Motor development refers to a child’s muscles, bones, and ability to move and manipulate things accordingly. Fine motor skill development is essential for kids to perform daily activities.
A recent study by the European Commission states that about 80% of school-going children only practice physical activity or a sport in school. However, many students still retain poor or inefficient motor skills, as in Developmental Coordination Disorder (DCD).
This information is even more alarming given the known relationship between motor skills and cognitive development in developing children.
In typically developing children, sensorimotor abilities have been linked to many critical cognitive functions for school achievements, such as executive functions, mathematical abilities, time perception, auditory processing, visual reading processing, or socio-emotional skills.
Fine motor skills, in particular, are essential for cognitive learning. Thus, as a parent, it’s vital to ensure your toddler’s optimum development of fine motor skills.
Motor skills can be broadly classified into two categories – Gross Motor Skills and Fine Motor Skills.
What are fine motor skills?
It’s incredible to see how quickly your child grows. One day you see them flailing their arms and legs around, and the next day, they’re sitting up on their own and starting to grab things.
That’s when you know it’s time to start baby-proofing the house!
Skills that enable the movement of small muscles around a child’s hands, wrists, and shoulders are generally categorized as fine motor skills. These skills help move the smaller muscles of a child’s body. They can prove helpful in everyday activities like holding a pencil, grabbing a toy, holding things to eat or drink, fastening and unbuttoning things, and other personal grooming activities.
Fine motor skills involve the development of motor control, core stability, precision, agility, strength, and coordination in a child. While it seems insignificant, developing fine motor skills is essential for toddlers.
Because without these skills, your child won’t be able to perform everyday tasks like eating with a fork or brushing teeth!
Are fine motor skills different from gross motor skills?
It is generally noticed that fine motor skills develop after a child first evolves gross motor skills, which use the large muscles in a child’s body to strengthen, coordinate and react accordingly to situations. For example, cycling is a gross motor skill activity that helps a child. Holding the handles of a cycle, tightening or loosening the grip on them accordingly, is how the child develops fine motor skills.
Children usually take more time to develop fine motor skills than gross motor skills. It is a gradual process, and the timelines vary from child to child.
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Different kinds of fine motor skills a child can develop between 6 to 24 months.
There are a plethora of festive fine motor activities that you can do along with your kid to ensure healthy development. Some are given below-
1. Bilateral hand coordination
This includes using both hands together or using one as a stabilizer and the other as a manipulator.
A lack of bilateral hand coordination in your child might lead to –
- Bad grip and dropping things frequently.
- Using only the primary hand for all activities, or
- Constantly switching hands during specific tasks can seem clumsy.
Children start coordinating their hands right from the time they turn four months old, and by the time they turn 12 – 15 months, they generally become good at grasping things and using both hands for simple tasks.
Simple activities like reaching out to things, grabbing them, holding a toy in one hand, and using the other to do some activity with it help develop your child’s bilateral hand coordination skills.
One of the first things a child learns to do with hands is to try and grasp or grab things around. It starts with small toys and goes on till they hold something for support to stand or walk around. This skill develops gradually as the child ages from 6 to 30 months.
There are various kinds of grasping skills that children can experiment with and grow.
When a child uses the hand and closes the fist entirely around an object to hold it, it is called a gross grasp. Activities like holding the handle of a basket, a suitcase, a pencil, or a crayon to take it close to their mouth help develop the gross grasp of your child.
Children develop a pincer grasp between 6 and 12 months old, using their thumb and index finger to pick up small objects. This refers to using a pad-to-pad grasp of the hands. This is a significant milestone in child development, marking the beginning of independent hand use. Around this time, they also start using their hands together to perform tasks, such as banging two blocks together or clapping.
A tripod grasp is when your child uses the thumb to pad against the index and middle finger to get hold of an object—frequently seen during 15 to 18 months when the child tries to hold pencils, crayons, or pens in a position to scribble or write using them. Brushing their teeth can be an excellent exercise to improve the tripod grasp of a child.
With this grasp, the child’s entire hand comes in contact with the object. It is similar to the gross grip but needs more strength to flex the fingers around the curved objects. Holding blocks of different shapes and sizes, small cricket or tennis bats help develop a child’s cylindrical grasp.
A spherical grasp is where the child needs to curve the hand to hold a round or sphere-shaped object. The intrinsic muscles of the child play an essential role in developing this kind of grasp. Children start grasping round objects from the time they turn nine months old. Holding round-shaped toys and soft balls help develop this grasp in children.
3. Open thumb web space
This space forms when the tip of the thumb is opposed against the tip of the index finger to pick something tiny like a thread, buttons, pulses to play with, and zippers. When both fingers touch, it marks a symbol, an ‘OK’ sign. Children start doing this from 4 months onwards and gradually improve as they age. Putting a thread or shoelace within different holes of a paper or a basket can help open up the thumb web space.
4. Hand-eye coordination
This visual motor skill translates a visual image, or a visible plan, into an accurate motor action. These skills impact your child’s dexterity in functional tasks like writing, reading using a scissor, placing a cup on a table, throwing a ball, and many other such activities. Indulging your child in activities like putting a basket in front of them and asking them to pick balls or toys of a particular category and throw them into the basket will tremendously help improve your child’s hand-eye coordination.
