Let’s talk about fine motor skill training

After working in early childhood education area for some time, I’ve seen quite some gentle or harsh fine motor skill training methods. Some of them are good will oriented yet poorly effective, in fact, some of them made the kids so frustrated that may leads to natural connection of failure with fine motor skill training, which makes the result nearer to negative effect rather than positive effect. I’ve also noticed quite some not so great fine motor skill training methods when working with people of disabilities, that’s why I’d like to share my understanding of fine motor skill training.

For pre-schoolers, some of the problematic methods I’ve seen are because of the expectation is far beyond the child’s current ability. If you try to let a pre-schooler with serious grasp issue and also with dyslexia traits or visual procession issue to copy his name or copy a word by himself without any extra help, it’s nearly impossible to have a result of satisfactory. Another important reason why the fine motor skill training in early childhood education is not getting the right point is because many educators simply believe training fine motor skills is all about the grasp and the strength of finger muscles, which is far from being comprehensive.

Fine motor skills, especially about writing, actually includes many areas. Basic impression may be just the movements of hand and fingers, actually many other parts of the body are involved too. Such as wrist, movements from wrist are very important. You can try to write without any movements from the wrist, see how hard it is to write. About the movements of fingers, it’s far more than just strength of each finger, the good timing of changing movements and coordination between fingers, the smoothness of changing finger’s strength and directions, are more important than strength alone. Try to imagine an extreme example: a people has great strength in each of his finger however the fingers are very stiff and hard to move and change direction, imagine how good the person can write with a hand like this. Therefore that’s why training the coordination of fingers and wrists are more important than training the strength. Unfortunately, many designed trainings focus too much on strength and grasp.

Another very important part of fine motor skill is shoulder and neck, which is very likely to be overlooked. All the people that I am currently working with, as long as they can write, their hand writings are all noticeably improved, and I didn’t even work with their hands and wrists. I work on shoulder and torso and other areas, which can bring much more change than just the handwriting. Pictures below is the change of handwriting from one client, who’s always using the so called incorrect grasp.


I’ve seen some recommended videos of how to train people with disabilities to do some job with hands. I noticed that when hand and arm were raised to a certain level, the whole shoulder and arm and hand were already very much stressed close to the limit, if you ask a person with serious fine motor skill issue to do any fine activity with hand in this setting, the challenge would be enormous.

Another factor that is commonly overlooked is visual procession ability. The ability of visual procession is the final guide of fine motor activity. This feedback to the brain can help the brain to adjust the body’s operation in later steps. Many kids with visual procession issue have serious handwriting difficulty, however after improving their visual procession ability, the handwriting will be automatically improved. I’ve seen a child in a preschool using the least proper grasp wrote the most beautiful letters in the entire preschool. I think it’s because he has excellent visual procession ability to compensate his weakness very well.

That’s why in my understanding, fine motor skill training, especially writing, is far more than just the grasp and the strength of fingers.

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