Methods for enhancing fine motor skills
Fine motor skill development in children is incredibly important for their long-term development, overall health, and enjoyment of life. The development of fine motor skills can be different for each individual to some degree but there are milestones that each person should achieve within a given timeframe.
When developmental milestones for fine motor skills are not achieved, parents and healthcare providers can work together to help children reach those developmental goals. Below are some things to watch for and methods for enhancing fine motor skills in children.
What are fine motor skills?
Fine motor skills is the coordination of small muscle movements that develop in various parts of the body. This includes the fingers, hands, wrists, and eyes.
Humans rely on fine motor skills to perform key tasks in life from eating to playing sports and completing tasks at work as adults. The development of fine motor skills is complex and is required for people to achieve the manual dexterity humans are capable of and require for daily living. In addition to muscle development, fine motor skills also require the development of the nervous system.
Some examples of fine motor skills include the following:
- Drawing, Coloring and Writing
- Buttoning a Shirt or Tying Shoes
- Waving and Clapping Hands
- Using Utensils for Eating
- Grooming and Bathing Such as Brushing Teeth
- Turning Pages in a Book
When do fine motor skills develop?
Though children develop fine motor skills at their own pace, there are milestones to watch for at each age. For example, babies start to grasp objects with their hands, but not always with their thumbs between five and six months of age, according to PregnancyBirth&Baby.org
Between six and 12 months, babies typically begin playing with hand-held toys. By 18 months, most toddlers are attempting more complex skills such as independently drinking from a cup, trying to dress or undress themselves, or using crayons or pencils.
By age two, the fine motor skills of toddlers become even more complex. They may begin to scribble, draw, and even attempt to write. It’s between age two and three that children begin to turn doorknobs and screw jar lids. By the time a child is five, they may begin to show a preference for one hand over the other.
Trouble with fine motor skills
People of all ages may experience trouble with fine motor skills. When young children experience issues with fine motor skills, a common cause is developmental coordination disorder or DCD, according to Understood.org. Another name for DCD is dyspraxia.
Fine motor skills are important for the development of all types of muscles such as the proximal muscles. For example, children who skip the crawling stage often have decreased shoulder strength which can impact fine motor skills later on. Some common issues children may have with fine motor skills include the use of the fingers, self-feeding, and speech.
Fingers and fine motor skills
Some children may experience difficulty with finger isolation, which is important for the development of grasp patterns, according to the NHS of Greater Glasgow and Clyde (NHSGGC). Finger isolation is the “ability to move certain fingers apart from the rest of the hand and other fingers.”
The NHSGGC reports that when children begin using their hands, all of the fingers move together at the same time. With proper growth and development, children achieve the ability to move their individual fingers. Such movement helps with fastening and unfastening buttons, holding and controlling a pencil, cutting with scissors, typing on a keyboard, tying shoe laces, and so much more.
When it comes to early fine motor skills, self-feeding is a developmental milestone that can be a predictor of future motor development. When a child fails to begin self-feeding, it can be a marker for later childhood motor impairment, according to a study published by the National Library of Medicine.
Self-feeding typically begins between nine and 12 months of age. It is defined as “using cutlery to eat independently and includes various fine motor skills such as hand-eye coordination, movement of the arms and fingers, and chewing and swallowing.
If a child has difficulty chewing foods, swallowing, or refuses to eat foods of certain textures or consistencies, it may be time for a feeding evaluation. This may also be the case if a child struggles with controlling and coordinating moving food around the mouth, is fussy or irritable with feeding, or frequently coughs when eating.
When children experience such issues at mealtime and have been evaluated, they may be referred to an occupational therapist to undergo feeding therapy. Feeding therapy may include oral skills, food orientation, and improvement of the overall eating experience. The Children’s Hospital of California(CHOC) reports that some children lack the fine motor skills required to “eat and/or drink due to developmental delays, illness, allergies, and a variety of other factors.”
“Therapists work with patients to teach them to control and coordinate chewing, sipping, sucking, swallowing, and the like while eating and drinking,” according to the CHOC. “Therapists also work with patients to increase each child’s oral strength and range of motion.”
Therapists can also help children broaden the amount of food they eat as well as the types of food they eat. This will allow them to eat a more balanced diet and enjoy a variety of foods. As they improve their self-feeding skills, children can learn to enjoy mealtime and create positive associations with food.
Speech also requires fine motor skills. It requires the coordination of movement of facial muscles, lips, and the tongue. When children experience issues with fine motor skills in these areas, it can negatively impact their ability to speak and reach speech milestones.
Speech therapists will work with patients to learn to the fine motor skills needed to improve speech. They work to help children learn to move and control their facial muscles, lips, and tongue. This allows them to make the sounds needed to form the words and sounds that make up speech.
Activities and toys for developing fine motor skills
There are many activities parents and childcare providers can assist in developing small motor skills in children. Below are a few ideas.
- Stickers and Painter’s Tape- Use these stickers to allow a child to tell a story on a page. Use painter’s tape to stick items to a refrigerator. These activities require the child to grasp and peel and are great for thumb opposition.
- Play Doh and Putty- Playing with Play Doh or silly putty improves a child’s strength and dexterity as they smash it in their palms, roll it on a mat to make balls or snakes, and cut it into pieces.
- Mr. or Mrs. Potato Head- These toys require small motor skills for inserting the arms, legs, faces, and other accessories. It builds hand strength and can even be incorporated into speech therapy sessions as children talk about what they are doing.
- Legos- Building with Legos helps to build the strength and dexterity for pre-writing skills. To encourage children to practice articulation in speech therapy, allow them to “earn” Legos to build with.
- Lacing Cards and Beads- These toys encourage children to grasp and improve hand-eye coordination. This also requires bilateral hand coordination (use of both hands).
- Scissors- Using scissors requires bilateral hand coordination. Simply print out zig zag lines, squares, triangles, or circles, or draw them, and have the child cut along the lines.