Developing Fine Motor Skills Through Play

The hand is our most important tool. We use our hands in almost every activity we engage in throughout the day, therefore, hand muscle development, or fine motor development, is crucial to the school success of young children. 

Fine motor skills are developed as children use their hands to interact with the environment. In the past, children were strengthening hand, wrist, and arm muscles as part of the family chores that were necessary to survival, during hours of endless play in the outdoors, or by playing with tangible building toys. But in today’s technological world,  the development of those important muscles can be missed.

Do you have students that have under-developed fine motor skills? I do to! Here are some of my favorite activities that help children develop those important muscles in a playful way:

  • Play games that use upper body strength like crabwalking, catterpillar walking, and the old-time wheelbarrow race game (where one child walks on her hands while another child holds her legs).
  • Ask children to use large sidewalk chalk to draw on uneven surfaces with the arm fully extended.
  • Add sponges to a sensory or water table and let kids squeeze. Provide small containers to collect the water. Add some eye droppers and small tubes to add to the intracaticity of the activity.
  • Provide students large brushes and have them paint alphabet letters, numbers, etc with water. Or, to changeup the fun, make a mixture of cornstarch and water colored with food coloring. Have students create sidewalk art using their large brushes. Brushes naturally encourage the use of large arm muscles. 
  • Encourage students to play on the climbing toys on your playground. Have you noticed that your children who are struggling with fine motor skills are also the ones that lack the upper arm strength to climb? For students to become good at penmanship, not only the fingers need to be developed,  but the entire hand, wrist, and arm.
  • Create simple games where children are required to pinch and open a clothespin. This makes the thumb and pencil-grip fingers work in a strengthening way. 
  • Another outdoor art-based activity is to allow students opportunity to create art using spray bottles with a small amount of food coloring added. Squeezing the spray bottles repeatedly builds hand muscles.
  • Play a game of target practice. Provide a target and have students scrunch a small sheet of newspaper and throw toward a flat target. Make a target with anything you are studying, numbers, letters, etc.

With a little bit of thoughtfulness and creativity, we can integrate fine motor strengthening activities into our daily lessons on literacy and mathematics, increasing our student's ability to be successful in their academic career, as well as increasing their fun!


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For more ideas on how to develop fine and gross motor skills, listen to our podcast interview with Megan MacDonald Ph.D here: