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Hands and fine motor skills

Fine motor skills are abilities to control and coordinate the small muscles in the hand for precise movements. The development of children’s fine motor skills are important because they are the foundation for the development of many other important skills in the future, including reading, writing, and drawing, as well as the ability to undertake everyday tasks such as tying shoelaces or holding a knife and fork. There are many components of fine motor skills including the following:


Children require adequate muscle strength in their hands and arms, in order to effectively use them for fine motor tasks. – Just as a body builder needs to train in order to lift that dumbbell, children need to train their hand and arm muscles in order to build the quality of their movement, as well as their endurance levels.


The ability to freely open and close the hand in order to grip and let go of objects when needed. – It requires coordinated finger movements and shaping of the hand to use different grasps to pick up and hold objects of different sizes and shapes. – An efficient pencil grasp requires the ability to move fingers in isolation of each other, adequate hand strength and good wrist stability.


The ability to use both hands together in a coordinated way, such as when manipulating an object. – It develops early in a child’s life when they are observed to hold objects with two hands. – Each side of the body must be aware of what the other side is doing in order to cooperate and complete a task. It is a ‘doing/helping relationship’ –one hand does most of the task and the other helps out. – It is important for activities such as throwing and catching a ball and cutting skills.


The ability to use the eyes and the hands together to complete a task. – The child guides hand movements with their eyes to accurately manipulate objects and place them in specific positions (i.e. Putting block on top of tower without knocking all the other blocks off) Crossing the midline – The ability to use arms, legs and eyes across the midline of the body. (MIDLINE = imaginary line drawn vertically dividing the body into two equal parts). – It is essential for activities such as handwriting and using scissors.


In hand manipulation is the process of moving objects that are already in the hand. It determines how effective and efficiently a child can coordinate the hand and fingers to complete fine motor tasks. – It is important for tasks such as handwriting, holding money and scissor skills.


Hand dominance is the consistent favoring of one hand over the other for the skilled part of an activity. For example, the dominant hand holds and uses a pencil whilst the other hand stabilizes the paper.
Hand dominance usually starts to develop between 2-4 years, however it is common at this stage for children to swap hands. Between the ages of 4 to 6 years a clear hand preference is usually established.