Fine Motor Skills: 3 Activities to Help Your Preschool Child Succeed

child playing with blocksThe term, “fine motor skills” refers to small muscle movement; and for preschoolers, the focus is hand and finger coordination. In order to get dressed, feed themselves, hold a crayon, and later learn to write, young children use the small muscles in the hands and fingers. To adequately develop fine motor strength and coordination, preschoolers need to use their fingers and hands on a daily basis.

Fine motor development is crucial for preschoolers, but the good news is there are plenty of artsy, fun and age appropriate ways to help children strengthen their tiny hand and finger muscles.  

Learning new skills builds confidence and resilience in preschoolers –  and can improve behavior too!

Most kids will be excited about the activities suggested below, all of which are all playful and fun.

Activities such as painting, cutting, and drawing that your child does now are steps that later will help your child learn to write, type, knit, do home repair, etc.

Parents, use the following tips to help your child develop the muscles in their hands and fingers and to prepare your child for success in school and life.

Fine Motor Development:Tips for Parents

  1. Let your child struggle a little to learn new fine motor skills.
    Don’t make the mistake of doing too much for your preschooler. Children won’t learn to zip up and snap pants or put on shoes if parents swoop in to do those tasks, because it’s easier or faster for parents. Take time to teach and let your child learn new tasks one at a time. Another way parents can allow kids to learn in small steps is to share the task with the child. A parent can put on one shoe, while the child puts the other shoe on.
  2. Give encouragement and empathy.
    While teaching new skills to children, offer encouraging statements, such as, “You’ll get it. It just takes practice and hard work.” When children get frustrated, instead of rescuing kids, offer empathy by saying something such as, “It’s hard to learn new things, isn't it?” Learning new skills builds confidence and resilience in preschoolers and can improve behavior too.
  3. Focus on the process, not the product.
    Let go of perfection and let your child have fun along the way. If your child puts on both shoes, but on the wrong feet, focus on the accomplishment first. Don’t worry about your preschooler cutting straight lines. The goal is that he or she cuts and develops muscular strength and coordination first; the straight lines will come later.

Fun Activities for Preschoolers: Developing Fine Motor Skills

  1. Cutting with Child Safety Scissors:
    Small, child-sized scissors with blunt ends can be purchased at discount or school supply stores. Patterned craft scissors found in the scrapbook supply section also work well and are fun for children to use. Allow children to cut old magazines and newsprint at first, because both are lightweight papers that cut easily. As your child gains strength, offer him or her recycled tagboard, such as cracker boxes, to cut. Consider creating a cutting box, where you keep items that your child can cut. Add a drawing or photo of scissors to the outside of the box as a visual reminder to your child that the items in the box are the only items that are okay to cut. If you’re concerned that your child will cut other items, keep scissors put away until you can supervise cutting activities.
  2. Bath Time and Water Table Play:
    By adding a few select items to the bathtub, or a water table, parents can help children develop fine motor skills. Purchase an inexpensive turkey baster and recycle medicine droppers for children to experiment with while playing in water. Preschoolers will have fun learning the science of how the items work and will also be developing hand strength and coordination.
    A plastic toy tea set with a tea pot that children can pour from and cups for pouring into is another great water tool that engages small hand and finger muscles. Measuring spoons, measuring cups, and strainers from your kitchen are other ideas, as is a two-foot length of clear plastic tubing (found at hardware stores or in the fish tank section of a pet store).
  3. Play Dough and Play Dough Tools:
    Add some simple, yet carefully chosen, tools alongside play dough and kids will stay busy for a long time, as well as develop fine motor coordination. Homemade play dough is usually softer and can be created in different colors and textures. From your home or a dollar store, gather the following: a plastic knife, dental floss, a plastic garlic press, a plastic pizza cutter, and a small rolling pin. A cylindrical wooden block or a small, hard plastic cup both work great as a substitute rolling pin. Dental floss can be used to cut play dough. When it’s gripped tightly at each end, it can be pulled through the dough to slice it!

All of these activities will develop fine motor skills, as well as build brain pathways for math concepts, basic science lessons, and a curiosity for learning in your child. It’s play with a purpose!

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