Understanding your child’s fine motor skills

Posted on 24 December 2019

Each child is unique and develops at a different rate. However, there are certain fine motor skill milestones that need to be reached to ensure your child’s healthy development.

As Mediclinic Bloemfontein occupational therapist Faye Campbell explains, fine motor skills refer to your child’s use of the small muscles of their hands and fingers (intricate movements). “Fine motor skills rely on well-established gross motor skills as they are directly influenced by trunk control/core muscles and shoulder stability,” Campbell furthers, stating that early detection of delays in fine motor skill development is key, as difficulties addressed early are more easily rectified. “Bad habits are easily formed and to change an incorrect pattern is more difficult than to teach the correct pattern from the beginning,” she explains.

Well-developed fine motor skills allow your child to hold a crayon, use a pair of scissors, build Lego, play with dolls, brush their teeth, do up their buttons, and to feed themselves. “These skills are required to be able to cope with school demands and to engage in play activities with their peers. Personal independence relies on your child’s abilities to use their hands in a skilled manner,” Campbell says.

If you notice that your child avoids playing games that require the use of their hands; they ask others for help with certain tasks on a regular basis; or they avoid table-related activities, they might be struggling with fine motor skill development. Other signs include taking longer than necessary to complete hand-related tasks or trying to control play situations so that they can avoid fine motor activities.

Campbell suggests trying these strategies to assist your child’s fine motor skills development

  • Use multi-sensory play opportunities. Allow your child to play and explore with different textures, temperatures, colours and tastes. Finger painting with instant pudding is a fun way to explore all sensory systems.
  • Allow your child the opportunity to be independent and encourage them to attempt to brush their own teeth, button their own shirt, open their lunchbox themselves or to feed themselves.
  • Involve your child in the kitchen with meal preparations, such as mashing potatoes, stirring cake batter and breaking lettuce into pieces.
  • Use household items such as toothpicks, braai tongs, and uncooked pasta to create play opportunities. Threading raw macaroni and picking up rolled-up socks with braai tongs can help.
  • Get them to push toothpicks into an old potato to create a ‘porcupine’.
  • Use daily activities as an opportunity to strengthen their hands. At bathtime, encourage them to fill a sponge with water and then squeeze the water out into a small bucket.
  • Clothes pegs and posting boxes are wonderful ways to strengthen finger muscles. Use a paper plate and clothes pegs to create a ‘sun’. Coins, folded paper ‘letters’ and bottle tops can be ‘posted’ through a slit cut in an empty ice cream tub or shoebox.
  • Have age-appropriate blocks, Lego, puzzles, paper and crayons available for your child’s playtime to encourage them to use their hands.

In the interest of our patients, in accordance with SA law and our commitment to expertise, Mediclinic cannot subscribe to the practice of online diagnosis. Please consult a medical professional for specific medical advice. If you have any major concerns, please see your doctor for an assessment. If you have any cause for concern, your GP will be able to direct you to the appropriate specialists.

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