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Motor Skills

So many professions require fine motor dexterity, dentists, carpenters, hairdressers, surgeons, mechanics, assembly operators, cosmetologists and the list goes on!

So how important are fine motor skills? Children’s muscle control and coordination is developed in a natural, orderly way, from the top down and from the inside out beginning at the head and working towards the toes while building out from the torso to the limbs. This order of priority, established by the brain, ensures that the large muscles necessary for coordination and locomotion are well organised and in control, before taking on the complex mastery of the more than 60 combined muscles in the hands (let alone the dozens of bones, hundreds of ligaments and tendons). On the developmental order of things, the hands come last.

Young hands begin with simple, reflexive, whole-hand grasping (visualise the toddler in the highchair squashing food in their hand). Over time, early reflexes integrate and the pincer grip kicks in, allowing them to use forefingers and thumbs together in unison. Each day, you’ll see more and more deliberate hand and finger movements. But that’s not fine motor skills — not yet. Fine Motor Skills are the highly precise motor control necessary to bring all five fingers together to do detailed work requiring minute, almost imperceptible movements, such as using a pencil to write your name. A message is required to go from the brain directly to the tips of the fingers.


1. The upper body must be strong enough to hold the body in an upright standing or sitting position. 2. The shoulders muscles must be strong enough to control the weight of the arm, and flexible enough to rotate freely to position the arm for writing. 3. The upper arm holds the weight of the lower arm and hand, delivering the hand to the page. 4. The lower arm provides a sturdy fulcrum on which the wrist rotates. 5. The wrist holds the hand steady and rotates to the appropriate position. 6. The fingers fold around the pencil which is held in place by the thumb. 7. Together, all five fingers do a precision dance on the page: a. placing the pencil at the exact angle to meet the page, b. pressing down and maintaining the right amount of pressure to leave the imprint, and c. coordinating the tiny up, down, left, and right movements across the page.

If any of those muscles are not quite "there", writing his name will be a very hard thing to do. So how do we support this very important skill with our learners? PLAY!! climbing, hanging, swinging, and any other high-energy activities that build strength in his upper body and core muscles are vital precursors to fine motor skills. Twisting, turning, dangling, and swinging helps develop the flexibility and agility necessary for rotating the shoulders, elbows, wrists, and fingers. The monkeybars are a great playground resource for supporting this skill. Pushing, pulling, tugging, and lifting himself up builds strength while developing an intuitive understanding of simple physics such as weight, pressure, and resistance. Messy play is ideal for building up strength and dexterity in the hand muscles. Play-Doh, sand and water play, mud, and any other tactile play, cutting, tearing all are great sensory experiences for the brain and hands which one day may mean neater and more precise handwriting!

Adapted from A Moving Child is a Learning Child - Gill Connell and Cheryl McCarthy

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