From pinching and grasping to writing and buttoning clothes, fine motor skills offer the necessary tools for your child to be more independent with everyday tasks. Although you may have been told that your children need to develop fine motor skills so that they can do things like eat independently out of their baby snack cups and eventually learn to dress themselves, you may be left wondering how best to encourage these skills.
You can find a lot of gimmicks and products that promise to enhance your children’s fine motor skills, but you don’t have to look far to find plenty of things around the house to help encourage these essential skills. This post walks you through the importance of fine motor skills and gives you plenty of ideas to further strengthen these tiny muscles that set your children up for success.
Why Does My Child Need Fine Motor Skills?
When it comes to early childhood development, nothing gets discussed more at playdates and mommy groups than fine motor skills. Everyone wants to encourage these skills, but while you may know they’re important, you may not understand just how foundational these skills are for your children.
Your children use gross motor skills when moving larger muscle groups like their arms and legs. You see these skills exhibited when your children do things like, roll over, crawl and walk. However, your children also have smaller muscle groups in their hands, wrists and fingers that create finer, more detailed movement, which experts refer to as fine motor skills.
These smaller muscle groups need to be strengthened just like any other muscle to encourage these fine motor skills, the kinds of skills that allow your children to grasp food out of their baby snack cup or button or zip a jacket. These small muscle groups lay the foundation for independence with everyday tasks, as well as success at school.
Consider some of the ways children use fine motor skills at varying ages:
- Moves toys from one hand to the other: Early in the baby stages, you may not even realize that your baby moving a toy from one hand to the other is a big deal, but it’s an early fine motor skill developmental milestone. You’ll notice children raking and grabbing toys, holding them in their fists at this stage.
- Grasping snacks in the pincer grip: When your children begin grasping small objects like pieces of cereal between their thumb and index finger, they are practicing their pincer grip. They may include their middle finger or even grasp it in their fists when their muscles get tired—or they really like their snack—but eventually, you’ll see them snack and play with that pincer grip. In fact, your doctor may even ask you around the nine-month well-child care visit if your child is using that grip.
- Fitting shapes into a sorter: Shape sorters have been around for decades. Give them to your children too early, and you’ll frustrate them, but when you see them take a shape and fine-tune the placement to fit into the right spot, you know that they are further strengthening those fine motor skills.
- Zipping or buttoning: Even finer, more exact movements are needed to get dressed. From zipping to buttoning, these skills require strength from those small muscle groups to be accomplished successfully.
- Writing: Remember that pincer grip? That’s the same grip children use in school to write properly. What started as a baby milestone builds into an important skill for life.
Fine motor skills are truly foundational skills. Once your children begin performing these movements, they require strength so that those fine movements that allowed them to grab a treat from their baby snack cup can now be used to write their names at school.
Fun Activities for Fine Motor Skills
It may be easy to get trapped into thinking your children aren’t developing these skills quickly enough, and you might run out and buy the newest gadget to give them a head start. Don’t worry, however. You can find plenty of items around the house to offer an array of fun activities to build your children’s fine motor skills. Just check with your doctor to be sure which activities are appropriate for each child’s unique development.
If you want to develop fine motor skills outside, you can:
- Play in the mud or sand. While living near a beach or in an area that gets a lot of rain may make this easier, all you need is a shallow pan or tub with a little sand or mud in it. Depending on your children’s ages, you can let them explore the medium with their little fingers, give them toys for scooping and pouring, or ask them to trace letters with their fingers.
- Play in the leaves. If you live in an area that experiences autumn with leaves scattered on the ground, you can have your littlest one simply collect them and exercise those delicate pincer grips, or take out some chenille sticks or yarn and have your older children thread them into a garland to take inside.
- Play in the water. While you can do this in the tub indoors, nothing makes a hot day more bearable than playing in the water outside. From splashing to scooping to pouring, you can use all kinds of items from around the house in your water play.
Even if you’re stuck indoors, you can find plenty of things to enhance fine motor skills:
- Playing with toys: Nothing fancy here—just the basic baby toys you already have, like building blocks, stackers and shape sorters offer a great way to build fine motor skills.
- Using household items: Depending on your children’s ages, you can have them thread pasta through a colander, make macaroni necklaces, finger paint, scribble, and play with clay.
- Eating: Meal and snack times offer excellent moments in everyday life for the strengthening of fine motor skills.
You don’t have to be home to reinforce those fine motor skills. From stroller and car seat toys to baby snack cups, you can find age-appropriate ways to build those skills while on the road. When it comes to no-mess snacking, silicone cups, like the baby snack cup from WonderDreamsWorld are soft enough to let those little fingers in, but strong enough to trap stray snacks from falling out. Its handles also offer children a great way to grip and snack independently and give you a spot to tether the cup to a car seat or stroller.
From dressing themselves and eating independently to writing and creating art in school, fine motor muscle groups are the foundation for these essential skills. No matter whether you explore the outdoors, eat on the road or play inside, you can find countless simple ways to encourage and strengthen these all-important muscles to give your children the best chance at success.