Our favourite ways to develop fine motor control
Updated: Jan 31
A recent BBC article, Surgery students 'losing dexterity to stitch patients', is quite terrifying really! It suggests that medical students have “spent so much time in front of screens and so little time using their hands that they have lost the dexterity for stitching up or sewing patients”.
Now at The Phonics Fox, we are not necessarily trying to raise the next generation of surgeons (although children do love to play doctors!) but we do see the value of developing fine motor skills early on. It’s a huge part of what we do.
To give children confidence with writing, we need to prepare them physically to be able to do it. Children cannot write easily without the correctly developed muscles.
Fine motor skills involve the movement of small muscles in our hands, wrists, fingers (and feet and toes) that require the child’s brain to coordinate between the action and what they are seeing. The skills start to develop on their own when a child uses those smaller muscles. Developing the muscles includes actions like grasping, holding, pressing or using a pincer grip.
Children don’t just need fine motor skills for writing (or surgery) but other important skills and self-care activities that we try to encourage in the early years such as eating with a knife and fork, taking themselves to the toilet, tying shoelaces and getting dressed and undressed.
Many fine motor skills that are needed to be able play with certain things, such as Lego, beads and puzzles can be developed purely through playing- which is why play is so important and should be linked to everything that children do.
Poor fine motor skills can lead to difficulties with handwriting later on, which in turn can affect children’s self-confidence and feelings of self-worth. By developing fine motor skills through play, we are not only creating feelings of joy and confidence in the children now, but we are protecting them from negativity in the future.
Here are some simple ways that we help to develop fine motor skills in our classes and ways that you can help your children at home:
Children love scissors! I would suggest that you don’t use the safety scissors because they are harder but that you do supervise children at all times to use scissors properly and ensure there are no accidents. You can start with the loop scissors which work on using a simpler muscle action before moving on to actual scissors.
Children don’t just have to cut paper- they can cut all sorts of materials such playdough or jelly- which is a very satisfying sensory experience too. Once children have mastered this skill, it is difficult to stop them from cutting! Like with anything, the more they do it, the more skilled they become. When they have mastered the basics of being able to hold the scissors correctly and to cut, they can then begin to do more specific cutting out and practise cutting along lines.
Playdough can be used in so many ways- from rolling it, cutting it, cutting out shapes, building with it to making marks with tools and it’s all so beneficial to the child’s sensory experience (you can add colours and scents too) and development of fine motor skills. We use playdough in most of our classes as an independent activity that children can choose and in every class in our disco dough gym where we target the specific muscles that children need to use through fun music and dancing.
Use of age appropriate tweezers really help to develop the pincer grip. You can always make it into a fun game. For example: collect the plastic insects from the spiders web (washing basket with wool woven in and out) without touching the web; pick up the different coloured pom poms and drop them down the matching coloured tubes; pick up the ants (raisins) from the sand. You can start with larger items that are easier to grip before moving on to smaller items.
Threading and Lacing
There are lots of ways in which you can do this that are fun and easy. Threading develops hand eye coordination as well as fine motor skills. There are so many activities you can choose that can develop children’s creativity too. For example, threading a pasta necklace or a cheerio worm with a pipe cleaner. You can cut out a shell from a paper plate and punch holes that your child can thread wool through. You can cut out a leaf from green foam, punch some holes through and give your child a green pipe cleaner to thread through as they become The Very Hungry Caterpillar.
You can buy specific children’s pipettes but the very basic medical droppers that you can buy cheaply will suffice too. Children are always surprised by the action of squeezing, waiting and squeezing out again and takes some practice before they master how to do it. You can play with pipettes / droppers in the bath for hours of fun and learning or you can set up play activities with your children. One of our favourites is making bicarbonate of soda dinosaur eggs and the children can squeeze coloured vinegar on to them to make them hatch and fizz!
Sand and water play
The very acts of scooping, digging, pouring, spraying using cups, bottles and moulds are all fun and easy ways of developing fine motor control with the smallest of children. Activities can be adapted to suit any purpose but we especially love hiding treasure in sand or water for children to find. The treasure is invariably linked to sounds that we are learning so we can reinforce that learning through their play.
Any type of mark making helps to develop the fine motor skills that are needed for writing. Be it writing in sand, sprinkles or shaving foam with their fingers to using actual tools such as crayons or paint brushes. Painting with a brush- especially on a vertical surface is an excellent way to develop skills and give children the opportunity to develop their creative skills. However, you can use other mediums- such as sticks and cotton wool balls attached to pegs. Giving children a variety of mediums to explore really encourages their imagination and creativity to flourish.
Building with Lego and blocks
Building blocks / Lego activities encourage fine pushing and pulling movements and through play children are not only building ‘things’ but they are building stronger muscles in their hands and improving coordination. Lego or blocks are also a good team building activity that you can play together to enjoy special time and enhance your child’s learning and imagination.
These are just a few examples of our favourite ways to help develop your child’s fine motor skills to get them ready for writing and those important early years self-care skills.
It is important to remember that while we focus on fine motor skills, gross motor skills are needed too. These are the larger muscle movements which generally refer to the postural control of the larger muscle groups in the neck, shoulders and trunk to maintain stability in order for the fingers and hands to move.
You can help develop gross motor skills at home or in the park just by playing with and being with your child. Activities such as throwing and catching balls; hanging on monkey bars; climbing; jumping all help to develop gross motor skills. At The Phonics Fox, gross motor skills come into play at every class too - especially with our parachute play / control and air writing.