

Water spray bottles: This is a fun activity and is great for strengthening hand muscles.
Have your child water the plants, play spray gun tag with a friend, or add a spray bottle to bath time fun!

Scissor cutting: Give your child plenty of opportunitees to cut out lines or shapes. Try cutting against resistance, such as thicker paper or cardboard, play dough or putty. Making cards or scrap books is a fun way to incorpate scissor cutting!

Playdough/Putty Exercises: Squishing, pinching, rolling, squeezing, spreading – all great for building muscles in the hand. Have your child make an animal out of the putty and you have to guess what it is! Hiding little beads in the putty/playdough, timing how fast your child can get them out is a fabulous dexterity exercise.

Other activities:

  • Mr Potato Head is a great starter toy for hand strengthening.  The pieces are relatively big and easy to grasp and the repetition of changing the faces over and over again is great for strengthening!
  • Bubblewrap – Everyone loves to pop those bubbles! Use smaller bubblewrap for finger strength, and larger bubblewrap to strengthen the while hand.
  • Get your kids involved in the kitchen – Kneading dough, stirring batter, cutting, using a rolling pin, scooping – all these fun activities are easy ways to help develop your childs fine motor skills!

These are some great activity suggestions for home. If you have concerns about your child’s fine motor development  please give us a call on 9913 3823 to book an appointment.