Gross and fine motor skills are terms that are often heard in parenting circles, but what are these skills? How important are they? And how do you help your child to develop them? Below we discuss the importance fine motor skills development.
What are fine motor skills?
Fine motor skills are the ability to make movements using the small muscles in our hands and wrists. Our children rely on these skills to do key tasks in school, at home, and in everyday life. These small movements come so naturally to most people that we usually don’t think about them. But fine motor skills are complex. They involve a coordinated effort between the brain and muscles.
Fine vs gross motor skills
A motor skill is simply an action that involves your child using their muscles. Gross motor skills are larger movements your child makes with their arms, legs, feet, or entire body, and fine motor skills are smaller actions which require dexterity. When your child picks things up, places a pencil between their finger and thumb, or wriggles their toes in the sand, they are using their fine motor skills.
These skills are often used in combination, for example, your child uses gross motor skills to lift a hairbrush, but fine motor skills to grasp it in their hands in the first place.
Fine motor skills examples
Your child needs fine motor skills to do things that involve small movements, such as holding a pencil or scissors, drawing pictures, writing neatly, and using a keyboard. Children need fine motor skills to do daily tasks such as getting dressed and brushing their teeth, or dialling the phone and turning doorknobs. Children also use and develop their fine motor skills when they play, such building Lego, Duplo, puzzles and train tracks, or dressing a doll.
Fine motor skills activities
Playing, exploring and creating are the best way for children to learn and grow, especially when developing their fine motor skills. Here are a few activities you can do with your child, the chances are that some of these are already a firm favourite.
Play-dough and putty
Encourage your child to squeeze, stretch, pinch and roll “snakes” or “worms” with the play dough. You can even have your child try to cut the play-dough with scissors.
Different types of painting can help strengthen your child’s hand-eye coordination and manual dexterity. Finger painting gives kids an opportunity to use their hands — and to get messy. Painting with a brush helps kids learn to hold a brush and gain greater control using it as a tool.
Playing with sponges
A new, clean sponge, some water and two bowls are all you need for another activity to build fine motor skills. Fill a bowl with water and leave the other empty. Your child can soak the sponge in the water and then squeeze out the sponge into the other bowl. It’s a simple game that can strengthen hands and forearms.
Divide a handful of uncooked rice into two plastic bowls and have an empty bowl handy. Give your child small plastic tweezers and grab a pair for yourself. Then, have a race to see who can be the first to transfer their rice into the empty bowl using the tweezers. If your child is struggling because the grains of rice are too small, you may want to begin with pasta or beads.
Gardening and planting
Digging and gardening may seem like activities more suited to building gross motor skills, but there are parts of it that require smaller muscle control, too. For instance, transferring seedlings into a garden requires hand-eye coordination skills to safely carry the smaller plant to the new hole. Your child will also need to be able to grasp a trowel to dig and to use a pincer grasp when picking up seeds to plant.
Toys (types) to improve fine motor skills
Any toy that encourages your child to exercise the small muscles in their hands and wrists is great for the development of fine motor skills. Here is a list of some of the more common toys to help get you started.
- Threading beads
- Lacing cards
- Wooden blocks
- Peg boards
- Playdough and tools
- Drawing and painting tools
Importance of fine motor skills development
Why are fine motor skills important? Little hands need to develop dexterity and strength. Parents can help this process by encouraging children to play, explore and interact with a variety of items or even allowing your child to perform age appropriate tasks in the kitchen. These types of “play” activities and manipulation skills will help prepare your child to hold and use a crayon, which is the first step in learning to colour, draw and ultimately, write. The development of these skills also helps a child to complete other important tasks such as feeding themselves and putting on their own clothes.
The better your child’s fine motor skills are, the easier they’ll find tasks like drawing and the faster they’ll be able to do them. Appropriately developed gross motor skills can help your child build their fine motor skills.