Fine Motor Development:
The Essential Bases

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Fine Motor Development does not happen in isolation from other skills. As with all areas of child development, a lag or delay in one area can impact on other areas of development.

In order for fine motor (FM) skills to develop, there are Four Essential Bases that need to be in place.

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Think of your child’s Fine Motor Development as a 4-legged stool. Each leg of the stool represents one of the bases for FM skills. When one of those legs is missing, or misshapen, the stool will wobble and topple over. Each of the legs has to be in place in order for the stool to be stable.

If your child has poor fine-motor skills, the first thing to do is to ascertain which of the Bases is less “stable” or less developed than the others, and then to work on that base.

The best activities for developing your child’s FM skills are the ones that work on the underlying Essential Bases for Fine Motor Development.

Four Essential Bases for Fine Motor skills:

good sitting posture child

1) Postural Control Base

By this I refer to the bigger muscles of the shoulders and trunk that stabilise the arm so the fingers are free to move. When this base is shaky, a child could hold his pencil really tightly to give himself a firmer base, or press really hard on the paper as he does not have enough control over it, or tense up at the shoulders and then he gets tired easily.

Trying to use a pencil or scissors without adequate stability of the large shoulder girdle and trunk muscles is like trying to paint while on a wobbly stepladder. It takes huge amounts of effort, is extremely tiring and the results are usually lousy. So, in order to control the small muscles in the hand, the bigger muscles of the trunk and shoulders need to “hold steady.

These easy shoulder exercises for kidswill help to strengthen the muscles of the shoulder girdle and there are some fun core exercises for kids to strengthen the trunk muscles.

tactile perception notes

2) Tactile Perception Base (also known as touch perception)

If you are not getting good feedback from your fingers, it is hard to be accurate with them. You know how strange dishes feel when you are wearing rubber gloves to wash them. It is hard to tell which piece of cutlery you are washing if you can’t see it. You would not know if you were washing your wedding silver or your everyday fork until you looked at it.

When a child has a poor touch perception base, it feels like he is doing everything with rubber gloves on. There is probably not anything wrong with the nerves in his hand, but his brain is not processing the information from his hands properly, and so fine motor development is not optimal.

Perhaps he is really clumsy, always dropping small items, letting things slip out of his grasp. Maybe he squeezes the pencil really tightly so he can “feel” it properly to control it. Try some fun tactile perception activities to develop this Essential Base.

child using knife and fork

3) Bilateral Coordination Base

This is the ability to use the two sides of the body together in a coordinated way. It may seem like a strange base when we are talking about fine motor skills, but if your hands don’t work well together, simple tasks like tying your shoelaces, cutting with scissors, and tightening a bolt will be tricky for you.

Find out more about bilateral coordination and try some activities to help your child develop this Essential Base.

correct pencil grip

4) Hand Function

This is the fourth Essential Base for fine motor skills, because the muscles of the hand need to learn to work well together to control pencils and other small objects. Closely related to that are wrist and forearm position, as the wrist and forearm get the hand into place for writing.

There are some great hand exercises for kids as well as kindergarten hand exercises.

There are also fun finger exercises that don’t even use a pencil!

If you have an older child with poor fine motor skills, try these
fine motor skills activities for older kids.

The ability to cut with scissors also has an impact on hand function and there are some great cutting activities available.

If you are interested in the development of fine motor skills from birth to school-going age, check out this book by another OT:

From Rattles to Writing:
A Parent's Guide to Hand Skills

This book, written by an Occupational Therapist, provides parents, preschool/creche teachers, and therapists with activities, toys and games to develop a child’s hand skills. The book details the activities and exercises that are most beneficial at each stage of a child's development. Although hand skills are the main focus, sensory-motor skills are also covered in detail.
If you click on the image or link to buy this book through Amazon, I will receive a small commission that will help support this site. Thank you!

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Helpful Fine Motor Pages:

Fine Motor Skills Activities for Older Kids

Essential Bases for Developing Fine Motor Skills

How Pencil Grasp Develops in Toddlers and Children

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