Fine Motor Skills at School: The Why and How

fine motor skills, rolling playdough

Teachers of young children are noticing a discouraging trend in their students. More and more children seem to be entering school with poorly developed fine motor skills. As the academic expectations of kindergarten grow, pushing out time for play, children who enter school with insufficient hand strength and coordination to use scissors or hold a pencil are at an increasing disadvantage.

Research shows that well-developed fine motor skills in young children are a predictor of academic success. It makes sense that children with dexterity and hand strength would be more successful in a classroom that requires writing and drawing, but researchers have found that the connection goes beyond that.

Through a series of studies using longitudinal data that tracked students from kindergarten through eighth grade, researchers determined that strong fine motor skills in the early years of life help form connections in the brain that lead to greater academic achievement throughout the school years.

Unfortunately, advances in technology have led many families away from traditional activities that promote fine motor development. The time that many children spend using computers, tablets, and smartphones is time that they are not spending building, drawing, and manipulating objects in the world around them. Many children are beginning school with a deficit of motor skills, both gross and fine. It is important for schools to give children many opportunities to build those skills. (Find research here.)

child cutting with scissors, fine motor skills

What can teachers do?
The obvious way to help students improve their fine motor skills is give them lot of practice! Children who spend the bulk of the day sitting and listening, looking at a screen, or filling in worksheets are not getting the practice they need. Building routines into your day that allow children to build dexterity and strength are key.

Here are some simple suggestions for incorporating fine motor practice into your day:

  • Trade morning worksheets in for fine motor bins. Children love coming into the room and settling down with a Fine Motor Skills Task Box. This type of morning tub makes it easy to integrate fine motor practice and academic work.
    (Read more about my Fine Motor Boxes and get a freebie here!)
  • Do lots of cutting and gluing! Using scissors requires eye-hand coordination and dexterity. The more students do it, the easier it becomes. Cut and glue worksheets are a great way to practice an academic skill while building fine motor skills. Making paper, scissors, and glue available for choice times also provides an opportunity for creativity.
  • Use playdough! Playdough can be used for so many skills. Children can form letters and numbers with it, can use it with toothpicks to make 3-D shapes, or can use it to add and subtract. Keeping individual containers of playdough on hand makes it quick and easy to insert into any lesson.
  • Make time for play, both inside and out. Monkey bars and Lego blocks, jump ropes, and Mr. Potato Head: so many non-electronic ways that children play help build fine motor skills!
  • Give opportunities for children to write on vertical surfaces as well as while lying on the floor. Children use their muscles differently when they write in different positions. Using short golf pencils or small pieces of chalk encourages a proper grip. Placing a sign-in sheet on a wall by your door gives students a chance to write on a vertical surface daily.
  • Let children string beads. This is a very popular choice time activity and can also be used to practice math skills like patterning and addition.

The more you work to incorporate fine motor skills practice into your school day, the easier it will seem. An added bonus to focusing on activities that are heavy on fine motor practice is that they are generally developmentally appropriate, as well. Adding more play and other developmentally appropriate activities eases frustration for struggling students and often improves behavior!

benefits of play poster
Click the poster for a PDF version.

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