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Using a fork to eat, closing a sweatshirt, and turning a doorknob are all things most people do without thinking about it, but children spend their early years developing and refining these abilities. They are known as fine motor skills.
“Fine motor skills refers to the ability to use the small muscles of the hands with adequate strength, dexterity and coordination to grip and manipulate objects,” wrote Dana Sciullo, a licensed pediatric occupational therapist in Pennsylvania, in an e- mail.
These skills work hand in hand with visuomotor skills to form what we call hand-eye coordination. According to Sciullo, it’s the ability of a child’s eyes to tell their hands and fingers where to go and when. These skills actually begin in early childhood, starting with reflexes. Later, fine motor skills not only help children succeed in school, but it is also important in everyday life.
“If children are to be able to write or calculate math, they must be able to use fine motor skills,” wrote Chandra Foote, dean of the College of Education at Niagara University in New York City, in a th -mail.
When and how fine motor skills develop
Watching a baby use their uncoordinated arms and legs can be adorable, but those early reflexes are a fine motor practice they’ll eventually develop. For example, a baby will automatically close his fist around an adult’s finger, or open his hand and spread his fingers apart when he searches for something.
“From toddler to preschool age involves increasing coordination of fine motor movements,” says Stephanie Reich, professor of education at the University of California at Irvine. “A 2 year old can pull a doorknob to open a door, but not yet turn a doorknob. These fine motor skills will improve and become more complex as the child ages.
For example, a 4 year old can hold a pencil with his fist and use his whole hand to draw. Five-year-olds can start using a pencil between their index and middle fingers and thumb, just as adults do. The elementary school years and beyond see more advanced fine motor skills, such as when children learn to tie shoes between the ages of 5 and 6, says Sciullo. Writing begins to improve around the age of 6.
“At this age, most children develop a dominant hand to use for writing as well as a pencil grip on a tripod,” says Sciullo. By the age of 7, most letters and numbers are readable and pencil control is improved. However, Sciullo also points out that each child develops at their own pace. If a single step, like using cooking utensils, is delayed, this isn’t necessarily a cause for concern.
Common problems that impact fine motor skills
There are certain factors that can affect how quickly children develop fine motor skills. According to Sciullo, these include premature births, bodily injuries, and certain illnesses. Medical conditions such as cerebral palsy and muscular dystrophy can cause delays. The same goes for certain types of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.
“Recent scientific studies suggest that attention is linked to the development of fine motor skills and, therefore, children with certain ADHD subtypes are likely to experience fine motor delays as well,” says Sciullo.
In other cases, the problems are more social than developmental, Foote says. “One of the things that’s quite interesting now is that kids were learning to tie their shoes in kindergarten. This is one of the things teachers wanted before they started school, but now they have velcro.
The opportunity to learn these skills may be missed if parents and teachers do not encourage children to practice tying their shoes.
How teachers can help
When working on fine motor skills in the classroom, Foote says, short lessons offer the most learning benefits, especially when it comes to practicing writing. There are several other strategies teachers can use when working with children to improve their fine motor skills:
Practicing skills like lacing, threading beads on a string, and tying shoes are all great ways to improve fine motor skills. Use small blocks to teach math early on, says Foote, and help kids count as they move the blocks. Other toys in the classroom may include shape sorters, Duplos or Large Legos, puzzles, and musical instruments. Anything that encourages students to use their hands and fingers in class can help develop these skills.
If a child has trouble printing and writing letters, it can help to have a printed alphabet taped to the top of the desk. “One part is typing, and the other part is seeing it and copying the letters,” Foote says. “Anything that poses a challenge is right next to the student and they can see it. “
Use the correct form
Some young children insist on using the method that makes them comfortable and may not progress to finer motor skills. “Children who write by typing with the whole hand are limited in their control of the writing tool,” explains Reich. “You have to teach them to hold the pencil with their fingers, guiding the movement.”
Think about technology
Experts are divided on the value of tablet games for young children. “While some find the benefits lacking, others suggest positive aspects in apps that target specific motor skills, such as letter writing, tracing and sorting apps,” Reich said. Using computers – and especially a keyboard and mouse – can help young children develop fine motor skills.
What parents can do at home
Sciullo recommends that parents provide “at least 15 to 30 minutes of fine motor activity each day to aid skill development.” She suggests the following activities that parents can use with children from early childhood through elementary school.
- With the child on their stomach, encourage them to lift their head to interact with you. This builds their strength and basic control, which is necessary for the development of fine motor skills on the road.
- Place a toy in each hand for your child to bump into. Have babies practice transferring objects from one hand to the other.
- Have your child feed on Cheerios or flattened peas. This helps develop the pincer grip that occurs around nine months, according to the Orange County Children’s Hospital.
- Practice drawing simple shapes and objects.
- Peel off and apply stickers.
- Use tweezers to pick up and sort the marshmallows into containers.
- Play with Legos, especially smaller, more specialized pieces.
- Use colored paper and a hole punch to make confetti. It helps to develop the strength of the hand.
- Paint using a cotton swab instead of a brush. It requires more effort from the muscles of the fingers.
Using technology at home
Console video games, as well as computers and handhelds, may be more beneficial than letting a child play on a tablet, some experts say. Not only do they help with fine motor skills, but they also help children develop hand-eye coordination, according to Reich.
While hand-eye coordination is a perk of video games, Sciullo cautions that finger movements using a controller can start to become automatic for kids. Video games, she says, are best in moderation because they can encourage children to stay inactive for long periods of time.
Fine motor skills are an important stage in development. If a child seems to have trouble handling small objects, experts recommend speaking to a pediatrician for an assessment.