Time spent playing with play dough, Legos, puzzles, blocks or lacing cards helps to develop hand strength.

By Sherri A. Smith

Teachers at Foundation Christian Academy have seen an unfortunate decline in fine motor skills in children entering preschool and kindergarten over the past decade with an even greater plummet in the past five years. Fine motor skills involve the use of the smaller muscles in the hand.

For early childhood educators, this decline is concerning. Fine motor skills are essential for a child’s physical, cognitive and social development. Weak fine motor function affects the quality and speed in which a child can perform tasks that require the development of those smaller hand muscles such as writing, cutting, dressing, eating and other everyday tasks.

The increase in popularity of handheld electronics for young children has had a significant impact on fine motor development in young children—often with long term effects. Parents are providing fewer opportunities for children to hone in on their fine motor skills with fewer hands-on tasks.

As a result, teachers of young children are noting that they have less endurance and weak pencil grip. With this weakened hand and lower arm muscle strength, students struggle with both basic academic and life skills. Skills that require fine motor skills, such as cutting, writing and dressing are dependent on hand strength.

There are many fun ways parents and teachers of young children can assist in the development of fine motor skills for children in their care. Providing opportunities for children to use the muscles in their fingers, hands and wrists will improve fine motor coordination and strengthen those muscles. Activities that focus on developing the smaller hand muscles include finger painting, popping bubble wrap, pasting and cutting yarn are excellent options.

Everyday chores can also provide fine motor development opportunities. Sorting the silverware, setting the table and eating with utensils are helpful. Additionally, pouring a cup of juice, self-dressing (buttoning, zipping, snapping, buckling), brushing teeth, wiping the counter, dusting the furniture, folding washcloths and snapping on and off container lids will help alleviate fine motor weakness.

Sherri A. Smith is the primary principal at Foundation Christian Academy, located at 3955 Lithia Pinecrest Rd. in Valrico. The private Christian school serves Pre-K through high school with about 400 students. Please visit www.foundationchristianacademy.org or call 654-2969.