What Are the Signs of Weak Fine Motor Skills and How to Improve It?

Development of gross motor and fine motor skills is important among kids which will in turn help them to perform better academically and physically in later years. Fine motor skills involve the small muscles of the body that enable such functions as writi

Development of gross motor and fine motor skills is important among kids because it will in turn help them to perform better academically and physically in later years. Fine motor skills involve the small muscles of the body that enable such functions as writing, grasping small objects, and fastening clothing. Fine motor skills involve strength, fine motor control, and dexterity.

Some children have great difficulty with fine motor skills. Basic things such as writing, picking up tiny objects or buttoning and zipping clothing can be a great challenge for them. If these skills are not addressed, a child with weak fine motor skills might have difficulty at school.

For some children, their hands do not seem to work together in the way that they should. This may lead to such frustration that they may resist activities that require them to coordinate all of the muscles and joints in their hands and fingers. As a result, they do not get to practise these skills correctly or develop the correct muscles. This in turn may affect the development of higher-level fine motor skills, such as writing. It is often at the stage when formal handwriting instruction has commenced that children are identified as having fine motor weakness.

Resultant commonly seen behaviours showing the signs of weak fine motor skills might include:

  • Outright refusal to participate in an activity
  • avoidance techniques (‘I need to get a drink of water’)
  • anger outbursts (rip up paper/tantrums)
  • sadness (crying)
  • ‘defeatist’ behaviour (‘I’m no good, I can’t do this’).

Further, research suggests that children and adolescents with identified motor coordination weakness are at higher risk of experiencing anxiety and even depression associated with their perceived lack of competence in motor activities. Therefore, it is important for teachers and parents to be aware of the impact that fine motor skill performance, or a child’s perception of their own fine motor performance in relation to their peers, may have on the child’s overall behaviour in the classroom. Working to help children develop the best fine motor skills possible at a young age helps to set the stage for success in school and at home, and more so, contributes to them feeling good about themselves.

Signs of weak fine motor skills:

Here is a list of observable behaviors of children with fine-motor difficulties.

  • Difficulty with writing; poor grasp leading to poor form, fluency, and frequent discomfort when writing.
  • Difficulty controlling speed of movements leading to excessive speed and resultant untidy work, or work not being completed due to overly slow movements.
  • Difficulty with precision grip and inaccurate release and therefore problems with games that involve placement of pieces; for example, dominoes.
  • Difficulty with spatial relations leading to difficulties with design and copying.
  • Tearing paper and/or breaking pencils due to force-control difficulties.
  • Difficulty with learning to dress and undress.
  • Preference for outdoor activities.
  • Clumsiness and frustration: spills food; drops objects; breaks objects.
  • Frustration towards and/or resistant behavior to manipulative and graphic tasks.
  • Excessive muscular tension when performing fine-motor tasks.

Activities to develop fine motor skills

There are number of activities which parents can arrange to help the kids for fine motor skills development. The abilities which involve the use of hands, develop over time, starting with primitive gestures such as grabbing at objects to more precise activities that involve precise eye–hand coordination.    

  • Drop clothes pins into a bottle/box. (practice writing grip)
  • Throw darts of the velcro kind. (practice writing grip)
  • Coloring Contest: Get large crayons and break in half. Have child hold the crayon in a pinch Index finger, middle finger and thumb) and color really fast for 2 minutes. To make it a contest, involve the family and see who can color the most of if the family can cover a piece of paper in 2 minutes. (practice writing grip)
  • Pick up things with tongs (ping pong balls - they can be moved from one ice cube tray to another), picking up things with tweezers.
  • Geobaords (can be bought or can be made with hammering nails into woods and child places rubber bands over nails), Lego, pegs and pegboar, Pick up sticks
  • Take-apart ~ Take apart broken mechanical objects by unscrewing the screws with screwdrivers. Any objects with heating units need to be unplugged for at least 6 months. Cut off all cords using wire cutters. An adult should loosen the screws. it is helpful if an adult cuts any wires as they appear.
  • Playing marbles - rolling marbles into a circle
  • Buttoning and unbuttoning (Dapper Dan dolls), zipping & unzippping, tying and untying
  • Stringing beads (similar to ones in children's jewelry kits) - can expand this by doing patterns with beads (math and pre-reading skills) - larger wooden beads available at education specialty stores.
  • Peeling and sticking stickers, Tracing stencils, Sewing cards (at a education specialty stores)
  • Lock boards -wood with a variety of locks (padlocks, combination locks (hard), clasps....) Attach locks to a piece of wood. Allow the child to unlock them.
  • Using scissors, tape, stapler, Small tops, Put tops on jars
  • Real sewing - Places sell large needles, both plastic and metal. Sew through material, mesh, burlap, plastic mesh sheets. If it is difficult - use a sewing loop to make the materials easier to sew through. It's fun to make beanbags. Stuff them with Mardi Gras beads.
  • Sandpaper letters -Using crayons, draw bubble letters on sandpaper and let them color it in. Let them draw on sandpaper.
  • Playdough, playdough, playdough - This is great fun for their muscles! They can practice cutting with scissors. Let them roll it, build with it, just use it!
  •  Clothes pins (the clip kind) - can also use other clips. Use a wire storage shelf and let the child clip the clips onto it. If there are colored ones the child can use them to make patterns. Try picking things up with the clips.
  • Little hands become stronger as children spend hours digging in the sandpit, making mud pies and hosting tea parties.

Useful links:

* How to Improve a Child's Fine Motor Skills

*Fine-Motor Skill Development: Tips for Parents

* Developing Fine Motor Skills (pdf)

* Development of fine motor skills from early years

* Fine Motor Skills Games

 * Children and their Fine Motor Skills Development


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