What are fine motor skills and why are they so important as your child begins their school career? How does your child measure up?
The ability to color, draw and eventually write is one of the most important skills your child will focus on in kindergarten. And yet, many children enter their formal schooling far behind their peers in this area. Motor skills are often over-looked by parents because the major focus is on learning letters and reading. Read more to find out how to help your child be well prepared to begin their school career.
Watching Kindergarten students pass through my program for 32 years, it is easy to see many similarities in the way children learn, think, develop and excel. Certain skills stand out immediately like language, verbal skills and the ability to think and answer questions quickly. There are always a few students, that even in kindergarten, have their hand up for every question, before I even finish asking it. They usually have the right answer, but not if I change the question a bit in mid sentence! I do that on purpose to keep my students on their toes and to tech them to listen to the whole question.
Other skills are not as obvious at first glance, unless you are an early childhood educator. Fine motor skills including drawing and writing is one of the skill areas that stands out to educators. You can help your child simply by exposing them to certain skills before they begin school. While this may seem obvious to many parents, not all children arrive in school as well rounded as they can be. Many children pick up motor skills naturally and others gain experience in a good preschool program. Many children have the advantage of older sibling and they learn from them. A little practice and exploration at home can give your child a head start on the skills he will need to succeed school.
What are fine motor skills?
For young children, this means the ability to color, draw shapes and pictures, write their name, write letters and numbers. It also means using scissors for cutting on on straight and curved lines, snapping cubes and links together and manipulating small toys. As a wider definition, fine motor skills comprise all the small muscles of the hands and fingers, eye hand coordination and even talking and eating are related to small muscle coordination.
How does your child compare to peers? I ask this not because it is a competition but to avoid putting your child at an unnecessary disadvantage. I have had parents say to me time and again, “I didn’t know they were supposed to know that?” Are children supposed to know everything before starting school, certainly not! But if their peers have attended preschool programs, have the advantage of older siblings or happen to be several months older, they may in fact be ahead of your child. When children start school and seem to be behind their peers, it is often due to a lack of exposure, not necessarily a lack of ability.
Read more below of how to help your child start school with skills and confidence.
Click Here for a Printable Resource to help your child be ready for school.
Six simple skills your child should have for Kindergarten
The level of mastery in these skills mentioned below will vary greatly. Keep in mind, some students turn 5 years old in the beginning of kindergarten, other children will turn 6 years old starting in January. Those few months mean a world of difference to a 5-year-old just starting school. If your child seems delayed in any of these areas, it is easy for you to complete a few activities together that will help your child.
- Draw a simple face or a person with basic features. Simple face, meaning a circle with eyes, nose and a mouth. Being able to add more details like hair, ears, body, limbs etc., is terrific. (see below for the Story of Rebecca)
- Write his/her name to some recognizable extent – bonus if they can name the letters too. All the children will be asked to write their name on their papers and projects multiple times each day. It is a huge advantage if your child is able to write even a few letters of their name. There are often a few kids that have never learned even a letter or two. You can see the look on their faces when they realize that the other children know how to do things that they haven’t learned.
- A functional pencil grip – the correct grip is a tripod grasp, but this will vary greatly with young children. I could write a whole post just on pencil grip but I will spare you and myself. Many young children will hold pencils or crayons with their whole palm, this is okay in preschool but eventually they should be graduating to a more mature grip as their hands get stronger. This pencil grip is used for pencil, crayon, paintbrush etc.
- Scissor Skills – children should have some idea of how to hold a kid-scissor (smaller, safer version of our adult scissors) and snip and cut. If children can cut on straight and curved lines, that is terrific.
- Be able to color, scribble and make some circle like shapes for more than one minute. This probably sounds quite silly but it is quite common in school. Many young children have a lack of physical stamina paired with a short attention span. This is the kid that says, I’m done, I’m done every 30 to 60 seconds. And we will send them back to “add a little more detail” several times so that they can build up their muscle strength and attention span too. Coloring and drawing every day or several times a week makes a world of difference in developing hand strength.
- Pincer Grasp – Most Likely your child has this but it is simple to check. A pincer grasp is being able to pick up a small item between the thumb and pointer finger. Pincer grasp requires the same coordination as holding a pencil or crayon to draw, write and color.
This is hardly a complete list of Kindergarten skills; it is meant as an introduction of motor skills that will be used in the beginning of school. Many children will already have all of these skills in preschool. If your child seems to be slower in developing or is having difficulty with motor tasks, keep reading!
For a Printable list of motor skills and related activities to help develop those motor skills with your child, Click Here. As an added bonus, I have included a $10 or less shopping list of items to help your child be ready for school and a list of free items you can use as well. There is a bonus freebie as well.
