Fine Motor Skills
What are fine motor skills?
Fine motor development refers to the movements that require precise, coordinated actions of small muscles. Fine motor skills usually involve the synchronisation of hands and fingers to complete tasks. There are many overlaps with visual motor control that refers to the ability to coordinate visual information with motor output for visually guided movements (hand-eye coordination).
Doing up buttons, opening lunch boxes, using pencils and scissors are all considered fine motor tasks, as they all require an adequate level of fine motor skill.
Why are fine motor skills important?
Adequate fine motor skills are required for many of the tasks that children need to want to do throughout childhood, including self-care tasks (such as fastening clothes, opening lunch boxes, cleaning teeth, using cutlery) and school based tasks (such as pencil skills for drawing, writing and colouring, as well as cutting and pasting). Children who have difficulty with fine motor tasks may experience frustration and poor self-esteem because they are unable to perform these everyday tasks as competently as their peers.
From a very early age, fine motor skills facilitate interactions with the world we live in and therefore create opportunities for learning. As children develop, fine motor skills then assist the development of independence in self-care activities as well as development of early literacy and numeracy. This continues as they move through school, as well as increasing their participation in a range of more challenging and complex activities including playing musical instruments, computer based activities and perusing hobbies such as building / making things.
How can I tell if my child has problems with fine motor skills?
As occupational therapists, we took for difficulties with task performance first and foremost. A child who is experiencing difficulty with any task in their day that is developmentally appropriate, may be experiencing difficulty with their fine motor skills.
If a child is having difficulties with fine motor skills, you might notice your child:
- Having difficulty with dressing, including buttons and shoelaces
- Getting tired really easily when writing or drawing or showing disinterest in these activities
- Struggling with holding or controlling the pencil to write or draw
- Having difficulty with writing sentences that can be read easily
- Using a limited repertoire of toys and games
- Being fearful or reluctant to try new activities, particularly table top tasks
- Having difficulty with using a computer or mouse
- Having difficultly with handling and turning a key to unlock or open a door
- Requiring assistance to open or close containers or bottles.
Did you know?
Handwriting is one of the most complex fine motor tasks. Therefore, a child struggling with handwriting is one of the more obvious signs of fine motor difficulties. Parents often ask us, “My child can play happily with Lego! Why does he/she struggle with handwriting?” Interestingly, while playing with Lego requires some fine motor ability, a child can easily recruit larger muscles of the arms and shoulders to put together and pull apart pieces of Lego to construct their creations! So, an ability to build amazing Lego creations does not necessarily mean your child does not struggle with other fine motor activities.
What activities can help improve fine motor skills?
The most evidence based way to improve your child’s ability to perform one of the tasks they are struggling with, is to encourage them to practice that task, with your careful guidance! Start by grading the task to a ‘just right challenge’, for example using a thicker pencil with grooves for your child’s fingers, or using two different coloured laces when learning to tie their shoes. Help your child to see where they are going wrong and provide them with specific cues and prompts to be more successful.
However, more general activities that require precise and coordinated fine motor control can be great for general development, especially when replacing activities such as iPads that don’t require much motor skill! Try:
- Games with tongs or pegs: collecting cotton wool or pomp oms (see our blog here)
- Threading and lacing activities
- Play dough or putty activities
- Playing with button snakes (blog on this to come!)
- Craft activities including making things with paper, egg cartons and pipe cleaners
- Posting small coins into a piggy bank
- Mr Yum activities (check our our blog on Mr Yum)
- Handwriting warm up activities (handout available for download here)
Does my child need Occupational Therapy?
Take a look at our checklist. If your child struggles with one or two of these skills, it is likely they would benefit from assistance from an occupational therapist.
Why should I seek therapy if I notice that my child has difficulty with fine motor skills?
Therapeutic intervention for a child who has difficulties with fine motor skills is important to ensure they improve their ability with the fine motor tasks that are required for school readiness and academic performance, as well as age-appropriate self-care tasks.
If left untreated, children who have difficulties with fine motor skills might also have difficulties with meeting academic criteria as well as poor self-esteem when comparing themselves against peers.
For more information, call our clinic on 9555 9776 to speak with one of our friendly occupational therapists.