Wednesday, October 5, 2011

How to Improve Fine Motor Skills in Your Preschooler

How to Improve Fine Motor Skills in Your Preschooler

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We have already been reprimanded by the local Kindergarten teacher and Munchkin Girl is only three years old.  Several weekends ago our local elementary school offered a fun program to kids ages 3-5.  The idea is to have a bunch of crafts and games and get to meet the Kindergarten teacher.  I was really excited and so was Munchkin.

We found a good station right away and my daughter happily started coloring.  Pretty soon the Kindergarten teacher walked over.  She seemed very warm and we introduced ourselves.

"This is my daughter," I said.  "She's three and is very excited to be here."

The teacher looked down at Munchkin and smiled but then grabbed the crayon right out of her hand. 

incorrect way to grasp a crayon, learning to write
"She's coloring the wrong way.  See?  She's making a fist," the teacher said.  "You really need to break that habit before she gets to Kindergarten.  You wouldn't believe how many children come to Kindergarten and are still coloring this way!  It's because they don't have strong enough muscles.  You really need to work on fine motor skills and fast!  Here honey, do it like this," she said.  She grabbed Munchkin's hand and pressed her fingers together and contorted the crayon so that she was coloring with her fingers "pinching" the crayon.

The teacher walked away and everyone was staring at us.  It had never entered my mind before to think about how she was holding her crayon.  This wasn't exactly turning out to be the fun experience I had in mind.  I was actually beginning to panic.  She needed therapy!  She was going to need extra help!  If I was a good Mommy, she would already be holding her pencil the right way!  Maybe if I didn't work, I would have been able to cultivate her fine motor skills....and ON and ON and ON went my brain.  You get the picture.  General frantic thoughts of a doting Mommy.

Then I took a deep breath.  She's not even 3 and half yet for crying out loud.  She's a very bright kid so I'm sure she won't go to high school holding her pen in a fist.  That being said, although we work on fine motor often, we clearly needed more practice and maybe some fresh ideas.  I decided to consult with my good friend and former Kindergarten teacher, Susan Case.  Susan is an expert on young children and even has her Master's Degree in this field and is the author of Kindergarten: Tattle-Tales, Tools, Tactics, Triumphs and Tasty Treats for Teachers and Parents. I told her what happened and here is some advice from her, which I think every Mom should know:

It is disturbing that the kindergarten teacher made you and Little Munchkin feel badly for not holding a pencil correctly. She is three! Having her self-esteem nurtured and playing/learning with age appropriate activities are far more important than doing something she is not ready to do.

The ability to correctly grasp a pencil is achieved after the large and small muscles have gone through stages. There is a process of development called "big to small" and "proximal to distal". This means that children develop the larger muscles of the trunk, shoulders, and arms before the smaller muscles of the hands, wrists, and fingers. Using the finger muscles to “correctly” grasp a pencil can only be accomplished when the muscles are strong enough and the child is interested and willing.

Developing fine motor skills can be frustrating and challenging for some children. Watch your child’s level of frustration. Use praise and rewards for accomplishments. Gradually increase the time of activities. This play/work time needs to be pleasurable, attainable, and rewarding so that your child will continue to engage and make progress.

Young children learn through sensory-motor integration. They enjoy learning with interesting textures and materials. The following activities will foster fine motor skills:

Activities to Develop Fine Motor Skills:
  • Pouring sand, water, salt, sugar, rice, or beans using bowls, funnels, spoons, cups, tubes, rolls, colander
  • Sorting small objects with interesting textures like cotton balls, pastas, sponges, and rocks placing them into egg cartons
  • Pushing objects through a slot like pennies or buttons into a Piggy Bank or container with a slit in lid; pushing pegs into a board
  • Picking up marbles and putting them in a jar; for variety, have child stand up and drop marbles into jar or drop balls or other small objects into container or sack
  • Building with blocks, logs, legos
  • Lacing with lacing cards – poking string through holes and pulling
  • Grasping wooden puzzles pieces and placing correctly
  • Arranging rocks, leaves, beans, cards, pasta, sticks or whatever interests child
  • Picking stickers off page and successfully placing onto something
  • Playing with Play Dough and clay: pulling, pressing, stretching, rolling, pounding, squeezing, pinching
  • Squeezing glue bottles, water guns, sponges
  • Shaking bottles of glitter
  • Beading necklaces with yarn or pasta wheels and lacing string
  • Pushing pipe cleaners into foam shapes with center cut out or push into colanders
  • Marking with fat pencils, crayons, markers, and sidewalk chalk
  • Cutting with child safety scissors which are blunt and fits hand. Opening and closing the scissors as well as cutting increases hand strength.
Over the past several weeks, we have spent time working on all these ideas and have come up with a few favorites.  We still have lots to try, but one thing I have noticed that these activities keep kids busy for hours!  We don't usually make anything super cute that I can put up on Pinterest, but the experience is the fun part!  I also didn't think Little Buddy would be able to do much with this at 19 months, but he's been great.  He makes a HUGE mess but can do everything big sis can do!

