Big Skills for Little Muscles

Fine motor skills are essential for preschool-age children to achieve a variety of developmental milestones. Fine motor skills are needed for holding pencils, using scissors, tying shoes, zipping up jackets and many more activities. When your child has the finger strength to accomplish these tasks it supports their self-esteem and confidence. Fine motor skills can further independence and social skills among your child and their classmates. When thinking about fine motor skills it is important to consider all areas of your child’s day. Working towards coloring, cutting, building blocks, stringing beads, puzzles, opening small containers, pouring into cups, scooping or using tweezers in sensory bins are all activities your child may encounter throughout their preschool day. Fine motor skills and developing hand and finger strength is also important to support your child as they explore braille, tracking braille lines and learning to write braille. Pushing the keys on a braille writer takes a lot of strength with each finger working either independently or with other fingers pushing together to press the keys and make raised braille symbols. It takes precision to track and move along lines of braille from left to right and to find the next line below. Working on the ability to control fingers will support pre-braille skills. 

Age 3-4 

Fun Activities to Support Fine Motor Skills

Like all other skills these will build upon themselves and become more complex. There are many activities to implement daily to help work on these skills, strengthen muscles and build confidence in your child’s abilities. 

Working on Pencil Grasp and Control: 

  • Practice holding and controlling a pencil or marker by drawing lines, circles and shapes. 
  • You can place practice sheets inside a sheet protector and place them onto a light box or window as a new and fun way to practice tracing or drawing lines. 
  • Another fun way to work on pencil grasp and control is to use scented markers or scented gel crayons.
  • You can use tactile tracing so your child can feel the shape of the drawing. This will help your child develop an understanding for shapes, letters, and numbers. 

Cutting with Scissors: 

  • Beginning scissors may have a handle so your child can squeeze and not put their thumb and fingers into a hole.  
  • It is important to help your child understand how to use their non-cutting hand to hold paper safely. 
  • Using safety scissors, your child can practice cutting straight lines, curves and shapes. Using high contrast to split sides of a paper to cut, using a thick black, or providing different textures to cut between the line and hand under hand will support your child’s beginning cutting skills. 
  • Practice cutting playdough, straws or other materials to continue to develop scissor skills.

Building with Blocks: 

  • There are many types of blocks that you can use to practice this activity. You could use Duplo blocks, Lincoln Logs, magnetic blocks or Light Stax. 
  • A few of these blocks will be easier to build with as they will click into place or have magnets to support your child finding success with this activity. 
  • Be creative and enjoy building a variety of animals, structures (like houses, towers, and bridges) and other designs. 

Stringing Beads: 

  •  Threading a bead onto a string may become frustrating and may require more hand under hand as well as encouragement from you. 
  • Your child could use many different sizes, colors of beads, and strings to practice this skill. 
  • You could use pipe cleaners with smaller wooden beads, thick yarn to string cut up paper towel roll, or yarn with various noodle shapes.

Sorting Smaller Objects: 

  • You can have your child use tweezers, scoops or simply their fingers to pick out items in the bin. 
  • Using sensory bins for this activity is one way to work on sorting. Encouraging your child to sort various sized pom poms, buttons, smaller toys, animals while playing in a sensory bin will also support developing a sense of likeness and differences between objects.

Playing with Playdough: 

  • Playdough is a great way to practice many fine motor skills. Your child can squeeze, poke with one isolated finger, roll the playdough into a snake and for more fun use the many tools designed for playdough. 
  • Use a placemat with a circle and have your child make small round balls for eyes, a long snake for the smile and lots of smaller pieces for hair. 
  • You can make your own play dough from a simple recipe and add scents for another sensory experience. 
  • Playdough is also a great way to pretend to play at a restaurant and to incorporate other careers your child could be exposed to.

Dressing and Undressing: 

  • There are daily opportunities to practice dressing and undressing skills. You can also create or purchase boards that will help with practicing buttons, zippers, snaps, buckles, laces and velcro.
  • It can be time consuming to allow your child to practice these skills but building in extra time to put shoes on (excluding tying shoelaces), coats, or snapping pants after using the bathroom will pay off as your child becomes more successful and confident with these skills. 

Age 4-5

Fun Activities to Support Fine Motor Skills:

Working on Pencil Grasp, Control, and Stamina: 

  • Using various writing tools such as markers, pencils, paint brushes, dry-erase markers, chalk, scented gel crayons, or scented markers to write, draw, or color. 
  • You can use sheet protectors to have your child trace letters, shapes or numbers. You can tape them to a light box or a window as a different way to practice. 
  • Using the Color-By-Texture mats is another way to provide tactile shapes and patterns for your child to color.
  • While this skill can be frustrating, developing the ability to color, draw, or write for longer periods of time will continue to build the needed strength to do other skills. 

Cutting with Scissors: 

  • Your child may be ready for more typical style scissors with the space for their thumb and their fingers. As this is a new type of scissors it will be important to continue to encourage the direction the cutting hand should be as well as the hand holding the paper. 
  • Your child may be able to now cut a straight line, cut string into pieces or even some thicker paper like scrapbook paper.  

Building with Blocks: 

  • Building with smaller blocks such as Duplo blocks or Lego Large sets. 
  • Working with your child to build similar structures will also help spatial awareness, spatial concepts and be able to compare two objects.  

Mealtime: 

  • Skills such as opening containers, using utensils such as fork and spoon, drinking from a cup and cleaning up their table area. 
  • Experiencing a variety of containers, milk cartons, ziploc bags and other storage items allow your child to work on fine motor skills as well as independent skills needed for lunchtime at school. 
  • Teaching your child how to use a fork and a spoon to scoop against the side of a bowl, or plate with a lip, is a socially appropriate way to load a utensil. This skill takes time and may start with fingers and messes. That is ok! Continue to encourage your child to poke or slide into their fingers and then transition to using only the sides of plates or bowls. 
  • Another opportunity during meal time is to have your child clean up their area by putting utensils onto their plate, carrying cups and plates to the sink area and wiping their hands, face and table area if needed. 

Fidgets: 

  • They are so much fun and a way to further develop strength in your child’s hands. 
  • So many fidget toys, such as squishy balls, sensory rings, pop tubes, and pop-its, can be engaging. Pop-its are also a way to engage socially to encourage taking turns but also work on isolating fingers to push the pop-it. 
  • You can also make different squishy balls with balloons and fill them with sand, water beads, rice, beans or flour and tie the balloon at the top. .  

Dressing and Undressing: 

  • Your child may be ready for the next steps in getting dressed and undressed. When working on zipping, your child should be able to manipulate the zipper pulling it up and down with possible support to start the zipper. 
  • Buttoning and unbuttoning pants, jackets are skills for your child to work on. They may need modeling or hand under hand support to learn how too put their finger through the hole to feel for where the button needs to go when learning to button. 
  • Encouraging your child to put on their own socks and shoes as well as untying the laces. 

Fine motor skills can be frustrating, but understanding how to make them accessible for your child can lessen the frustration. It is important to remember that each child’s abilities are unique, and working with your team of professionals to develop supports to help your child become independent and confident with these skills early will be key. Building Your Fine Arts Toolkit provides many additional ideas for coloring and painting to work on fine motor skills while exploring your child’s creative side. 

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