Get a grip: Developing fine motor skills in children

Your 7-year-old can't tie his shoes, but is on the 10th level of his video game. It's time to put the technology down and work on fine motor skills.

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  • Technology has brought a lot of amazing changes to our world. It's also created a few problems. As young children grow up with technology, their bodies develop differently than they used to. Kids who spend too much time with devices are not only at risk for obesity and problems developing gross motor skills, their fine motor skills might not get developed in the way they should. You can help your children learn to use their entire hands, not just their swiping fingers, by providing fun activities for them. Here are eight great ways for kids to develop fine motor skills.

  • Coloring and writing

  • This idea may seem obvious, but as schools phase out handwriting in favor of typing and computer use, some children never learn to form letters and numbers properly or hold a pencil correctly. Around age 3 or 4, children begin to show interest in the alphabet. Have them learn to write their name, then other letters. Children who know to keep crayons out of their mouths can begin scribbling on paper, and preschoolers can learn to stay within the lines when using a coloring book. Kids who develop a love for drawing will continue to do it throughout their growing up years.

  • Building blocks

  • When children are reaching toddler age, get some blocks to play with. Start with blocks that can be stacked. Babies delight in knocking over towers and building them up again. Then, try interlocking blocks 2-year-olds can begin to put them together to make things. If you work with your child, you can create houses, animals and interesting buildings. Older children can work with smaller interlocking blocks and building sets. Favorites at my house include Mega Bloks, K'nex and LEGO.

  • Cutting practice

  • When I sent my oldest daughter to preschool, I was mortified when I realized I'd never given her a pair of scissors and she didn't know how to cut. She caught up quickly, and is no longer scissors-delayed, but the act of using scissors to cut is an important one. The opening and closing motion requires hand strength, and cutting out a particular shape or on a line requires dexterity and hand-eye coordination.

  • Around age 3, allow your child to use safety scissors to learn to cut. Some of these types of scissors don't even have metal blades. Start by having children cut the ends off of strips of paper. My youngest daughter enjoys cutting a piece of construction paper into many small pieces, telling me what the shapes look like with every cut. I've even found cutting workbooks, which allow a child to cut pre-designed papers to make fun objects and practice various cutting skills.

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  • Puzzles

  • There are many puzzle apps for tablets and phones, but letting your child manipulate puzzle pieces is even better. Toddlers can do chunky wooden puzzles. Around age 4 all of my children have become puzzle fanatics, enjoying the challenge of 25 - 60 piece puzzles. Now my older children can do more difficult jigsaw puzzles, and we often get one out over a long weekend. A brand that has been consistently good for us is Melissa and Doug. Puzzles can also be found at secondhand stores and yard sales, but they may be missing pieces.

  • Dress up time

  • Think about all the finger tasks involved in getting dressed. Pulling on clothes, snapping snaps, doing buttons, zipping zippers and tying shoes all use fine-motor skills. Help you child learn these skills by dressing up dolls first. Their soft bodies don't mind being pinched and they have infinite patience. Praise your child as he or she tries. Developing fine motor skills takes time.

  • As they get older and learn to put on their own clothes, make sure they have the opportunity to use their hands to manipulate the fasteners on clothing. Hook and loop closures are very popular and convenient on children's shoes. I have made a conscious effort to buy my first graders a pair of lace-up tennis shoes so they can learn to tie. I've heard more than one anecdote from a frustrated teacher who spends too much time tying shoes before recess.

  • Make music

  • A great way to use hands, fingers and minds is to learn to play an instrument. As my children have learned piano, their dexterity has improved. They feel excited when they master a difficult passage or piece. As their hands grow, so does their ability. Even if they don't stick with it and become excellent musicians, music lessons will greatly benefit children during the years they are growing and learning.

  • Origami

  • The Japanese art of paper folding is a really fun way to hone fine motor skills. The possibilities are endless, and the supplies are easy to find. Paper, scissors and patterns are all you need. Step-by-step tutorials are free online. Most libraries will have a few books to loan. Origami paper is thinner and comes in fun patterns, but simple copy paper works too for many patterns. There are also specialty books like one my son has, which is full of Star Wars-themed origami. Try origami with your kids. It takes a little bit to get started, but seeing your paper creation is rewarding.

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  • Sewing and crafting

  • There has been a resurgence of homemaking skills lately. Knitting clubs and DIY projects abound. These types of arts, like crochet, needlepoint and sewing, are a great way for older kids to develop fine motor skills. If you are not talented in the area of sewing or crafting, purchase an inexpensive kit that will produce a finished project without too much work. Use the Internet and sites like Pinterest, MarthaStewart.com and Spoonful.com for ideas. The possibilities for crafting and creating are truly endless.

  • Parents want their children to be healthy and well-developed in every aspect of life. Technology has its place, but it can keep kids from developing their bodies as they should. When you teach your children, don't forget the importance of fine motor skills. Their development is in your capable hands.

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Amy M. Peterson, a former high school English teacher, currently lives in Oregon with her husband and four children. She spends her days writing, reading, exercising and trying to get her family to eat more vegetables.

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