Children develop strong fine motor skills through a variety of everyday activities:
- Getting dressed in the morning
- Coloring with a crayon
- Putting together puzzles
- Picking up and manipulating small objects
- Preparing food and feeding themselves by hand or with a utensil
- Building with blocks or LEGO® bricks
Your classroom teacher supports fine motor development with activities like:
- Picking up cotton balls with tweezers
- Adding clothespins to objects
- Using push pins to create an outline of a picture
- Stringing beads onto shoelaces
These are all activities that children need to do repeatedly to develop control, dexterity and strength. So what about apps? Are there apps that support fine motor development? These questions I have asked and debated over myself.
I struggle with understanding how tapping and dragging on a screen is going to develop fine motor skills better than building a giant tower with blocks or finger painting with 10 fingers in a big colorful “mess.” Just think about how much fine motor strength it takes to construct with Play-Doh. How can an app claim to meaningfully develop fine motor skills when we have these kind of activities already for our kids?
After discussions with Occupational Therapists and reading about how parents and teachers are having success with apps, I’m not sure I have the final answers, but I do have three ideas to share.
Apps are Tools
Apps do not replace hands-on experiences for motor development. Apps only are one more experience for children to have in addition to Playdoh and blocks. That is why it is important to regulate the time your child spends on devices and in front of screens.
Fine Motor and Visual Motor Skills are Important to Develop Together
Examples: Dot to dots, puzzles, drawing, tracing. Apps are a wonderful way to encourage visual motor skills in children who still have a difficult time with a crayon or pencil.
Some Kids Give More Attention To Apps
There is a segment of children who struggle with fine motor and also struggle with attention. Apps give therapists, teachers and parents 15 to 20 minutes of practice time with these kids, where the activities I mentioned earlier might last 5 minutes. It is important to remember that we need to match the right tool for the right kid.