Hands are for Playing: Fostering Fine Motor Skills in Young Children

By April Tisher
Fine Motor Skills

When parents think of their children attending preschool or kindergarten, they may imagine their child playing with Play-Doh, building with blocks and making intricate pieces of macaroni art — the normal kid stuff we think of young school children doing. The truth is that this child’s play, while vital to the normal growth and development of children, has become less typical. With academics being pushed as early as preschool, incoming kindergarteners often lack the fine motor skills they need. Fine motor skills involve the use of the small muscles in the hands and are often developed through play. They are necessary for such things as holding a pencil, buttoning pants, using scissors, etc. Sometimes it is up to parents to help boost those fine motor skills at home to achieve success in the classroom.

Why do young children lack fine motor skills?

Talbot Elementary kindergarten teacher Heather Greist said that with the decrease of play in early school years, many children lack the physical strength needed to reach elementary school milestones that were once taken for granted. Activities such as hanging on the monkey bars, stringing beads, playing with clay and even swinging, which can all boost a child’s motor skills, are not as popular today as they once were, having fallen to the wayside in the face of electronics. And while educational apps may help children advance academically, they are replacing activities that strengthen fine motor skills.

Gresit said that kindergarten itself has also changed over the years. While teachers still work hard to incorporate play into teaching the requirements, it is not like it used to be. “The official standards for kindergarteners today don’t focus on fine motor skills,” she said. What kindergartners do in the classroom today looks a lot like what us parents did in first or even second grade. And while 5 year olds can navigate their way around an iPad better than their parents can, they lack the dexterity to legibly write their names with a pencil. They may not be able to open their lunch boxes, color in the lines or cut along a straight line. These are the types of things preschoolers were masters of prior to the age of electronics and the push to teach reading and math at an earlier age. While teachers do their best in the hours they have with their students to work on the continued development of fine motor skills, it is still often up to caregivers to help ensure success.

So what can parents do?

Stacey Cricchio, a local pediatric occupational therapist, said she sees children who lack fine motor skills frequently in her line of work. She recommends making a predictable schedule for your child to give her the tolerance and endurance needed to learn these skills. “In the end, fine motor skill development is built upon daily routines and functional skill practice throughout a student’s developmental years,” said Cricchio. Having your child brush and floss her own teeth, put on her own socks and shoes, and button, snap and zip her clothing helps to work the same muscles she needs to write. “Tying shoes is not only functional, but is a great way to access auditory processing skills, sequencing skills, memory skills, strength and even coordination while developing fine motor skills,” said Cricchio. Other specific tasks you can do to help strengthen little hands include locking and unlocking doors, playing in the sand, doing puzzles, sorting coins, lacing toys, stringing beads, and building with blocks.

As a parent, if you have concerns about your child, talk to her preschool or kindergarten teacher. An evaluation can be done to help assess specific needs and tailor activities specifically to your child.

Fine motor skills educators will look for in kindergartners (ages 5–6)

Adapted from Kid Sense Child Development

  1. Cutting out simple shapes
  2. Writing numbers 1–10 independently
  3. Writing letters independently
  4. Coloring within the lines
  5. Holding a pencil correctly
  6. Cutting and pasting
  7. Drawing basic pictures
  8. Opening bags and other containers
  9. Using a knife and fork
  10. Completing small puzzles


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