Fine Motor Development

Fine Motor Development

What are Fine Motor Skills?


Fine motor skills rely on our ability to use the small muscles in the hand to control our fingers, hands, and wrist to manipulate objects and complete tasks. Fine motor skills are essential for many activities in childhood and through to adulthood, such as printing, buttoning shirts, zipping zippers, or tying shoelaces, and are frequently an area of focus in occupational therapy interventions. 

How Fine Motor Skills develop

Fine motor skill development begins at birth and develops throughout childhood. Children must learn and develop the foundations of motor control before being able to successfully engage in fine motor tasks such as printing, doing up buttons, or tying shoelaces.

“Much like an amateur runner who cannot run a marathon without proper training, a child cannot master the art of conventional writing without the proper foundation of muscle development” (Huffman & Fortenberry, 2011, pp. 100).

Fine motor development begins by first engaging in gross motor tasks, such as activities which engage the trunk and core muscles. Research has shown that gross motor activities are crucial in improving fine motor control for activities such as printing and handwriting. Core strength and posture have strong implications for handwriting and fine motor control, as our trunk serves as the base of support for the movements required to print. Once trunk control and core strength have been improved upon, we can move our attention to the arm and shoulder. From the shoulder, the fine motor development continues to develop through to focussing on the whole hand. From the whole hand, we arrive at the final stage of fine motor development which accomplishes the pincher and pincer grasp which are most commonly associated with printing and handwriting skills. 

Why is core strength so important in handwriting?

The development of core strength is essential in improving and addressing handwriting in children for several reasons. One of the main reasons why core strength is so important to develop before addressing handwriting, is ensuring that children can maintain the proper posture while seated. This requires adequate trunk strength to be seated for an extended period of time (in class taking notes, for example). Without proper posture, handwriting is typically messy, as children who are slouching are not able to support the paper they are writing on with their helper hand. As such, they cannot keep the paper still as they write, which leads to illegible handwriting. In addition, a slouched posture leads to over extension in the arm while writing, which takes a great deal of energy to sustain. This can lead to messy handwriting, but can also lead to lack of stamina while writing, or being unable to write for long periods of time (Occupational Therapy: Helping Children, 2023).

Since the core is the foundation of the strength in the rest of our body, it must be
strengthened first, before the focus can be turned to the shoulder, the arm, the hand, and the fingers. 

Blog post written by occupational therapy student Charlotte Inthof-Barrett

Key Resources:

Occupational Therapy: Helping Children. (2023). Motor Development.

Huffman, J.M., & Fortenberry, C. (2011). Helping preschoolers prepare for writing:

Developing fine motor skills. Young Children, 66(5), 100-103.