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This post has been co-written with Ben Wolfson, a full-time educator and assistant principal in the USA.
Fine motor control is one of the skills that pervades the preschool and kindergarten classroom, but it’s never graded and it’s not part of any official curriculum. However, learning how to improve fine motor development in young students pays dividends in many different areas from correct pencil grip to manipulating art and music materials.
Embedding Fine Motor Activities
The key to helping students develop the fine motor control required for correct pencil grip is to develop early learning centers to encourage fine motor skills. The pervasiveness of fine motor control is a blessing in disguise as it means that you can always “double dip” and embed fine motor activities in any of your independent centers. Popular early learning centers to encourage fine motor skills include:
Playdough mats are laminated worksheets where students manipulate a block of playdough into a certain shape. This is an excellent activity to help students learn correct letter and number formation as well as how to construct basic polygons. Here are few that you can try:
Students have been tracing lines of dots and dashes for as long as there have been worksheets. The act of tracing forces students to slow down and really concentrate on where their pencil is going, as well as building the muscle memory for the letter or number that they’re practicing. I have quite a few free tracing activities that you can try today. Some are for tracing line patterns, others are for proper letters, numbers or words:
Ten frame mats are a good example of a double dip opportunity to combine math with fine motor skills development. Instead of having students use counters as they are learning one to one correspondence, you can have them developing pincer grasp by using tweezers to count out small objects like themed tokens, beads or pom poms. Tweezers make students think about the amount of pressure needed to pick up the objects as well as showing them the right hand shape for correct pencil grip. Tweezers and pom poms are also great for color-based learning activities. You can download some free printable tweezer activities here:
Mosaics are a great tool for talking about shapes at the same time as generating some beautiful student created work for your bulletin board. Cutting out the shapes required for their picture and then sticking them down in the right place are both excellent fine motor activities and you will want plenty of opportunities for students to practice and develop these skills. For younger children, you can do tearing paper mosaics instead. Here are a few templates where you can stick the paper to for your mosaic:
Finally, Q tip painting is a great alternative to tracing letters and numbers, and students love the artwork they created. There are 2 common ways to do Q tip painting – providing them with the letter or number formed in dots or giving it to them in bubble lettering where they then use a cotton bud dipped in paint to mark out the letter or number. Once they have mastered Q tip painting, you can then challenge them to write it themselves without the shape outline. For much younger children, you can start with dot markers or bingo daubers which are bigger and easier to grip than Q tips.
The key point to remember as you think about how to improve fine motor development in your classroom is to keep it fun. For many students, building hand strength and then applying intense focus to a small task can be frustrating, so keep your fine motor activities short, varied and fun.
In a lesson where you have three independent work stations, consider actively embedding fine motor control as a subsidiary skill in only one of them, and change the task when students repeat the center later in the week. This should be easy to plan out because, as you can see from the various examples above, printable fine motor activities are interchangeable. You can use the same shape templates for playdough one day and cut and paste mosaics another, for example.
Check out some of my best early learning centers to encourage fine motor skills below. You can use many of them to learn literacy or math at the same time!