Fine Motor Development and Handwriting
As we already know, children interact with their environment by moving and touching objects within it. Using fine motor skills to manipulate objects gives the child perceptual information necessary for the child to efficiently make sense of their environment. Fine motor skills involve the use of small muscles of the body that enable movement and functions such as handwriting, grasping small objects (IE putting a coin in a piggy bank), and fastening clothing.
Weakness in fine motor skills can affect the child’s ability to eat, write legibly, use a computer, turn pages in a book, and participate in self-care activities such as buttoning a shirt or zippering pants.
Fine motor skills not only involves manipulation of small muscles, particularly of the hand, but also coordinating the action of the eyes and hand together known as eye-hand coordination.
An upright work surface promotes fine motor skills; therefore, having your child draw on a chalkboard, easel, or even have your child engage in games such as light bright will be beneficial.
Fine motor skills become increasingly important when it is time for your child to learn handwriting. A child must have good physical stability and posture, have a good grasp, have correct hand placement with the writing instrument, and have good paper placement.
Your child’s muscles grow from proximal to distal meaning that your child gains stability in areas like their shoulder and shoulder blade before they gain stability of smaller muscles such as those in the hand. If muscles are not gained in your child’s shoulder, then you may see difficulties with fine motor activities.
Generally stability comes from your trunk, to your shoulder, then to your elbow, wrist and finally the hand. Hand skills are developed from gross motor to fine motor. You can see this occurring when your child is able to palm a toy (gross motor), but not separate there fingers as if they are picking up a cheerio (fine motor). Generally this development goes in the order of reach, grasp, carry, in hand, and then release.
Tummy time is very important in the development of your child. Tummy time helps your child to develop head control, spinal musculature, arm strength, and sensory development. Tummy time enables your child to build shoulder and arm strength, which is the foundation for crawling and fine motor manipulation, such as handwriting that comes at a later age.
Activities to Promote Shoulder, Arm, and Hand Strength
Place them on their tummies on a ball and have them walk off using their arms while you hold their feet.
Have them lie over a ball putting weight on one arm while doing an activity on the floor with the other.
Roll out a big piece of paper on the floor and have them lie on their tummies to color or paint.
You can make your child reach up for toys.
Have them push toy cars while on their hands and knees.
Color, paint, magnets, stickers, shaving cream, water and paintbrushes can be used on an easel. You can even draw a road on a piece of paper and have them move their toy cars on the easel. If you don’t have an easel use your refrigerator.
You can give them a paintbrush and water and have them paint your fence or house outside.
Tape a piece of paper under a child-size table and have them lie on their backs to draw in this position.
Activities to Develop Wrist and Hand Control
Please keep in mind that children should be supervised at all times when manipulating small objects.
Cause and effect toys.
Toys with resistance such as pop beads, Lego's, velcro, tinker toys, and magnets.
Instead of handing your child toys, give them resistance and tell them to pull the toy.
Crayons and craft activities, the smaller the better.
Squeezable glues and paints.
Tearing paper and crumpling paper into small pieces.
Manipulating small objects like glueing confetti to paper or peeling small stickers.
Play Doh activities with cookie cutters, rolling pins, scissors, and plastic knifes. Roll the play Doh into balls, press it down with fingers, pull it apart, or hide objects in it to have child open it up to pull the object out.
Coins into a slot.
Pegs into a pegboard.
Puzzles with small knobs.
Any game that has small pieces and resistance.
Finger play (i.e. making eye glasses with fingers).
Chalk on a chalkboard.
Squeeze a bulb (i.e. nasal bulb) or bath toy to suck up water and squirt. You can use air to blow cotton balls or paper.
String beads on lace or on a pipe cleaner.
Color with 3/4 inch crayons, Crayola has triangular crayons that promote finger placement.
Play with rice, beans, sand, and water using spoons and cups.
Hand races: See who can pick up the most objects the fastest while keeping the objects in their hand without dropping them.
Pick up objects with ice tongs.
Buttons, snaps, and latches.
Games with tweezers (i.e. Bed Bugs or Operation).
Games with small pieces (i.e. Hi Ho Cherry O, Light Bright, screws/nuts/bolts, Ants in the Pants, Kerplunk, or pick-up sticks).
Travel size games (i.e. Connect Four, HI –Q, or a fishing game).
Fill balloon with flour to squeeze.
Scissor activities (i.e. cut Play Doh, cardboard, and paper).
Hand held vibrator to squeeze.
Flashlights with squeeze buttons.
Wind up toys.
Squeeze clothes pins, you can have child pick up objects with them or incorporate them into any game for more fun.
Have the child try to open the clothespins from the closed side. You can have them do repetitions and/or see how long they can hold it open. You can make this fun by having races to see who can hold the clothespin open the longest.
