Motor skills are broken down into two categories — gross and fine. Gross motor skills are big muscle movements like walking, standing, running and swimming. Fine motor skills are more complex, involving a coordinated effort between your muscles and brain.
Fine motor skills are what allow children to complete most school-related tasks, including:
- holding a pencil
- drawing pictures
- stacking blocks
- stringing beads
- using scissors
Between 18 months and two years old, children should be able to eat with a utensil and hold a thick crayon. At three or four, they can put together simple puzzles and draw shapes like circles and squares. Many kids learn to play a musical instrument by five or six and can copy shapes and letters. Two years later, they can tie their shoes and use rulers without frustration.
While these milestones are important, kids are unique and develop at different rates. Ongoing trouble with motor skills, though, could be a sign of DCD (developmental coordination disorder), also called dyspraxia.
The Importance of Fine Motor Skills
In the U.S., between 33 and 66% of daily activities in kindergarten schools involve fine motor skills. By practicing with your kids — whether through drawing, cutting shapes, forming letters with play-doh, etc. — you can enable them to gain strength and control over their movements.
Kids who don’t have strong motor cognition can get easily frustrated when doing tasks with their peers. These frustrations can lead to anxiety, stress and low self-esteem. By helping your child develop, you’re giving them the power to excel.
How to Help Your Kids Develop Fine Motor Skills
Now that you know what fine motor skills are and why they’re so important, it’s time to learn new ways you can help your child improve them.
1. Play board games
The pincher grasp, a significant development in motor skills, is when you hold an item between your index finger and thumb. Kids typically acquire this skill by the age of 9 or 10 months. Encourage them to practice by playing board games like Operation, Let’s Go Fishin’, Battleship and more. If old enough, you can break out a jigsaw puzzle.
2. Try finger painting
Be sure to encourage all types of finger painting, whether it be with real paint, whipped cream or pudding. As children get older, they can use thin tools like paintbrushes to develop more control over strokes and designs. You can also encourage your kids to engage in two-handed tasks, such as holding a palette of paints in one hand while painting a canvas with the other.
3. Make a meal
If they’re old enough, invite your kids in the kitchen to help prepare and serve a meal. Have them cut vegetables with a plastic knife, which encourages the use of bi-lateral skills. You can also ask them to spoon butter onto the potatoes or serve the broccoli. If your children are too young to handle dinnertime, have them “prepare” pretend food made with play-doh.
4. Invest in a playset
Playsets allow children to climb and strengthen their muscles. The more they play, the more coordination and agility they develop. On a playset, children can learn to respond to several signals at once. Take a swing, for example, where you must use multiple muscles to move. Your kids will also get to practice simple tasks like climbing platforms and maneuvering through monkey bars.
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5. Host an art contest
Coloring, finger painting, and shaping play-doh are all great ways to develop fine motor skills. Encourage your kids to create by hosting an impromptu art contest. Who can make the silliest creation? Who can finish in the least amount of time? Try to make the event exciting and fun instead of competitive. The goal is to have a good time, which allows everyone to win.
6. Learn to fold origami
Origami is a fun, creative activity that people of all ages can enjoy. Plus, cutting paper is great for developing fine motor skills because it helps build control. For the youngsters, start with paper snowflakes. You can also try making paper chains with a stapler. For older kids, try origami without the scissors. Some easy projects include a folded dog, fish or cat. If you want to challenge yourself, even more, try your hand at the infamous crane.
7. Build a scarecrow
Buttoning and tying are both critical skills to develop. We all button our shirts and pants and tie our shoelaces. To make the activity more fun, ask your kids if they want to build a scarecrow. Start by picking out the perfect outfit — perhaps a straw hat, plaid shirt, old blue jeans, and sneakers? Don’t forget to give your new creation a name.
8. Plan a rice race
This game is fun for kids and adults alike. To start, you’ll need an empty container. You’ll also need a bowl for each player. Fill each bowl will an equal amount of rice, measuring with a quarter-cup. Each player gets a pair of tweezers and a bowl of rice. The object of the game is to move the rice grain-by-grain into the empty container. The first person to empty their bowl wins.
9. Head to the garden
If the temperature is right, why not head outside to spend some quality time in the garden? Kids can establish fine motor skills by transferring seedlings into the ground. If they dig a hole with a trowel, they will work on their grasp. They use the pincer grip when dropping a bulb into a newly-dug hole. Plus, they can learn the names of the different plants and insects.
10. Create a collage
Cutting paper, as discussed above with origami, is an excellent way to develop control. Put this skill to the test — along with others — by getting your child involved in a collage project. Allow your kids to cut out whatever they desire and paste it into an entirely new creation using magazines, newspapers, old photos and more. Not only will kids get to develop fine motor cognition further, but they can also practice creative and artistic abilities.
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The bottom line
As your child grows, fine motor skills develop in a series of milestones. From drawing rudimentary shapes to tying laces and copying the alphabet, you can witness your child grow and learn. If you want to help your kids with their fine motor skills, follow the 10 tips above.
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Jennifer Landis, writer and founder of Mindfulness Mama, has been writing for the last decade and holds a BA in journalism. She is an avid goal setter and achiever.
Jennifer’s proudest accomplishments include two all-natural births, running a marathon, successfully making a croquembouche, and running two half marathons.
In addition to The Doctor Weighs In, her writing has appeared in VeryWell Family, Fortune, Scary Mommy, The Huffington Post, and Women’s Running. Tweet her your favorite health tips @JenniferELandis.