 First, we tried a squeeze bottle project.  We mixed equal parts flour, salt and water and the mixture into four different squeeze bottles with some paint at the top:

increase strength, improve fine motor skills
activities for toddlers, raining day activities

Next I got a bunch of Christmas stickers and Munchkin Girl peeled them all off and stuck them on her tree.  Little Buddy had fun with this too, although I had to peel his stickers

Toddler playing with stickers to improve fine motor skills

We also have really enjoyed pouring.  We use water, buttons, even colored rice.  I bought some paper cups and put letters on them and they use them for pouring and also to practice learning the letters.  I also get out plastic measuring cups, spoons, etc., anything that's fun for pouring.  This makes huge messes, but literally will keep them both busy for an entire hour so the cleanup is worth it!!

They also enjoy playing with money.  Lots of money.  I took an old empty salt container and took out the top silver part.  This made a perfect jar to drop pennies into.  It was a little hard to get the pennies out, but I have lots of pennies.

After all this, I'm happy to report that with just a little bit of practice and coaching, Munchkin Girl can hold the pencil correctly!  I try not to push her too hard though, because as Susan said, she's still learning!!

crayon grasp

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    If you enjoyed this post, you will love our book!  Susan and I teamed up and released The Happy Mommy Handbook: The Ultimate How-to Guide on Keeping Your Toddlers and Preschoolers Busy, Out of Trouble, and Motivated to Learn in July, 2012.  If you have ever tried to cook dinner while your kid clings to your leg and cries, this is the book for you!  As we did above, we give you a Mom's point of view and a teacher's point of view, so that you can do activities that not only keep the kids busy, but also keep them motivated to learn and develop their natural curiosity.  Kids behave better when they are given challenging projects to work on, which will in turn give you more free time to do the things you really need to do, like washing dishes, paying bills, and relaxing so that you can be a better Mom!

    We were thrilled be to be given the opportunity to talk about this to you in person!  Check out this video we created to show you more about the book!

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    1. That's terrible that you'd have a teacher say that, especially at a fun event! But at least you turned it into a positive. I hold my pencil the "wrong" way, but my handwriting is pretty nice, if I do say so myself!!

    2. I may have to bookmark this for later reference. I recently wrote a post about toys and their influence on the development of crucial skills.

      Stopping by from Get Wired Wednesday and following via GFC. I would love for you to stop by my blog at

    3. I need this for my son who turned five and uses a fist. He's not in school yet so whew, we have time. I'm not worried yet though, I think he'll be just fine, but it is good to have ideas on how to help him. I'm all for making life easier for him when he hits school. Thanks!

    4. Looks like playing "narbles" is not only extremely fun, but beneficial, too! :)

    5. Hi lovely lady.
      Helping other Mothers is so sweet of you...
      We need more of you and this is a great Idea you had talk about.
      I hope you have a wonderful Merry Christmas with your family. and God Bless !!
      XXOO Diane

    6. You now have a new follower, Can you please Follow back?

      Tweet with me on Twitter to.!/CHRISTY1986P

      Become a fan on my Christina's voice Fan page.!/pages/Christinas-Voice/133218916750446

      Thanks have a great day!

    7. I love what you are doing with her. I think the teacher was a little outspoken.

    8. Hello, I am a new follower! I look forward to seeing your future postings! 
      If you find time please stop over and follow my blog @ Http:// on the right of my page is my links for twitter and Facebook. I thank you in advance! Have a wonderful Day!

    9. Just stopping by from the Fun Friday Hop! What a great list of activities to build fine motor skills! I love setting up fine motor activities for my tot and preschooler and this list will help me change things up a bit! I'm a new follower on GFC!


    10. So nice to meet you thanksn for sharing this great information.I have just found your lovely blog through the blog hop this weekend wonderful to join in. I'm now following you hope you visit me and follow back so nice to find new friends to catch up with. Have a great day.

