I recently observed a telling event involving two children engaging in fine motor skills activities. To be candid, I wasn’t even thinking of fine motor movements. I was testing a prototype for a catapult design. “…The beauty of fun playtime activities
is that kids are
making connections and advancing understanding because they want to.”The kids playing were ages four and six. What struck me is just how much we take for granted. The kids were having fun–no doubt. But there was a learning curve I hadn’t anticipated. The cotton balls were shooting this way and that–sideways, forwards, backwards. Sometimes the catapult flipped upside down. The kids would bounce up to gather their cotton balls then zip back into action. Seeing what challenges the kids were facing helped me make changes to the design. It also reinforced strategies about what works when it comes to improving fine motor skills.
1. Fine motor skills activities that produce an event are particularly effective. For instance, winding a jack-in-the-box that makes the puppet appear is an event. If you’re not doing it right, the event doesn’t happen. That’s different than twirling a pencil in your fingers–you can kind of do that–but there’s no specific outcome to tell you for sure whether you’re doing it right. On the other hand, when there’s a specific event that happens, kids know for sure whether they are doing it right and they have a clear objective to try to achieve.
Making a catapult launch is an event. You keep trying until you get it right. (Note- a trebuchet style catapult doesn’t apply because the release of tension amounts to flipping a switch. You want a catapult where releasing the tension requires skill.)
2. As always, when kids are doing something fun, they give their full focus and attention. The beauty of fun playtime activities is that kids are making connections and advancing understanding because they want to. They’re enjoying the task at hand. They want to get good at it–pursue all the variations–and learn how to do it as completely as possible.
So it makes perfect sense that improving fine motor skills is easier when the games are fun. Your child wants to achieve the outcome, and is willing to keep trying until she gets it right. Of course, it helps if the outcome has fun applications. For example, winding a jack-in-the-box is a pretty singular event. There’s not much you can do once the puppet pops out. On the other hand, making a catapult launch is an entirely different story. With a catapult, there’s plenty of motivation to continue improving fine motor abilities because there’s so many ways to play. It’s not enough to launch the item–you want to control the finer aspects of the event so you can play games, score points, etc!
To Start: You Need a Catapult:
Here’s some designs you can make out of household items:
Or…here’s a complete list of easy designs: Catapult Designs for Kids
Games to Play:
1. This is an excellent game to improve fine motor skills because it requires trying to repeat–exactly–a fine motor event. That takes a lot of practice. Here’s how to play: Using your catapult, each player launches a cotton ball, then launches another cotton ball, trying to get it as close as possible to the first one. The player whose two cotton balls are closest together scores a point. The first to score ten points wins. (Advanced: Play with three cotton balls. Note that a triangle is formed. The player with the smallest triangle scores a point.)
2. Sit near a wall. Each player bounces ten cotton balls off the wall, and tries to land them inside a popcorn bowl. The player with the most cotton balls inside the bowl wins.
3. Make a loop with string. Each player launches ten cotton balls. The player with the most inside the loop wins. (Advanced: Make a loop inside the loop for double points!)
4. See Catapult Games for Kids for a complete list of games to play.
Fine motor skill activities that are fun for kids work best. From the child’s perspective, if the purpose of the activity is to develop fine motor skills, it’s probably not much fun. On the other hand, if the activity itself is fun–and simply requires improving fine motor control–then your child is motivated to become really good at the activity. And that–as they say–is a win-win situation!
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