Motor skills are movements and actions of the muscles. Typically, they are categorised into two groups: gross motor skills and fine motor skills.
Gross motor skills are involved in movement of the arms, legs, and other large body parts and movements. They participate in actions such as running, crawling and swimming. Fine motor skills, on the other hand, are involved in smaller movements that occur in the wrists, hands, fingers, feet and toes. They participate in smaller actions such as picking up objects between the thumb and finger, writing carefully, and even blinking. These two motor skills work together to provide co-ordination.
Fine motor skills are essential for performing everyday skills like self-care tasks (e.g. clothing fastenings, opening lunch boxes, cleaning teeth, using cutlery) and academic skills (e.g. pencil skills of drawing, writing and colouring, as well as cutting and pasting). Without the ability to complete these everyday tasks, a child’s self-esteem can suffer and their academic performance is compromised. They may also be unable to develop appropriate independence in life skills (such as getting dressed and feeding themselves).
Although some children do well at gross motor activities, their performance of fine motor activities may be poor.
Building blocks necessary to develop fine motor skills
What are the building blocks necessary to develop fine motor skills? According to the website Childdevelopment.com.au they are as follows:
* Bilateral integration: Using two hands together with one hand leading (e.g. opening a jar lid with one hand while the other hand helps by stabilising the jar).
* Crossing the mid-line: The ability to cross the imaginary line running from a child’s nose to pelvis that divides the body into left and right sides.
* Hand and finger strength: An ability to exert force against resistance using the hands and fingers that allows the necessary muscle power for controlled movement.
* Eye-hand co-ordination: The ability to process information received from the eyes to control, guide and direct the hands in the performance of a task such as handwriting.
* Hand dominance: The consistent use of one (usually the same) hand for task performance which allows refined skills to develop.
* Hand division: Using just the thumb, index and middle finger for manipulation, leaving the fourth and little finger tucked into the palm not participating but providing stability for the other three fingers.
* Object manipulation: The ability to skilfully manipulate tools (such as the ability to hold and move pencils and scissors with control) and the controlled use of everyday tools such as a toothbrush, hairbrush, and cutlery.
* Body awareness (proprioception): Information that the brain receives from our muscles and joints to make us aware of our body position and body movement, so we can accurately control our movements.
How can I tell if a child has problems with fine motor skills?
If a child has difficulties with fine motor skills they might:
* Have an awkward or immature pencil grasp for their age.
* Have poor handwriting; their writing may be messy, slow or laborious.
* Fatigue quickly when typing or using a mouse on a computer.
* Have difficulty when using scissors.
* Have difficulty performing precise manipulation tasks, for example using a spoon or fork, buttoning their clothes or tying shoelaces.
* Have difficulty performing age appropriate self-care tasks independently.
* Tire easily when engaging in fine motor tasks.
Fine motor activities
In her book Learning Disabilities, the late professor Janet Lerner lists many activities intended to fine motor skills and groups them into (1) throwing and catching activities and (2) eye-hand co-ordination activities.
Throwing and catching activities:
* Throwing. In throwing objects at targets to the parent, the child can use balloons, wet-sponges, bean-bags, yarn balls, and rubber balls of various sizes.
* Catching. Catching is a more difficult skill than throwing, and the child can practise catching the above objects thrown by the parent.
* Ball games. Many ball games help in the development of motor co-ordination. Playing balloon volleyball or rolling ball games, bouncing balls on the ground, and throwing balls against the wall are some examples.
* Tire tube games. Old tire tube games provide good objects for games of rolling and catching.
* Rag ball. Many children find that throwing and catching a rubber ball is too difficult a task. Initially, a rag ball can be used. It can be made by covering rags or discarded nylon hosiery with cloth.
Eye-hand coordination activities:
* Tracing. Have the child trace lines, pictures, designs, letters, or numbers on tracing paper, plastic, or stencils. Use directional arrows, colour cues, and numbers to help them trace the figures.
* Water control. Ask the child to carry and pour water into measured buckets from pitchers to specified levels. Use smaller amounts and finer measurements to make the task more difficult. Colouring the water makes the activity more interesting.
* Cutting with scissors. Have the child cut with scissors, choosing activities appropriate to their needs. The easiest task is cutting straight lines marked near the edges of paper. The child should also be asked to cut straight lines across the centre of the paper. Some might need a piece of cardboard attached to the paper to guide the scissors. Have the child cut out marked geometric shapes, such as squares, rectangles and triangles. You can draw lines in different colours to indicate changes of direction in cutting. Have the child cut out curving lines and circles, then pictures, and finally patterns made with dots and faint lines.
* Stencils or templates. Have the child draw outlines of patterns of geometric shapes. Templates can be made from cardboard, wood, plastic, old x-ray films, or containers for packaged meat. Two styles can be made: a solid shape or frames with the shape cut out.
* Lacing. A piece of cardboard punched with holes or a pegboard can be used for this activity. A design or picture is made on the board and the child follows the pattern by weaving or sewing through the holes with a heavy shoelace, yarn, or cord.
* Paper and pencil activities. Colouring books and dot-to-dot books frequently provide good paper pencil activities for fine motor and eye-hand development.
* Jacks. The game of jacks helps develop eye-hand co-ordination, rhythmical movements, and fine finger and hand movements. Visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OwmCInS2pIM to learn the rules.
* Clipping clothespins. Clothespins can be clipped on to a line or a box. The child can be timed in this activity by counting the number of clothespins clipped in a specified time.
* Copying designs. The child looks at a geometric design and copies it onto a piece of paper.