When we think of a child’s physical development, it is the large motor skills that usually first come to mind – running, jumping, kicking, and the like.
The physical development of a child’s fine motor skills are just as, if not more important, as the development of the larger muscles. This group of skills includes finger speed, arm steadiness, arm and hand precision, and finger and hand dexterity. They are closely linked to the development of eye-hand co-ordination and are essential for eventual control over pencils for learning to form letters as a beginning writer. As well, mastery of fine motor skills requires the child to apply increasing levels of self control (patience, perseverance) and to concentrate closely on what they are doing.
Children learn to control their large muscles before they do their small, therefore are more likely to walk before able to construct a tower with tiny blocks. Maybe it is because mastering these small muscles is less obvious than that of their large muscle counterparts, that the celebrations we have when a baby first crawls or a toddler first walks are more likely to be recorded for prosperity than the date they were first able to stack blocks one on top of another without them instantly toppling over.
There are many activities that encourage the development of these skills. Here are just a few, all wooden I must admit as I have a weak spot for wooden toys!
For children not yet ready to thread on string try a set like the one Immy is using in the first picture, it is one we borrowed from our local toy library. I like toys that are multi functional like the car beads and the house shape sorter with beads. The sequence beads are great for older children (generally over preschool age).
There are a myriad of puzzles available now. The craggy arches double as a construction and dramatic play toy and the clock puzzle can be used for different learning purposes over a number of years. I really like the learning potential of the pattern blocks.
Think outside the square when choosing blocks and construction toys for your child. I love the nesting blocks for the potential of the negative space, the castle blocks for their randomness and the sound blocks for their uniqueness.
When choosing manipulative activities for your child it is important to consider their current level of fine muscle control, their ability to concentrate, and their emotional control in terms of how they deal with frustration. Very young children (prior to preschool age) will most definitely need an adult’s guidance, encouragement, and support as they first learn to manipulate these types of toys. Adults should not expect young children to spend long periods of time playing with these materials as they require significant amounts of self control and should balance such play with periods of more active play.
These materials lend themselves to opportunities for talking with your child about colour, shape, similarities and differences, patterns and counting but remember, don’t overdo it and encouragement, not praise, is the way to go!