Illustration with kids playing in a playground

Fine motor skills and the playground

Angelina Chatzaki

How do we strengthen the child's fine motor skills? For an occupational therapist the answer is the playground

Fine motor skills and the playground

Surely, when one hears about fine motor skills, the first thing that comes to mind is painting, writing, scissor skills, and other school activities. When a child struggles with the above, we then realise clearly that their fine motor skills need improvement.

But these skills are not developed only through school activities, but by a multitude of different senses and skills working together. So what strategy should one follow to strengthen a child’s fine motor skills?

First of all, one should identify which skills are delayed and then prescribe the activities necessary to make the poor skills stronger. Finally, the skills improvement process must be monitored. Below we will look at how to overcome the fine motor difficulties your child may be experiencing.

Fine motor skills are developed by mastering:

  • Good trunk control: The trunk must be the stable base so that the shoulders and arms can coordinate controlled movements.

You will find that if you sit in a chair with a loose torso and try to raise your arms it will not be as easy as it would be with a straight torso. The shoulders and arms should also be as strong as the torso.

  • Feedback from body parts: Good feedback from the skin, muscles, and joints, i.e. good tactile and proprioceptive system allows coordination of fine movements and helps with precise adjustments.

If you try to grasp a woodblock while wearing gloves, you will find it difficult as the gloves will prevent the hand from receiving haptic stimulation.

  • Visual-motor coordination (eye-hand coordination): This is essential for more demanding skills such as scissors or writing a name on a line.

How do we strengthen these skills? The playground is the answer!

Although this answer will seem strange to most people, we understand from the above that the trunk, arms, and shoulders, and not exclusively the fingers alone, are very important for the development of fine motor skills. So, there is no need for the child to sit and cut or draw throughout the day, but also play on the playground.

The emphasis should be primarily on activities as detailed below that "build" strong core muscles, strengthen shoulders and arms, improve the ability to control the strength, and also develop visual-motor coordination skills, tactile discrimination, and balance.

For strong torso: Slide, climbing wall, swings, monkey bars.

For strengthening shoulders and arms: Climbing on monkey bars, on a wall with rocks or rope, and a slide with the bottom up.

For Strength-control: Tug-of-war, merry-go-round, digging sand or soil by hand, carrying sand/soil with a shovel in a bucket.

For Visual-motor coordination: Swinging while catching and throwing a ball or bean bag.

For Visual discrimination: Playing with different textures such as sand, dirt, mud, grass, finding hidden objects in the sand with eyes closed.

For Balance: Walking on a curb or a horizontal tree trunk, balancing on rocks and a seesaw, crossing a playground bridge.

Of course, the playground alone does not help. The child also needs to practice activities, which may involve a lot of sitting, such as playdough, beads, scissors, etc.

In addition, there are also aids and techniques that occupational therapists use such as pencil grips, pencils with weight or weight on the wrists, cutting hard objects and not just paper, etc.

A full assessment by the occupational therapist is necessary that would lead to goal setting and construction of activities. It’s pertinent to mention here that recording the child's progress is of vital importance.

Our new mobile application, the Synopsis app facilitates all the above processes and saves time for the occupational therapist to focus more on the child and the therapeutic needs.

From the Synopsis Team

Angelina Chatzaki, Occupational Therapist