Fine Motor Skills Needed at School and Classroom Activities to Help | The OT Toolbox

Fine Motor Skills Needed at School and Classroom Activities to Help

Occupational Therapists are often times consulted to assess a child for their fine motor skills that are needed in school and for resources to build fine motor skills in the classroom.  When a child's fine motor skills are lacking, classroom tasks can be difficult and result in delays in many aspects that are necessary for learning and functioning in the school environment.  

Today, I'm sharing a breakdown of fine motor skills in the school environment and how to build these skills during the school day through simple strategies. One of these strategies is Finger Aerobics.  Read on to learn more about finger aerobics exercises for a fine motor writing warm-up exercise.

Fine Motor skills needed at school and classroom activities to help

Fine Motor Skills Needed at School

Fine motor skills are essential for independence and functioning within the classroom environment. Consider all of the areas where fine motor skills are needed for ease during the school day:

Handwriting and pencil grasp
Scissor grasp and cutting paper
Paper management including placing papers into folders
Paper clip management
Paper connectors (brads) management
Erasing with a pencil
Rotating a pencil within the hand
Squeezing glue bottles
Removing glue caps from squeeze bottles or glue sticks
managing zippers on backpacks
Tying shoes
Managing clothing and clothing fasteners during bathroom breaks
Donning and doffing jackets and coats
Managing buttons, snaps, and zippers on coats and jackets
Tying shoes
Opening containers in the lunch room
Holding utensils and scooping food to eat
Picking up small pieces of food
Manipulating coins in the lunchroom
Typing on a computer keyboard
Toileting (tearing toilet paper and wiping)
Toileting (pulling up pants)
Using a stapler
Opening and closing a three ring binder
Managing glue sticks
Art projects
Packing a backpack
Endurance in writing
Removing and putting on caps on markers
Sharpening pencils
Placing manipulatives and counters accurately in hands-on math activities
Opening jars of paint

These daily functions within the school environment require many fine motor skills.  Each daily task requires many fine motor skills: 
  • Open thumb web space
  • Bilateral coordination
  • Thumb IP joint flexion
  • Finger isolation
  • Hand and wrist Development
  • Upper extremity stabilization
  • UE joint mobility
  • Trunk stability
  • Core strength and Posture
  • ROM
  • Dexterity
  • Arch development
  • Intrinsic muscle strength
  • Bilateral coordination and integration
  • Visual-motor control
  • Precision handling
  • Motoric separation of the two sides of the hands
  • Motor control
  • Pincer grasp
  • Grip strength
  • Pinch strength
  • Gross Grasp strength
When fine motor skills are delayed, a student's success in the classroom can be greatly impaired.

There are many reasons that fine motor skills might be lacking, resulting in delays in functional skills:
Muscle weakness
Low tone
Delayed wrist and hand development
Poor posture and core strength
Insufficient somatosensory input with failure to develop kinesthesia
Insufficient visual control
Incomplete bilateral integration
Incomplete utilization of proximal joints of the upper extremity including poor support
Inadequate spatial analysis and or synthesis skills
Insufficient visual-motor control 
Delayed or inadequate arch development
Underdeveloped precision handling
Difficulty with Motoric separation of the two sides of the hands.

Fine motor development and successful use of refined motor skills in functional tasks relies on a sensorimotor foundation of trunk and arm stability, strength, manipulation, ability to motor plan, and effective coordination of visual motor information.  When kids are required to perform classroom and school activities without these foundations in place, difficulties arise, resulting in frustration, feelings of failure, and behaviors.

So many times, there is a question of whether a student should be referred to the school-based OT for evaluation and assessment of fine motor skills for improved success in the classroom.  Teachers, parents, and school support staff should consider a referral to the school-based Occupational Therapist if the following fine motor conditions are observed and are effecting school occupations and learning.

Signs a Student Needs Occupational Therapy in the School for Fine Motor Skill Development:
Difficulty holding scissors and cutting shapes when age-appropriate
Trouble with letter/number formation or reverses letters
Avoids fine motor activities
Trouble using an effective pencil grasp
Fatigue when coloring
Difficulty erasing without tearing paper
Writes too lightly or too dark and written work is illegible
Difficulty putting on coat, managing buttons/zippers/snaps, or tying shoes (from what is age appropriate)
Switches hands during activities

There are some easy ways to build fine motor skills right in the classroom.  Try some of these strategies to accommodating for poor fine motor skills that might impact a student's success in the classroom:

Classroom strategies for accommodating for poor fine motor skills at school

Try various writing utensils.
Work on various writing surfaces (chalkboard, slant board, easel).
Use a kneaded eraser for less required effort when erasing.
Evaluate pencil grasp and try various pencil grips to modify for efficiency.
Utilize techniques for organizing papers when motor planning is an issue.
Manage papers and bilateral coordination by taping paper to the desk.

