Fine motor coordination is the capacity of the small muscles of the upper body to allow for controlled movements of the fingers and hands. They include the ability to hold a writing utensil, eat with a fork, open containers, and fasten clothing. These small movements correspond with larger muscles such as the shoulder girdle, back, and core to provide stability for gross motor functioning and with the eyes for hand-eye coordination. Weaknesses in fine motor skills are often the result of poor hand strength and poor motor coordination.
Does My Child Need to Improve His/Her Fine Motor Skills?
For a comprehensive list of fine motor development red flags, please view my previous post, Fine Motor Skills: Is your Child Lagging Behind?
Why Should I Seek Therapy if I Notice Difficulties with Fine Motor Skills?
- To improve ability in and persistence with fine motor tasks
- Increase school readiness
- To help your child complete self-care tasks, such as buttons and zippers
- To avoid disengagement in an academic environment due to difficulties completing fine motor activities (e.g. writing, cutting, drawing)
- To help maintain and develop a positive sense of well-being
- To ensure that your child doesn’t fall behind their peers in handwriting development
A Word About the Tripod Grasp
The “tripod grasp” is the way we occupational therapists describe what the fingers look like as they hold a pencil or other small utensil. Like a triangle, or a tripod, the thumb, index, and middle fingers work together to maneuver the pencil, clothespin, fork, etc. Mastering this grasp indicates a mature manner of utilizing those small hand muscles. Most kiddos have learned to utilize this grasp by the age of 5 or 6.
Fine Motor Toolkit
As a pediatric occupational therapist, parents continuously request ideas for easy activities to do at
home. Recently, one of my families requested ideas for the car ride to school. Introducing….the Mighty Hands kit! This bin is a fine motor development dream (from an occupational therapy standpoint), AND it’s fun! Tailor it to what you’ve got on hand, show your child how to use the items inside, place it in your home (or even your car!), and let your kiddo go to town. You can thank me later.
What’s Inside the Mighty Hands Kit and What Do I Have My Child Do with This Stuff?
Theraputty: Hide small beads in the putty to use pincer grasp to dig them out, play tug-of-war, pull and twist, but don’t use the table to help! Medium-soft (red) and Medium (green) grade.
Clothing fasteners: Practice fastening clothing items such as buttons, zippers and laces for increased finger dexterity and independence!
Screw-top jars: Screw-top and push-top jars filled with small items such as coins, marbles, pom poms, cotton balls, small toys such as these dinosaurs. I hold all of my Mighty Hands items in jars or Tupperware for additional fine motor practice!
Play-Doh: Roll, pound, squeeze, press, pinch!
Locks puzzle: Practice opening various types of locks – a great way to strengthen fingers!
Spoons: Practice scooping small items and transferring them from jar to jar.
Playing cards: Kept in a sandwich-sized plastic bag. Practice shuffling cards and deal them one by one.
Kiddie Tweezers: Use thumb and first two fingers to squeeze objects and transfer them to a container. Great for hand strength and coordination!
Magnetic Mini Games: Great for pincer grasp (the use of the thumb and forefinger)!
Cardstock: Kept in freezer-sized plastic bag. Tear paper into small pieces (one hand turning away from body, one hand turning toward body) using tripod grasp with thumbs at the top of the paper.
Q-Tips: Hold the Q-tip in the middle, dip either end into two different colors of paint, rotate Q-tip in hand to create fun art – make sure to use dominant hand only!
Screwdriver With Nuts & Bolts: Hold the screwdriver with dominant hand and the set with the non-dominant hand to practice turning nuts and bolts.
Bank: Encourage your child to hold three coins in his/her hand with the ring and pinky fingers while pushing a coin through the slot one at a time without dropping the other coins.
Craft/Jewelry Sorting Case: Label individual segments 1-15. Have your child hold a few small pom poms in his/her hand (again, using the ring and pinky fingers) while placing them into the container one by one by moving a single pom pom up to the fingertips each time. Or, use the tweezers to sort!
Scissors: Draw straight lines across 4×6” scraps of paper and cut in half.
Clothespins: Clothespins can be used for a series of great activities that facilitate the tripod grasp, strength, and coordination. Be sure to use the pads of the thumb and forefinger.
Tennis Ball Container & Pipe Cleaners: Punch holes in the top of the container and use the dominant hand to push the pipe cleaners into the hole while stabilizing the container with the non-dominant hand.
Tennis ball With Horizontal Slit: Squeeze ball open with one hand (tennis ball resting in palm) while removing small objects from its “mouth” with the other hand.
Pegboard: Stretch bands across pegs to increase hand strength and coordination.
Squigz: Adhere these toys to a wall, door, or refrigerator and pull off! It’s trickier than one might think!
Additional Activities for Around the House
Chores can be a great way to practice fine motor development – and help out mom and dad around the house! Have your child help you put away silverware, turn the door handle and lock the door when leaving the house, unscrew jars and containers while cleaning out the refrigerator, pull weeds, pour laundry detergent, refill soap bottles (be sure to have your child open and close the lid!), and close Ziploc bags.
How Will These Activities Help?
All of the items in my toolkit are designed to strengthen small hand & forearm muscles as well as improve in-hand manipulation, finger isolation and dexterity, and fine motor coordination. As your child’s fine motor skills improve, you will begin to notice an improvement in his/her larger (gross motor) movement, trunk stability, and hand-eye coordination as well. It’s a win-win-win! As always, be sure to consult with an occupational therapist to ensure proper follow-through of fine motor activities and for a more tailored plan.