As a parent, when you bump into a fellow parent at the community center or local Starbucks, you may find yourself sharing about your child’s firsts…the first time he/she sat up or walked, spoke his/her first words…but not often when your child first held a block or grabbed a Cheerio with a fine pincer grasp.
Yes, our fine motor skills are essential to our everyday life, but often undervalued or overlooked in our children’s young lives…that is, until kindergarten!
All of a sudden, the way your child holds a pencil and how well he/she can write his/her name becomes an urgent state of affairs. The teacher begins asking you “Did ____ play with play dough enough? Does ____ spend too much time playing video games?” You are thinking “What the heck! They walked and talked on time, no one ever told me to focus on their fingers!”
If you are a parent who is hitting this fine motor bump in your child’s developmental road, you may be getting a lot of suggestions on how to build core strength for posture, strengthen your child’s hands by playing with resistive putty, or manipulating small objects to develop hand coordination. While posture, hand strength, and coordination are key to fine motor development, there are some precursors to fine motor skills that are often forgotten:
- Vision: Development of binocular vision is needed to support shifting visual attention from near to far to copy from the board and monitor boundaries when writing on a line. Without vision, handwriting and fine motor play is a mess!
- Vestibular: The vestibular system is located in the inner ear and helps your child know what position his/her head is in (upright, upside down,etc.) when he/she moves in order to balance, use both sides of the body together, coordinate head and eye movements, and stay alert. If your child has difficulty staying seated, holding his/her body upright in order to use both hands to cut paper/zip up a jacket, or has difficulty staying alert and paying attention, he/she may need additional activities to support development of the vestibular processing.
- Proprioception: Proprioception is the foundation for body scheme and body awareness. Body scheme is your child’s internal map of where his/her body parts are. Body awareness is your child’s ability to move his/her body parts in relation to other body parts, how the body controls objects/tools, and how the body feels when interacting with the environment. Before your child can sit in a seat, hold a pencil, or maintain personal space, he/she needs body awareness.
- Tactile: To manipulate tools and objects, your child needs to be able to discriminate/differentiate between various types of tactile information. This helps him/her understand the qualities of those objects and figure out how to manipulate them. If your child uses too much or too little pressure on the pencil or pen, doesn’t seem to know how to position a utensil, or avoids messy crafts, he/she may be having difficulty with tactile discrimination.
Before your child can write or cut on a line, all the senses need to be working together and vision needs to guide the body.
If you are thinking maybe your child may need to spend some time working on these fine motor foundations, what do you do next?
- If your child is already getting occupational therapy support in school, talk to your occupational therapist about exercises you can do at home to build a strong body foundation in order to support your child’s fine motor skill development.
- Check out this article for a few fine motor foundation activities for home to get you started!
Contributed by: Amanda Michel, MLD, OTR/L, Cassandra Andrade-Domeika MS, OTR/L, Karen Basset, MS, OTR/L, Aubrey Schmalle, OTR/L, SIPT