Pencil control, fine motor skills, precise positioning. These skills that children develop from as young as 10 months have become something of a focus in the Early Years setting at Primary school. The ability to grip, manoeuvre and place seem like skills that children will gain instinctively but without opportunities they can become overlooked. Studies are inconclusive as to when the ‘dominant hand’ develops. Some believe it is established between the ages of 2 and 4, some believe it is around 18 months and others believe it begins establishing in the uterus! What this tell me is that each child is different. I am a leftie (proud of it), as is my mother and maternal grandmother. My husband is a righty (common as muck). Our daughter swapped hands quite frequently up until around 18 months when she decided on her right (boo). However, giving children opportunities to develop their own preferred hand might enable them to come to the conclusion quicker.
Fine motor skills are the tools that get children using their hands as effectively as possible. They build up the muscles in the hand to be able to manipulate instruments smoothly. Being able to pick up small objects with two finger grips, threading beads using two hands in coordination and precisely fit shapes into holes are just some of the activities that schools provide to build up fine motor skills.
The implications of underdeveloped fine motor skills can effect children’s ability to undertake certain tasks – one in particular is writing and controlling their pencil. Another is dressing themselves, buttons, zips, tying their shoes. As with all things to do with child development, each child hits their milestones at different times. There are charts and information that lays out when children should be doing certain things but you know your child and you know their development story. Around 6 – 12 months is when children usually begin to start their journey to dexterity and fine motor. Being able to grasp and move objects from one hand to the other is a good starting point and giving them a variety of objects to manipulate will support this. Their journey will then progress to building towers from blocks, pushing shapes through holes and moving beads along a string. Encourage them to complete these tasks independently so you can gain an insight into their ability.
Why is fine motor important?
- It allows children to complete tasks independently and with success
- It ensures that they have the best foundations for writing and using hand held tools
- Their self-esteem will grow and they will feel like they have achieved – less frustration!
When we hit nursery age children usually have had experience with threading beads, snipping with scissors (not necessarily neatly) and copying basic shapes with a tripod pencil grip. If you notice your child struggles with these things… don’t panic. Usually their behaviours might suggest they need support with their fine motor, things like refusing to complete certain tasks, not dress themselves or requesting things be done for them. There are thousands of activities designed to support fine motor skills that you can set up at home with things you may already have.
I have given you my top 5 activities to set up for children. These can be tailored to focus around their own individual interest. For example, if they are dino mad, include some of their figurines within the play or stickers with their favourite characters. This way it will keep their attention for longer. All fun. All engaging. And all will help build those muscles. I guarantee that they will start off frustrated but by the end they will see their own improvements and want to play more! Happy playing!
1. Cutting Along lines – simple draw different line styles along coloured card or paper and get your child to cut as close to the line as possible.
2. PomPom Picker – Buy colourful pompoms from most craft shops or use cotton wool ball. Trap them in a box with elastic bands and get the children to use plastic tweezers (or salad tongs) to pull them out.
3. Colander Creations – Another simple one! Use your kitchen colander and some pipe cleaners to practice threading with precision.
4. Weaving – This takes a bit more set up. Stick 4 lollysticks together to create a square; wind string around to create a loom; take different ribbons or strings and get your child to practice weaving in and out.
5. Number Thread – Stick rolls of paper (kitchen roll works well) and number each one. Get your child to thread in order.