How can eight -year-olds put together LEGO and Rainbow Loom masterpieces with such precision and agility? Those nimble fingers and sharp eyes didn’t come out of nowhere. From an early age, children develop and master all-important fine motor skills. Ultimately, those abilities—to pick up small objects, hold them steady and use them purposefully—make a huge difference in a child’s and a family’s quality of life.
That’s why the bright, eye-catching toys attached to the side of the crib and the playpen aren’t just decorative. Their knobs and dials and levers and buttons entice babies to touch and poke and grasp. Initially, babies grab and put all objects in their mouths. Before long, however, they learn to use their fingers and wrists to push and pull, twist and manipulate. (They also learn to pick up dog kibble from the dish, plus dust bunnies from under the sofa, and drop Cheerios into all sorts of interesting places, so adult supervision is always required.)
When a wee one can hold a spoon and a toothbrush, button a pair of pants, draw with a crayon and, ultimately, tie those shoelaces, there is a wonderful sense of accomplishment and independence. The teen who can text with two thumbs, the surgeon who can perform laser surgery and the fine jewelry designer who can craft an intricate new piece have, over time, developed excellent manual dexterity and hand-eye coordination. But it all starts in early childhood. And there’s a lot you can do, as a parent or caregiver, to help your little ones hone those crucial fine motor skills.
In the bathtub and the kitchen, at the sandbox and the crafts table, help them to play games and enjoy tactile activities that involve grasping and manipulating objects.
Stacking, sorting and pull-apart toys, puzzles, basic board games, books, colouring books, crayons, finger puppets and play dough all help to promote fine motor development. However you don’t need to spend a lot of money to get the same results. If your little ones want to do what you’re doing, let them be helpers. Baking, gardening and household tidying present ample opportunities to build finger strength and skills.
Basic kitchen tools—such as plastic salad tongs, a turkey baster, a squirt bottle, a whisk, a rolling pin, measuring spoons and cups—can go into a drawer or bin reserved especially for the pint-sized assistants.
For snack time, get them to transfer their own finger foods, such as mini carrots, pepper slices, berries and cheese cubes, into empty egg cartons and carry them to the table.
If you’re crafty, try finger painting and activities that involve folding paper or cutting, gluing and pasting. You can make necklaces by threading pasta tubes onto string and then painting them. You can also make fridge-worthy artworks using sequins, puff balls, paper doilies, glue, kiddies scissors and construction paper.
Outdoors, sidewalk chalk, action figures, bubble wands and sand toys will keep those little fingers busy and moving in the right directions. Don’t mind a mess? Shaving cream in the bathtub and sparkly play dough, slime and Jell-O at the kitchen table offer lots of possibilities for fine motor fun.