Fine motor skill

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Dexterity is helpful in working with knitting needles

Fine motor skills can be defined as coordination of small muscle movements which occur e.g., in the fingers, usually in coordination with the eyes. In application to motor skills of hands (and fingers) the term dexterity is commonly used.

The abilities which involve the use of hands, develop over time, starting with primitive gestures such as grabbing at objects to more precise activities that involve precise hand-eye coordination. Fine motor skills are skills that involve a refined use of the small muscles controlling the hand, fingers, and thumb. The development of these skills allows one to be able to complete tasks such as writing, drawing, and buttoning.

During the infant and toddler years, children develop basic grasping and manipulation skills, which are refined during the preschool years. The preschooler becomes quite adept in self-help, construction, holding grips, and bimanual control tasks requiring the use of both hands.

— Essa, E., Young, R. & Lehne, L., Introduction to early childhood education, 2nd Ed. (1998)

When the child enters middle childhood they make great progress in their artistic abilities. They begin to express themselves through drawing, sculpting, and clay modeling.

Self-care skills

As children refine their motor skills, they are able to help themselves by completing daily activities independently. For example children between the ages of 2 and 3 are able to put on and take off simplistic articles of clothing.[1] They are able to manipulate clothing with zippers, use spoons, string together beads with large holes, and open doors with doorknobs. When children are between the ages of 3 and 4, they are able to manipulate clothing with larger buttons, use scissors to cut paper, and are able to copy simple lined shapes using a pencil. At 4 to 5 years of age, children are able to dress and undress themselves without assistance.[1] They are also able to manipulate a fork, and have gained the dexterity to cut around shapes with a pair of scissors. And by age 6, a child is able to cut softer foods with a knife, and is able to tie his or her own shoes.

Writing skills

It is critical to understand the development of children's fine motor skills in order to understand the reasoning behind why they complete certain tasks in a certain way. For example, it is important to understand the development of fine motor skills when a paper is handed in by a child in grade one and the writing is large, malformed, with little evidence of control of the pencil. If the teacher was to know the stages that children go through to develop these skills, then they may be more considerate and provide the child with appropriate adaptations in order to help them improve their writing skills.

Also, as children refine their motor skills, they are able to communicate by written expression. Starting off with scribbling, and moving on to printing and writing.

Scribbling has been described as a types of ‘motor babbling’, and as the child matures, the forms that arise from scribbling gradually become transformed into printing and writing.

— Craig, G., Kermis, M. & Digdon, N., Children today, 2nd Ed. (2001)

Children’s drawings

Children’s drawings also develop as a child ages, and refines their fine motor skills. This has been widely studied, especially by Rhonda Kellogg, following children from 2 years to 8 years of age. Her research has found that the artistic gestures of children evolve from basic scribbles to consistent symbols. The first symbols that are formed by children are the circle, the upright cross, the diagonal cross, the rectangle, and other common forms. When the child is 3 years old, it begins to form face shapes, and by age 4, humans. At 4 to 5 years old, the child draws a human form with arms and legs, and eventually the child adds a trunk and clothes.[1] Children then evolve to include other pictorials in their art, such as houses, animals, and boats, by the age of 5.

Helping children with their fine motor development

Sometimes children need some assistance when developing their fine motor skills. This requires one to find strategies in order to assist children with their development.

Manipulative materials

Toys that require a child to manipulate it with their fingers and hands can be categorized as a manipulative. Manipulatives involve coordinating the eye to what the hands are needed to do. They stimulate fine motor development because they require controlled use of hand and finger muscles. Some manipulative toys, such as puzzles, are self-correcting, fitting together in only one specific way. These types of toys allow children to work until they achieve success since they only fit together one way, and they know that when they are done that they have accomplished something great.[2]

Modified writing materials

Other ways to assist children with their fine motor development is to use modified tools to assist them. For young children, using crayons is often difficult at first due to their small size, so it is important to provide children with a tool that they are able to manipulate. There have been crayons created that are a 3-D tetrahedral shape, so that the children are able to grab the crayon in any position. The use of these crayons allows for a child to create a more precise picture because of the control they have, and this also helps the child to pursue such personal expression, since they are not being frustrated by not being able to use the tools. Children, when they are learning to print, also experience some frustrations. A way to assist a child who is having difficulties with this is to provide them with a Primer pencil (which is thicker around), or to modify a pencil by adding to its circumference (either by a formed grip or by adding tape). For a child who is having difficulties with their fine motor skills, offering tools such as larger pencils and modified pencils will help the child develop a better grasp of this tool, and eventually moving to smaller, regular size pencils. This will help with their self-esteem, providing them with a sense of accomplishment in writing tasks.


Another way to assist a child who is having difficulties developing their fine motor skills is to provide the child with proper positioning of their hands and body in order to accomplish tasks.

Positioning is very important for engagement in fine motor tasks. A child's seat should allow him to sit comfortably with his feet placed firmly on the floor. His hips, knees, and ankles should be at 90 degree angles, with his torso slightly forward. His desk height should be approximately 2 inches above his elbows when his arms are at rest at his side. If the child's chair is too tall, leaving his feet dangling, create a make shift footrest out of old telephone books bound together with masking or another strong tape to provide added stability. Keep in mind that trunk stability is necessary for good mobility of the arms, hands, and fingers.

— Linda Kennedy

Illness and Fine Motor Skills in Later Life

People who have suffered from a stroke, or have suffered a neck injury (maybe as a result of a car accident), may have impaired fine motor skills, making it difficult for them to write or to use a computer mouse.

See also



  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Craig, G., Kermis, M. & Digdon, N. (2001) Children today, 2nd Ed. Prentice Hall: Toronto
  2. Essa, E., Young, R. & Lehne, L. (1998) Introduction to early childhood education, 2nd Ed. Nelson: Toronto

External links

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