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Is Your Young Child Developing the Fine Motor Skills They Need for School? Here’s What You Can Do

January 29, 2021 | Emily Ford Sytsma


Fine motor skills are the abilities we develop with the small muscles in our hands and wrists. Why are they important?

A young child’s intellect is built through their contact with the outside world. Their bodies and minds develop together. All physical activity helps develop the mind. And cognitive experiences help children develop competencies that increase muscle control. Learning for young children is multimodal and many domains are activated in all of their play.

Here are some of the benefits fine motor skills for young children:

  • Manipulative play is foundational! Language skills and higher cognitive skills are built upon the foundation that early sensory experiences provide. (Center on the Developing Child, 2007)


  • Fine motor skills directly impact how well [children] will learn and show what they know. (, 2021)


  • Fine motor skills offer children independence and the more they can do by themselves, the more confidence they develop to try new things. (Bunker, 1991)

But many children have been trapped at home during the pandemic. At Mustard Seed School, we are seeing the effects of this. Three, four, and five year-old children have weaker fine motor skills because of their limited experiences.

You may not be able to have playdates, explore the community, or even send your children to school right now. But there are things you can do at home to support the motor development that children need to build their brains.

Activities to Strengthen Fine Motor Skills

In general, trunk strength and stability, arm and shoulder strength all play a part in the development of fine motor skills. Therefore, it is helpful to do some gross motor activities as you work on fine motor skills as well.

Trunk, arm, and shoulder strength

  • Climb at the park or ropes in a gym
  • Hang from a bar for short periods of time
  • Work on going across the monkey bars
  • Prone play activities (laying flat on stomach while for instance reading a book, drawing, putting a puzzle together, or building with legos). If you have an exercise ball use it for this too.
  • Animal walks (e.g crab walk, bear walk, donkey kicks)
  • Wheelbarrow walking (and as the child gains strength, and if you have stairs, go up some stairs in wheelbarrow)
  • Push-ups
  • Plank position
  • Have the child lay down on the floor under a small table, tape some paper to the bottom of the tabletop and let children draw underneath the table with arms up. (if you do not have a small table, a chair will work too. Anything that is within arm-length of the child laying down.

  Hand strengthening and fine motor activities

  • Pulling activities (pull anything that creates resistance: a rope, a TheraBand, even a balloon, suction balls–stick to things and pull them off)
  • Parent wraps rubber bands around a cork and children unwrap (maybe the child can predict and find out how many are there altogether)
  • Build with Legos, any interlocking cubes or materials that require children to put it together and pull it apart
  • Open and close clothespins (crumple some paper and children can try to pick up the paper ball with the clothespins. Do the same with pompoms. Clip clothespins to paper, the edge of a box, or the child’s clothing)
  • Use a spray bottle for watering or cleaning (cleaning counters and cabinets, spraying for fun in the bathroom, watering plants inside or out, spraying all kinds of things outside–trees, rocks, brick walls, sidewalk, etc., doing a car/truck wash with toys outside or on a towel)
  • Use a single-hole puncher and paper to create crafts (the muscles involved in this are the same required for writing)
  • Use scissors with various materials (left-handed children should use left-handed scissors)
  • Tear old newspapers or magazines (and make a collage with it)
  • Manipulate modeling clay or plasticine (do not use playdough as it is too soft)
  • Pick up items with tweezers (pom-poms, small pieces of paper, seeds etc.)
  • Clothing fasteners – zip zippers, button buttons, snap snaps.
  • Twist and curl pipe cleaners or wire (wrap rocks with it, create your own idea).
  • Lacing cards (stitching on felt or burlap using a needle and yarn is a good practice too)
  • String beads
  • Use tape to stick it or remove it from some surface (using masking tape, wrap a favorite superhero and children can rescue them by unwrapping it. Offer students a few different colors and they can pull it from the roll, tear it and create a design, make pictures or patterns. You can also wrap an item in masking tape and have the child unwrap it.)
  • Peel an orange or clementine


Dancing, gymnastics, swimming, riding a bike, and 2-wheel scooters are all good activities to strengthen the body, develop balance and coordination that is involved in many skills needed in kindergarten.


Emily Ford Sytsma

Early Childhood Director

Ms. Sytsma began her career as an educator working in inclusive classrooms in the state of Hawaii but found her roots began to grow here at Mustard Seed School when she came to teach in 1996. She joined the preschool team in 2007, after teaching for many years in the Middle School. She finds delight in the preschool’s approach to teaching and learning, inspired by the preschools in Reggio Emilia, Italy. As Early Childhood Director, she seeks to support teachers in their work helping children learn about thinking and creative expression.

Ms. Sytsma’s the mother of a MSS alum and a current student. When not at school, Ms. Sytsma enjoys traveling with her husband and two children. She tends a very simple rooftop garden in Jersey City Heights and on long Saturday mornings, she may be seen taking long walks along the Hudson River and listening to audiobooks or podcasts while organizing her thoughts and getting her heart rate up.

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