August 20, 2015 Mary & Suzanne

Fine Motor Skills: Drop that pencil!

So often, children are identified with fine motor skill challenges when they begin picking up those crayons and pencils to draw and write. Ideas that our kiddos have in their heads just don’t seem to come out on paper with the same enthusiasm and clarity. Fast forward to homework time: frustrations flare, papers rip, and power struggles dominate the desk or dinner table. No fun! What is the first thought? My child must practice with a paper and pencil MORE often!

We know begging isn’t pretty, but here it comes! PLEASE! PLEASE! Put down the pencil!! Yes, practicing with a pencil is important. Absolutely. Did you know that there are MANY other activities that can support fine motor skills as well? Some you can even disguise as playful and fun at your local park!

If you are wondering about your child’s fine motor development, ponder these few questions:

Does your child struggle with using a fork or spoon during meals?

Are broken toys and spilled drinks common around your home?

When shown pencils, paper, or scissors, does your child run in the opposite direction?

Does your child seem to be constantly touching things?

Using our hands to complete a fine motor activities requires getting accurate sensory information from multiple sensory systems. The big two are tactile and proprioceptive sensations:

    1. Touch (we may slip and refer to this as our tactile sense, but know that they are the same)- Touch feedback from the skin gives our hands and fingers information needed for precise hand adjustments. For example, when we pick up a pencil, our sense of touch allows us to notice the pencil’s texture, temperature, and shape without looking. Without our tactile sense, trying to manage a pencil would be similar to holding it with a ski glove on. Awkward, right?

Playing with dirt, sand, leaves and grass add many different types of touch experiences in a child’s day. Here are some play ideas that can help ensure that touch input is being received by the skin loud and clear.

Digging in the sand with your hands provides a lot of input to touch receptors, and is one way to help your skin distinguish and digest different textures.  Have you ever grabbed a handful of sand, and stopped to check out what that lump was as you squeezed the grains through your fingers? Feeling a difference between the sand and the other object is a great skill to have! It’s called tactile discrimination, and it helps with everything from clothing fasteners to finding things in your pockets, to holding a pencil!

  1. Proprioception – Proprioception is feedback from the muscle and joints that tell us how much force to use in a task and how to position our hands.

Picture this: A child is working hard at building a sandcastle. All is complete with the exception of the finishing touches – the twig acting as the flag atop the highest tower. The child begins to push the twig into the sand. What happens next? Using too much force will crack and destroy the sandcastle. Too little force and the twig repeatedly tips over and falls. Just enough, and the twig stands tall and your child stands proud!

This pile of sand becomes a birthday cake and small sticks become the candles for this fun story line. Notice how carefully the “candles” are placed in the sand. Proprioceptive feedback helps to position them so the party can begin!

Another quick example of this would be that pencil whose lead breaks every time your child begins to write. Learning to use the correct amount of pressure makes drawing and writing flow, rather than frustrate.

Thick sidewalk chalk is a great way to build the touch and proprioceptive feedback used for fine motor tasks. Experiencing the bumpy ground, the traction of pulling the chalk along the pavement, and the unique texture of the chalk itself all support these tactile and proprioceptive senses!

These kids are strengthening their hands while developing their aim. One fun game is to have kids draw flowers with the chalk, and water them using the squirt bottles.

After all of that playing in the park, kids are bound to get hungry! Look how these twins use the feedback from their hands to feed themselves a snack. (Although who can look at their hands when their faces are so cute!)

These little hands and fingers have it all figured out! Feeling the rope and recognizing how tight to grip it are so important for making this activity a success! Our two fairies are retrieving packets of fairy dust on their scooter boards and bringing it back to their castle!  (This tub really multi-tasks when we take it with us!) Who says practice can’t be fun?

The park is a pretty ideal stage for working on touch and proprioceptive-based activities to support fine motor skills. Here are a couple more ideas, no equipment necessary!

  • Climbing up the slide or on the jungle gym
  • Overhead bars
  • Scavenger hunt (ideas can include: leaves, rocks, finding things buried in a sand pile)

Trying to get things organized before the school year begins? Here are some additional suggestions to develop fine motor skills at home too!

  • Gather a bin of uncooked rice, beans, birdseed, or Styrofoam packing materials – hide various size items in the bins and have your child FEEL to retrieve them. No peeking here!
  • Use salad tongs or tweezers to pick up bits of cereal, cotton balls, or Legos – Here’s a great set of tweezers and such that will fool your kids into thinking clean up is FUN!
  • Have child hold a “lucky penny” or other similarly sized item with ring and pinky fingers while using index finger, middle finger, and thumb to pick up small items or draw with chalk or crayons.

Fine motor skills develop as the tactile system and proprioceptive systems piece information together. Rather than working specifically on pencil/paper tasks all the time, it will benefit your child to dig in the dirt, play in the grass, and get a little messy! There are so many contributions that a child’s entire body needs to make in order for fine motor skills to truly develop. In her post Developing Fine Motor Skills at the Playground, Miss Jamie, OT explains how gross motor skills are the foundation for fine motor skill development!

As the day winds down, make bath time therapeutic too by adding extra bubbles to hide toys beneath, scrubbing with washcloths, and playing with loofas and natural sponges!

We think today might be a great day to throw on those play clothes! See you at the park!

*Just a reminder: Our posts contain affiliate links. By purchasing through these links, we get a bit back to help keep our little blog running! Thanks!

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Comment (1)

  1. Mary Dawe

    Congratulations on a super website! I will pass this one to everyone in the district working with little ones…lots of good information
    Mary xo

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