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How children develop their fine motor skills

Using a fork to eat, closing a sweatshirt and turning a doorknob are things most people do without…

Using a fork to eat, zipping a sweatshirt, and turning a doorknob are all things most people do without thinking, but children spend their early years developing and refining these skills. They are known as fine motor skills.

“Fine motor skills refer to the ability to use the small muscles of the hands with adequate strength, dexterity, and coordination to grasp and manipulate objects,” wrote Dana Sciullo, a licensed pediatric occupational therapist in Pennsylvania, in an e-mail. mail.

These skills work hand in hand with visuomotor skills to train what we call hand-eye coordination. According to Sciullo, it is the ability of a child’s eyes to tell their hands and fingers where to go and when. These skills actually begin during infancy, beginning with reflexes. Later, fine motor skills not only help children succeed in school, but are important in everyday life.

“If children are to be able to write or calculate math, they must be able to use their fine motor skills,” Chandra Foote, dean of the College of Education at Niagara University in New York, wrote in an e -mail.

When and how fine motor skills develop

Watching a baby use their uncoordinated arms and legs can be adorable, but those first reflexes are practice for the fine motor skills 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 when reaching for something.

“Toddler through the preschool years involves increased coordination of fine motor movement,” says Stephanie Reich, professor of education at the University of California, Irvine. “A 2-year-old can pull down 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 gets older.

[READ: Process Art for Kids: What Parents Should Know.]

For example, a 4-year-old can hold a pencil with his fist and use his whole hand to draw. Five-year-olds can begin to use a pencil between the index, middle and thumb, as adults can. 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, Sciullo says. Handwriting begins to resume around the age of 6.

“At this age, most children develop a dominant hand to use for writing as well as a tripod pencil grip,” says Sciullo. By age 7, most letters and numbers are legible and pencil control is improved. However, Sciullo also points out that each child develops at their own pace. If a single step, such as using kitchen utensils, is delayed, that’s not necessarily a concern.

Common issues that affect fine motor skills

Certain factors can affect how quickly children develop their 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 some 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 issues are more social than developmental, Foote says. “One of the most interesting things now is that kids were learning to tie their shoes in kindergarten. It’s one of the things teachers wanted before they started school, but now they have velcro.

The opportunity to learn these skills can be missed if parents and teachers don’t encourage children to practice tying their shoes.

How teachers can help

When working on fine motor skills in the classroom, Foote says, short lessons provide the most benefit for learning, especially when it comes to handwriting practice. There are several other strategies teachers can use to work with children to improve their fine motor skills:

Game-based learning

Practicing skills such as lacing, stringing beads, and tying shoes are great ways to improve fine motor skills. Use small blocks to teach math early, Foote says, and help kids count as they move the blocks around. 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 the classroom can help develop these skills.

hand-eye coordination

If a child has trouble printing and writing letters, having a printed alphabet taped to the top of the desk can be helpful. “One part is typing, and the other part is seeing it and copying the letters,” Foote explains. “Anything that poses a challenge is there, close to the student, and he can see it.”

Use the correct form

Some young children insist on using whatever method they are comfortable with and may not progress to finer motor skills. “Children who write by grasping with the whole hand are limited in their control of the writing implement,” Reich explains. “They should learn 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 positives in apps that target specific motor skills, such as letter-writing, tracing and sorting apps,” Reich says. Using computers – and especially a keyboard and mouse – can help young children develop their fine motor skills.

What parents can do at home

Sciullo recommends parents provide “at least 15 to 30 minutes of fine motor activities each day to facilitate skill development.” She suggests the following activities that parents can use with children from infancy through elementary school.

[READ: 10 Indoor Physical Activities for Kids.]

For infants:

— With the child on his stomach, encourage him to raise his head to interact with you. This builds their core strength and 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 hand to hand.

— Ask your child to eat Cheerios or flattened peas. This helps develop the pinch grip which lasts about nine months, according to Children’s Hospital of Orange County.

For toddlers:

— Practice drawing simple shapes and objects.

— Peel and apply stickers.

— Use tweezers to pick up and sort marshmallows into containers.

For older children:

— Play with Legos, especially with smaller, more specialized pieces.

— Use colored paper and a hole punch to make confetti. This helps build hand strength.

— Paint with a cotton swab instead of a brush. This requires more effort from the finger muscles.

Use technology at home

According to some experts, console video games, as well as computers and handhelds, can be more beneficial than letting a child play on a tablet. 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 benefit of video games, Sciullo warns that finger movements using a controller can start to become automatic for children. Video games, she says, are best in moderation because they can encourage children to be inactive for long periods of time.

Fine motor skills are an important developmental milestone. If a child seems to have trouble handling small objects, experts recommend talking to a pediatrician for an evaluation.

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