TAKEN FROM ARTICLE Tummy Time and Handwriting by Melissa Silvestro, OTR/L)
Areas that Affect Fine Motor Skills
Hand / Finger dexterity
Eye hand coordination
Bilateral hand skills
Fine Motor Development Chart (Ages 0-5)
0 - 3 MONTHS
Hands most often remain closed
Has grasp reflex (grasps objects involuntarily if placed in palm)
2 - 4 MONTHS
Reaches for ("swipes at") objects inaccurately
3 - 3 1/2 MONTHS
Clasps hands together often
3 1/2 - 4 MONTHS
Begins purposeful, visually directed reaching
3 - 7 MONTHS
Can hold small objects in hand
4 - 8 MONTHS
Can transfer objects from one hand to the other
Can pick up cube/medium sized objects easily
4 - 10 MONTHS
Develops accurate forward and side reach
5 - 9 MONTHS
"Rakes" or "scoops" small objects to pick them up (i.e. using fingers/palm/whole hand to scoop up Cheerios, raisins etc.
7 - 9 MONTHS
Intentionally able to drop/release objects (get ready for the "watch-me-drop-this-watch-mommy/daddy-pick-it-up-AGAIN" game!)
7 - 12 MONTHS
Able to pick up small objects using thumb and finger/fingers
Pokes and/or points with index finger
12 - 18 MONTHS
Holds crayon with whole hand, thumb up
Holds crayon with thumb and all fingers, forearm turned so thumb is pointing down
Puts on shoes, socks, and shorts; takes off shoes and socks
Can use a spoon by himself, keeping it upright
Can draw and copy a vertical line
2 1/2 - 3 YEARS
Strings large beads
Snips paper with scissors
Rolls clay/Play Doh into "snake"
Can draw and copy a horizontal line
3 - 3 1/2 YEARS
Able to complete simple puzzles
Can build a tower of nine small blocks or more
Can get himself dressed/undressed independently; only needs help with buttons; still confuses front/back for clothes, and right/left for shoes
Can feed himself with little or no spilling, drinks from a cup/glass with one hand
3 1/2 - 4 YEARS
Can pour his own drink from a pitcher if not too heavy
Can place small pegs into small holes
Able to string small beads
Can hold a pencil with a "tripod grasp" (3 fingers), but moves forearm and wrist to write/draw/color
4 - 4 1/2 YEARS
Can use scissors to follow and cut both straight and curved lines
Can manage buttons, zippers, and snaps completely
Can draw and copy a cross (one vertical and one horizontal intersecting lines)
4 1/2 - 5 YEARS
Can hold fork using his fingers
Can feed himself/herself soup with little or no spilling
Folds paper in half, making sure the edges meet
Puts a key in a lock and opens it
Can get dressed completely by himself, and usually tie shoelaces
Cuts square, triangle, circle, and simple pictures with scissors
Uses a knife to spread food items (jelly, peanut butter, mayo etc.), uses a dull knife to cut soft foods
Able to draw and copy a diagonal line
Uses a "tripod grasp" on writing utensils (thumb & tips of 1st two fingers) and uses fingers only (because small muscles of hand have developed) to write/draw/color
5 1/2 - 6 YEARS
Can build a five block "bridge"
Sufficient bilateral hand coordination to cut out complex pictures, accurately following the outline
Able to copy a sequence of letters or numbers correctly
Able to complete complex puzzles
Proficiency in fine-motor control allows the child to develop skills that will have consequences immediately and in later life
Social Consequences. You cannot hide the way you move. Simple tasks such as tying laces or handling any utensils or objects can cause frustration and embarrassment. The child who has poor coordination begins to wonder why something that is natural and taken for granted is so difficult to perform.
Vocational Consequences. Because a number of vocations, including dentistry, secretarial work, cabinet making, and many others, have a large fine-motor component, the choices for the individual with fine-motor difficulties begin to diminish.
Academic Consequences. Quick and precise handling of concrete objects in mathematics and science becomes difficult. Precision and speed in handwriting and drawing tasks are minimized, affecting the amount of work being completed. When actions are not automatic, the available working memory and attentional space in the brain is taken up with concentrating on the movement rather than the concept being learned and practiced.
Psychological (Emotional) Consequences. Children with poor coordination often have unsuccessful experiences in physical activities. As a consequence, they can develop frustration, a fear of failure, and rejection which in turn can lead to the development of a negative self-concept and avoidance behaviors. This can dramatically affect classroom performance not only in the fine motor area but in other areas as well. Research tells us that a child's attitude toward learning in a particular area is at least as important as a child's ability in that area.
Therapy Center for Children - Providing early
intervention services and preschool services
Physical Therapy, Speech Therapy, Fine Motor Development
Suffolk County, Long Island, New York.