There is something about watching an eight-year-old struggle to use a pair of scissors that really gets to me. It takes everything in me not to grab those little kiddie scissors out of his hand, cut the shapes out for him, glue everything down, write his name myself in teacher handwriting and take the craft home and hang it on my own refrigerator. (That probably says something about the kind of mom I will be someday… wish my future babies luck.) Instead, I use every bone in my body to resist, and instead, try to incorporate activities that promote fine motor development into the daily schedule. While I love to create fine motor activities for center time, not all school schedules or grade levels allow for center time every day, if at all. Here are some ways to get your babies using those little muscles without having to block off a part of your schedule.
Having kids squeeze a stress ball everyday is an easy way to build those muscles. Having kids do this first thing in the morning is a great way to keep track of those students who especially need support with this growth. One option is to use a stress ball during Morning Meeting, having each student squeeze the ball ten times with each hand while they share or answer the question of the day. Another option, if you have only a handful of students who need extra support, make it a part of their morning routine. When they enter the classroom, those kiddos can come greet you and take a stress ball to squeeze ten times in each hand before moving on to the next part of their routine.
2) Art Supplies
The easiest way to get kids to strengthen their hands without doing any extra work is by stocking your classroom with supplies that require fine motor skills, and then giving students the opportunity to use them. I always prefer to give kiddos squeeze bottles of glue instead of glue sticks. While this might make projects take a bit longer and require more modeling initially (“just a dot, not a lot…”), the benefits of having them work for their glue will be worth it. The same goes for tape dispensers. Model the right way to pull a piece of tape off a large, weighted tape dispenser (don’t bother with the little plastic ones… those are a racket) and your kids will be building up those thumbs and pointer fingers without even realizing it.
3) Classroom Jobs
Classroom jobs are a gift to teachers and students a like. Turning your kids into little worker bees makes the classroom run smoother, and also gives them those feelings of belonging and pride that make any little one light up. By carefully choosing jobs for your students who need to work those fine muscles, they will be getting extra support while also contributing to the classroom. Talk about double-tasking. Some ideal jobs for those students would be:
- Sticker Distributor
Stickers to our kids are like cups of coffee to me. There is no such thing as too many, the more I have the more I want, and I would do anything for one. Picking a sticker off the sheet requires some fancy maneuvering, and all that practice will strengthen those little finger muscles.
- Paper Distributor
Even I, as a grown woman, sometimes have trouble getting those pages to separate. This is a great job for anyone who could use some extra opportunities to put those fingers to work.
- Spray Bottle Operator
If you use spray bottles in your room to wipe down tables or water plants, get one of your students to do the squeezing!
Students love a) being helpful and b) office supplies. Any time you have small objects that need to be sorted (i.e. paper clips, binder clips, pencils, crayons, unifix cubes, etc.), it is the perfect opportunity for one of your kids to get some practice grabbing and really hone those fine motor skills.
These few small adjustments to a classroom can end up offering lots of opportunities for our learners to engage those small muscles in movements that will improve their dexterity. Soon they will all be on their way to being squeezing, cutting, gluing, handwriting superstars! And maybe, JUST MAYBE, all that gained hand strength will give those same kiddos the confidence to pick up their own tissues/snack wrappers/socks (why?!?) off the floor.