Fine motor skills, also referred to as dexterity, imply the coordination of small muscles used in movements. Fine motor skills usually involve the synchronisation of hands and fingers with the eyes. When fine motor skills are well-developed, children are able to write better, and also able to do detailed tasks requiring minute manipulations.
Here are some activities that focus on motor skill development by improving the muscles in the fingers and hands, strengthening hand grip and developing wrist movement:
1. Maida to the rescue!
Many experts recommend play dough or synthetic clay for this activity. However, maida (all-purpose flour) is a great substitute, and has the added advantage of being natural and safe, even if it enters your toddler’s little mouth.
- 2 cups of maida
- Some water
- 2 large-enough bowls to knead the dough
Sit with your toddler in a safe place with minimal distractions. Put one cup of maida into each bowl. Then, demonstrate to your child how to knead dough by sprinkling water and gently kneading the powder until it reaches the consistency of firm dough that resembles play dough. Your child may not get it right immediately. Resist the urge to jump in and knead the dough for her. Allow enough time and several attempts for her to slowly learn and master the art of kneading the dough to the perfect consistency. You can repeat this exercise once every two to three days. Once your child learns to knead the dough, encourage her to create shapes like little balls, or a snake, etc.
How it helps:
The kneading action helps build strength in the wrist muscles. Later, rolling the dough into shapes enhances the flexibility of the child’s fingers.
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2. Beads, beads, beads!
Beads are available in various sizes. They are a good resource for developing your child’s fine motor skills.
- A set of play beads of different sizes
- Shoe-laces or twine to string them together
Invite your child to join you in making a ‘necklace’, and demonstrate how to string the beads together. Most toddlers love to do this, especially when they are told that they can play 'shopkeeper' and sell the necklace afterwards.
How it helps:
The act of stringing beads together requires good finger grip, hand-eye coordination and patience. When your child begins to master the art of beading, you will have tangible proof that all of the above skills have been mastered.
3. Toothpicks in the salt-shaker
This is another simple fine-motor skill exercise, which most young children enjoy.
- Identical salt and pepper shakers (preferably made of some unbreakable material)
- Some toothpicks
Most salt and pepper shakers come with tiny holes at the top. Make sure you have two with the same number of holes. Invite your child to a contest of 'who can put in toothpicks into all the holes first'. Children love challenges like these, and if you lose once in a while, your toddler will remain motivated enough to continue playing this game.
How it helps:
Aligning the sharp end of the toothpick to the tiny openings on the salt-shaker and pushing them in without breaking the toothpicks requires precision. Doing this repeatedly enhances the finger-manipulation and coordination skills of your child.
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4. Tongs aren’t for cooking alone
Kitchen tongs are a part of most households’ cooking supplies. If you do not have one, it might be worth investing in a pair of inexpensive aluminum tongs.
- A pair of kitchen tongs
- Some marbles
- 2 small containers
You can set a target of a minute for your child to pick up marbles, one at a time, using the tongs from one container, and drop them one by one into the other container. If your child succeeds, have a small treat or some other game waiting as a reward. Children enjoy this activity, especially when you introduce a 'prize' element.
How it helps:
Along with better coordination, focus and fine motor skills, this activity can help in improving processing speed and emotional resilience. This is because, when a child does not succeed the first time, and keeps trying, desirable emotional strengths of perseverance and patience begin to develop in the child.
5. Sorting buttons
I recommend this game to families that have plenty of sewing supplies, particularly buttons of various different shapes, sizes and colours.
- Buttons in different sizes, shapes and colors
Invite your child to sort the buttons into different piles of similar ones.
How it helps:
Along with fine motor skills (which develop as a result of picking up and manipulating small buttons), this exercise also aids in developing concentration, observation and organisational skills.
All of the above are activities can be done with materials that are cheap and easy to source. They are simple, yet effective and can be tried safely in the home setting, provided an adult is overseeing the activities as the child engages in them. This is because, with materials like buttons and marbles, which are a possible choking hazard for toddlers, and toothpicks that might accidentally injure little fingers, it is highly essential that all of these activities are done under adult supervision only.
Sometimes, even after their best efforts, parents find that their child’s fine motor skills are not on par with those of other children of the same age group. In such cases, it is strongly recommended that they approach an Occupational Therapist for professional guidance and support.
The author is a child psychologist who uses non-directive play to help children therapeutically.