There is a Gigantic range of skill levels in every class and Kindergarten and preschool are no exception. Some children walk in the door knowing all their letters, while some know only a few, still other children are reading fluently. What I sometimes see over the years is that parents focus on reading, language and counting skills but will overlook other areas. Some children are brilliant in class but can’t run with their peers or climb up the ladder on the playground. The purpose of this post is to give my readers, particularly all the moms with young children some tools and ideas to help your child be successful.
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If you haven’t already read Leo the Late Bloomer – you should. This picture book is a perfect example of each child developing at their own time, and young children love the story and illustrations. There is no need to rush a skill in a child, the trick is repeated exposure and introduction to skills. Children naturally learn to walk and talk because they see us walking and talking. Other skills are not modeled as often – how often has your child seen you cut, write or draw?
The Story of Rebecca I had a very bright and very funny student many years ago. Rebecca was loud, confident, asked countless questions and was not shy in any way. She was an instant favorite, even though we, as teachers, aren’t supposed to have favorites. (Just like parents aren’t supposed to have favorites either.) During the second week of school we were making school buses to hang on the wall. The children did lots of cutting and gluing to make the bus and add the windows and wheels. Rebecca was one of the students that finished very quickly so I told her to draw a picture of herself in one of the windows. She spent several minutes adding long hair, eyelashes and other details. Since the other students still hadn’t caught up, I suggested she draw some other kids in the other windows, as I have done for years. She surprised me with an answer I had never heard before. Her face turned red, she burst into tears and yelled: But I ONLY know how to draw pictures of ME!! This was a new one, but most 5 year olds are very self centered. After taking a break, the whole class worked on a mini lesson of how to draw different faces and different people. I do make a point to teach my students that there is more than one way to draw a house, sun, tree, animal or a person. Rebecca was very proud at the end of the day that she had learned to draw “other people too”!
Please share this post with all the parents of young children you know. The more prepared students are for school, the more confident they will be as learners.
A typical child will have most of these skills when they enter school or will be developing them during the first few months. Keep in mind, this is just a list involving small muscles and fine motor skills, there are many other language, thinking and social skills your child will need. More to come in future post about those areas. You can easily do a “quick-check” with your child if you think he or she may not have tried something.
Screening Process for New Students
As a special education teacher with a focus on preschool and the primary grades (K,1,2), I generally worked with students that are having difficulty in school. In general, we assess, language, cognitive ability, fine & gross motor skills along with vision and hearing in all students who are entering kindergarten. It is very likely that your school has a similar process. Even though your child may pass the screening, it doesn’t hurt to check some of these areas yourself. Students that pass screenings are generally above the 15th percentile. This doesn’t always mean that each skill area passed, just the total score passed.
What is OT and why is is needed?
An OT or Occupational Therapist helps to teach, reteach, strengthen and improve fine motor skills. Many OTs work in hospitals and rehab facilities and others work in the school setting. A very small percentage of students will have fine motor delays that are severe enough to require intervention with a specialist. Do Not Panic!! In general, a severe delay is when 85% or more of children the same age are functioning at a higher level in a specific skill area. A very small percentage of the students in a school will require intervention from an OT.
Most children, even if they have some delayed development will gain the needed skills during the first few months of school. Most often, children will respond to regular classroom interventions and individualized assistance. Those students who continue to be delayed will often be referred for screening and sometimes testing to see if OT services will be needed. By taking the time to color, draw and play with your child you can assure that they are on the right track with writing and won’t struggle in school.
Gross Motor Skills
Gross motor skills are the large muscle skills including walking, catching and throwing a ball, skipping, kicking a ball and more. Check back for a future post focusing on gross motor skill development for your child. Better yet, sign up here for the newsletter so you get posts directly in your inbox, just Click Here.
If you are reading this post you may have a preschooler or child ready for kindergarten. Don’t panic if they can’t do something I have mentioned. If you notice they have difficulty, it may simply be because they have never been exposed to a skill or asked to do it. I am happy to answer any questions you may have about your child and his development. Don’t hesitate to ask a question in the comments.
My educational experience comes from being a Special Education Teacher for the last 32 years, 28 of those years in Kindergarten. MY main area of focus has been in kindergarten and the primary grades K, 1 and 2. I have worked as a Self Contained Teacher, Resource Room Teacher, Inclusion Teacher, Teacher Trainer and Private Tutor and Workshop presenter over the years. Part of my job is to assess and evaluate students that are having difficulties in school. Since my focus is on students that are struggling, I like to give parents the tools to help their children be confident, successful and independent learners.