SEARCH Accessibility

Fine Motor Skills Defined by an Occupational Therapist

May 18th, 2020 | by Jonathan Rodil, MS, OTR/L

Jonathan Rodil, MS, OTR/L

May 18th, 2020

Fine Motor Skills, Defined

Fine motor skills are the movements and coordination of the small muscles of the body, typically thought of as the movements that involve the fingers and the hands. Fine motor skills are important for supporting independence with dressing, feeding, eating and performance in school. In occupational therapy, we call the diverse array of skills our hands are capable of fine motor skills. Fine motor skills definition: the ability to efficiently utilize the complex musculature of our hands with appropriate strength, dexterity, and coordination, in order to grasp, manipulate, and accomplish functional tasks. Today I will be talking about the important subset of skills, such as fine motor strength and fine motor precision, that are monumental in the development of our fine motor skills. 

What Are Fine Motor Skills and Why Are They Important?

Hands! I don’t know about you guys, but I definitely take for granted just how I use my hands for basically everything I am doing in life. Whether that’s playing guitar, using them as a handling tool for the kids that I work with, making strokes with a paint brush, turning a page of a book, or using them as paddles to propel my surfboard, it’s pretty amazing what we can do with our hands right? We can create with our hands, we clean with our hands, we eat with our hands, we provide encouraging touch with our hands, we even treat ourselves out with our hands (I personally have never gotten a pedicure, but it’s definitely on my bucket list.) Point being: our hands are amazing, versatile, functional, and creative tools utilized in our daily lives. 

It’s pretty cool to look at these amazing fine motor skills we have at our disposal, and to think about the things we’ve created with our hands, and the things that we’ll accomplish in the future with them.

Related Reading: Occupational Therapy vs. Physical Therapy

Fine Motor Skill #1: Strength

The first fine motor skill I will be talking about is fine motor strength, which is our ability to generate an appropriate amount of strength in our hand to accomplish a functional task. We need our hands to be strong in order to accomplish important tasks, such as being able to squeeze tooth paste out of a tooth brush, grasping a zipper, grasping the lid of a jar, being able to connect Legos, maintaining our grasp on a writing tool with good endurance, in addition to many more things. Can you think of different ways that you or a child in your family utilizes hand strength on a daily basis?

With that said, it’s important to generate a just right amount of force to accomplish a functional task, which is defined as gradation of force. For example, if you’re squeezing lemons to make lemonade, you would probably want to use your hand strength at its maximum capacity. However, if you’re drawing or writing something, you do not want to push down too hard in order to conserve your energy and to provide just enough touch with what you’re writing or drawing.

Here are some activities for your child to do at home in order to improve your fine motor strength: 

  • Squeezing playdough or theraputty 
  • Making something out of dough, such as pizza or cookies 
  • Using syringes and eye droppers for art projects 
  • Picking up items with tweezers, clothesline pins, or kitchen tongs 
  • Using a hole puncher for art activities 
  • Engaging in origami 
  • Finding leaves outside, using them as a stencil placed below a paper, and using the appropriate amount of strength to color over to create an indent of the leave’s shape 

Fine Motor Skill #2: Precision

The next fine motor skill I will be talking about is fine motor precision, defined as the hands ability to coordinate an efficient and targeted movement of the hands with a precise goal in mind. Fine motor precision is engrained in our everyday activities, such as being able to button a shirt, put earrings on, being able to write words right on a line, being able to stab a small piece of food with a fork, etc. Adding a time component with finger agility, you then have another important sub-skill of manual dexterity, which is defined as being able to efficiently execute a quick, precise, and coordinate movement with our hands. What are some ways that you use fine motor precision and manual dexterity on a daily basis? 

Here are some fun activities to do at home to work on fine motor precision. Add a timed component, or sequential steps to add the increased challenge of improving manual dexterity. 

  • Threading to make a necklace or a bracelet with cereal or beads 
  • Mazes 
  • Perler beads 
  • Snipping on a line 
  • Inserting coins into a piggy bank 
  • Using glue on a precise target for an art project 
  • Putting pegs into a pegboard 
  • Engaging in puzzles 

“Man, through the use of his hands, as they are energized by mind and will, can influence the state of his own health.”

– Mary Reilly, EdD, OTR, FAOTA. 

Find More Ways to Get Hands-On in the NAPA Blog: 

About the Author

Jonathan always knew that his life purpose was to help people. Jonathan is passionate about pediatric mental health, family-centered practice, and learning more about innovative evidence-based therapies. Jonathan refers to himself as an “oversized child” and loves the process of families working together to maximize a child’s full potential. In his free time, Jonathan plays basketball and music, dances, travels, watches his teams play, and hangs out with his friends and family (most especially his dog!)

Interested in learning more? View Jonathan’s blog: A Day in the Life of an Occupational Therapist

About NAPA Center

NAPA Center provides the best pediatric therapies from around the world at our four US-based clinics located in Los Angeles, Boston, Austin, and Denver in addition to our two Australia-based clinics located in Sydney and Melbourne. As a leader in intensive pediatric therapy, NAPA Center attracts families from around the world to participate in our three-week intensive therapy sessions bringing unparalleled growth for children with a variety of neurological and developmental disabilities. To discover how NAPA can help your child, view our program offerings and contact our team to learn more.

TAGS: Blogs, OT
Skip to content