Why is fine motor skill development important? Little hands need to develop control and strength over the years. We, as parents or caregivers, can help this process by encouraging children to play, explore and interact with all sorts of items used in daily life.
Over time these types of “play” activities and manipulation skills will help prepare a child to hold and use a crayon which will lead to colouring, drawing and ultimately writing.
Some children need a little extra help with developing these skills, which is where a Paediatric Occupational Therapist (OT) fits in. Paediatric OT’s can identify tasks your child needs extra attention and practice by using OT assessments and observation. They are then able to develop family goals followed by interventions that target the child’s difficulties. Depending on the complexity, interventions can be in the form of; practising tasks that build on control, strength and coordination and/or prescription of OT equipment.
There are also activities that children can be doing at home to help develop their hand control and strength. It could be as simple as fastening clothes, pegging clothes on the washing line, using safety scissors and moulding playdough. Even doing safe tasks in the kitchen are great ways to help build fine motor skills. Below are some activities from infancy to 3 years of age, that you could help with your child’s fine motor development:
Pushing up, shifting from side to side and swiping at objects in front of them are ways children build on shoulder, neck, back and core muscles. These are essential for sitting. Please only encourage when the baby is awake and being supervised.
Feel free to let your little one finger feed as much as possible. Picking up food with their fingers develops a pincer grasp (thumb and first finger together), which is needed when they want to hold a crayon in future.
Play with Small Items
Encourage your toddler to stack blocks, string beads and use puzzles because it is an opportunity for both their hands to work together. The more they practice, the smoother the movements become, which will help with their participation in games and sports in future. Please supervise when your child is playing with beads as they may be a choking hazard.
Play with Play Dough
One of the common ways to build hand strength is to play with play dough, play foam or a similar nontoxic and squishy substance. Think resistance!
Be sure to encourage finger painting, either with paint, pudding or shaving cream. Practicing this helps the brain tell apart between moving one-finger vs the whole hand. This is important for smooth finger movements needed for writing in future.
Simple puzzles can help children learn about moving objects in their hand through turning, placing and flipping pieces. This also trains the brain, as mentioned above.
Any activity that encourages your child to coordinate both hands together is an excellent tool for development. An example is rolling a ball of playdough into a long “snake” and then cutting it with a plastic knife.
Buttoning and Tying
Practice buttoning, unbuttoning, zippering, hooking fasteners or tying laces helps to build strength and control.
Practice with Clothes Pins
Have your child hang pictures, colouring pages or clothes on a clothesline with spring-loaded clothes pins as this activity builds on their pincer grip strength. As mentioned above, pincer grip strength helps with holding a crayon in future.
Your child might show interest in colouring around 2.5-3 years of age, be sure to provide small crayons that fit their little hands. This practice will lead to their ability to write in future.