Three Jam-Packed Fine Motor Tips

by Senior Occupational Therapist, Kevin Kao

Hi there! I’m Kevin and I’m a paediatric Occupational Therapist with MOIRA Allied Health. I’m here to get you thinking with three of my top fine motor tips.

First up – what are fine motor skills, and why are they so important?

Fine motor skills are those that use your fingers and hands, and they are an important part of a child’s wellbeing, think about how much we use them and need them to perform day-to-day activities from self-care activities, such as brushing teeth, and getting dressed to communicating through writing. Between birth and eight years of age is key in the development of these skills, so here are some ways that could help develop them.

No. 1. Consider the developmental sequence

Fine motor skill development doesn’t always happen in a step-by-step fashion, but it helps to know some of the steps within it! One way to think about fine motor development is by considering your child’s strength, endurance, and skills at key body parts from the centre of their body outwards!

With this in mind, is your child well developed with their:

  • Core stability (e.g., endurance, strength and control).
    Good core stability can be seen when your child can sit upright or maintain a position for an appropriate length of time. This affects…
  • Shoulder stability and control. Stable shoulders hold and help move our arms steadily in different positions, and keep them ready for dextrous fine motor work such as writing, cutting, using utensils and play. This affects…
  • Wrist position during the fine motor activity. A bent or turned wrist when using scissors to cut paper, can limit how easy it is to complete the activity. This can affect…
  • Hands and fingers working together. If the hand or finger position on a tool seems a little different from their peers (considering their age and experience!), it may be worth thinking about whether this makes it sore on your child, slows them down or makes it hard to be accurate and dexterous.

If one of those areas is still developing, it may be worthwhile to explore exercises (or strategies) that help build that stability! This will help keep their body still enough for them to effectively practice and fine-tune those finger skills!

No. 2. Don’t overlook the importance of daily and embedded practice!

Embedded practice simply means building the exercises into activities that your child can do as part of their day-to-day life – so it doesn’t feel like a chore and they’re more likely to do it.

Fine motor practice can sometimes look like 10 minutes a day of threading (e.g., making pasta necklaces, anyone?), playdough pinching and stretches. But whilst there can be a role for these activities, it isn’t necessarily transferable or time-efficient. By transferable, I mean that threading is a highly specific exercise, and doesn’t automatically give you letter writing skills for example…

‘Embed’ practice into your daily routine, by looking and creating opportunities in your day to practice.

Working on buttoning skills?

Have your child do 1-2 buttons when getting dressed in the morning, and you do the rest (psst…look up backwards chaining)!

If you’re super crafty, make a pouch with a single button and keep something inside that they use (e.g., a remote?) for heaps of unstructured practice.

Working on that pencil grasp?

Adapt your child’s play accordingly. If they enjoy LEGO building activities, encourage them to hold a few small pieces in their palm, and ‘translate’ one piece at a time from their palm to fingertips as they decorate and build!

Have old broken pencils and crayons lying around? Sharpen them and get them back in action, because stubby writing tools can be useful in encouraging small hands to use fingers to hold and control the writing tool rather than their whole hand!

No. 3. Get creative!

Fine motor strategies can feel like exercise sometimes, but when the key reason for the strategy is understood – teachers and parents end up being so creative that I end up ‘borrowing’ their ideas!

Need to practice letter formation?
Try practising on short shopping lists, practising with shaving foam, making a picture from similar-looking letters (e.g. b vs d monsters?) or even practising a dance made up of the letter formation instruction. Though don’t get too dizzy when dancing out that ‘e’!

And don’t forget to look for opportunities to embed in the everyday life, for example, during bath time use the soap to trace letters.

Hope you have found these helpful.
If you would like more information or have questions about our services, email or call 8552 2222. The team and I will be happy to help!

Kevin Kao
Senior Occupational Therapist
MOIRA Allied Health

MOIRA Limited ABN 22 729 829 472 (MOIRA) has arranged this online information. All content is general in nature and reflects the author’s experiences and expertise, it does not provide individualised recommendations or advice, should you require specific health advice or support you should seek professional assistance.