Finger Aerobics Exercises for Building Fine Motor Skills in the Classroom

One strategy that is helpful in building fine motor skills in the classroom is finger aerobics.  These finger motor movement exercises are activities that can be used by the whole classroom as part of a handwriting warm-up exercise.  Kids with poor fine motor skills can often times struggle with hand functions and tool use in the classroom.  Finger dexterity activities like finger aerobics promote sensorimotor awareness and manipulation of the hands.  Finger aerobics are ideal as a transitional movement activity for the whole classroom or a brain break type of activity.

Fine Motor skills needed for school and classroom and activities to help build those skills, including finger aerobics exercises.

Spider Push-Ups:  Show the students how to place both hands together with palms and fingers touching.  Then, show them how to push the hands away from each other at the palm.  The fingertips should remain in contact.

Fine Motor skills needed for school and classroom and activities to help build those skills, including finger aerobics exercises.

Finger Pick-Ups:  The students should stand at their desk and place their hands flat on the desk surface.  They can then pick up each finger in isolation.  Ask them to raise each finger from the desk surface 3 times and then pick up and hold each finger individually for several seconds.

Fine Motor skills needed for school and classroom and activities to help build those skills, including finger aerobics exercises.

Fingertip Touch:  Ask the students to touch their thumbs to the tips of each of the fingers.  They can do both hands at the same time or one hand at a time. Then, ask them to touch the tip of their thumb to the base of each finger.  They can touch the tip or base of each finger at different speeds, as they spell words, or count in various increments.  Next, ask them to touch the tips or bases of each finger with their hands held behind their back or out of their field of vision. 

Finger Sounds:  Ask the students to close their eyes.  Then, the teacher or group leader can ask the students to listen carefully as she makes sounds with her hands.  The teacher can make one sound and then ask the students to repeat the sound using their hands.  Ideas include: rubbing the hands together to make a soft swishing sound, snapping, clapping, thigh slapping, finger tapping, or patting the desk. The students should keep their eyes closed as they repeat each individual sound.

Fist Squeeze: Ask the students to make a fist with both hands.  Then, they should try placing their thumb in different positions and squeezing as hard as they can.  Try the thumb at the side of the fingers, wrapped over the knuckles, and tucked under the fingertips.  Show them how to stretch out the fingers and then repeat.

Spider Crawl:  Ask the students to stand up behind their desks.  They can then place both hands with the palm and fingers flat on the desk surface.  Show the students how to make their hands "crawl" across the desk like spiders.  They can move both hands together symmetrically and individually in different directions.  Keep the palm lightly positioned on the desk surface.

Fine Motor skills needed for school and classroom and activities to help build those skills, including finger aerobics exercises.

Finger Muscles:  Show the students how to use their other hand to provide resistance for squeezing.  They can place their pointer finger or their pointer and middle finger of one hand on the out stretched fingers of the other hand.  Ask them to squeeze their fingers and then to try to push against the fingers.

Writing Gloves:  Ask the students to pretend to put a glove on their hands, slowly moving the glove over each finger.  They should push each finger down individually.  Then, they can remove that pretend glove, one finger at a time.  This is an especially calming activity that provides propioceptive input through joint compressions.

Finger Ducks:  Ask the students to straiten the fingers and thumbs to create a "duck" puppet with just their fingers.  They can make the duck open and close it's mouth to spell words, count, or read.  Then, ask them to pretend that the duck ate a lemon as they pull the finger tips into the palm.  This is a great activity that strengthens the lumbrical muscles of the hands. 

You can view all of the exercises here: 

Finger aerobics for fine motor strengthening and handwriting warm up.

Be sure to visit the other Occupational Therapists and Physical Therapists who are writing about School Day Functions this month in the Functional Skills for Kids series:

Fine motor skills needed in the classroom and finger aerobics ideas

More Fine Motor Activities that will build skills needed for Function and Learning in School:

 fine motor writing activity Pencil Grasp Activity Pencil Grasp Exercise Thumb opposition activity