Kate’s Corner
Nov 14 2016

  Not Having Fine Motor Skills, not ‘Fine’ for Kindergarten


Image via baltimoretherapyspot.com

Our classrooms are filled with young children shaking toys, moving blocks, squeezing play dough, stringing necklaces and organizing pegs  on pegboards. They are not watching television, poking at iPad or pushing computer keys.

This is on purpose.

Child development is our cornerstone at EduKids.  What we know about children’s interests and needs at each age and stage is what guides our selection of everything in their classroom.  It is the foundation of our planned lessons and activities.  A current Early Childhood Journal article, What is Happening to Fine Motor Development? by Marcy Guddemi, Ph.D., underscores the need to help children grow small skills in order to be prepared when it comes time to send them to kindergarten.

Kindergartens and school look different than they used to and teachers are concerned that five year olds are entering Kindergarten lagging in strong fine motor skills critical for success in a classroom that has high demands on children to write. Using a pencil correctly is a developmental skill that is the result of success in the sequence of other fine motor skills.  Strong fingers, eye hand coordination and understanding that pressure is needed to create strokes on paper starts long before kindergarten.

Being hyper-attentive to infants and babies, we notice their bodies developing and changing right before our eyes! Large motor and muscle skills are easy to see and typically celebrated at great length when a child first holds her head up, rolls over, then sits, crawls, pulls to a stand, walks, then runs.   We offer play mats, balls and push-pull toys to build those bodies.

But fine motor and small muscle skills are critical to support when children are little too.  They are the foundation for writing, turning one page of a book at a time and managing materials and tools.  Fine motor development starts with grasping objects (mommy’s finger, a rattle, a toy), holding a bottle, picking up food to eat, manipulating a spoon, using hands for purposeful reasons like block building and play dough, buttoning and zippering, using art tools to draw and write, and only then using a pencil or pen to write a name or copy words; kindergarten expectations.

Dr. Guddemi refers to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) statement:

We are seeing low success with fine motor development in today’s five-year-olds who, from infancy, are spending too much time “swiping and tapping” on screens and not playing with a large range of manipulatives.

As a result the AAP recommends:

“. . . absolutely no screen time for children under the age of two, and less than an hour a day for preschoolers. Parents should not give their smart phones to babies in their car seats or strollers. They should not play videos for infants and toddlers to keep them occupied. They should not take iPads to restaurants. Preschoolers should not have televisions in their bedrooms.”

Pretty strong words that will require, at times, changes to routines and home activities for young children and adults.  Realistically raised awareness and more intentional actions involving young children and screen time is needed and will make a difference.  Swiping and tapping on two dimensional objects require low skills, passive interest and scattered attention.

We know that young children live in “real-time” needing a three-dimensional world and to be learning from interactions with real objects and people i.e. children learn what “three” means by holding three objects, eating three grapes, building with three blocks, make a triangle with three pretzel sticks. Children learn by doing and experiencing, not by passively watching.  Tapping and swiping screens hold no value in real time, touch and real manipulation success.

Basically the more children grasp, squeeze, move and manipulate toys to change them, the more their fine motor skills will be strengthened.  And the more prepared for Kindergarten they will be!

Easy At-Home Fine-Motor Skill Building:


Image via understood.org

The classic materials listed below provide practice in fine-motor skills—strengthening all the little hand muscles while supporting high eye-hand coordination, pressure and intent. Plus children love them! Try incorporating these items into your child’s daily at-home routine:

  • rattles and musical instruments
  • crayons, markers, chalk, paints, pencils, scissors
  • blocks, lego, other manipulatives to stack and sort
  • dolls and stuffed animals for dressing and undressing
  • play dough, finger paint, clay, mud
  • puzzles, peg boards, snap and zip toys
  • cars, trains, tracks and bridges to build
  • beads and craft supplies for older children
  • books for all


Kate Dust
Vice President of Education & Staff Development