There’s something amazing about watching a small child navigate a new toy or pick up a pencil and quickly transform that white wall in the living room into a masterful work of art (before you can get to her in time to snatch that pencil away). Fine-motor skills are developed through manipulating, playing, and experimenting with small toys, objects, and mark-making tools. Those wee little muscles in your child’s hands are honed while she is squashing play dough, drawing with a marker, or turning the pages of a book.
Most babies begin exploring the wonders of fine-motor skills through clenching and un-clenching their fists. Those little hands sure seem to have the ability to tug your hair or pinch that tender skin under your arms from birth! Encouraging fine-motor coordination at this age is as easy as offering things to your babe for her to reach, hold, and pull on – other than your hair and arms. There are tons of toys that will encourage her to grasp, but using simple around-the-house items, such as a clean rubber spatula, offers great picking up potential, as well as safe mouthing exploration.
As a child ages, her fine-motor skills advance, too. She’s able to pick things up, grasp and manipulate objects, and use items in ways you can’t even imagine. I think every mommy and daddy remembers that fateful day when some mark-making tool was left out without concern and was discovered by the babe to be used to mark up the new white sofa, freshly painted wall, or the carpet. Just about every mark-making tool the child can get her hands on is put in the mouth or used to scribble on everything! Offer your child lots and lots of art materials, which encourage her first experiences in art. Chalk is a wonderful option, and easily wipes off walls!
All that grasping and scribbling serves an important purpose – handwriting development! As the child begins to tire of scribbling all kinds of scribbles, her fine-motor abilities can be explored through drawing shapes above a line, following dots to form letters, or lacing string through holes or threading buttons and beads. Along with getting those small muscles moving and grooving, your child is developing her hand-eye coordination, which also benefits artistic endeavors, advancements in handwriting, and abilities for making cool stuff with her hands.
Remember that all kids develop differently and at their own pace. Some will be ready to use that pencil as young as one year of age while others may not be excited about drawing until the age of three. Go with the flow and provide lots and lots of positive feedback along the way. And, it doesn’t hurt to model positive behavior by spending some time doing fine-motor activities with your child, too. Rolling and squeezing play dough is fun (and great stress relief), and a wonderful way to bond with your wee-tot.
Don’t hesitate to contact your pediatrician if you feel your child isn’t excited about exploring her fine-motor skills. Everyone has more fun learning through play, so keep things light and enjoyable when introducing new fine-motor skills to your child. Take the pressure off by doing the activities with her and incorporate learning into everyday situations – such as being in charge of holding the grocery list at the store! Even if she drops it, she can use her fingers to pick up and grasp that list as tightly as she can!