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.
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.
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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