Fine Motor Skills: How to help your child thrive at preschool and school

How to help your child thrive at preschool and school

Inside Kindergarten classrooms all around Australia, kids are busy using and practising their Fine Motor Skills.

They write their names on the top of worksheets many times a day.

Their scissors and gluesticks get a good work out in almost every subject and during Art, making masterpieces with paintbrushes is just the beginning for Kindy kids’ creativity.

When children head out to the playground, fine motor skills become just as important as kids pursue independence and social success.

At recess and lunchtime, being able to open their lunchboxes easily is a critical factor, because getting food down fast is important to five year olds who just want to play.

And dare we mention the boys’ and girls’ bathrooms at school?

Yes! Every parent and teacher knows that when kids need to get to the toilet quickly, managing stocking, shorts, buttons and zippers is super important!

Studies¹ have shown that once children commence school, they spend up to 46% of their day participating in fine motor activities.

42% of these are paper and pencil based tasks, so it makes sense to ensure that your child has age-appropriate fine motor skills before school begins

Why are fine motor skills so important for children?

Fine motor skills control the way in which your child uses the small muscles in their hands.

Every day, kids use their fine motor skills to complete tasks like grasping small objects, holding a pencil correctly, cutting, and buttoning.

Your child’s fine motor skills are important to every aspect of their life and can have a direct impact on their self-esteem and success at school.

Why do some kids struggle with Fine Motor Skills?

In today’s world, technology has become a increasingly prevalent factor in children’s lives. Many kids are spending more time on ‘screens’ than on games and toys that give them opportunities to play with fine motor manipulatives.

Research results are only just starting to emerge about this somewhat controversial topic, yet what is clear is that kids who have under-developed fine motor skills often struggle with handwriting when they get to school.

And as ‘showing what you know’ by being able to write it down is still a big part of the way Australian schools evaluate children’s skills, the importance of your child’s fine motor skills is as relevant today as it was when we were children years ago.

Essential Fine Motor Skills that kids need for school

There are some essential hand movements that your child needs to be able to confidently complete in order to have the skills needed for success at school.

Some of the most important ones include being able to:

  • Cup their hands (palmar arching).
  • Use their index finger and thumb to hold an item, and use their ring and middle fingers to stabilise their hand (hand side separation).
  • Make a round shape with their thumb and index finger (an open web space).

Tips for improving your child’s Fine Motor Skills

  • Make use of vertical surfaces

Vertical surfaces are great for helping your child to develop the small muscles in their hand and wrist, as well as the larger muscles in the arm and back.

While your child will use the small muscles in their hand to complete intricate tasks, the large muscles are necessary for providing stability while performing fine motor tasks.

Drawing and colouring on an easel or a piece of paper taped to the wall is the easiest way for your child to practise using a vertical surfaces.

Other activities you might like to try include:

  • drawing and playing with shaving cream on the tiles during bath time
  • “painting” your backyard fence using a paintbrush and water
  • taking magnets off the fridge and putting them back on again.

There are so many other things you can do at home – the only real limit is your imagination!

  • Tearing and Crumpling

Tearing and crumpling paper also develops the small muscles of your child’s hand, and these are the same muscles they will use for handwriting.

There are many cheap and easy activities that your child can enjoy at home as he or she builds this fine motor skill. Why not try teaching your child to:

  • Stuff craft projects (such as a scarecrow or a snowman) with paper balls that have been made by tearing newspaper with his/her fingers and crumpled up
  • Play ‘paper basketball’ by crumpling pieces of paper into balls and then tossing them into a basket or rubbish bin
  • Play ‘tabletop targets’, which involves crumpling paper into balls and then flicking them with their fingers toward a ‘goal’ that’s placed on the other side of a small table
  • Make pictures with tissue paper that has been crumpled into tiny balls and then glued onto paper or cardboard

Initially, your child will probably need to use two hands to crumple paper, but over time as your child masters this task, it should be possible to crumple paper with only one hand.

  • Drawing and Colouring

As occupational therapists, we often see children who are using pencils, crayons and markers that are too big for them.

While well-meaning parents and teachers might think that giving small children ‘regular’ pencils and textas is helping the development of their fine motor skills, this can sometimes result in children learning inefficient pencil grasps that may become problematic in the long-term.

To encourage the development of proper grasp patterns, give your child age-appropriate writing tools that promote the development of their fine motor skills. For example:

  • Never throw a broken crayon out! Short crayons, that are no more than 5cm long, will build your child’s dexterity by encouraging them to use their hand’s ‘skill side’ rather than their entire hand
  • Egg-shaped chalk will give your child valuable practice because it will require them to use an open web space
  • Thick, triangular pencils are always easier for young hands to grasp and manipulate

Fine Motor Skills are important for your child’s development

Between the ages of 3 and 5, building your child’s fine motor skills is integral to their development.

At preschool and school, your child will need to use their hand and finger muscles accurately in order to keep up with peers and to participate in learning and play activities.

But school is not the only place where having good fine motor skills is important.

Your child’s independence and self-care will depend upon their ability to complete tasks like tying shoelaces, toileting and using a knife and fork in an age-approrpiate way.

Many bright children falter in the early years of school because their fine motor skill difficulties hold them back from demonstrating what they are really capable of.

We know that children who struggle in the early years of school often end up with a negative attitude to learning and don’t live up to their potential in school.

We don’t want that for your child, and no doubt, neither do you!

Act early to address your child’s difficulties

Children who struggle with fine motor skills often feel frustrated and their self-esteem suffers when they can’t keep up with their peers.

If you are concerned about the way in which your child’s fine motor skills are developing, seek professional advice from a paediatric occupational therapist.

Early intervention can both set your mind at ease, and give your child the chance to overcome challenges before they start to affect their confidence and results.

Does your child need help with Fine Motor Skills?

Kids First’s experienced Occupational Therapists have helped hundreds of preschoolers develop the fine motor skills needs for a successful start to school.

Contact us on 9938 5419 to chat about your child’s needs, or click on the link below to learn more.

© 2017 Kids First Children’s Services

Learn more about occupational therapy at Kids First here

¹ Clarke, G., The relationship between handwriting, reading, fine motor and visual-motor skills in kindergarteners (2010)

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