Fine Motor Development:
The Essential Bases

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Fine motor development has 4 essential bases - like the legs of a stool!

I like to think of a child’s fine motor development as a 4-legged stool.

Each leg of the stool represents one of the bases for fine motor 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 struggles with fine motor activities, one of the "Bases" may be less “stable” or less developed than the others.

This article outlines the Four Essential Bases for Fine Motor Development and will point you in the right direction for activities.

If your child seems to be struggling with any of these Essential Bases, please ask for a referral to a pediatric occupational therapist!

Base 1: Postural Stability

When the bigger muscles of the shoulder girdle and trunk are strong and stable, the smaller muscles of the arms and hands can move freely in a controlled way. Therapists refer to this as "postural control and stability".

When a child lacks stability in the shoulder girdle and trunk, he/she may hold the pencil really tightly to try and get more control over it, or may press really hard on the paper. You may also see tension at the shoulders during fine motor tasks.

Trying to use a pencil or scissors without adequate stability of the large shoulder girdle and trunk muscles is like trying to paint a portrait while standing on a wobbly stepladder. It takes huge amounts of effort, is extremely tiring and the results are usually lousy.

Try these shoulder exercises and core exercises to help your child develop this Essential Base!

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Base 2: Tactile Perception

If you are not getting good tactile (touch) 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 poor touch perception, the pencil and the scissors may feel as though they are being held with rubber gloves on! 

There is probably not anything wrong with the nerves in the hands, but the brain is not processing the information from the hands properly, and so fine motor development is not optimal.

Kids with poor tactile perception can sometimes be really clumsy with their hands, always dropping small items and letting things slip out of their grasp.Sometimes they hold items with too much force, so they can "feel" it properly.

Try some fun tactile perception activities to develop this Essential Base!

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Base 3: Hand Function

Hand function is an Essential Base for fine motor development, because the hand and finger muscles need to work well together in order to control pencils and other small objects and tools.

The wrist and forearm muscles are also important, as the position of the wrist and forearm will get the hand into the best position to control pencils, scissors and other fine motor tools.

Getting lots of practice in cutting with scissors is one of the best ways that a child can develop hand function.

Here are some tips for teaching your child how to cut with scissors, and some easy cutting activities you can do at home.

These pages on my site may also be helpful in developing hand function:

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Base 4: Bilateral Coordination

It may seem like a strange base for fine motor development, but if your hands don’t work well together, your ability to do many fine motor tasks may be affected.

Eating with a knife and fork... holding a piece of paper while cutting... tying shoelaces... playing with construction toys, nuts and bolts... all of those fine motor activities need both hands to work together in a coordinated way.

Kids who have poor bilateral coordination skills may end up avoiding those fine motor activities and thus adversely affect their skill development.

Get helpful info and activities on my bilateral coordination page!

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Helpful Resources for Fine Motor Development

There are some great resources available to help your child!

Fine Motor Resources from PFOT

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Parush, S.; Levanon-Erez, N., Weintraub, N. Ergonomic factors influencing handwriting performance. Work 11(1998) p295-305

Benbow, M. Neurokinesthetic approach to hand function and handwriting . Albuquerque: Clinician’s View, 1995

› Fine Motor Development: The Essential Bases

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