Helping young children build a lifetime of fine motor skills

Helping young children build a lifetime of fine motor skills

In the first few years of a child’s life, each day brings new opportunities for learning. As they grow to preschool age, parents start thinking about how to help their child prepare for school—this often includes teaching and encouraging fine motor activities.

While many parents are familiar with day-to-day fine motor exercises, most aren’t aware of intermediary steps to develop more advanced activities such as writing, colouring, drawing, and cutting.

What are fine motor skills?

Fine motor skills are used to coordinate the tiny muscles in our hands to manipulate different objects. This includes everything from a pencil, spoon or fork, finger foods, scissors, beads, laces, small toys, game pieces, and many other small objects. The better coordinated these muscles are, the better our fine motor skills will be.

To start developing our fine motor skills we need to strengthen the muscles and joints closest to our body, such as our shoulders. Since we work from “in to out”, we need the muscles and joints closest to our body to be strong and stable before we can work on the ones further away. 

Infant fine motor activities

The first activity your infant can do to develop strength is tummy time. In addition to helping develop the muscles in the neck and general head control, it also requires the infant to push their bodies up with their arms. This starts developing strength and stability in their shoulders. Tummy time can start with newborns lying on your chest or lap for short periods of time. Other fine motor activities for infants include:

  • Pushing buttons and toys
  • Popping bubbles
  • Stacking rings
  • Grasping toys (with a variety of holes and different textures)
  • Toys that require them to grasp and pull to make noise or music
  • Putting small toys into a bin or container (clean up time)
  • Opening cupboards or drawers
  • Finger foods and starting to use utensils

Toddler fine motor activities

Once your little ones are a bit older, they have wider interests. Here are some activities to help your toddler further develop his or her fine motor skills:

  • Dressing (get them to help with taking clothes off first, then putting clothes on. Note: it’s okay to let them struggle a bit.)
  • Wooden puzzles or shape sorters
  • Helping to put small items into small containers (beads, pom-poms, blocks, etc.)
  • Clothes pegs (pinching to put on fabric, pipe cleaners, or paper)
  • Scooping and filling sand into containers in the playground, or water into buckets in the bath
  • Lacing large beads, or dry noodles onto shoe laces
  • Finger painting
  • Painting with water outside or paints on large pieces of paper taped to the wall or easel (use short and thick paint brushes)
  • Colouring and scribbling with crayons, working on vertical surfaces (paper on a wall or easel) and using small broken pieces of crayon (1” in length)
  • Stacking wooden blocks, making towers

As you child grows and develops, you should notice improvement in fine motor skills. However, if you have questions or if you’re uncertain about child’s fine motor skill development, an occupational therapist can help by providing a personalized assessment to determine if your child’s skills are delayed for their age. Recommended treatments are always individualized for each child and family to ensure success. Find out more by contacting 1to1 Therapy.

About the Author:
Kim Hurda is an occupational therapist with 1to1 with a primary focus on pediatrics: infants to school age. She has training in neurodevelopment, sensory integration as well as acquired brain injury. Kim has experience supporting children, families and teachers in homes, clinics, and schools with private and community referrals.

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