Developing fine motor skills through play

Fine motor night activities

When a student starts kindergarten and has a hard time holding a pencil or printing his/her name, many of my parents are very keen and willing to help out at home in any way they know how.  They usually offer to do things like printing practice or buy workbooks and are open to any other suggestions I may have to help their child.  I often find myself repeating to parent after parent that, ironically, printing practice is often one of the least effective ways to help kindergarten students who are struggling, improve their printing.  In order to print (or draw, paint, cut, etc.) effectively, students need to have developed hand dominance as well as good muscle strength and control in their shoulders, hands and fingers.  There are many simple things parents can be do with their children to help develop these muscles.

This year in order to help our parents best help their children at home, we decided to try something new.  We held a parent and student evening workshop, by invitation only, targeting our students who were most in need of extra support and practice.  We had an amazingly positive response.

We started the evening in one classroom with the parents while their children played next door.  Parents were all given this “Developing Fine Motor Skills” handout and we discussed some of the simple things they could do at home with their children to develop hand dominance, shoulder stabilization, hand and finger strength and finally, better fine motor control.  After our short presentation, children were given a passport and were asked to complete at least 5 of the 12 stations with their parents.  Parents had the job of identifying how each of the activities they completed helped develop fine motor skills (they could refer to their handout if needed!).

Once done, students could turn in their passport for a goodie bag that was full of fine motor activities to do at home.  The pictures below show the goodie bags we created for each student.

OT Night - goodie bag      OT Night - Goodie bag 2b

At the end of the evening, students left excited by the chance they had to play with their parents at school and parents left with a better understanding of simple things they could do at home to help their child.

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Quick Tip – Tracing letters and shapes made easy

Looking for a simple way to practice drawing basic shapes or printing letters?  Try writing it in highlighter for your child to trace.  They can see what they need to write or draw and you can see their pencil lines when they are done.

Tracing highlighter

Here’s one more highlighter tip…..use a highlighter to let students know that they have a simple correction to do.  If they reverse a letter or number or forget a capital somewhere, simply print over top of the error with highlighter.  When they go back to it, it is easy for them to see their simple mistake, erase and correct it.

Using “guided drawing” to develop pre-printing and printing skills

One of the things I love to do with my students to help improve their fine motor skills is “guided drawing”.  During a guided drawing mini-lesson, I show my students how to put basic shapes together to draw a picture.  Basic shape, in order of easiest to hardest, that children need to be able to draw before they are ready to print all their letters are:

OT Shapes

What better way to practice these shapes, building the skills needed for printing, than learning how to put them together to draw pictures?  After drawing a basic picture, we then extend it by discussing and adding details to make our picture even more interesting.  At the beginning of the year we spend time learning to draw different people, all with very similar starting points (head, trunk, arms, hands legs, feet, eyes and mouth).  This is how we can turn our basic person into a pirate:

Here are some tips to make your guided drawing lesson successful:

  • Use individual whiteboards with students.  Many who find drawing challenging are more willing to try if mistakes can be easily erased.
  • Before you begin, decide whether your whiteboard is “standing” or “sleeping” and make sure students hold theirs the same way.  This will make it easier for them to copy your drawing and will also help them learn how to effectively use their page.
  • Remember, it is a mini-lesson!  Keep it short; 5 minutes is more than enough time to draw a pirate.
  • Develop a routing from day 1 for handing out and collecting student whiteboards.  We have a bin for whiteboards and another with mittens stuffed with dry-erase markers.  When students are called, they come get a whiteboard and a mitten.
  • Draw pictures, one element at a time, giving students the opportunity to copy after each step.
  • Adding details provides an authentic opportunity to develop language and learn new vocabulary, esspecially in a second language classroom.  In the pirate example given, vocabulary such as patch, peg-leg, map, treasure, scruff, shovel, palm tree, etc. are just some examples of the rich vocabulary that would have been discussed during this mini-lesson.
  • Revisit pictures that you have already practiced on a different day.  This gives students some familiarity and allows them to better predict what shape may be drawn next.  However, the next time you draw a pirate, for example, you could mix it up by adding a cutlass, telescope, pirate ship or hat, just to name a few new possibilities.
  • At the end of a guided drawing lesson, I will sometimes practice printing a letter or number, just a few times.  If you decide to do this, start with the simplest letters to draw (ex. L and T) rather than going in alphabetical order.  See Handwriting Without Tears for more information on my favourite way to teach printing.

Here is an example to show how some kindergarten students’ drawings turned out during a guided drawing lesson.  This time we were drawing giraffes.

I hope you enjoy trying this with your students!  If you do and are interested in more, check out some of my other guided drawing resources here:

Halloween English Halloween FrenchFairy Tales EnglishFairy Tales FR