The moment your baby first grabs hold of your finger is a very exciting one. Trying to grasp hold of and grip onto small objects are early signs of your little one’s fine motor skill development. Fine motor skills are the ones that our children need to be able to hold a pencil, use scissors and eventually start writing. This is why it is important to help your children with their fine motor skills. There are hundreds of different activities that help to strengthen muscles in hands and fingers to promote the development of fine motor skills, and it’s great to try lots of different ones to see which your child enjoys the most.
Here are five play ideas to get you started:
Play Dough (suitable for 6 months+)
Even if your child hasn’t got to the stage of holding onto things, play dough (or salt dough - which you can make with flour, water and salt) can work well as an activity to strengthen those little muscles in their hands. Play dough is beneficial whether they’re just squishing and squashing a lump of dough, or are old enough to be rolling and shaping their very own doughy creations. For an extra special sensory experience, add in some fresh herbs such as rosemary and thyme or a few drops of essential oil to give the dough a distinct smell, or some food colouring and glitter to make it a more enticing play opportunity.
Finger Painting (suitable for 6 months+)
Developing fine motor skills is all about getting hands on. Finger painting is ideal for children who aren’t ready to hold a paintbrush and pushing their fingers against the paper will help to strengthen their muscles. Edible finger paints made by crushing fruits or mixing yoghurt with food colouring are perfect for children who love to put those sticky fingers near their mouth while they’re enjoying making messy art. For really little ones, help them out by dipping their finger in the paint and pressing gently to make a print. They’ll soon pick it up.
Sponge Squeezing and Bubbles (suitable for 1 year+)
Does your child love playing with water? Most do, and this is no surprise because water is an excellent resource for sensory learning. A fun play idea which boosts fine motor skills development is transferring water between two buckets using only a sponge! This means a lot of soaking and squeezing which flexes those hand muscles. This one also strengthens forearms too. To make the activity more engaging, try adding some bubble bath into the water or some glitter.
Threading Beads (suitable for 2 years+)
Once your child’s hands are a little more nimble, threading beads onto a shoelace or ribbon will be an excellent fine motor skill challenge. If the beads are too little for your child to keep hold of, opt for some dry penne pasta pieces. These can be painted up in lots of different colours too - and holding that paintbrush is also great for fine motor skill development! Threading beads or pasta also support hand-eye coordination and visual memory as children need to remember the pattern of colours they are using.
Bottles and Marbles (suitable for 2 years+)
A fun challenge for children is dropping marbles into old plastic water bottles. Start with three bottles and tie a coloured ribbon around each so that you have a blue bottle, a red one and a green one too. Lay all the marbles out on the floor and encourage your child to drop the marbles in the correct bottle by colour. Remember to keep an eye on your child with this one, as marbles can end up being swallowed or worse, choked on. Coloured pom poms can be used instead of marbles. This activity is also great for boosting cognitive development as it involve quite a lot of thought!
These five play ideas are really suitable for children who are just starting out with their fine motor skills development. As your child grows older, it’s time to think about getting out the crayons and paintbrushes, and eventually scissors and string games like cat’s cradle. Bear in mind that there’s no need to hurry your child. Your baby or young children’s hands are mainly made of cartilage and the hard bones develop over time and do not completely fuse until most children become 11 years old. Fine motor skills will develop naturally over time and the best thing you can do is make sure they have lots of fun activities and games so they can keep practising.
Article supplied by Sam Flatman is an outdoor learning specialist and an Educational Consultant for Pentagon Play. Sam has been designing playgrounds for the past 10 years and has a passion for outdoor education. Sam believes that outdoor learning is an essential part of child development, which can be integrated into the school curriculum.
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