For preschoolers, fine motor skills play an essential role in adaption to learning and academic settings. Children need fine motor skills for everything ranging from holding writing utensils and scissors to using technology (such as clicking a computer mouse or using a stylus).
In addition, preschoolers need fine motor skills for all self-care activities before, during, and after school. These include activities like getting dressed (tying shoelaces, using a zipper, or buttoning a shirt), eating (using a spoon or opening plastic bags and lunch boxes), and hygiene (brushing teeth, combing hair, and washing hands thoroughly after toileting).
Clearly, fine motor skills directly support a child’s ability to thrive in school. For additional guidance, here are some of the milestones to watch for by the time a child reach’s preschool years:
- Strong Palmar Arches – These deep arches help the palms of the hands to curl inward. Strengthening this muscular and arterial network enables coordination of the fingers. Children need strong palmer arches for writing, drawing, coloring, buttoning clothes, and gripping objects.
- Wrist Stability – Wrist control helps children direct their hands and fingers smoothly for writing and play. Children need wrist stability for both carrying objects and holding them steady in the hand.
- Pincer Grasp – This allows children to use the thumb and index finger for precision grasping.
- Intrinsic Hand Movement – This refers to the ability to make small movements that require the thumb, forefinger, and middle finger to touch.
- Bilateral Hand Movement – This simply means coordination (the ability to use both hands to do something at the same time). Examples include using a rolling pin, clapping hands, or pushing and pulling objects with hands.
- Scissor Ability – Children should be able to use child-safety scissors in preschool for art projects and to practice hand-eye coordination.
It is normal to feel concerned if you notice that a child may not have reached certain milestones by the expected age. For example, you may notice that a child has difficulty holding a spoon or toothbrush, has trouble using scissors or tying shoes, or avoids using writing utensils and other “finger” activities.
Some parents also notice more subtle signs such as the child always demanding that others draw objects for them (thereby avoiding using a pencil) or preferring activities that never require fine motor skills.
Once you speak with your pediatrician with concerns, your child can receive an evaluation. The child may need to work with an occupational therapist to get fine motor skills back on track.
Top Ways to Help Your Preschooler Develop Fine Motor Skills
In addition to working with a trained professional, your preschooler will benefit greatly from practicing fine motor skills at home. Need a little inspiration? Try any of the activities below.
Discover the Joy of Stickers
Colorful stickers have universal appeal for children. And attaching and detaching stickers help children develop precise fine motor skills. Try keep a huge collection of stickers for children to attach to personal boards or folders. And of course, you can always use stickers to signify a job well-done.
Play with Rubber Bands
Rubber bands help strengthen fingers and palms in a way unique to other materials. Allow your child to stretch and pull colorful rubber bands around containers and cans during supervised play.
Eye Droppers (for Seeing Eye-to-Eye)
Unused eye droppers are a great challenge for using the pincer grasp and practicing hand-eye coordination. You can use food coloring to tint the water and then let the child squeeze it out onto construction paper.
Get Creative with Tweezers or Kitchen Tongs
Child-safe tweezers or kitchen tongs are other tools for practicing hand-eye coordination, muscle strength, and hand-eye control. Using colorful tweezers and tongs can transform tidying up into a fun pickup game.
Bring Out the Board Games
Not only are board games great for family bonding – they can also help build fine motor skills. Use game night to work on a giant puzzle together or play a giant board game that allows your child to practice rolling dice.
Make the Most of Mealtime
While preschoolers should not be in the kitchen unsupervised, planning specific activities can be highly beneficial for developing fine motor skills within children. Most preschoolers feel delighted at the chance to mix, stir, and pour simple ingredients. You can also bring out a child-safe cookie cuter for children to make their own treats into unique shapes.
Teach Table Setting
In addition to simple cooking projects, have your child set the table. This assignment teaches responsibility but also helps the child practice grasp, coordination, memory, and muscle control.
Play with Mini Pegs
This classic game remains popular for a reason. It helps children with grasp, understanding of shapes, and familiarity with different textures.
Play with Dolls
When you think about it, dolls with matching doll cloths, buttons, and doll brushes are excellent ways for your child to practice small movements and fine motor skills. Have your child act as the “hairdresser” or “stylist” for dolls or stuffed animals, and then gather around for a fun fashion show.
Spider Man Game
Place toy spiders at the bottom of a cheap plastic basket. Then weave or crisscross white yarn across the opening of the basket to create a “web.” Have your preschooler use a clothespin or tweezers to “catch” the spiders at the bottom of the basket and build fine motor skills.
Make Up a Hole Punch Game
Draw colorful circles on construction paper or cardstock. Then help your child use a hold punch in each of the circles. This is an excellent way to help build hand strength and coordination.
For more tips and ideas or to help set your child up with an occupational therapist, contact the Warren Center.