Occupational Therapist – building fine motor skills

By August 22, 2018 May 14th, 2023 Occupational Therapy
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What are fine motor skills?

Fine motor skills are the co-ordinated movements of the small muscle in the fingers, hands and arms. Fine motor skills also include hand-eye coordination. This is when you use your vision to help you control the movements that you are making with these small muscles. The development of fine motor skills is a specialty area for an Occupational Therapist.

Fine motor skills are crucial for toddlers and pre-schoolers. It leads to  many other skills. Firstly, fine motor skills allow children to play with toys. Playing with toys leads to language development, cognitive development and social skills. Secondly, fine motor skills allow children to do things such as feed themselves and get dressed. Last but not least, when children start school, they need to write, cut and type. As every Occupational Therapist knows, good fine motor skills enable a child to play, make friends and learn.

Children who have difficulty with fine motor activities experience frustration and poor self-esteem. They are aware of the fact that their friends are better at cutting, drawing and writing. Children know that they can’t do it as well as their friends. They know they take longer to finish these tasks. Many children with fine motor issues avoid these tasks because they get frustrated. Their hands fatigue, and they are aware of the sense of failure. With intervention from an Occupational Therapist, fine motor skills can improve. Then children find it easier to do what their peers are doing.

Let’s look at fine motor skills more detail.

How do fine motor skills develop?

Birth to 18 months

Young babies begin to learn that their hands, fingers, feet and toes are attached to their bodies. At about five months of age they can reach out and hold objects for short periods of time. Between six to nine months, babies can hold and shake objects such as rattles and small toys. At around nine months they can move objects from one hand to the other. They also start to develop a pincer grip which is the ability to pick up little objects using their thumb and first finger. By 18 months toddlers can do simple peg puzzles, put rings on a ring stacker and turn pages in a book.

18 months to 3 years

From 18 months to three years, toddlers continue to refine their fine motor skills. They use these skills to explore their world and independently do some things. Toddlers begin to feed themselves using utensils. Its at this time that they learn to stack blocks and put connecting toys together. They start to pick up crayons and scribble.

3 years to 5 years

Between the ages of three and five years, children spend a lot of time doing things that require more complex fime motor skils. They become more proficient at controlling the small muscles of their fingers, hands and arms. As a result they start to do things like open and close containers, use a zipper and cut.movements, and start to master tasks such as doing up buttons and using scissors. This leads to the ability to colour and draw, copy shapes., and even copy letters and numbers.

School age children

When children start school, they continue to refine their fine motor skills. They now spend increasingly more time colouring, drawing, cutting and writing. Their fine motor skills become automatic. As these activities become easier the children find them easier to do. They enjoy them more and spend more time doing then because their hands get less fatigued.

What does the Occupational Therapist recommend for fine motor skills?

Our Occupational Therapists recommend the following activities:

  • Give babies toys that have a variety of textures. Some toys can be smooth. Others can be rough, and some may be bumpy. This develops the ability to feel things with the fingers and hands, so they can start to move things in your hands. It also develops the ability to understand how much force is needed to use fingers, hands and arms.
  • Give toddlers lots of different sensory play. Use water, sand, playdough, shaving cream and rice tubs. It helps children learn to hold different materials. They can also start to learn to use fingers in isolation which they need to do more complex fine motor skills. It’s fun to rip paper at this age.
  • Toddlers can start to imitate the actions in songs such as ’twinkle, twinkle little star’ and ‘wind the bobbin up’.
  • Posting things is the next thing to practice. They can put shapes into shapes sorters and coins into coin toys. Learning to dig and scoop in sand and water works all the muscles too. Use tongs, spoons, spatulas, cups, cookie cutters and baking trays in sandpits.
  • As their pincer grip develops they can use a peg board and build towers of pegs. It is also time to start using glue.
  • Put smaller objects in the water play. You can even drop pebbles, leaves and sticks in the water.
  • Children can move on and start using pegs. They can pull pegs off the edge of an ice-cream container. Eventually then put pegs on, but this is harder.
  • Use crayons with thick paper. Chunky crayons are easier than pencils. Thick paper gives more feedback to little fingers and hands. Blackboards are a great idea at this stage.
  • Play dough can be used with children of all ages. Toddlers can poke and pull playdough. Then they can learn to roll it with a roller. After that, shape cutters can be used. Preschoolers can make playdough into different shapes. They can use more complex playdough tools, and they can even cut playdough with a plastic knife or scissors. It is a lot of fun to hide small objects in playdough that children have to uncover.
  • From the age of three years, children can start using dulpo, magnetic toys and mobile.

What if my child is having difficulty with fine motor activities.

If your child if having difficulty with fine motor activities, then an Occupational Therapist can help. The Occupational Therapist can do an assessment to understand why your child is having trouble with these skills. They then develop a program to addresses the issues. When you work with an Occupational Therapist, they give you lots of fun activities to follow up at home. It can take time to improve fine motor skills. However, with  Occupational Therapy it will be easier for your child to do these things.

If you have concerns about your child’s fine motor skills, then call our Occupational Therapists at our Bondi Junction clinic. They will answer any questions and book your child in for an assessment. We can be contacted on (02) 80657837 or you can email us.