Developing Fine Motor Skills

There are many thoughts on developing writing skills and fine motor skills in the early childhood community. Fine motor skills are defined as the movements and muscles involving the smaller muscle groups in your hands and wrists. Developing fine motor skills begins at birth and develops along a developmental sequence. If we look at child development we see a progression of skills being developed:

  • During 0 – 3 months we typically see developing children begin to open and close their fist-hand as well as develop the ability to bring hands to mouth. They also start using their hands to push up during tummy time.
  • By 4 – 6 months a typical child is developing by using both hands to explore toys and are using their hands to push up during tummy time as well as using them to support their self while sitting. This is also a perfect time to introduce American Sign Language (ASL) to not only support language skills, but also to continue to develop fine motor skills.We suggest milk, it is developmentally appropriate since it fits wonderfully in their daily routine of eating (or rather drinking milk) and the action of opening and closing the fist-hand continues to build strength in the hands.  Another ASL sign that is developmentally appropriate at this time is eat which continues to support eye & hand coordination. 
  • Then at 7 – 9 months we typically see the developing child pick-up small objects with thumbs and fingers (fist grip), using  both hands to explore their toys, and then begin to creep on hands and knees. So crawling is important for children to do in order to build strength in their hands and upper body.
  • At last during 10 – 12 months they typically develop using their hands to pull to a stand (this may of began in the 7 – 9 month time frame), clap their hands and use their thumb and pointer finger to pick up tiny objects (like Cheerios), this is called the pincer grip. The pincer grip is an important developmental milestone for proper pencil grip. A wonderful ASL sign to add in at this time is more, this sign encourages eye & hand coordination along with finger mobility.

Here are our top 5 signs, they include Milk, Eat, More, All Done, Up.


We find that during toddler-hood and preschool children need many experiences and play to continue to build strength in their hands to increase their fine motor skills. Providing opportunities and sensory items such as really help with their development:

  • Playing with play-dough
  • Finger painting
  • Painting with Q-tips or other small brushes
  • Squeezing sponges and other water toys in the bath or sensory table
  • Stringing beads or making macaroni necklaces
  • Using lacing cards
  • Using age appropriate scissors; our suggestion is to use play-dough scissors and practice cutting play-dough then graduating up to blunt scissors and with supervision practice cutting paper. Adults should guide children on proper scissor holding, technique, and safety rules
  • Creating ‘Tear Art’; tearing paper and gluing it into an art collage
  • Coloring with crayons and chalk – broken crayons are wonderful ways to encourage proper grip since they are small and cannot be grasped with the palm as easily. So don’t throw those broken crayons away. We also suggest not introducing markers or pens until a much later age (5+). Using crayons and chalk provide a strong sensory input to children and provides them a good opportunity to build strength in their hands. Where markers and pens provide less of a sensory input and slide easily on paper and other surfaces. These tools do not build strength in the hands as well.
    • We also suggest providing lots of opportunities to color on different textures and in different positions. For instance coloring with chalk outside on the concrete. Or having children color on large pieces of butcher paper either laying down on their bellies on the floor or hang a piece on the wall and let them stand and color. These opportunities provide a variety of ways children can strengthen their fine motor skills along with their upper body strength and use of their vision skills that prepares them for writing and reading.
  • Formal writing instruction should be provided to children who display an interest and should not be forced.
    REMEMBER…children are just beginning to develop the skills necessary for writing. Fine motor skills are not fully developed for writing until age 7. Does this mean we shouldn’t expose them to writing in preschool? No, but it shouldn’t be forced. There are many other things you can do to support their development and prepare them for writing other than formal instruction.

A word on pencils…we LOVE using small golf pencils for writing. These are perfect sized for little young hands and helps support a proper pencil grip. It is the same concept of why we love broken crayons.

Since we believe so passionately on developing fine motor skills in a healthy way, we have created a selection of resources for you to help support children in developing their strong fine motor skills for writing. They all are available from one of our teacher resource stores… please visit us on Teachers Pay Teachers, Syllabuy or Teacher’s Notebook and have fun incorporating ASL into your program! 

  • Sensory ABC ~ 123 Mats
  • Primary and Elementary Writing pages
  • Connecting to Writing bundle
    • Which also has our primary and elementary writing pages included
  • Sensory Reading Mats

Want to learn more?  Come join the fun and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest.  We love sharing the gift of ASL with others.

All our resources connected developmentally appropriate skills to American Sign Language to promote a healthy development for the whole child.

Happy Signing II