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  • Writer's pictureMiss Nancy

Fine Motor Skills

Every song in the Makin' Music program has an educational purpose. Some are obvious, like counting, or identifying colors. Others are more subtle. Our little chant about Grandma's Glasses is silly, but being able to manipulate your fingers to look like glasses is tricky! That's where fine motor skills come in.

What are fine motor skills?

Fine motor skills include all of the tasks of the hands like gripping, holding and grasping as well as coordinated movements that require hand-eye-coordination and precise control of small movements.

Why are fine motor skills important?

While gross motor skills are often very noticeable and momentous (rolling over, first step, jumping with two feet, etc) , fine motor skills are life skills that develop slowly over time, rather than just happening one day.  Fine motor skills are used for eating, writing, typing, completing puzzles and even reading, and are the essential skills used by musicians, artists,  surgeons, woodworkers, architects, chefs, stenographers and so many more!

And now for the fun part:

How can I help my child develop these skills? 

Well, we're in luck, because there are no less than a bazillion ways to work on fine motor skills.  And because I couldn't possibly list them all, I'm going to choose my favorites, grouped by level of preparation and messiness.  Because let's face it.  No one wants to sweep up piles of rice or clean up finger paint and Play-Doh every day, amirite?

No mess.  No prep (except opening a cabinet or two). 

1. A can and some rubber bands from Hands on as We Grow. This one is as simple as can be - take a can of soup, or a bottle, or any sort of cylindrical object, and have your child try to place rubber bands or hair ties around it.  They will need to use their fingers to stretch the band around the can, and then push it down on the can with their hands.  Now, the author of this blog claims that it keeps her boys occupied while she makes dinner.  I cannot promise that.  But I can promise that their tiny fingers will get a great workout.

2. A colander and some straws. I see this one all over Pinterest, and there are many variations to it.  But again, it's super simple.  Take a colander and some straws, and let your child try to get the straws through the holes.  Or, if you are trying to reduce your straw usage like we are, pipe cleaners are better, AND they're reusable, AND they can be used for the next activity on my list.  Win win.  Win. 

3. Cheerios on a pipe cleaner from The Decorated Cookie. This might be my favorite of the no mess/no prep group.  String some Cheerios on a pipe cleaner.  At this point, you can either let your child take it apart and restring it, OR, you can shape the pipe cleaner into something cute like a heart or a spiral, and hang it outside to feed the birds. Yet another win.

  • Bonus:  This activity works with string instead of a pipe cleaner. It also works with pasta and beads.  Except definitely don't try to feed the birds with those last two.

  • Extra bonus:  Make it musical by stringing the pipe cleaner with jingle bells!!

A little prep.  And maybe don't wear your favorite shirt, just in case.

4. Wrapping things with yarn, from The Imagination Tree (yup, I'm mentioning my favorite blog again!) OK, so I paraphrased here.  On the Imagination Tree, she cut out these beautifully perfect hearts and had her girls paint them and yarn wrap them, and then she made them into a mobile.  So adorable for a Valentine's Day decoration, but so not necessary for our motor skills practice. I'll let you choose your level of craftiness.  Simply cut out a cardboard shape (preferably from a shipping box, as opposed to a cereal box), and then cut out the center so that there is a hole in the middle.  Grab some yarn or string and have your child wrap it around the shape, going through the center and around the outside. 

5. Play-doh.  I'm not even going to give a link here.  Roll it, knead it, use cookie cutters, stamps, molds (if you have those fancy things), mush it together, break it apart, roll it into ropes, balls, or any shape you want.  Stick spaghetti in it and then thread Cheerios on the spaghetti.  If you have a really little one, cut up pieces of plastic straws (because you want to get rid of them anyway), and put them in the Play-Doh, then put the whole thing into a plastic bag and let your child knead it - they'll get even more out of it from the sensation of the doh and the straws. 

  • Bonus, maybe for the parents more than the kids: Put the Play-Doh inside of a balloon, tie off the balloon, and then work the balloon around in your hands, like a stress ball. Pro tip.  Don't leave it in your car in the hot sun. Don't ask.

6. Another one I don't need to link to - coloring or drawing or pretty much ANY sort of crafting. Gluing, cutting, stringing, etc.  I'll also let you choose your level of craftiness or messiness in this one.  Pencils?  Awesome.  Crayons?  Great - you can talk about colors.  Paint?  Go for it.  Make a mess.  Have fun.  A note: most children will not be able to grip a pencil correctly until 5 or 6 years of age.  So don't sweat it if your child is grasping it with their fist or holding the top of it. This is a perfect example of these skills taking a long time to develop. 

7. Scooping, pouring, and searching in a sensory bin.  I tried to find a suitable link for this one, but the ones I found seemed a little fishy.  So I'll just tell you about it.  Fill a medium sized box with rice beans, small pasta, sand, gravel, or whatever you don't mind sweeping up.  Because even if you covered your entire floor in a drop cloth, if your child is anything like mine, you will still find rice everywhere.  Anyway, letting the kids play in this as is is fun and educational enough.  But you can add in some extra fine motor practice in a few different ways:

  • give your child some measuring cups, spoons, small jars or bottles, or bowls, and have them scoop and pour as much as their little heart desires. 

  • hide objects such as magnetic letters, toy cars, Legos, pom poms etc, and have your child feel around for the objects and pull them out with their hands, or

  • use tongs or tweezers to pull out the objects

You should probably just get the kids naked for these activities.  And do them outside.  With a hose nearby.

8.  Finger painting.  Seriously.  No explanation needed!  It's like the definition of fine motor, right there in it's name.  So I don't need to explain finger painting, but here's a good recipe for edible paints

9.  Painting with a brayer at an easel.  It's easy to paint at a table.  But, kids will work the skills even harder if they are making art on an easel.  It involves their core muscles, too, and it puts their hands in a different position then they are used to, and helps to prep their hands and wrists for writing.  Who knew? 

10.  Squirt gun painting.  Like paint ball.  But much gentler, and with a prettier result.  You could do this in many ways, too.  Make it a whole family game.  Buy some white t-shirts, head out in your back yard, and fire away.  Or, you could do a slightly more controlled version, with a canvas.  Regardless, it's a great activity for those tiny fingers and for hand-eye coordination.  Squeezing the trigger will work the muscles that help with the aforementioned pencil grip. 

And there you have it, my top 10 faves.  I mean, honestly, I could go on for days about this. 

Thanks so much for reading!  See you next time!

Miss Nancy

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