What I’m Reading: Fine Motor Skills

Each month this year I’ve been writing some early literacy support materials for our storytime staff, to provide background information about how the five practices of reading, writing, singing, talking, and playing support the development of early literacy skills. By far the practice that I knew the least about was writing. It has been a lot of fun to build up my knowledge about fine motor skills and age-appropriate pre-writing activities. One of the things I wanted to pass along to staff was the reminder that using fingerplays in storytime could be one way of building fine motor skills. So I did some quick Googling, confident I would find a concise article making that connection. But this was harder to track down than I thought!

I could find a lot of webpages or blog posts that simply said, “Fingerplays are great for fine motor skills” but didn’t go into why or how. I could find articles or developmental charts about fine motor skills, but often fingerplays weren’t mentioned. (Although, of course, sometimes they were.) I started to wonder whether fingerplays weren’t being mentioned by the OTs because they just weren’t as familiar with them as librarians were, or if there was some reason why fingerplays *weren’t* an effective activity for building fine motor skills.

Lots of reading later, I think that fingerplays DO help children practice their fine motor skills–but “fine motor skills” covers a lot of very specific tasks, and not all fingerplays help develop all of the different types of skills. For instance:

  • Fingerplays such as “Where Is Thumbkin” or “Here is the Beehive” can help with learning to move fingers independently
  • Rhymes like “This Little Train” or “See the Little Mousie” (where children trace or “walk” their fingers up their own arm) provide practice in using visual information from the eyes to direct hand movements
  • “Little Bunny Foo Foo” or “Two Little Blackbirds” have children practice curling their pinky and ring fingers into the fist while keeping pointer and middle fingers extended–this hand position provides stability and support to the thumb, pointer, and middle fingers when writing
  • “Itsy Bitsy Spider” offers practice holding pointer finger and thumb in an open (“OK”) circle, which children must sustain to hold a pencil or crayon successfully
  • In addition, just like drawing on vertical surfaces (easels or walls), when children hold hands and fingers up in front of their bodies for fingerplays, they tend to bend the wrists back in a way that lets them manipulate their fingers freely; wrists back (or “extended”) is the best pose for successful writing

Here are some of the websites I found most helpful in learning about fine motor skills:

Encyclopedia of Children’s Health: Hand-Eye Coordination
We talk about hand-eye coordination all the time–but what exactly does that mean?

Fine Motor Activities for Preschoolers

This PDF article was especially helpful in building my understanding of fine motor skill development.

Therapy Street for Kids: Eye Hand Coordination
Check out the left-hand menu bar for a nice breakdown of individual motor skills.

OT Mom Learning Activities: Fine Motor Development: The Essential Bases
Great article that steps backwards and describes the foundational skills children need before they can practice their fine-motor skills. Read through her other sections listed in the left-hand menu too!

Practical Strategies for Developing Fine Motor Skills

Another long article, with great drawings and descriptions of different hand skills.

Motor Skills Milestones
From LDonline.

Do you have any great sites about fine-motor skills to share?

Thanks to Kendra and Amy for some good conversations while I was wrestling with this material! Check out Amy’s storytime post that describes a fingerplay we developed together to highlight finger independence!

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2 Responses to What I’m Reading: Fine Motor Skills

  1. Lisa says:

    Melissa, salute you and the work that you do, but I am beginning to feel as if I am the lone voice crying out in the wilderness, or the last dinosaur on the planet.

    I am really fed up with the five practices and having to worry about the meaning in every gesture, the significance in every story, the need to shout out “Skills! We’re teaching SKILLS!”

    Whatever happened to fun, purely for the sake of fun, and the learning as the icing on the cake?

    Hmm, think I’ve got a post coming up on this. Long time since I’ve ranted….

  2. Melissa says:

    Lisa, this is an excellent point to make and, like you, I value fun and enjoyment very highly! But I have also come to believe that our role as librarians can and should encompass more than just modeling the enjoyment of reading. I’m glad you wrote your response post! I am going to start working on a philosophical post of my own that will allow me to go into more detail about how I see enjoyment, learning, and libraries all fitting together. Thank you for adding to the conversation!

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