Fine motor skills: what they are and how they develop?

What are fine motor skills?

Fine motor skills (also known as fine motor coordination) is the ability to use and control the small muscles in the body found in the hands, wrists, and fingers. It enables children to engage in the different daily tasks that require intricate control and detailed manipulation of movements.

Why are fine motor skills important?

Fine motor skills are crucial for the execution and participation in tasks such as writing, picking up small items, turning pages, buttoning clothes, cutting with a pair of scissors, and dressing independently. If fine motor skills are left underdeveloped, a child might struggle to keep up with the increasingly demanding school tasks and pace. 

Signs of fine motor difficulties:

  • Avoids or is disinterested in activities requiring fine motor skills
  • Prefers “passive” activities (eg watching TV or playing on the iPad)
  • Colours and cuts outside of the lines
  • Difficulty manipulating items in hand
  • Trouble managing fasteners in clothing (buttons, snaps, zippers, laces, etc)
  • Incorrect pencil grip or continually changing pencil grip while writing
  • Untidy handwriting
  • Works slower than peers
  • Messy work

Fine motor skills expectations according to developmental milestones:

0-6 months

  • Closes hand when something in palm – Reflexive grasp (at birth)
  • Voluntary grasp and 2-handed whole hand/palmar grasp (3 months)
  • Controlled reach (6 months)

6-12 months

  • Reaches, grasps, and puts items in mouth
  • Controlled release of objects
  • Pincer grip to pick small things up (thumb and index finger)

1-2 years

  • Builds tower about three blocks high 
  • Scribbles
  • Self feeds with minimal assistance

2-3 years

  • Strings four large beads
  • Uses one hand consistently (develops dominant hand use)
  • Rolls, pounds, squeezes playdough

3-4 years

  • Build tower about nine blocks high
  • Uses non-dominant hand to assist
  • Snips paper using scissors

4-5 years

  • Copies shapes
  • Dominant and non-dominant hands well established
  • Dress/undress independently 

5-6 years

  • Starts to use 3-finger pencil grip
  • Draws basic pictures
  • Pastes and glues

6-7 years

  • Can build Lego independently 
  • Demonstrates controlled pencil movement
  • Writes consistently on lines
  • Forms most letters and numbers correctly

7-8 years

  • Maintains legibility of handwriting for the entirety of a story
  • Develops adequate endurance for writing 

The above-mentioned milestones can be used as a screening measure for your child and what can be expected, or worked towards, in the age group they fall under. It is important to remember that each child develops differently, however, milestones can act as a trendsetter for average developmental skills. 

How do we improve fine motor skills?

Practice makes perfect! In order to produce efficient and controlled fine movements, a child has to develop enough endurance and strength in the small muscles of the hand. Parents and caretakers can try some of the following activities to stimulate fine motor skills development at home; popping bubble wrap, finger painting, building puzzles, helping with hanging up laundry (making use of pegs), building with Lego, cutting and colouring craft activities, and stringing beads.

Alongside this, it is important for a child to have good core stability, as this supports the development of fine motor skills. Gross motor activities can be used to help improve core stability through whole-body movement games.

What do Occupational Therapists do to help develop fine motor skills?

Occupational therapy is a profession where therapists use daily activities, important to the client involved, in order to promote the skills needed to function optimally in all spheres of life. A key area in which Occupational Therapists work is in paediatrics, where affected areas are improved on so as to ensure a productive, independent, and engaged childhood. These areas can include; movement, concentration and attention, self-esteem, fine motor skills, sensory processing, socialization, and more. 

If you think that your child is struggling with their fine motor skills, one of our Occupational Therapists will be able to help. 

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