Fine motor skill is the coordination of small muscle movements which occur in body parts such as the fingers, usually in coordination with the eyes. Fine motor skills involve the small muscles of the body that enable such functions as writing, grasping small objects, and fastening clothing.
These skills are important in most school activities as well as in life in general.
Weaknesses in fine motor skills can affect a child’s ability to eat, write legibly, use a computer, turn pages in a book, and perform personal care tasks such as dressing and grooming.
Nearly all fine motor activities, including cutting and writing, require a dominant hand (being left-handed or right-handed) and a non-dominant hand. Hand dominance can be seen as early as age three or four, although it may not be firmly established until a child reaches age six or seven. Once a child becomes comfortable with one hand as the dominant hand, the remaining hand becomes the non-dominant hand by default. While the dominant hand performs tasks such as using a pencil or scissors, the non-dominant hand acts as the “stabilizer.” For example, one hand holds the scissors when cutting while the other hand moves the paper.
Gaining proper pincer grip, proper pencil grip and proper scissor grip can develop fine motor skills.
Pincer grip is the grasp used by the index finger and thumb to pinch a shoelace, a cereal puff, or a pencil.
There are typically three different grip styles children use as they develop fine motor skills:
Fist grip. Children younger than one year old typically reach for and hold items with their entire fist. When using a pencil or crayon, a young child will hold the item in their closed fist with their pinky closest to the paper and thumb on top.
Four-finger grip. As children gain fine motor control, they typically progress from using a fist grip to a four-fingered grip. With a four-fingered grip, a child uses all four fingers together to hold an object against his thumb. This grip gives a child greater control when holding small items (or self-feeding), but it is still clumsy and inefficient.
Pincer grip. Once children develop strong fine motor skills, a true pincer grip emerges. With this grip, a child uses only his thumb and index finger to hold and manipulate small objects. With a pincer grip, a child can easily twist dials, turn the pages of a book, open and close a zipper, and use crayons or pencils with precision.
The correct pencil grip involves holding the pencil between the thumb and pointer finger, and resting the pencil on the middle finger for added stability. Since a child’s natural inclination is to hold a pencil with his entire fist (pinky finger closest to the paper and index finger and thumb on top), the proper pencil grip must be actively taught.
Tips to teach proper pencil grip
- Introduce a golf pencil
- Demonstrate the proper grip
- Position your child’s fingers correctly
- Direct him to rest his hands on the table for support.
Like the proper pencil grip, the proper scissors grip must be actively taught. This is because the proper scissors grip is completely unlike any other grip your child has likely used. Most children explore with their hands outstretched and their palms facing downward. Or, as they get older, they default to holding small items with their thumb and pointer finger (the pincer grip!). The proper scissors grip requires a child to rotate his hand so that the thumb faces upward and the pinky finger points at the floor. Then he must spread his thumb and pointer finger as far apart as possible while using his palm to help stabilize the scissors.
Tips to teach proper scissor grip
- Allow your child to practice holding the scissors without trying to cut paper. Since learning to simply hold the scissors correctly is a challenging task, let your child pick up and put down the scissors as many times as he wants before you actually begin teaching him how to use the scissors.
- Direct your child to spread his index finger and thumb as widely as possibly, explaining how this motion makes the blades of the scissors open really widely. Then encourage him to close the scissors in one smooth motion. This will help him to make long, smooth (efficient) cuts rather than short, choppy (inefficient) cuts.
- Stay close by and provide constant feedback and guidance until the proper grip is automatic for your child. Little ones often find cutting to be a complex and challenging skill that only becomes comfortable with frequent practice. So, especially in the beginning, your child may need constant verbal reminders of how to move his fingers when using scissors. Without this guidance, he will likely revert to an incorrect grip (or to use both hands to open and close the blades of the scissors), which will allow him to cut, but without any precision or efficiency. And the longer he is allowed to use an incorrect grip, the more difficult it will be for him to unlearn those habits and learn the proper scissors grip.
Children participate in a variety of fine motor activities in preschool and kindergarten, including drawing, cutting, bead threading, and writing. When children begin preschool, they are expected to be able to write a few letters, usually those in the child’s first name, and use scissors to cut in a straight line. By kindergarten, a child’s fine motor skills are expected to progress to the point where he is able to accurately write all 26 letters, the 10 number symbols, and his full name with all letters in the proper order as well as cut straight lines and simple curves. By the end of kindergarten, children are expected to be able to cut out complicated shapes or figures, tie their own shoes, and color “within the lines.”