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Fine motor development in the foundational years...

…is important and crucial.

Just last week, on 20 October 2022, the National Curriculum Framework (NCF) for the Foundational Stage was released, based on the vision of the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020. The NCF document details the competencies across domains – and the very first domain is that of physical development.

In today’s edition of our newsletter, we continue our Foundational Learning series by focusing on a very crucial component of physical development – fine motor development.

What is fine motor development?

A motor is anything that can cause movement. The muscles in our body help in movement, and so motor development refers to the development of the muscles of our body.

Motor development can be divided into two main components – gross (big) motor development and fine (small) motor development.

Fine motor development is the development of the small muscles of our body – such as those in our hands and fingers. Fine motor development helps with fine movements of the body such as moving fingers and toes. If these small muscles remain weak and inflexible, tasks like holding and writing with crayons and pencils, using scissors to cut, eating with spoons and forks, and playing with small objects like blocks, beads and puzzle pieces will not be easy.

To understand this better, think back to a time when you sprained your wrist or injured one or more of your fingers. How easy or difficult was it to do everyday tasks like using a key to unlock a door or using a spoon to eat? It mustn’t have been very easy. As the injury started to heal and use of your hand became easier, the tasks must have become easier too.

In the same way, little children are not able to use keys to unlock a door or use a spoon to eat (or do the other activities listed above) with the same accuracy and strength as adults can, because their hand muscles aren’t developed enough. So, planning for and giving them activities to help develop these muscles should be part of regular school curriculum.

How can we support fine motor development?

Before creating a plan for fine motor development, it is important to understand what parts of the hand we should focus on and what needs to be built. The following picture summarises these points:

Let’s start with the wrist.

In terms of foundational learning, a weak and inflexible wrist will make it difficult for a child to scribble, draw and write with crayons and pencils. So, it is important to build wrist strength and flexibility with simple activities such as screwing and unscrewing jar lids, painting with large paintbrushes, and playing with wind-up toys! What other activities would you add to this list?

Now, let’s talk about the palm.

Strong and flexible palm muscles are equally important for scribbling, drawing and writing as well as playing with blocks and other manipulatives. We can help children build their palm muscles with activities such as rolling clay into balls and tubes, using squeezy bottles and playing with building blocks.

However, strength and flexibility are not the only focus areas when it comes to the palm – building tactile awareness is another important focus area.

To understand this better, imagine that you are wearing a pair of rubber gloves on your hands. Will you be able to write with a pencil or a crayon? Will you be able to hold a glass of water with confidence?

Our skin sends signals to our brain about the weight, texture and shape of the object we are holding or using. Rubber gloves muffle these signals, which is why even holding a glass of water becomes a risky task – we may drop it at any moment because our brain is not able to tell our hand how much pressure to apply or how to change our grip. There is lack of tactile awareness.

When children are exposed to a variety of objects with different weights, textures and shapes, it gives their brain a lot of new information and practice on how to handle such objects. We can help children build tactile awareness by setting up activities with a variety of objects such as balls, rope, cloth, sand and so on, on a daily basis.

Finally, let’s focus on the fingers.

When we first give children toys, blocks and crayons to play with, they grasp these objects with their entire palm. This is because their finger muscles are not strong enough to hold and manage these objects. So, it is important for children to start building strength, flexibility and tactile awareness of their fingers. Activities such as using tweezers to pick up small objects, stringing beads onto thread, and opening and closing zip-lock bags help strengthen the muscles in their fingers.

Planning for fine motor development

Instead of keeping a period aside for fine motor development, these activities should be interwoven into the daily plan. For example, if your learning objective is for students to identify the colours green and brown:

  • Begin with an activity in which students must use a large paintbrush to paint one sheet of paper green and another sheet of paper brown. This will help them build wrist strength and flexibility as well as palm strength.

  • Next, have them cut up the green sheet of paper into small pieces using a pair of child-friendly scissors, followed by the brown sheet of paper. This will help build palm strength as well as finger strength and flexibility.

  • Finally, have them glue each piece of paper to a large outline of a tree – green for the leaves and brown for the trunk and branches. This will help them build wrist strength as well as finger strength, while also contributing to tactile awareness.

Interweaving fine motor activities into the daily plan helps make your activities more holistic and meaningful for children!

Building children’s fine motor abilities gives them a strong foundation for academic skills such as writing and life skills such as using a variety of objects with confidence.


Useful Links:

  1. National Curriculum Framework for the Foundational Stage: You can access the entire document here.

  2. Developmental Milestones for Fine Motor Skills: You can access a comprehensive list of the various fine motor milestones from birth to age 8 here.


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Edition: 1.23

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