Fine motor skills are the ability to make movements using the small muscles in our hands and wrists, these control the palm, fingers and thumb.
In nursery, we are often asked by parents, “when will my child start to write?”. The answer to that question is very simple – when they are ready! Some children will learn to write their name when they are 2 or 3 years old (this is rare, don’t feel like your 3 year old should be able to write their name!) while others are still having difficulty when they are in Year 1!
The development of muscles, from the whole arm through to the finger tips, provides children with the strength required to manipulate mark-making equipment. The developed strength and control of the hand and fingers supports the beginnings of a pincer grip, useful for gripping pencils and pens. Fine motor can be developed through experiences involving materials that support building strength in the arms, hands and fingers as well as opportunities to mark-make, draw and write.
Children are developing their fine motor skills from a very early age. Babies start to wriggle their fingers (and toes) from the day they are born (and also before they are born!). As adults, we need to provide resources and activities that will support and encourage these muscles to be used and strengthened. Like any muscle, these small muscles in the hands (and feet) need to be built up to develop strength, agility and dexterity.
When children start to grasp objects with their hands, they will use their whole hand or fist to grab (think of a tiny baby grasping your finger). As the muscles in their fingers develop and strengthen, children start to use a pincer movement with their fingers and then, eventually, they will reduce whole hand movements to 2 fingers to pick items up.
To help to develop your child’s fine motor skills at home, you could try the following activities; drawing, colouring, playing with playdough, baking, brushing their teeth, getting dressed, lift and fit puzzles, shape sorters, chalking, painting and threading; to name just a few!
All of the above activities will help support the development of the muscles in the hands, arms and shoulders, strengthening them for when the child is ready to write. There is no need to rush them, they will show you when they are ready.
Here at The Old Station Nursery Group, we use a variety of ways to promote fine motor skills. In the baby rooms, we encourage the children to feed themselves, wipe their own hands and face after eating (supervised, of course) and we have a variety of shape sorters, lift and fit puzzles on offer. The children also do lots of mark making as well as moving toys from one place to another by carrying them.
When children reach toddler age, they are encouraged to put their own shoes and coat on when they go outside. Again, they have lots of opportunities for mark making, encouraged to turn pages of a book independently, encouraged to take their tops and trousers off when getting ready for an afternoon nap and, as in Babies, they have access to puzzles and shape sorters.
Once children reach Pre-School, we find that they love to be outside even more. As well as all of the inside activities, such as mark making, in the garden, we have lots of loose parts; including decking planks which the children use very imaginatively, moving them around the garden to make obstacle courses, slides, cars. We have giant tyres in the garden which the children have to grab hold of with their hands when climbing on them. We also have opportunities for digging, building blocks for construction and of course the usual mark making opportunities outside.
All of these activities help promote fine motor skills which strengthen a child’s hand and arm muscles. By working together, at home and at nursery, we will prepare your child for a life time of writing.
The image shows the difference between a child’s hand at age 7 (strong, well developed muscles) and the hand of a child between the ages of 3-5 (muscles in the process of developing and becoming stronger).
Jan Thorp, Nursery Manager at The Old Station Nursery in Heyford