What Are Fine Motor Skills in Children? - Development, Definition & Examples
Think of toddlers at a daycare, or the young actors in the movie ''The Kindergarten Cop''. What comes to mind? Is it small children doing arts and crafts, or possibly running around with scissors? These are examples of fine motor skills, which children should develop around this age.
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What are Fine Motor Skills?
Fine motor skills are achieved when children learn to use their smaller muscles, like muscles in the hands, fingers, and wrists. Children use their fine motor skills when writing, holding small items, buttoning clothing, turning pages, eating, cutting with scissors, and using computer keyboards. Mastery of fine motor skills requires precision and coordination.
Fine motor skills develop after gross motor skills, which control actions like throwing and kicking balls as well as walking and jumping. Gross motor skills utilize larger muscle groups and require less precision.
How Do We Help Children Develop Fine Motor Skills?
Practice, practice, practice. In most cases of fine motor skill development, practice does, in fact, make perfect. Some ways to develop these skills are having children do the following activities:
- Pop bubbles on bubble wrap with just the index finger and thumb.
- Use an eye dropper to add food coloring to batter with just the index finger and thumb.
- Video games
- Trace shapes or letters
- Legos or building blocks
These activities focus on smaller muscle groups. Using the same muscles can help children develop muscle memory, which is when repetition of one action allows that action to be performed almost automatically without much effort. For example, pressing the correct buttons on video game controllers can be difficult the first few times. But after playing the game a few times, we tend to master the buttons on the controller. Whether or not we can master the video game itself is a different story, but it does become second nature to press certain buttons to run or jump in the game.
Notable Accomplishments in Fine Motor Skill Development
Two popular terms that come up with learning about fine motor skills in children are fist grip and pincer grip. An example of a fist grip is when children use their whole hand and wrap it around a pencil to write their names. A pincer grip refers to the pinching muscles. Eventually, most children learn to use a pencil with their thumb and one or two fingers, which indicates that they have developed their pincer grip. When it comes to terminology for this lesson, grip and grasp are interchangeable.
Fine Motor Skills from Birth to Age Five
0 to 3 Months
- Grasping: The baby, Billy, can hold objects for a few seconds. An example is babies holding their parents' fingers. This is close to a fist grip.
3 to 6 Months
- Palmar grasp: This is also known as the fist grip. Billy can hold an object for up to a minute, using the palm and fingers (the whole fist).
6 to 9 Months
- Inferior pincer grasp: Billy can pick up a small object, like a Cheerio, by putting the forearm on the table and using the side of the thumb and the first fingers.
9 to 12 Months
- Isolated index finger: Billy can point to an object using only the index finger.
- Self-feeding: Billy can use fingers to eat a small piece of food.
- Superior pincer grasp: Billy can pick up and release a small object like a Cheerio by using the index finger and the thumb without support of the forearm. At this point, he can also turn the pages of a book, although sometimes turning many at once.
15 months to 1 ½ years
- Billy can hold a spoon or a crayon using the thumb, fingers, and the palm.
1 ½ to 2 years
- Billy can string large beads and imitate the drawing of circles and lines.
2 to 2 ½ years
- Digital pronated grasp: Billy can hold a crayon with the thumb and all other fingers. He can also learn to cut with safety scissors, use a fork to eat, and get dressed into easy-wear clothing like hats, t-shirts, and elastic-waist pants.
2 ½ to 3 years
- Billy can use building blocks and start to draw the shape of an X.
3 to 3 ½ years
- Billy can now cut a piece of paper in half as well as master the drawing of an X.
3 ½ to 4 years
- Billy can start to trace and learns to unbutton clothing.
4 to 4 ½ years
- Billy starts to button and unbutton clothing as well as improve tracing skills and building block skills.
4 ½ to 5 years
- Billy can now touch the thumb to each finger separately. He can also cut a square, fold a piece of paper in half, and color inside the lines.
As Billy continues practicing his skills, his handwriting, scissor use, and precision will improve.
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