Hands On: Activities That Pay Off

“I don’t get no respect.” That was a line that a comedian, Rodney Dangerfield, regularly used to bemoan his fate. Those words came to mind recently when some colleagues and I were discussing an area in development—namely, the area of fine motor skills.

These are skills that pervade everyday life, yet often go unnoticed. Some examples are zipping up jackets, using scissors, buttoning, and handwriting. The impression in our group was that problems in this realm appear to be more prevalent than they were years ago, but that the behavior is not receiving the respect and attention it deserves.

When behaviors change, it’s tempting to speculate about the possible reasons why. It would be nice to be able to offer answers, but the fact of the matter is that we do not know. Certainly, lots of time and effort are required to master the small, intricate, sequenced patterns that underlie motor skills. Opportunities for that type of activity do not fit easily into the world of high tech devices that children love. So this may be a factor, but we are far from knowing whether it is.

What is certain is that proper development in this realm is vital for a child to function effectively in the world. It even plays a major role in reading. Smooth, fast, effective handwriting greatly reinforces reading skill. Conversely, slow, clumsy and halting handwriting impede the process.

Fortunately, effective fine motor functioning can be readily achieved via regular, sort play periods (three to four times a week of about 10 minutes duration) devoted to motor activities. In other words, using toys and games that involve hand strengthening and fine motor skill.

One great resource is cooking. It lends itself to a wide range of appealing motor activities including pouring, cutting, rolling, and squeezing. Clay and play dough offer other good opportunities. You can embed small objects inside the stretchy material and then have “contests” as to how gets out the most objects in the shortest time. You can also use your fingers to create patterns in the material and then your child has to reproduce the same patterns. Lacing cards, beads, and drawing offer additional choices. Indeed, any small objects that require varied finger movements are going to yield good results. There is an old saying that “practice makes perfect.” That is precisely what is going to happen if you make fine motor activities a regular part of your child’s life.

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