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Fine motor skills

Our fine motor skills are how we move our small muscles and are needed to complete a number of activities, such as writing, cutting with scissors, dressing, brushing our teeth and hair and feeding ourselves.

If your child has difficulty with their fine motor skills, you’ll notice that they struggle with:

  • Writing
  • Drawing
  • Playing with construction toys
  • Cutting with scissors
  • Threading beads
  • Putting together jigsaw puzzles
  • Doing up buttons, zips and shoelaces
  • Using a knife and fork
  • Washing and drying their hands
  • Opening packets

Palmar grasp and release

This is one of the first stages of a child’s development and is a building block for all other fine motor skills. To help them develop, try:

  • Squeezing water from sponges at bath time
  • Posting toys, e.g. shape sorting toys
  • Squeezing play dough
  • Scrunching up paper into balls
  • Stacking blocks on top of one another
  • Throwing objects

Once they’re confident with these activities, you’ll notice that their grasp starts to change and they begin to move their wrist too. Continue developing this grip with activities such as the below, making sure activities are age-appropriate for your child:

  • Pushing / pulling toys
  • Row, row, row your boat 
  • Tug-of-war
  • Tipping water from a beaker or pouring it from one container into another
  • Holding onto the rope of a swing
  • Holding onto the handles of a tricycle 

Pincer grip

Your child will also develop a pincer grip. This is a more precise grip and means they use their index finger and thumb to pick up, hold and release an object. To start with, your child will use their thumb and the side of their index finger. It’s important to help them develop this grip as it’s used for holding a pencil or scissors, handwriting, and functions like doing up buttons, zips and shoelaces.

Activities you can try to help them develop and refine the pincer grip include:

  • Using tweezers to pick up objects and dropping them into containers
  • Threading beads
  • Pinching, squeezing, patting, poking and pulling at playdough
  • Pulling toys using a string
  • Using lacing and sewing boards
  • Picking up small objects - rice, beads, marbles, raisins and lentils - between the thumb and index finger and placing them into containers
  • Tearing paper into strips
  • Peeling off small stickers to make into a picture
  • Turning pages in a book
  • Making paper chains
  • Playing with Fuzzy Felt sets
  • Playing games with clothes pegs
  • Making pipe cleaners into shapes, objects or animals
  • Popping bubble wrap
  • Games with small pieces that require manipulation such as Connect 4, board games, spray bottles

Finger isolation

Your child will also develop the ability to point with one finger at a time. This ability will help them further develop their pincer grip and pencil grip and is important for handwriting, using scissors, doing up buttons, zips and laces and using a knife and fork.

Activities you can try to help promote finger isolation include:

  • Drawing in a sand tray or shaving foam with a finger (please be aware of skin conditions such as eczema that may be irritated by this activity)
  • Flicking a ping pong ball or cotton wool ball using fingers
  • Playing with finger puppets
  • Finger rhymes, e.g. “Round and round the garden like a teddy bear” or “Incey Wincey Spider”
  • Pressing beads or poking holes into playdough using each finger in turn
  • Dialling the numbers of a toy telephone
  • Water pistols

Hand arches

Hand arches let your child shape their hand so they can get a strong hold on different objects. It also helps with controlling pressure and skilled movements of their fingers. If these arches aren’t developed fully, your child could have difficulty using objects like a knives, forks, pencils and scissors.

Activities you can try to help develop hand arches include:

  • Shaking dice using a cupped hand
  • Cutting playdough using a plastic knife
  • Writing with a tiny chalk on a chalkboard using 3 fingertips including the thumb
  • Using playdough to make balls and pressing them into the palm of the hand
  • Using tweezers or tongs to pick up small objects
  • Activities with buttons, coins or small objects
  • Playing card games

If you’ve tried all of these techniques and you’re still not seeing any improvement after four months, please ask nursery/school staff for advice. If necessary, they can then refer you for further support.