What Are Fine Motor Skills?

Fine Motor Skills Unveiled 

You won’t believe all that goes into fine motor skill development.  Unless you are a pediatric occupational therapist like me or work in the medical or educational field, you’ve probably never even thought about it.  But when you have precious little ones in your life, it’s a pretty good idea to know what to expect as they grow and navigate their world.  Find comfort in knowing if they are on track or maybe need a little help getting there. 

While reading this blog I hope that you learn all about fine motor development and how to help your child meet these essential milestones in a fun and engaging way.  Let’s take a minute to talk about fine motor skills and what this actually means.  Most people think of all the little muscles in our hands and fingers, and developing those muscles to be able to perform tasks like fastening buttons, stringing beads, cutting with scissors, and handwriting. What most people do not realize is all that is necessary for fine motor skills to develop.  In this post, I will provide a brief description of each skill component. Gee, where do I start as so many things go into this most important and complex skill!   

Let’s begin at the root of everything, our core.  You know, all the muscles in the middle of our bodies, our tummy and back.  This is our foundation, where all movement originates.  If our core is not strong and steady, it is nearly impossible to do anything coordinated and skilled with our legs, feet, arms, and hands.  Just imagine building a house without a solid foundation.  Your structure will not be very sound. Our core is also the tripod for our eyes. The platform on which we take the photo of our environment. A steady base takes a clear shot! Skill acquisition starts here! 

Now I’ve only scratched the surface, there is still so much more to talk about.  From here I’ll move on to shoulder stability. The shoulder girdle is the anatomical structure that houses the arm.  The muscles supporting this joint must be strong and brawny to enable the arms and hands to carry out precise movements. And since I’m on the subject of arms, let’s talk about how they must work together. Or, in other words, the importance of bilateral coordination.  Many tasks require the operations of two hands working in a concerted manner.  Cutting food, opening containers, tying shoes, stabilizing paper while writing, …just to name a few!  

Okay, next I’ll talk about eye-hand coordination.  This is another important team of body parts that need to work together.  The body must coordinate controlled hand movement with controlled eye movement.  The brain must process the visual information that it receives to guide the movement of the arm and hand to execute a function.  And of course, the eyes need to be able to make sense of what it sees, also known as visual perception.  This is the ability of the eyes to send visual information to the brain. The brain then processes and interprets the visual information.  Okay, at this point you might be thinking….  are we there yet?

Nope, stay with me! Believe it or not, there’s still more to talk about.  Fine motor skill development requires visual-motor integration skills as well.  This is the ability to perceive and process visual information to deliver a motor response. Being able to copy shapes and form letters requires visual-motor integration.

Then we have proprioception and sensory processing skills.  Now that’s a mouthful.  What is that? You may be wondering.  Proprioception is the ability of our body to know how it is moving and where it is in space. For example, being able to close your eyes and touch your nose with the tip of your index finger. Sensory processing skills are the ability of our body to receive and interpret sensory information and deliver an appropriate response to the sensory information.    

Stay with me, we are almost there! 

Hand strength is also very important.  Strength in the hands allows us to apply adequate force to push or pull objects, to grip and hold objects, and to carry things. Adequate hand strength is necessary for pencil grip and many other fine motor tasks.

Finally, I will get to the last skill component, motor planning.  This is often referred to as praxis. Motor planning is the ability to know what steps to take, in what order, and then carry out the novel motor action needed to execute the plan.

Wow, can you believe how much goes into fine motor skill development? Applaud the little people in your life as they tackle this very complex skill. If a child is struggling with fine motor skill development, it may be due to one or more of the many things discussed in this blog.  Seek the advice of a pediatric occupational therapist if you have concerns.  

Would you like to have this info at a glance? This infographic does just that:

Fine Motor Skills Unveiled

The Fun Strokes blog is designed for educational and informational use only for teachers, therapists, and parents. It is not intended as medical advice or therapeutic treatment that would be provided in an individualized treatment plan. If you suspect a child has delays, please consult an occupational therapist.

Published by Linda Craig Dennis

Pediatric Occupational Therapist, Author and Creator of Fun Strokes Pre-writing Program

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