What is All the Talk About Fine Motor Skills ?
You will often hear occupational therapists talk about developing fine motor skills and perhaps this is for handwriting. However, it is much more than holding your pencil properly or writing neatly. Fine motor skills are essential for so many everyday tasks from dressing and teeth brushing to making your Barbie do the splits and getting the last Fruit Loop out of the bowl. Fine motor essentially refers to anything we do with our hands.
Our hands are made up of 27 bones (that’s around one quarter of our body’s bones!), over 30 muscles and 17,000 touch receptors detecting pressure, movement, and vibration - all working together in a highly complex way . Hand skills rely on both somatosensory information (proprioception and touch) and visual information for accuracy .
We use our hands for many functions including power grips for gripping large and heavy items (like carrying in the shopping or walking the dog) and precision grips (like a tripod grip when holding a pen or a pincer grip when doing a zip or button).
We use our hands for detecting sensation from the environment around us – think of a time you touched something strange just because! We also use our hands socially to communicate (like waving, handshaking, giving a hi-5 or signalling stop). Our hands are important for so many things we do every day including eating, attending to personal hygiene, dressing, driving, typing, writing, gesturing, making phone calls, texting, playing xbox and so much more!
Why should kids develop their fine motor skills?
Evidence has demonstrated the link between fine motor development and other areas of development including language, academic achievement, and social cognition. As infants develop their fine motor skills, they have new opportunities for learning by interacting with their environment and people in new ways that further facilitates their development.
Children with well-developed fine motor skills are able to take increased responsibility for their own health and physical wellbeing by taking control over the things they can do for themselves and also what they can do with and for others which in turn fosters a sense of belonging and self-esteem.
How do fine motor skills develop?
Early Development of the hands in a typical child begins with a grasp reflex (the baby will hold onto an object placed in the hand). Grasping tends to be towards the ulna (pinkie) side of the hand.
At four months, whilst lying on their back, the baby will use two hands together to reach. They can extend their hand and turn their hand up and down. The arms can now move separately from the trunk.
At five months, the child can reach, grasp, and shake an object voluntarily using their eyes to guide the way. By six months, the thumb is becoming more active and grasping is moving toward the radial (thumb) side of the hand.
Within the next six months, babies can begin to manipulate and explore by pushing, pulling, squeezing, rotating, and releasing objects. Fingers are beginning to move in isolation (e.g. pointing) and movements are more purposeful (e.g. imitating clapping or turning a page in a book). The baby begins to crawl, picking up items along the way, which helps develop palmer arches and refine various finger movements and a variety of grasping positions.
At ten months the baby can use a tripod grasp (thumb, index, and middle fingers holding the item) and an inferior pincer grasp in the pads of the fingers.
By twelve months this is further refined to a fingertip pinch.
What should I do if my child has delayed development of fine motor skills?
Some signs of atypical fine motor development may include: continual mouthing of objects beyond three years, reduced exploration of objects, difficulty manipulating objects, difficulty using construction toys, difficulty with self-care tasks such as using cutlery or brushing teeth, use of whole hand when holding small items rather than tripod or pincer grasps, and difficulty imitating actions with the hands.
Occupational therapists work with children to help develop fine motor skills. An assessment will be required to determine if there is a delay and establish their skill level. Goals will be developed to help monitor progress, and activities will be done within sessions and may be provided for home also.
If you have any concerns about your child’s fine motor skills, please get in touch today.