Your child has so many things to look forward to as he grows. Because we are excited to see him succeed, it can be tempting to become impatient with the process and want him to develop almost overnight all of the skills that we know are so necessary for his success. As adults, we tend to forget about the little things, the fundamental building blocks that children need in order to support basic life skills. One very crucial building block is the development of fine motor skills.
What are "Fine Motor Skills?"
The term references skills that involve the use of small muscles in the body. Generally, the set of skills we as teachers pay most attention to are skills achieved with the hands. Children need to develop dexterity and strength in their hands and fingers in order to support tasks such as fastening buttons, tying shoes, using a fork and knife, grasping small items, and (perhaps most pertinent to their academic learning) writing.
Writing requires a great deal of coordination from the small muscles in the hands, hand-eye coordination, as well as a base level of strength that children must develop. Before the children can even begin to practice tasks such as proper pencil grasping or handwriting, they must first have the manual dexterity to support these tasks.
A second prerequisite to writing is the adoption of a dominant hand. As children engage with the activities that will help them to develop fine motor skills, they also begin to understand which hand they favor. Encouraging your child to develop these skills is a crucial first step towards the monumental accomplishment of learning to write.
How Can I Encourage Fine Motor Skill Development?
Luckily enough, there are a plethora of fun activities that you can do with your child at home (and that your child's teacher will be scaffolding into classroom work), activities that will help your child improve his/her fine motor skills. Daily practice yields the best results on this front, so make certain to include one or more of these activities on your child's day-to-day docket.
Clothespins are great strength conditioning tools, and any activity that encourages children to open/close a clothespin will also help with fine motor skill development. Children can practice pinning a doll's clothing to a clothesline, pinning lines of clothespins to cardboard boxes, or create all types of crafts and games with clothespins.
One fun clothespin game is "The Early Bird Gets the Worm." Cut up small lengths of yarn in a fun color and place them on a piece of construction paper on the floor. Provide a cup or basket for the children to deposit the worms into. Children play the part of the bird and catch the worms using the clothespin as their beaks.
The process of stringing involves manual dexterity and finger control. Set your child up with a length of yarn and give him/her pony beads, uncooked ziti, or one-inch sections of drinking straws to string. As a bonus, a pretty necklace or bracelet has now been made!
Child-safe tweezers are wonderful tools for developing both hand strength and muscle control. Encourage your child to pick up pom poms, small marshmallows, seeds, buttons, or pony beads with tweezers. You can include an optional sorting activity: present your child with a pile of different coloredbeads, buttons, or different seeds and several bowls to sort them into. The only rule is that the pile may only be touched with the tweezers.
Picking up and turning over small, thin objects requires manual control and dexterity. Try playing with cards, coins, buttons, or pieces of cardboard spread on the floor. Cut squares of paper and encourage your child to draw different designs on each side. Then practice flipping them over to reveal the facing design.
Play dough encourages both strength and dexterity! Simply mushing it around in the hands is enough to promote strength development, but you can also encourage your child to pick up and push small objects into the play dough surface: golf tees, river rocks, googley eyes, or shells. Use your creativity to create a custom play dough play set for your child.
Physical skills do not develop instantly, but rather require constant effort to foster. With patience and diligence, you can set your child up for success with his/her fine motor skills which, in turn, will create the foundation required for so many important life skills.