Developing Fine Motor Skills with Play

Posted on Dec 8, 2016 | 0 comments


The following blog is taken from a presentation given by our veteran 4’s teacher, Lisa Fitzgerald. Thank you to Mrs. Fitz for your guidance, recommendations, and overseeing our curriculum at the Co-op this year. She has a wealth of knowledge and experience that we can all benefit from with every interaction.


Play dough fun is also strengthening those small muscles in the fingers and hand through play.

In order to facilitate an interest in name writing and beginning letter writing, we must first focus on and understand the importance of fine motor development. For all parents, it is important to team with teachers to support a child’s learning, growth, and development. Luckily, this comes very naturally at Kids’ Co-op where our parents work alongside our staff several days a month. The “4 C’s” we focus on at the Co-op really come into play here: collaboration, cooperation, communication, and consistency which gives our children the best start to education.


Mud kitchens that allow stirring, mixing, and pouring build arm, shoulder, core, and hand muscles through play. A water source need not be close to the kitchen. The child will find a way to haul water!

Small motor (fine motor) development and growth are predictable and sequential with our culture, environment, and possible health issues helping us to predict when these will occur. Small motor development is dependent on gross motor development which must precede it as well as brain development. These cannot be isolated. This is why BIG play is so important for our children and why physical and core strength developed through outside play, playground play, running, jumping, and digging to build a solid core, strong shoulder girdle, upper and lower arms, and wrists determine the success of the next steps which are fine motor development. In the brain, the corpus callosum needs to be strong because it connects the right and left brain allowing for bilateral coordination which is necessary in writing because ultimately we write from the left side of our bodies to the right side, “crossing the midline.” Scissor use can actually help this development among other activities (see the list of websites below to explore more). We encourage the use of crayons instead of markers for young children to help them develop pressure and strength in their fingers, hands, wrists, and forearms. Markers are simply “too easy” because making a mark requires little pressure to the page. Some children will assume a pencil grip almost naturally and early on but most will grab high up the writing tool with a fist grip in beginning stages of painting, drawing, coloring, and writing. These children may do this because they lack the strength or even stamina in their hands and fingers to do these activities using the pencil grip. Once a parent and educator is sure the strength is being built and reinforced it is easy to encourage a child to grab lower onto a pencil by wrapping a piece of tape in the area you want them to grasp or using “golf pencils” because it forces them to hold the pencil closer to the writing tip. Continued use of crayons, Legos or other snapping blocks, shovels, and play dough will help build the strength and stamina they need as opposed to simply doing more writing! This is where the play-based approach deviates from the academic approach in part because it’s more than just about a good pincer grasp. So it’s play, but at the same time they are building these vital muscles.


Tracing letters is a lost art that is definitely encouraged at the Co-op. These are left out for our children to do if they want to write their names.

Another crucial component to fine motor development is allowing the child to do things for themselves. When we allow and encourage our children to get themselves dressed, squeeze their own glue, zip their own zippers, put on their socks, butter their toast we are giving them the practice of developing both gross and fine motor skills! To us, encouraging self-help skills is just as important as encouraging play.


Writing practice can be incorporated into pretend play.

At the Co-op, in the 4’s classes, when the children demonstrate readiness, we like the Handwriting without Tears method of teaching how to draw letters. The first letters our children learn to recognize and then draw are the letters in their names. We also start with upper case only, because they are easier to write and we encourage you to do the same at home.


Office pretend play using stickers, hole punches, scissors, writing instruments, and envelopes help develop the brain and fine motor skills.

When children begin to develop an interest in their names and writing they may first put their letters down in order but the finished product may not look like it! Their letters may be all over the page or, if they’ve gotten the hang of the left to right pattern of scribing, they may start in the middle of the page (there’s that midline – corpus callosum – development showing itself) and run out of room and need to finish just below. Strips of paper help children focus in and learn to write from left to right. Placing a smiley face where you want to show the child to begin their letters in the upper left corner of a page can help serve as a playful reminder as well.


Mud might just the ultimate natural strength builder for kids! Our 2s/3s side allows for foundational core and large muscle strengthening just by playing and getting muddy.

Focusing on the precursors to hand writing: small motor development, brain development, and gross motor development through play can make the experience more relaxed, rewarding, fun, joyful, and interesting for the child. This in turn can spark a love of learning by lessening the struggle that can occur if the precursors aren’t developed.
For loads more information and playful ideas you can use at home, check out these great resources. There are some fantastic and fun activities you’ll certainly want to bookmark:

Therapy Streets for Kids – Activities to develop hand arches
OT Mom Learning Activities
Sugar Aunts
The Inspired Treehouse
Liz’s Early Learning Spot: Pre-writing skills, Are they important? April 19, 2015


Encouraging our kids to squeeze that glue bottle can be nerve-wracking but so important to building strength in their little hands.