What are fine motor skills and why are they essential for preschoolers?
Fine motor skills refer to the coordination of small muscles in the hands, wrists, and fingers. You are using your fine motor muscles when you hold a pencil to write, bead a necklace, cut with scissors, button your shirt, etc.
To accomplish essential everyday activities, children need to build their fine motor skills, especially as they enter kindergarten and are expected to write with a pencil. Weak muscle tone in the hands would lead to very wobbly and lightly written letters, and more importantly a child who feels like they are "not good" at writing.
But there are plenty of fun and easy ways to build up little hand muscles that you can do with your little one with things you already have around the house.
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Fine Motor Skills by Age
When kids are 3-4 years old, fine motor skills they should be able to do include:
draw lines using crayons
complete simple puzzles
bead a necklace (using large beads)
Once kids hit 5-6 years old, they'll be expected to reach these fine motor milestones:
write letters and words with a pencil
draw simple shapes and people
cut with safety scissors
squeeze glue onto small pieces and affix them onto a desired location
fasten buttons/zip zippers
tie their shoes (6 years old)
Don't worry if your child doesn't reach a milestone at the exact age! Everyone is different. The more you practice fine motor skills with your child, the easier these milestones will be to reach, and it's never TOO late.
For a wider age range of fine motor skills milestones you can check out understood.org.
Our Favorite Activities to Build Fine Motor Skills:
1. Letter Rescue with Tongs:
Create a "web" of blue tape around a baking dish before placing in magnetic letters to be rescued.
Give your child some kitchen tongs to rescue each letter as you call it out by name or sound.
To build phonemic awareness you can also call out instructions like "Find the letter that is the ending sound of pig," or "Rescue the letter that begins dog."
By pressing and releasing the tongs to capture letters, your child is increasing the coordination of their fingers, much in the same motion they'd need to operate scissors. Since the tongs release on their own, kids only need to focus on the closing motion.
There are scissors that have a spring, much like the tongs, to make cutting easier for those who have not yet have the fine motor skills to open the scissors on their own.
2. Fine Motor Play-Doh Bead Hunt
Our very clever school OT (occupational therapist) made up this favorite game for our transitional kindergarten centers. Hide beads in the dough and have kids dig for treasure.
At home I make each little play-dough ball into an egg and the kids love "cracking" each egg and digging out the beads.
By picking out the beads kids are working on their pincer grasp and manipulating the play-dough builds all the muscles in the fingers, hands, and wrist making this activity a DOUBLE fine motor skills builder.
3. Beading to build fine motor skills
Sometimes little beads that come in typical jewelry making kits have frustratingly tiny holes that can lead to meltdowns. To avoid that frustration, I recommend using large beads that will in turn, have a larger hole like these. For kids who have a bit more precision, pony beads come in all different colors are quite simple to lace.
My second secret for teaching your child how to bead without frustration is to use pipe cleaners instead of string. The point on the end is much easier to put through the hole, leading to more success.
Don't forget to wrap one end around the bead so that the beads don't slip off while your child is creating their masterpiece.
4 & 5. Build fine motor skills by peeling stickers
Fact: every child loves stickers. Giving a child a pad of stickers and free reign over how to use those stickers is akin to when you stop the ice cream truck. GLORIOUS.
I love grabbing whatever stickers I can find in the Target dollar section, but hiding in their office section are one of my most favorite, inexpensive stickers: dot stickers!
Dot stickers are an excellent teaching tool, but they're also a way to enhance your child's fine motor abilities. Peeling the stickers off a page requires kids to pinch and pull the sticker, using tiny finger muscles.
If this is really taxing for your child, I recommend removing the sticker backing, usually the white outline around the stickers, to make it easier to peel them.
In fine motor math, teaching your phone number, kids practice one to one correspondence, placing the correct number of stickers on each number in your phone number.
In our fine motor sight word skills activity, kids match the sight words on the stickers with the sight words written on the page. Both activities take less than 2 minutes to set up and kids are practicing academic skills all while building fine motor skills.
6. Cheerios on the Spaghetti Fine Motor Activity
This one is just like it sounds. Grab a ball of playdoh and stick some dry spaghetti in, then use that pincer grasp to place cheerios or even penne pasta onto the spaghetti.
I use this activity in a pinch to keep my kiddos busy at the table when I'm putting the final touches on dinner.
7. Scoop and Transfer Activities:
Any activity where your child is using precise movements to scoop and transfer items is a big fine motor skills builder. I love to use sensory bins to do this, and you don't need fancy tools to create a sensory bins. I just give my kids spatulas, spoons, and other kitchen tools and bam, it's a hit.
8. Hole Punching
Do you have a one hole punch handy? It's an extremely enticing tool to children and it works a whole other group of hand muscles that tongs and scissors don't really get to. Kids can hole -punch anything that is thin enough. My favorite is leaves!
Here's an example from the OT Toolbox on how to make fine motor lanterns with a hole punch!
9. Measuring Line Up Activity
Part of measuring accurately is through lining up items end to end, requiring precise movements of the wrist and hands, much like in stacking blocks. Both stacking blocks and lining up items just so, end to end are great fine motor skill activities for kids ages 2-6.
To learn more about how to teach your child how to measure while incorporating fine motor movements check out my post on Measuring Me.
10. Fine Motor Skills Math with Tape Shapes
This great quiet time activity engages preschoolers in fine motor play with plenty of organic opportunities to learn about shapes. Check out Tape Shapes.
11. Flower Threading Fine Motor Play
Flowers or leaves, this is a great fine motor activity. Draw a picture on some card stock or cardboard and poke some holes through to have your little one decorate with any stem.
As they place the flower or leaf in the holes, they'll work on placing the small stem with accuracy and that elusive pincer grip using the thumb and pointer finger. The product is always beautiful!
12. Practicing How to Tie Shoes in 5 easy steps
This method takes out that tricky bunny loop and replaces it with a cute as a button Cheerio. Check it out.
Recommended by OT's (occupational therapists) because it doesn't require as much double handed dexterity as more "traditional" shoe tying methods.
Fine motor skills development without thinking of activities:
If you are looking for ways to teach your 4-5 year old from home with fun, hands-on activities that are fun for kids and easy to do, look no further than The Fun Club.
As an educator and mom, I know how little time we have to create elaborate activities and I also know that kids don't like worksheets (at least mine don't), so I crafted this program especially for kids 4-5 years old.
The progress is astounding, and the crazy part, is they only do one 20 minute activity a day. It's packed with fine motor skills, reading, writing, math, and social emotional fun that kids LOVE.
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