Fine motor skills is a term which mean small muscle development, as opposed to large motor skills which would be large muscle development such as with the legs and arms. When children run and play they are developing and strengthening their large motor skills which also include balance and coordination. When children play with small toys or crayons and use their fingers to play with manipulatives and puzzles this is what fine motor skill development is referring to.
Why are these skills so important? Young children are learning everyday how to control their bodies through play and movement. It does not come naturally to a child. If you ever observe a helpless baby flailing around and making jerky arm and leg movements you will witness poor muscle development (large and small). Those movements are very important as they are strengthening the muscles of the baby and as days and weeks go by they become a bit stronger. As babies go through various stages of physical growth they reach many milestones: holding their head up, rolling over, sitting up, crawling, walking, running, etc.
As babies approach the toddler and preschool years they have achieved a good level of large muscle skill development and their focus then turns more to improving their fine motor skills. They become interested in playing with small things like puzzles and manipulatives like Legos and blocks and crayons. This natural progression results in children being able to hold a pencil properly by the time they reach kindergarten but they need several years of practice prior to that milestone (and not every child achieves this on time for school entry).
The preschool educational setting should be filled with endless opportunities for children to practice tuning up those fine motor skills. The body parts that are used in fine motor skills are the little parts such as the fingers, toes, eyes, tongue, lips and hands/feet. These body parts in conjunction with the senses of touch, taste, smell, sound and sight work together to grow manual dexterity, eye-hand coordination, manipulation skills and control, sensory perception (touch), and ocular motor control (eyes can follow and focus).
What kind of activities for 2, 3 4, and 5 year olds are effective and appropriate for developing small motor skills? There are many! A good point to remember is that every child develops on his or her own timetable and no two children of the same age will be exactly at the same skill level. There is a wide range of variance and that is normal. Here are just ten great activities for kids that will allow children to practice and grow while they play. If you want to add to this list please add your comment below to share with other caregivers.
1. Play Doh: is one of the best tools for small muscle development. Kneading and squeezing the dough are the best muscle developers. Have a basket or shoe box filled with tools such as plastic knives and forks, popsicle sticks, rolling pins, cookie cutters etc. available for making shapes.
2. Lacing: You can buy lacing cards commercially or make your own. The child threads yarn or shoe laces through holes on the card. The cards can have patterns, letters, numbers or pictures but the younger children may not be able to lace a pattern and will just lace it up into a great stringy criss-cross. Children also enjoy lacing beads or pasta onto the shoelace to make a necklace. Tip: To create a shoelace from regular yarn, wrap the ends of the yarn tightly with tape or dip the ends into candle wax and allow them to cool and harden for easier lacing.
3. Scissors Skills: (child safety scissors) This is definitely one of the more difficult skills to master but it is still great for practice. Younger children usually cannot coordinate this at all but the 4 and 5 year olds can manage and will eventually be able to cut out a black-line shape with practice.
4. Pincer grasp: Tongs, tweezers or clothespins are great for squeezing open and closed to pick up things, it strengthens the finger and hand muscles. You can have the child try to transfer cotton balls from one bowl to another or make up relay games where the children have to race to pick up a scarf with the tongs and place it at a finish line.
5. Tracing: (Use salt, sand, shaving cream or pudding) Have child use fingers or a popsicle stick to trace in salt that is sprinkled on a cookie sheet or paper plate. Call out a letter or number and help them trace it. Another fun tracing activity is to pair children up and have one partner trace a letter or number on the other’s back and have them guess what it is. Kids love that one! Lots of giggles and tickles!
6. Scribbling! Yes purposeful scribbling. Markers, crayons, pencils. Create an art gallery of scribble drawings.
7. Eye-droppers: Eye-droppers can be used to mix and learn about colors. Place water into all the separate spaces of a cupcake pan (6 or 12). Put a few drops of different colors of food coloring (blue, green red, yellow) into only 3 or 4 of the wells and allow the children to mix and change the colors by using the eye-dropper to change the remaining wells of water.
8. Spray Bottles: Fill up spray bottles with water and allow children to squirt anything they want outside. Water is harmless and will just disappear. This is fun for warm weather. If you have snow outside put food coloring into the water and let them spray the snow different colors. This makes a very cool looking snowman.
9. Finger Plays and Finger Painting! (obvious right?)
10. Everyday Living Skills: Dressing themselves (buttons, zippers, buckles, shoelaces), helping to set the table or pour their juice (expect and even anticipate spills- but they will never learn if they can’t practice!), help mom bake cookies (mix and stir and measure), helping dad fix stuff (hammers and screw drivers and nails), brushing teeth and singing songs!
These are age appropriate activities for 2 year olds through 5 year olds and all are adaptable to various skill levels. These are fun developmental activities for anytime and make great rainy day activities that keep little hands busy! Brought to you by: Rainy Day Prek!