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Guide to Developing Fine Motor Skills

Posted on July 18, 2019 by Ann

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Story of Wei Jie

Wei Jie is a friendly and helpful 15 year old boy in a special school. He is able to complete most of his personal, home and school based activities with minimal assistance. However, he has difficulty in buttoning his shirt and tying his shoelaces. He requires assistance to perform these tasks. An occupational therapist observed that Wei Jie exhibited difficulty in tasks that require fine motor skills.

What are fine motor skills?

Fine motor skills refer to a child’s ability to use his hands to operate tools successfully and accurately. These tools consist of pencils, crayons or other manipulative items.

Why are fine motor skills important?

Fine motor skills are important for carrying out most of your child’s daily activities such as eating, writing or tying his shoelaces. Poor fine motor skills can affect a child’s ability to participate efficiently in these activities.

Components of fine motor skills

• Grasp

• Pinch

• In-hand Manipulation: This refers to the ability to position, move and/or manipulate an object with one-hand. It is one of the more complex fine motor skills.)

Factors influencing fine motor skills

• Muscle Tone:

Muscle tone is a state of partial contraction present in a muscle in its inactive state. Though there are three types of tonal abnormalities, most children with intellectual disability have a decreased muscle tone.


Good posture assists the child in using his hands freely for any tabletop activities, including writing. Most children with intellectual disability might have difficulty in maintaining their posture even for a 15-minute activity.

Isolated Movements of Individual Fingers:

This refers to the ability to move each finger, e.g. extending fingers one by one when counting. If children have difficulty in generating isolated finger movements, then they may use the whole hand for manipulative activities. This affects their performance in these activities.

Dominance and Laterality:

This is the preferential use of limbs on one side of the body, e.g. right or left hand dominance. Until the dominant hand assumes a definite leadership role, the non-dominant hand doesn’t perform its assisting role. Problems in this area may lead to poor interaction of the two sides of the body, which will affect fine motor skills and other skills like handwriting.

Bilateral Integration (BI):

This is the ability to coordinate either side of body while performing the task. A child with poor BI may experience difficulty in coordinating both sides of the body to perform a task.

Hand-Eye Coordination:

This is the ability of the hands and eyes to work together. It is required for all hand functions.

Visual Motor Integration:

Visual Motor Integration is the ability to integrate the visual information into motor response or output. For example, when you attempt to catch a ball, your eye judges the size of the ball and the speed at which it is travelling. Based on this, you will position your hand to catch the ball without looking at your hand.

How can you help your child to improve his or her fine motor skills?

The following activities may be useful in improving your child’s fine motor skills.

• Ask your child to push his or her hands against the wall using all his or her strength, for about 15 counts.

• Encourage activities like sweeping, mopping and vacuuming.

In addition, you can ask your child to carry out the following activities:

• Thread beads, macaroni or buttons

• Turn lids on a jar.

• Pass objects from one side of the body to the other.

• Hide and then find tiny pegs, beads, marbles or coins in Playdough, or theraputty.

• Throw bean bags or different sized balls into different sized boxes.

• Knock down skittles by throwing a ball.

• Use a small musical keyboard to work on the individuation of digits.

• Use marbles of different sizes and have your child flick them against a wall.

• Stretch a rubber band with fingers.

• Use a spray bottle to water the plant.

• Put coins into a money box.

• Peel off and stick stickers. You can also consider using Mini Squigz.

• Pick up and hold small coins in the palm of the hand, and collect as many as possible without dropping them.

• Pinch a piece of putty apart into small pieces. Collect the pieces and place the pieces together by repeatedly turning and squeezing them with just one hand.

• Get creative with Dot Art markers.

Story of Wei Jie (continued)

Wei Jie has been receiving occupational therapy for the past two years. Now, Wei Jie is able to do most of his self-care activities independently, such as buttoning his own clothes with the use of big buttons. Wei Jie has also improved in packing, unpacking and sorting finer objects.


MINDS is an All In Preferred Partner.

Movement for the Intellectually Disabled of Singapore (MINDS) is one of the largest Voluntary Welfare Organisations in Singapore, serving some 2,400 clients from past the age of six to their ripe old age. MINDS’ services include four special schools, three employment development centres, three day training and development centres, and one multi-service residential home.

This guide was originally published by MINDS’ Allied Health Professionals unit and republished with editorial updates by All In.

All content found on the All In website, has been created for informational purposes only. The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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Guide to Improving the Self-Esteem of Children with Disabilities