5. Palmar arch
Most children are born with the ability to grasp items with their hands. They curl their palms inward to grab things. This is known as the palmar arch reflex. As they grow, they develop a purposeful movement of their hands. This process starts around four months old when they can reach out and grab things on purpose. Strengthening the palmar arch helps children write, unbutton, and tightly grip things.
6. Intrinsic muscle strength
Intrinsic muscles are muscles that define the arches of the hands, bending the knuckles of the hand and pressing the thumb against the other fingers to hold something. Activities involving picking up things, gripping, and holding them can help develop the intrinsic muscle strength of your child.
7. Finger isolation
The ability to isolate and use one finger at a time while doing functional tasks is called finger isolation. Pointing things with the index finger, counting the fingers of your hand, and wiggling each of the fingers separately are some activities that can develop finger isolation. You can sing rhymes like “Where is thumbkin?” or “Daddy Finger… where are you?” with your child to practice finger isolation.
Activities that can help improve the fine motor skills of your child.
Besides your child’s daily activities regularly, many activities can help them gradually develop and enhance their fine motor skills.
Here are some of them that you can try with your children –
1) Upbeat children’s songs can significantly enhance your kid’s memory, imagination power, and gross motor and fine motor skills; here are some that you can try-
- Finger Family – Kids will use their fingers to show each member of the Finger Family as they sing along to the song. This is ideal for developing fine motor skills, which help with writing, cutting, and tying shoelaces, for example.
- Five Little Ducks – This is a fingerplay rhyme, and children will be keen to hold up their fingers to show the number of ducks. This is a great way to exercise the finger muscles. Developing fine motor skills benefits children when writing, cutting, and using cutlery.
- The Wheels On The Bus – There are many actions in the video that your child will have fun copying. These will help develop fine and gross motor skills, assisting with writing, cutting, balance, walking, and running.
2) Make your child play with sand in the garden or a beach, or put some sand in a bowl and hand it over to your child. Ask them to put their hands in and grab as much sand as possible. In case you wish to make it more playful, you can make use of some sand kits which are available online.
3) Pick a thick piece of paper or cardboard and punch holes. Give them a thread or a shoelace and watch them string it across the holes. To make it more creative, you can cut the paper or cardboard into different shapes, which they can identify quickly.
4) Help them turn the pages of a board book. This is a great way to work on those fine motor skills while doing something you enjoy. Make it into a game by seeing how fast you can go from cover to cover or stopping to point out things along the way.
5) Give your child a small scissor that is safe for them to use, and ask them to make cuts on a piece of paper. Gradually you can create patterns and ask them to cut along the patterns. This works well in strengthening their grip and using both hands simultaneously.
6) Take a bowl and fill it with lentils or pulses of different sizes and colors used in your kitchen. Put small bowls in front of your child and tell them to put similar pulses from the big bowl into the smaller ones. This improves their control and works well on their hand-eye coordination.
7) Let them play with BLOCKS! Building towers and houses out of blocks requires concentration and hand-eye coordination. Not to mention, it’s fulfilling to watch them knock it all down when they’re done.
8) Using play dough or the dough you use in your kitchen can be a great activity to improve the fine motor skills of your child. Ask your child to use the dough to make objects of different shapes and sizes.
9) Place a piece of plastic sheet with circles drawn on it along with a glass of water. Take a clean dropper with your children’s medicines and ask them to fill it with water and drop it inside the circles drawn on the plastic sheet. You can replace water with color water as they grow to improve their color identification ability.
10) Stringing beads is another perfect activity for developing fine motor skills. It requires concentration and patience, two things toddlers are still learning to master. You can purchase a cheap string of beads from your local craft store or some noodles from the kitchen cupboard. Either way, your toddler will have a blast threading the beads onto the string, and you’ll be surprised at how much concentration it takes.
11) Take some used cloth holders or clips and ask your child to clip pieces of old newspapers into them. Because it is a spring-operated clip, the child would need to use some strength, which will only improve their muscle activity.
12) Give your child a bunch of old newspapers or papers that are of no use now and ask them to crumple them to make the smallest round possible. This also needs a lot of muscle strength and can help them enhance their fine motor skills.
13) Sit with your child and watch them play with kitchen tools like spoons, bowls, tumblers, and plates. Along with some crackling noises, it will ensure their core muscle strength in picking and throwing them around.
Final words on developing fine motor skills.
There are numerous instances where the child’s motor skill development is delayed. It can mainly be attributed to prolonged passive screen exposure. If your child is growing up with screens and gadgets around, there are chances the child may turn out to be a technical expert at a very young age but might be challenged in fundamental motor skills.
It is advised that the children have adequate play time to explore their intrinsic skills and strengths before they go ahead and work with extrinsic tools. Ignoring these signs can hinder their overall growth and lead to struggles in their early ages. Suppose you notice your child facing difficulties or signs of motor development delay while doing these activities. In that case, it is always a good idea to consult an Occupational Therapist or a Paediatrician who can suggest some remedies.