How to Develop Writing Fine Motor Skills in Children Ages 3-6

Activities that Promote Fine Motor Skill Development & Proper Pencil Grasp for Writing

I attended a webinar last month presented by Marianne Gibbs, EdD entitled Fine Motor Skills…Write Out of the Box.  It was extremely informative and she encouraged us to share the information; therefore, I wanted to write a post about what I took away from the webinar.

As early childhood educators, it is important for us to understand that we must think about instilling appropriate fine motor skill patterns for handwriting in children BEFORE they actually start writing. The essential fine motor development time frame for children is ages 3-6.  By age 6 children have the bulk of their fine motor skills in place.  While these skills can be refined after age 6, it is easier if they already have the appropriate patterns in place prior to age 6.

mature dynamic tripod pencil grasp

As children get older they will need to be able to write quickly and for it to be natural.  The picture above shows an appropriate pencil grasp which is the desired way we want children to naturally hold a pencil.  If we develop the appropriate muscle groups in children ages 3-6, this will occur naturally.

Classroom Activities to Promote Fine Motor Development and Pencil Grasp

There are very simple activities that you can easily add to your early childhood program that will help develop the appropriate muscle groups needed for successful handwriting.

open web space mature tripod grasp

The mature, dynamic tripod grasp requires the first finger and thumb to come together with an open space.  One of the simplest and easiest things you can do to naturally promote this circle pattern in children’s hands is to put everything in ziploc bags – the ones with the sliding zipper (manipulatives, snacks, books, etc.)  In order to open the bags, children will have to grasp the zipper with their first finger and thumb, naturally eliciting the index finger-thumb-open space.

ziploc bags

You can also have the children make “silly sunglasses” on their face using their hands, make the “OK” sign, form or roll small balls of play dough or putty only using their thumb and index finger.  All of these activities promote the thumb and index finger coming together and forming an O shape (open web space).

To develop the critically important separation of hand (the two halves of the hand have different jobs – thumb, index finger, & middle finger are the busy fingers and the ring finger and little finger are the sleeping fingers), create a “pillow” for the sleeping fingers with a cotton ball, pom pom, lego, etc.  This puts the sleeping fingers in the correct position so the busy fingers can play and facilitates the tripod pencil grasp position.  Have students use the “finger pillow” while doing the following activities: Animal Grabbers, Lacing Cards, Tongs, Tweezers, Mini Hole Punch, Mini Lock and Key, Stringing Beads, Wind-Up Toys, Spin Tops, Short Pencils/Crayons, Mini Spray Bottles, Scissors, Snapping Fingers.

finger pillow for separation of hand

Here is a cute song that Dr. Gibbs created about separation of hand:

Fingers and Pillows (Sung to tune of Oh My Darlin’)

I have two hands with ten fingers — I have five on each hand
First is Thumbkin, then Pointer, then the tall one, Middleman.

These three are special, they are busy, and they love to play
They play with toys and hold a pencil in just the right way.

Next is Ringman and Pinky — they are sleepy little ones
They hug a pillow and stay sleeping so the busy fingers can have fun!

Allow children to use crayon rocks – crayons that are small and shaped like a pebble that elicit the tripod grasp.  They develop the grasp in a fun, engaging way.  Place them in your art center, writing center, by your easel, etc.

Another critical area in fine motor development is shoulder stability.  Shoulder stability allows for control of the arm, hand, and fingers. In order to develop shoulder stability, paper needs to be vertical.  Put paper on your easel, put paper up on the wall in your writing center,  tape paper under the table.  This will automatically promote stability in the shoulder to promote hand grasp.

shoulder stability

Allowing children to wear and use finger puppets is a great way to promote digit individuation (the ability to move all fingers separately and meaningfully in function).

Another important point I learned is if you notice a child using an incorrect grasp – change the tool to change the child.  For example, if you have a child that fists a pencil or crayon, give them a small pencil or crayon or crayon rock that is too small to fist so they are forced to use 3 fingers.

Children’s fine motor skill patterns are developing when they are 3-6 years old.  As early childhood educators, we have control over what patterns are developed. It is important to develop the proper fine motor skills for handwriting BEFORE children actually begin writing so the correct pencil grasp is natural and automatic.

You may also like:

Fun Alphabet and Handwriting Practice

Teaching the Alphabet to Students with Diverse Learning Styles

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