Everything Fine Motor
"Fine Motor Skills" is a bit of a catchy hot phrase in the early learning area but what exactly is it about and why is there such a focus on it?
The reason fine motor skills is often a big focus is all the things that are bundled in there are very important pre writing skills. In order to give the kids the best chance once they start school of having a successful introduction to writing they need to have had the foundations covered at home or at pre-school. Lots of kids will gravitate towards writing earlier than school and that's okay but its essential to work on the skills that are underlying that.So what skills are we talking about specifically?
- Hand and finger strength: An ability to exert force against something using the hands and fingers that allows the necessary muscle power for controlled movement of the pencil.
- Crossing the mid-line: The ability for hands and arms to cross the imaginary line running from a person’s nose to pelvis that divides the body into left and right sides.
- Hand eye coordination: The ability to process information received from the eyes to control, guide and direct the hands in the performance of a task such as handwriting.
- Bilateral integration: Using two hands together with one hand leading (e.g. holding and moving the pencil with the dominant hand while the other hand helps by holding the writing paper).
- Upper body strength: The strength and stability provided by the shoulder to allow controlled hand movement for good pencil control.
- Object manipulation: The ability to skilfully manipulate tools (including holding and moving pencils and scissors) and controlled use of everyday tools (such as a toothbrush, hairbrush, cutlery).
- Visual perception: The brain’s ability to interpret and make sense of visual images seen by the eyes, such as letters and numbers.
- Hand division: Using just the thumb, index and middle finger for manipulation, leaving the fourth and little finger tucked into the palm stabilizing the other fingers but not participating.
So let's break those down a little and give you some practical tips and ideas.
Hand and Finger Strength.
The number one tool for developing good hand and finger strength is.......playdough!! Anything like putty is good too, and of course real dough. So kneading bread dough has the same effect as squeezing and squashing playdough. Other mediums that are also good are our Cotton Sand and Sensory Sand. So encourage lots of kneading, squishing and squeezing of dough and other 'thick' things. Heading to the beach and scooping and playing in the sand is another way to do this outside the home and at home encourage them to open jars and packets, lunchboxes and do things like wiping up spills with a sponge.
Crossing the Midline
This one is needed for children to be able to cross the page of paper once writing. Kids who struggle might prefer to write all one one side of the paper or move the paper to their dominant side to compensate. Crossing the midline is something that once you look for it, a lot of kids do it naturally, but if your child doesn't here are a few tips and things to work on. Try setting up a colour matching activity for them on the floor with all the coloured objects on one side and the destination on the other and challenge them to do it one handed by sitting on their opposite hand. They will be forced to reach across their body! Swap hands and do it again and keep it light and fun. Floor puzzles are good for this as the kids tend to use their whole body to reach across for pieces that are scattered on the floor. A couple of extra easy things include sticking stickers on one arm of your child and asking them to remove them with the other hand, getting them to have a go tracing each of their hands on paper and in the bath give them a cup and ask them to pour water over their opposite hands/arm.
Hand Eye Coordination
This one is super important for school and life and is an easy one to work on. It's the ability to get our hands to do something based on visual input we see, so threading and lacing are a big one here, where kids have to line up threads with a shapes hole. This skill is what allows us to have accuracy when we write. In addition to lacing and threading, things like getting them to paint a shape you have traced on a paper, pushing or posting objects into a box with a hole and using a shape sorter are great ones. Another favourite is jigsaw puzzles, so getting the pieces into the right spot!
Sounds fancy but its just really kids using both hands for a common goal. So one hand holding the paper while they draw, or one hand holding a thread while they put shapes on it. Dress and eating are ways this is done naturally at home! Other things you can focus on if its something you see your child not doing are taking on and off dolls clothes, using scissors to cut paper or dough, using Duplo or Lego to build tall towers or structures where they have to use one hand to steady it whilst they put on extra blocks, and also gluing and sticking things.
Upper Body Strength
This is something that most kids develop through play. Swimming, swinging, monkey bars, hand stands, dancing and hugging! If you think your child is lacking in these areas compared to same aged peers make a focus of being active and engage in physical activities and see if you get improvement.
This is what allows kids to hold and move a pencil in their hand. Before that its how they hold and use their cutlery, toothbrush, hairbrush or tongs. There are some great toys and activities for this like Kerplunk, Beehives by Plan Toys and balancing and stacking animals. At home things like tongs for serving meals or using for colour sorting is great. Another one that is great to focus on is scissor skills. Grab some dough scissors early on and kid sized scissors once they're ready for paper.
This allows us to make sense of what we see visually. It's easy to do with shape and colour association early on and moving on to matching activities like snap games and our rainbow pebbles. Keep it light and fun, flash cards are great but there are more fun ways kids can practice these skills. Check out our educational range or games for inspiration based on your child's interests.
This is where kids can manipulate fingers individually and move from a fist grasp to a finger grasp. This ones a tricky one and usually comes on naturally a bit later in most kids. Fun ways to practice is putting on and using finger puppets, playing hand games like Incy Wincy Spider and also counting songs where they raise individual fingers. Finger Painting will also help if you encourage them to make finger prints with each finger!
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