Think about how many times we, as adults, unthinkingly perform motions like zipping or buttoning our clothes, writing something down, washing our hands, or exercising. It’s second nature to us — so much so it’s easy to forget how much practice it took to train our bodies to perform these activities in the first place!
Toddlers and preschoolers are developing these important lifelong motor skills from scratch, learning how to navigate the complex world with their bodies — just as we did as children. Parents and teachers can help them along, even while they have fun with these games and activities that develop motor skills in children.
Why Fine and Gross Motor Skills Matter
It first helps to understand the full range of fine and gross motor skills kiddos are working on.
According to Parents, examples of fine motor skills worth focusing on for preschoolers include:
- Gluing things onto paper
- Touching other fingers to thumbs
- Building structures using 10 or more blocks
- Cutting out basic shapes with safe scissors
- Clapping hands together
- Operating zippers and buttons
- Assembling simple puzzles
While fine motor skills focus primarily on small movements of the wrists, hands, and fingers, gross motor skills for preschoolers focus entail larger movements of the torso and limbs. Here are some common examples of development for this age group, courtesy of Tinkergarten:
- Ages 3-4: Children can run faster, handling varied terrains and direction switches. Children can start to maintain balance while hopping on one and two feet, as well as throwing objects toward targets and playing catch at short ranges.
- Ages 4-5: Kids gain coordination in the aforementioned activities — running, jumping and even skipping. Throwing gets stronger and more accurate. Children this age tend to like balancing and walking in straight lines, as well as moving rhythmically.
- Ages 5-6: Kids can parlay their hopping and skipping skills into jumping rope. Catching and throwing abilities improve. It’s common to see kids practice their climbing skills at this point, too.
While the “perfect” age for mastering these skills varies, it’s helpful to keep those benchmarks in mind when you entertain and/or strive to educate kiddos near the preschool age group.
Games and Activities That Promote Motor Skills
Fine and gross motor skills go hand in hand (so to speak); they are of equal importance. A mix of activities — some prioritizing detailed hand movements and others encouraging full-body movement — are ideal to help youngsters develop coordination.
The good news is this can be accomplished with minimal supplies and space.
Here’s one idea from Understood: Create a hopscotch lane, either outdoors with chalk or indoors with painters’ tape in a hallway. This activity can provide so much fun, kids won’t even realize they’re working on key skills like balancing and jumping. Pick a small object, like a rock or coin, to throw in the squares — then skip those spaces.
Pro tip: Incorporating props — like ribbons, scarves, balloons, bubbles, ropes, blocks, balls and buckets — can elevate a normal play session into one that targets specific gross motor movement.
As far as fine motor skills go, you’ll want to focus on helping kids get stronger and steadier when using their hands. One do-it-yourself activity from Tinkergarten suggests having the kiddos make bird feeders out of pinecones and peanut butter — a fun, almost free activity your local wildlife will also love.
In general, letting kids work with an array of craft supplies — think stickers, glue, puffballs, pipe cleaners, paints, paper, egg cartons, slime/putty, glitter — will help them practice controlling their hands, fingers and wrists. Just make sure the supplies are age appropriate and safe.
Like anything important in life, motor skills take practice. Prioritizing fine and gross motor skill activities will help young learners build up their strength and coordination, all while having tons of fun.