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Why fine motor skills are vital for learning to write

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Fine motor skills are essential for handwriting, as they allow children to make small movements using the muscles in their hands. Educators can support preschoolers in learning to write by including a wide range of fine motor experiences throughout their program.

We spoke with paediatric occupational therapist Margaret Olney to find out how early educators can best support preschoolers in their journey to school readiness with fine motor skills activities.

“We all use fine motor skills in day-to-day activities, and they are vital in learning to write,” says Olney. “Holding and controlling the movement of a pencil or other writing utensil involves using a range of skills simultaneously. These skills support the development of the pincer grasp, which is important not just for handwriting but for any activity using our hands.”

Olney lists the fine motor skills children need for writing as:

  • In-hand manipulation, the ability to execute small movements within the hand.
  • Effective finger isolation, the ability to isolate the thumb, index and middle fingers.
  • Well-developed palmar arches that allow the palm to curl, which in turn strengthens movement in the fingers.
  • Wrist stability.
  • Strength and endurance in the smaller muscles of the hand.

Children learn in stages

When children are rushed into structured writing activities, like tracing the letters of their name, they can miss out on foundation skills.

Olney says, “if fine motor skills aren’t developed before learning to write, children may find the task more difficult, which increases the odds of them avoiding or resisting writing.

“Focusing on the development of fine motor skills before introducing more complex writing skills such as letter recognition and letter formation builds a strong foundation for future learning.”

Everyday opportunities for fine motor development

When talking with families about school readiness, educators can explain how children gain important skills through play and daily routines.

Olney identifies everyday experiences that develop fine motor skills: turning taps on and off, helping with buttons and zips, removing lids from containers, and assisting with meal preparation and cooking. Encourage children to mix, pour and serve food with tongs.

“It’s important to incorporate practising fine motor skills into everyday activities as well as dedicated activities across the day. Repetition builds muscle memory and supports the development of new skills,” says Olney.

She recommends these planned activities for fine motor development: finger painting, rolling and squeezing play dough, drawing, and playing with tweezers.

Here are four more fine motor activities that are fun and educational for preschoolers:

1. Screwdrivers and hammers

Real tools are excellent for strengthening small hand muscles. Preschoolers can screw screws into egg cartons, hammer nails into tree stumps, or even start their own woodwork project.

2. Lego

Lego is commonly recognised as a STEM activity, but it also supports language and literacy. Lego develops an awareness of geometric shapes, which is needed for handwriting. As a social activity, Lego provokes descriptive conversations. And the tiny blocks are excellent for developing fine motor skills.

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LEGO SYMMETRY: This was such a hit with Emilia and she continued to play independently after too. I completed after the butterfly and then explained the concept of symmetry to her. She then had to copy it on the other side of the board. She used so many skills to complete it including counting and position. She was so proud of herself and then continued to play after by making different symmetrical patterns. #shallweplaytoday #legofun #legoplay #legolearning #homeschool #homeschoolfun #homeschooling #learnthroughplay #playathome #playislearning #finemotorplay #finemotorskills #diytoys #mathsideas #mathsisfun #playislearningplayisenough #playactivities #entertainthekids #playideas #playtray #earlyyears #earlyyearsideas #eyfs #eyfsideas #allaboutearlyyears #invitationtoplay #mummyblogger #mummybloggeruk

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3. Cutting grass with scissors

Children don’t need to sit indoors at a table for fine motor activities. Preschoolers can use scissors outdoors, to cut grass or other suitable plants. Cutting different materials teaches children about texture. Which is easier to cut – grass or paper?

4. Marble drop game

Develop fine motor skills by making your own marble drop game, using a plastic bottle, skewers and marbles. Children take turns to pull skewers through holes made in the bottle, which causes marbles to crash to the bottom. View instructions here.

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DIY kerplunk style marble drop game.⁣⁣ ⁣⁣ Theo is obsessed with marbles, I knew he’d love the game ‘Kerplunk’ so I decided to make one so we could give it a go.⁣⁣ ⁣⁣ I made this out of a juice bottle but any plastic bottle will do. You’ll need skewers and marbles too.⁣⁣ ⁣⁣ 🗡 I poked holes in the top part of the bottle to poke skewers through…a drill would be the easiest way to do this but I used a sharp knife. I used a craft knife to cut out some openings on the bottom so that the marbles come out when they have fallen through. ⁣⁣ ⁣⁣ ✂️ I cut the sharp ends off of the skewers and coloured the ends then poked them through the holes in the bottle. (💡Tip-use nail clippers to easily cut the ends off the skewers!)⁣⁣ ⁣⁣ 💜 Then we put marbles in through the top and we were ready to play!⁣⁣ ⁣⁣ 🎲 I added a coloured dice to the game, we rolled the dice and then whatever colour we rolled was the colour skewer we needed to pull out. ⁣⁣ ⁣⁣ We took turns until all the marbles fell through and the boys spent the next 20minutes rolling them all Over the table…sooo loud but they had so much fun! ⁣⁣ ⁣⁣ ✍🏻 Fine motor skills⁣⁣ 🧏🏽‍♂️ Hand eye coordination⁣⁣ 🌀 Cause and effect⁣⁣ 🗣 Language development⁣⁣ 🙋🏽 Turn taking⁣⁣ ⁣⁣ ⁣⁣ ⁣⁣ ⁣⁣ #homeschoolkindergarten #toddlerplayideas #thelittleslearn #imaginativeplay #imaginationiseverything #reggioemilliainspired #montessoritoddler #homeschoolpreschool⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣ #kidslovelylearning #playbasedlearning #eyfs #toddlerplayideas #reggioemiliaapproach #thingstodowithkids #playandlearn #finemotorplay #handsonlearning ⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣ #thelittleslearn #easydiy #educationalplay #followthechild #childledplay #kindergarten #earlylearning #handsonlearning #funlearning #childled #learningathome ⁣⁣⁣#recycleandplay #recycledplastic #recycledcrafts

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