Fine Motor Skills – How Can We Help Our Kids Develop Them?
Many La-la-llama products are designed to help babies, toddlers and older kids develop essential skills. As part of our ‘Behind the Buzzwords’ series, we’ll explain what fine motor skills are, why they’re important, how you can help your kids develop them – and what to look out for when choosing toys.
What are fine motor skills?
Fine motor skills involve the coordination of small muscle movements to do delicate tasks. This is in contrast to gross motor skills, which are movements of large muscle groups. Kicking a ball and running involve gross motor skills; picking up a pea and coloring use fine motor skills. Both require hand-eye coordination.
Both fine and gross motor skills are being developed from birth. They are closely linked to cognitive development, and kids will continue to develop and improve on their skills through childhood and into adulthood.
Why are fine motor skills so important for toddlers?
Fine motor control is essential for self-care and life skills, such as eating, getting dressed, brushing teeth and more. Developing fine motor skills in an age appropriate way gives babies and toddlers a solid foundation for later learning: doing a puzzle or holding a crayon is a great way to practice using muscles that are needed to button a shirt, hold cutlery or write a sentence.
All kids develop at their own pace, and most will have ‘islands of ability’, which is to say they’ll be above average in some areas (a whiz at jigsaw puzzles, for example) and average or behind in other areas (they can’t put on a sweater). This is normal. If you notice that your child refuses to attempt a whole set of skills, is failing to meet milestones, or if you have concerns about your child, it’s best to consult a healthcare professional, such as your paediatrician, or talk to your child’s teacher or childcare worker.
How can you encourage kids to develop fine motor skills?
Fine motor skills are used in hundreds of everyday activities and you can find ways to challenge your kids at every stage. The key is to let kids struggle a little (don’t jump in and help straight away!) as this is when they learn and to give them repeated opportunities to master a new task or skills. A few examples:
- Mealtimes – when babies begin feeding themselves, picking up small items (e.g. peas) is a fun way to develop fine motor skills. Toddlers can be encouraged to use cutlery while older children may help with food preparation such as spreading butter or scraping carrots.
- Grooming and self care – clothes come with lots of fiddly buttons, zips and laces, which are great opportunities to practice fine motor skills.
- Play together – hand-eye coordination is a key part of fine motor skills, so games such as clapping or peekaboo (for babies), catch (for toddlers), or board games and building sets (for older children) can all help.
- Craft – it doesn’t need to be messy to be effective. From first gripping a crayon through cutting out and coloring in to sewing and bead threading, crafts are great for fine motor control.
Does using a tablet count?
Using a tablet or smart phone does encourage precise movements and hand-eye coordination, which is great, but it only uses a very limited set of motions so it’s best to limit use. Kids need exposure to a wide range of ways to learn and play to get a solid foundation in these areas.
To encourage fine motor control skills, choose toys that reward precise movements. Here are a few examples:
- Jigsaw puzzles
- Lacing or threading activities
- Toys that can be dressed and undressed
- Building blocks or sets
- Sewing, knitting or model making kits
- Painting, drawing and writing toys
- Sorting and posting toys
The amount of time your child spends with the toy is critical, so it’s most important to get toys that suit your child’s interests as well as challenging their abilities. If you kid loves trucks or unicorns, a themed jigsaw or craft kit (depending on age) that they are excited to play with will be much more effective than a worthy but dull educational activity.
This article is part of the La-la-llama ‘Behind the Buzzwords’ series which gives a short, clear explanation of modern parenting phrases and trends. La-la-llama toys are made by parents with parents and kids in mind. Our goal is to help you find the right toys and activities so your kids will learn while they play at every age.