Your child learns to complete all manner of activities, both large and small, before the age of three. Some of these milestones, such as learning to walk, are built up to monumental importance when remembering the growth of your child. Others, such as learning to hold a crayon correctly or building impressive towers of blocks, are less well remembered but equally as important.

Tasks like these utilise fine motor skills. Unlike gross motor skills, which are the ability to perform greater “total body” movements such as walking, kicking, or throwing, fine motor skills require more delicate coordination of smaller movements and muscles. The most recognisable of these skills are those that utilise the small muscles in hands and fingers; however the umbrella of fine motor skills also includes those performed by the feet, tongue, and facial muscles.

Fine motor skills set the stage for your child’s long-term development, even (and especially) during their earliest years. These skills are crucial to their ability to create art projects, get dressed in the morning, tie shoelaces, and develop hand-eye coordination. Therefore it is equally crucial that parents integrate activities supporting fine motor development into the day-to-day routines of their children.

If your child appears to struggle with activities that utilise fine motor skills, there are plenty of ways that you can support them as they continue to practice those skills.

Look to play-dough to strengthen hand and finger muscles

Play-dough is a tried and true childhood staple. Its vibrant colours inspire brilliant creations, and its ability to form into any shape imaginable offers unlimited potential.

A few containers of play-dough can keep a child occupied for hours. However this easily manipulated toy also offers another benefit. Every time your child scoops the dough from its jar and moulds it into a (sometimes, but not always) recognisable shape, they are using and strengthening the smallest muscles in their hands and fingers.

Squeezing and kneading the dough requires strong communication between the brain and hand muscles, so they are also learning how to effectively translate their visions into realities.

Use broken crayons and short coloured pencils

If your child struggles to hold a pen or pencil correctly, this is probably a signal of a gap in their fine motor development. A full-length pen is easy to hold incorrectly (such as in a fist instead of in between the forefingers). Therefore, any attempts to teach a child to hold a pen correctly are likely to be met with frustration and tears, as they will not understand the problem with the way that they are already holding it.

A broken crayon, however, or a coloured pencil sharpened to well below its original length, will be much more difficult to use when holding it incorrectly. If you keep broken crayons out in an easily accessible place, and make sure that your child uses these colouring tools in their next craft project, you can help to show them the correct way to hold the crayons. This will build strength on those hand muscles and improve their ability to learn new fine motor skills to boot.

Make a “count and sort” game

The best activities that you can create for your child will help them to develop multiple skillsets at the same time and to have fun at the same time. Many such activities can be made right at home to provide an inexpensive but valuable experience.

One such activity is a “count and sort” game that can be played any many ways, with many objects. Here is one variety of this game, as well as the various skillsets that it supports:

Gather approximately 15 small items in 4-5 distinct colours. You may find it helpful to paint the items in easily recognisable colours, but you can also use coloured wooden blocks or similar toys for this game. Then, label pieces of construction paper (in the same colours use for the objects in your game) with the number of objects of that colour that your child will need to sort. Your child can then pick up each item one by one and place it on top of the matching piece of construction paper.

The benefits of this “count and sort” game, and others like it, are threefold:

  1. Picking up and handling the small objects will help your child to fine-tune their fine motor skills, especially if you decide to make a game similar to this one, which requires your child to drop objects into specific holes.
  2. Matching the objects to a corresponding colour can help to teach your child to recognise and name colours.
  3. When you are finished, you can help your child to count the number of objects of each colour to improve their numbers skills.

One of the best things about this game is that it can be repeated anytime, anywhere, with a little creativity!

Encourage your child to build towers out of blocks or LEGO

Building towers, whether our of interlocking LEGO or freestanding blocks, can be a powerful activity to support your child’s development at any age. As your child gets older, freestanding block towers can provide a hands-on opportunity to learn about principles of support and  balance. However, even younger children stand to benefit immensely from playing with blocks.

LEGO can be purchased in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, either in kits designed for a specific purpose or simply as a collection of blocks whose construction is open to the imagination. In either case, LEGO (or other similar interlocking blocks) are a powerful supplement to fine motor development.

Putting together LEGO creations requires dexterity of the hands and fingers to manipulate the blocks. Pressing together and putting apart the blocks also requires grip strength. The combination of these aspects, combined with the inspiration to your child’s creativity, make LEGO or other similar block kits strong tools in your child’s dexterity toolbox.

Freestanding bricks require a more delicate touch to assemble structures and towers; since they do not lock together, your child will need to learn how to balance the blocks together so that the tower can stay standing. This also requires them to be able to gently place blocks at the top of the structure.

As such, building freestanding block towers will teach them to judge the speed and force that they use to wield those blocks, and to judge how the structure will react when a new object is placed atop it.

At Harmony we nourish and encourage your child to continue becoming the very person they are meant to be. Want to take a look for yourself? Please contact us to schedule a meeting or book a tour to see if Harmony is the right fit for your child!