Fine Motor Skills: What you need to know

Fine motor skills

Fine motor skills involve the use of the smaller muscle of the hands and wrists. People rely on these skills for everyday tasks for self-care and participation in activities at school and at home. Fine motor movements usually come so naturally that we don’t think about them. However, these movements are complex and involve coordinated efforts of the brain and muscles. 

Fine motor skills are very important for performing everyday self care tasks (e.g. opening boxes, brushing teeth, using utensils) and academic tasks (e.g. writing, typing, drawing and colouring or cutting) as well as cutting and pasting). If a child is unable to perform everyday tasks that require fine motor skills their self-esteem might suffer if they are unable to keep up with their peers in developing certain life skills.

How can I tell if my child has problems with fine motor skills?

Difficulties with fine motor skills are often left unidentified until a child starts school. At school, teachers might be able to notice problems with fine motor skills when they struggle with the use of pencil, scissors etc. or that kids are struggling. 

All children develop differently however there are some milestones that are to be met at certain ages. For example, for fine motor movements a child at the age of 5-6 should be typically able to copy simple shapes and letter or use utensils with control or by the age of 9-10 they should be able to use tools such as scissors and rulers with comfort. But some children might struggle with these fine motor skills for a long time.

If a child has difficulties with fine motor skills they might:

  • Have immature pencil grasp
  • Have messy and slow colouring or writing skills.
  • Have trouble using scissors
  • Tire easily when typing 
  • Have difficulty (or achieves a messy/choppy outcome) when using scissors.
  • Have difficulty performing tasks that require precision e.g. buttoning up clothes or tying shoelaces
  • Have difficulty performing self-care tasks independently e.g. dress themselves or brushing teeth
  • Find it difficult to learn new fine motor tasks
  • Prefer physical activity over task that require fine motor movements 
What affects a child's fine motor development?

Fine motor skills are not developed in isolation from other areas of development. If a child experiences from conditions such as: Developmental coordination disorder, Dyspraxia, developmental delays, premature birth, neurological impairment, abnormal muscle tone, serious illnesses, physical deprivation or emotional trauma, they may be at a higher risk for a delay in fine motor development. Problems with vision, poor core stability, weak shoulder and hand muscles can also impact a child's fine motor skill development.


If a child has difficulties with fine motor skills it is recommended that they consult an Occupational Therapist. An appropriate assessment process allows an occupational therapist to identify the nature of a child's difficulties with fine motor skills. Once identified, a treatment plan is drafted according to the child’s needs. 

Occupational Therapists use several activities in treatment for developmental skill-building. Occupational therapy combined with different activities at home can help children improve fine motor skills and maintain and develop a positive sense of well-being.

How can I improve fine motor skills?

Several activities and games can improve a child’s fine motor movements if practiced frequently at home, school or therapy. Following steps can be taken to improve fine motor skills at home:

  • Identify the dominant hand and increase the frequency of performing the tasks that require precision, with the dominant hand.
  • Practice using both hands to perform tasks. This develops coordination between the dominant hand and the helping hand.  
  • Practice tasks that use just a few fingers 
  • Enhance finger strength e.g. by using pegs 
  • Encourage enjoyment in activity instead of focusing on a successful outcome (e.g. appreciate if a drawing is completed instead of focusing on how neat it is)

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