      Always Wendy

    11. Stopping by from "Finding New Friends Weekend Blog Hop"! Happy Holidays!
      Wouldn't mind if you stop by and follow me too:

    12. following from blog hop.

      I like your ideas on developing fine motor skills. These are activities we are working on right now on my blog. Hop on over if you'd like to see our idea.

      Veornica @

    13. These are wonderful, specific ideas to help develop fine muscle control! That teacher certainly could use them. Anyways, I'd like to invite you to share this post at my new link party: Teach Me Tuesday! You can link up at I hope to see you there!

      Carla @ Whole Child Creative Curriculum

    14. Hi, new follower via Tattletale Tuesday Blog Hop.

    15. Love these ideas that you have had. As a former teacher for primary grades I have no idea why that teacher did that. At certain points they are doing certain things. Kindergarten and First Graders still color the sky purple. They still write letters backward. It is part of development. So a three year old holding a crayon all part of it. I never understand teachers like that. Why would she ever put your daughter on the spot like that! Ridiculous. Anyways love your ideas :) Thanks for linking up. Great post!!!

    16. Thanks so much for linking up at Teach Me Tuesday!! I hope to see you again next week too!

      Carla @ Whole Child Creative Curriculum

    17. I would have been upset with the teacher, at leat a little bit. Kids all take diffent amounts of time to do things, and with 2 years still to go, that was not what I would have called "welcoming". Thanks for the great ideas though!!!

    18. Great post! My youngest daughter is 3 1/2 as well and she holds her crayons the same way. Her teacher has never mentioned to me about the way she holds them, but I'm not if they help her with that at school.

      I'm a new follower every way I could find. You have a great site and hope you can get the chance to visit mine and return the favor. I also just posted the Winter Wonderland Blog Hop if you'd like to join! Thanks!

    19. Hello I found this linked on pinterest. I have been struggling with my 4 yr old on this issue. He has other issues so it has been hard to get him to continuously hold pencils and crayons correctly. You posted a great list but here are some things I was told by his OT that might help someone who finds your blog.

      Improving preprinting skills
      Connect the dots, mazes and stencils, tic tac toe, thumbprint shapes and letters - have the child trace something with stamps or paint using their finger.
      Have the child practice letters with a magnadoodle, a tray filled with salt or sand, side walk chalk, Popsicle sticks, cooked spaghetti noodles, or foil wrapped board with a Popsicle stick. Or as also found on pinterest a ziploc bag full of kids paint.

      Use small crayons, breaking them if needed.

      Have child hold a small object such as a coin or marble with their pinky and ring finger while drawing.

      Improving printing skills

      Use a sheet of sandpaper under the child's paper for children who use inappropriate pressure, it gives them sensory feedback.

      Have the child practice letters with a magnadoodle, a tray filled with salt or sand, side walk chalk, Popsicle sticks, cooked spaghetti noodles, or foil wrapped board with a Popsicle stick. Or as also found on pinterest a ziploc bag full of kids paint.

      Place items in between words for appropriate spacing, such as Popsicle sticks, stickers, fingers, m&ms, etc.

      For line placement with letters use grass, sky and dirt rules. You can use a highlighter to show where the letters go. SKY bdfhkly. DIRT gjpqy. GRASS aceimnorsuvwxz.

    20. Thanks for your post :) We do also do a lot of pouring and after doing a lot of cleaning I thought about using a tray where they place all the "pouring equipment", Most of the faling rice, water....falls into the tray. It works also very good when we work with glitter.

    21. As a pediatric occupational therapist I have to comment. Developmentally, your munchkin was grasping just perfectly! It is a natural progression in grasp development! Children then typically move into a grasp where their wrist/back of hand is turned to sky and thumb to paper. Next is the grasp we hope to see (about age 5) but they typically still move the crayon with their whole hand; the finger movements will come over the next year! Development is an amazing thing; God is good!

      1. By the way, love the ideas!!! Thanks!

    22. I'll add SWINGING to the list too. It's so great for building those muscles. Just pinned this onto our Fine Motor Board.

    23. Light Brite is also an effective tool for this. Not only are they grasping the peg, they need to push it through the hole and paper.

