Fine motor movements involve the coordination of small muscles in the fingers and hands. Development of fine motor skills enables your child to perform essential self-care tasks and prepares them for independent learning at school. Try these activities with your baby and toddler to help develop their fine motor skills.
Whether you are getting down on the floor on a play mat, or sitting up at the table, there are plenty of ways to develop fine motor skills in babies and toddlers!
It sounds simple, and perhaps makes you cringe with the thought of the mess your child will make, but it is an easy way to help your child develop their fine motor skills. Not only is it free, but it’s easily incorporated into your daily routine. It helps assist the progress of moving from having a fist grip to a four-finger grip to a pincer grip. Although it can be messy, allowing your child to pick up their finger foods or hold a spoon requires a lot of hand-eye coordination in order for the food to make it to the final destination – their mouth.
When the desire for independence kicks in and the morning arguments start because you chose an outfit for the day and your child wants to choose their own, you can embrace it as an opportunity for them to grow their fine motor skills.
Dressing oneself requires fine motor skills, so the more you encourage your little ones to do this independently, the better it is for them. Putting on socks requires a solid pincer grip and strength, pulling up pants and putting on shirts requires hand-eye coordination, balance and hand stability. Allowing your child to dress themselves frequently results in repetition and we know that practice makes perfect.
Large threading – puzzles or beads
Threading is a great activity for kids and can be suited for older and younger children. For younger children, you can use large beads, cut straws, or wood images with holes for threading; these are ability-level appropriate and have a low choking hazard to ensure safety.
An activity like threading is great for improving fine motor to strengthen hand muscles in order to prepare your child for movements like writing. Not only does it develop fine motor skills, but it is also a great quiet time and calming down activity. You could even turn their threadings into necklaces, giving the child a creation of the activity that they completed.
Art – drawing and gluing
It’s no secret that children love art, preferably the type that has no boundaries and allows them to get their hands dirty. Activities that involve drawing and gluing are great at improving fine motor skills as they help strengthen the child’s hand dominance; given they have a dominant hand.
It’s important to strengthen the dominant hand in order to maximise precision for when they become older. While improving one hand, it also helps the use of both as while one hand is doing the drawing, the other hand needs to work to steady the paper while they draw. This also improves object manipulation in order to move the tools with control in order to draw in a particular way.
Manipulating malleable materials is another fun activity that increases a child’s fine motor skills. Provide the playdough or clay, and ensureto watch closely to make sure they don’t eat any of it. Direct your child to mould it in the air rather than on a flat surface. This increases the chance of use of single fingers at a time and maximises the increase of hand and finger strength. To make it even more fun, you could work together to make your own playdough, making the experience even more rewarding for your little one as they get to play with the product of their hard work.
Blocks are suitable for all ages, whether it’s for babies who are learning to grasp or toddlers who are learning to build. Babies can practice grasping, dropping, throwing, hitting together, picking up or passing blocks, all of which are important for developing those little muscles in the hands. Toddlers can learn to stack, build and even place the blocks inside containers and take them back out.
There are blocks that are all types of sizes and textures on the market, and plenty of budget friendly options available, making them the perfect tool to assist your child’s development and for some fun too. Blocks also stimulate problem solving, coordination and spatial awareness.
Puzzles are a great game for toddlers and have many hidden educational purposes. In order to pick up puzzle pieces, whether it’s the traditional flat pieces or those with the pegs to help younger ones, children are required to use either a pinch or grasping motion. They then need to maintain that grasp, move the pieces around and position them in the desired places. Puzzles also increase cognitive abilities, problem solving skills and hand-eye coordination, making them a great all round developmental improving activity.
Babies and toddlers are drawn to anything that makes a noise, so musical instruments are instantly appealing to the younger mind. While they are noisy and fun, musical instruments are also great at improving fine motor skills when children are required to grip the instrument and retain that hold. It’s further developed when they then want to retain the hold and move the instrument around. Some instruments that are great for working those tiny hand muscles are maracas for whole hand grip, a ukulele for more individualised finger movements, a drum for whole hand movement, a xylophone for grip on the sticks or percussion clappers.
Tongs or tweezers
A pair of common kitchen tongs or large plastic child safe tweezers are great for children of the toddler age. It’s said that a child’s ability to use tools such as tongs or tweezers is a pre-scissor skill, as children have to learn how to use two sides of their hands at the same time in order to operate the tool. You can use tongs to pick up toys like rubber ducks, small toy cars or teddy bears. You could also get your child to pick up large pom poms or ping pong balls with tongs. When the child becomes more advanced or older, you could purchase a pair of large plastic tweezers – these are great for more precise picking up of items like beads, pieces of cereal or marbles. This activity will keep your child concentrating and quiet all whilst improving their fine motor skills.
Sand and water table
Including sensory play is important to give your child exposure to different types of textures, sounds, smells, tastes and looks, and a simple way to do this is through water and sand play. You can purchase budget-friendly water and sand tables that are off the ground and can be filled with all sorts of materials, like the proposed water and sand, dirt, Styrofoam bits or any other materials you deem appropriate.
Through this play children develop their fine motor skills when they are using their hand and eye coordination to scoop up water, grip on to wet and slippery containers, pour water or sand and rummage through the material. It will also develop their maths and science skills when they experience concepts like floating and sinking or wet and dry. These experiences can also provide a great social skill opportunity if playing with other children to learn to share and play together.
This article featured in Issue 35 of our printed magazine, published August 2019.