Fine motor skills are those activities done with smaller muscle groups, such as handwriting and buttoning. When children struggle with fine motor skills, they may be referred to therapy, even during the preschool years. The kind of therapy that helps with fine motor skills as well as gross motor skills is called occupational therapy; people who practice this therapy are called occupational therapists. But what do occupational therapists actually do? What kind of therapy is there for fine motor skills? Will your 3-year-old ever be able to button his own pants?
Preschool Fine Motor Skills
Chances are, your 3-year-old is not ready to button his own pants. If his skills are developing typically, he can unbutton his clothes, though, as well as feed himself with a fork and hold a crayon like an adult. At 4 years old, he should be able to dress himself and draw more complex figures, whereas at 2 years old, he could drink from a cup and scribble with a crayon in his fist. Fine motor skills can develop in fits and spurts and may lag when children are making leaps in other areas like language or gross motor skills. Talk to your pediatrician first if you have any concerns.
Beginning Occupational Therapy
If pediatricians or daycare teachers have concerns about your little one's fine motor skill development, your next step is to have your child assessed by an occupational therapist. If your child is under 3, your state's Early Intervention program will provide assessments in every area, including motor skills. If your child is over 3, your pediatrician can refer you to an occupational therapist through a practice or hospital. Your local school district may also have occupational therapists who work with children 3 years old and older. The therapist will evaluate your child's fine motor skills through formal and informal assessments as well as family interviews.
Fine Motor Therapy
Sensory integration and hand-eye coordination are the guiding principles behind the fine motor skills aspect of occupational therapy. Therapists will help children through games and activities that increase those two aspects, such as tracing shapes and letters in shaving cream and playing catch with beanbags. Therapists will also suggest activities that families can do to increase their children's skill levels and help children practice skills like self-feeding, drawing, pressing buttons and pointing. As children's skills develop, they will then move on to more complex skills like zippering, buttoning and writing. Therapy may occur at home, at a center, at a school individually or as part of classroom activities.
Fine Motor Therapy Support
You can do a lot at home to help your child work on fine motor skills. Your occupational therapist will have specific suggestions for your child, but certain toys and activities are more helpful than others. Painting, with both brushes and fingers, is one way to improve fine motor skills. Using cookie cutters, scissors and other tools on play dough is popular with young children, though not always their parents who are stuck cleaning the dough out of the carpet!