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Fine Motor Skill Development in the Art Classroom
By: Art Teacher Erica Spangler
In the art room, children are getting creative, solving problems, and even exercising. This may be a surprise. Although we don’t often break a sweat, each day little hands are building up their fine motor muscles. In addition to all of the great educational benefits of the visual arts, the physical development that takes place in the classroom is also important.
The Children’s Family and Resource Center of British Columbia explains, “Fine motor” refers to the movements we make with the small muscles of the hands. Children start to use their hands right at birth to explore their own bodies and the world around them. Their fine motor skills develop as their whole body starts to move and become more stable. They also learn to do more things with their hands as their cognitive and social/emotional skills improve.”
Fine motor skills develop rapidly from birth to age 6. Beyond age 6, they can become even more fine-tuned. However if children fall behind in development, they may be less interested in writing. This activity becomes more challenging and they do not feel very successful, so they may do anything to avoid hand-writing. Keeping that in mind, I choose activities for the youngest grades that involve cutting and manipulating a variety of materials.
In SK, students make pinch pots out of clay and create paper weavings. This year, the first graders created tree weavings using yarn. Although this was a very challenging skill that took thought and effort, they had great success getting their small fingers working as they repeated an over-under pattern with the materials. The second graders learned finger knitting which is a wonderful way to exercise finger muscles. Their hands become the loom, and they weave yarn in and out of their fingers, looping, pulling, and bending to make their projects. All the while, children are having fun creating and don’t even realize they are “exercising.”
Building up fine motor skills is not something to leave for art class. There are many fun and simple activities you can have on hand for your children at home or on the go. One of the best materials to build finger strength is play dough. Pinching, pulling, rolling and shaping the dough are great muscle-builders. If you aren’t up for the mess, try out Crayola’s model magic. Dot-to-dot pictures help children develop both fine motor skills and hand-eye-coordination as they connect the dots using a pencil, pen or marker. Yarn is available at Michael’s and WalMart. Look up a tutorial for finger knitting on YouTube and your kids will be busy for days.
I always keep a small notebook or blank sketchbook in my purse. When we are waiting at a restaurant or doctor’s office, my children and I take turns making a drawing. I will draw something then pass it to them and they draw something. Other times, they draw or write whatever they choose, which gets them grasping a pencil or pen. All of these ideas are fun for children. More importantly, they build up those very important fine motor skills and their confidence becoming more successful as they continue in school, sports and other activities.