    24. I have been teaching preschool for thirty years and yes kids 3 and 4 hold their pencils "the wrong way" and that is okay. The ideas listed in this post I have used with my children, one thing I would like to add is activities that build shoulder stability. The old wheelbarrow rides where you old their feet and they walk on their hands, overhead monkey bars (although they are getting hard to find) and laying on thier tummies for stories, coloring or at the very least watching tv, I had a student who struggled at 4.5 with his name and any crayon work foro that matter. The day he mastered the over head monkey bars was the day I could begin to recognize his letters. Susan was right about big to little having the strength of the torso to sit at the table and stability in the shoulder are a vital piece of the writing puzzle. good for you mom for seeking advice and providing your child opportunity to learn this skillin a fun and relaxed way. See Parents are teachers too!

    25. I am surprised any teacher would ever say that, especially in such a direct way!

      Another tip aside from the great fine motor skills activities you've listed: tell the child to make an "L" with their pointer finger and thumb (just like in sign language). It's the perfect grip! I remind my preschoolers and they automatically switch. In no time, most of them have gotten into the habit of holding their utensils in the way we do as adults!

    26. Wow Katie!!
      I am soooo happy I have found your blog!
      I have a 5 year who turns 6 in a couple weeks and a 3 month old and I fit in that category of putting a dvd on for my son to watch when I’m busy getting dinner ready or breastfeeding. It is extremely tiring jumping back and forth between the two plus the domestic obligations that need to be done too.
      However you have turned my frown upside down! YAY!
      I too never knew about the details of developing there fine motor skills. I was a fulltime working mother when my eldest was only 6 months and never did all these things that you mention above now I have vowed to be there for both of my boys this time around. I had found myself doubting whether I was a good mother for not teaching my son these skills before kindy. He is at primary school now and is a bit of a scholar, but it did take A LOT of practise to bring him up to scratch. I am soo buying your book to help me develop these skills with my youngest. I feel totally blessed to have someone answer my prayers. The past few weeks I had been racking my brain on finding fun games for my eldest to play while I was busy and thanks to you and Susan I can now teach and have fun with them at the same time!
      Thank you and pinterest! With out pinterest I may have never have found you as quick as I have now. Looking forward to reading your book and sharing our experiences too 
      Kind Regards


    27. In my kindergarten class, we use tweezers to pick up dried beans, peas, and corn. I purchased the suction shapes that you use in bathtubs and turn them upside-down. The
      kiddos can then place the beans they pick up on the little suction pads.

    28. I was told my daughter needed to work on her upper body strength when she was in pre-k. They suggested stuff like letting the kids play fight outside pool noodles, putting a poster board on the wall and having her draw on it so her arms are slightly raised up, or (my favorite) getting a bucket of water and a paint brush and let her pretend to paint the outside of the house.

    29. Unbelievable. I would have seen the head of this nursery about this teacher's attitude Nd the negative learning experience she provided. Apart from being prejudiced and unprofessional, it is also perfectly normal to hold a pen this way at 3. The lack of fine motor skills is the reason why sensible countries like the Scandinavian countries, Germany etc. don't let children start school until 6 or 7 let alone learn to write. Children at that age aren't able to do 'pretty and 'neat' as nature would have it. We run an art retreat in Italy and ourselves have 3 and 5 year old girls. Both are perfectly normal, tri-lingual and as creative as any kid that age. Although we are both experienced teachers and expose our children to lots of arty activities, it wouldn't occur to us to force either of them to hold a pen or brush in a way un-natural for child that age. The accuracy and tidyness in their work will develop with age, encouragement and plenty of exposure to activities allowing them to develop skills naturaly, not by negative criticism through an unprofessional teacher.

    30. Good post An interesting discussion is worth a comment as in this age group children learn quickly and as they grow older they start exploring.
      Top Preschool education,
      Pri Primary Education

    31. Thank you! I am an Occupational Therapist and I end up working with more children who were forced to "fix" their skills or pushed to develop the "right" ways of doing things way too early. Kids need to play and explore when they're little, not spend years "preparing" for kindergarten! They're getting ready if they're allowed to develop in a normal sequence, not if they're pushed to the next step too soon. Kids need a wide variety of unstructured play experiences and safe opportunities to explore nature and art and music and "science-y" stuff and playgrounds and tricycles... much more than they need "preparing" for school. Those things, in actuality, are preparing them much more effectively than practicing their letters and numbers... They'll get there. Snuggling with your child and reading to him or her is a much better way of getting them interested in reading than any computer game or TV show, too. Sadly, I could go on and on. Anyway, thanks for writing!

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