Authored by Learning Matters for Skola Toys

Motor development is the development of the bones and muscles and the ability to move around, control one’s body movements, as well as manipulate things in one’s environment. There are two types of motor development- gross motor development and fine motor development. Actions such as running, jumping, throwing, climbing, and kicking are called gross motor actions and we use the large muscles in our bodies to perform these.

Using the smaller bones and muscles of the hands, fingers, and wrists to perform finer tasks such as writing, colouring, and cutting require fine motor skills. Fine motor actions require greater precision and more coordination than gross motor actions. In children, fine motor skills typically start to develop a little later than gross motor ones. 

While a delay in children’s gross motor development is obvious and is immediate cause of concern to parents, fine motor development all too often is given a back seat. Not many consider it a critical area of development and in fact, many do not even recognize its significance.

First, what constitutes fine motor skills?

The following actions are some examples of fine motor skills. 

Picking up small objects with the fingers using a pincer grip

Holding and using a pencil to write

Stringing beads

Opening boxes 

Colouring with crayons 

Turning the pages of a book

Buttoning and zippering clothes

Operating a computer keyboard

Using scissors

Stacking blocks 

Manipulating puzzle pieces

Using cutlery to eat

Tying shoe laces

What’s the big fuss about fine motor skills?

As children grow, they typically need to perform a wide variety of fine motor tasks in their daily lives including handling books and various types of writing tools, writing, colouring, engaging in various art and craft activities, and self-care tasks such as brushing, fastening clothes, and eating. All of these tasks require them to use the small muscles of their hands and fingers with dexterity. 

The ability to perform tasks such as the above encourages independence and self confidence in children. It also readies them for formal schooling. A child who has never held a crayon or played with playdough will find it so many times more difficult to trace letters and numbers than a peer who has had multiple opportunities to practice fine motor skills. Difficulty in accomplishing such tasks limits the activities children can perform. In turn, it adversely impacts their psychological and social development and the acquisition of academic skills. 

Signs of atypical fine motor development

Although fine motor skills develop naturally in most children over time, there are some red flags indicating delayed or atypical fine motor development that parents can look out for.

Consistent avoidance of tasks such as those described above which involve using the fingers and hands.

Lack of initiative with self-dressing; always waiting for assistance.

Disinterest in arts and crafts or activities involving crayons, pencils, scissors.

Preference for activities that require little or no fine motor skills.

Consistent disinterest in tasks that require the child to sit down, focus, and work with the hands. 

Lack of initiative with self-feeding.

Fortunately, there are a plethora of simple and easy-to-implement activities one can do at home with children that will help them strengthen and gain control of the muscles in their hands and fingers. Tasks involving both hands such as kneading dough and rolling and cutting play dough with a knife are particularly useful in this regard. Fine motor skills take time to develop and hence it is important to provide children with appropriate materials, toys, and activities that will give them ample opportunities to use their fine motor muscles.

Building blocks – the building blocks for fine motor skills 

Manipulating and building with blocks is traditionally one of the best activities to strengthen fine motor skills. Blocks have truly stood the test of time. Children never tire of them because they are open-ended, allowing children to use them in a variety of ways.And along the way, they quietly but surely promote fine motor development.
Combining blocks to create new shapes and structures is a fantastic way to develop fine motor skills and creative thinking. As children reach out, grip various blocks, and manipulate them in different ways to build, they work on their fine motor development and coordination as well as their attention and concentration.