Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Preschool Objectives for Fine Motor Skills

I recently encountered a mom who was looking into preschools for her 3 year old daughter who was distraught to find out that all of her top three choices had skills objectives for the preschoolers and she was worried this would create a situation that put pressure on her child.

I was glad to reassure her that most likely, the objectives were to be treated more like benchmarks than objectives.  I told her that chances were the objectives helped guide the teachers in what kinds of activities to offer to the kids.  At the preschool where I taught, if kids weren't meeting a few objectives, they weren't singled out or pressured at all.  We offered activities that would help most kids meet most of the school's objectives before they left the pre-k program, but no grades were given, or anyone forced into anything.  The only exception to this was when kids were not meeting a majority of age appropriate benchmarks that might indicate a developmental challenge or delay that could require additional support.  Even then, the child was never pressured or forced, but we did usually alert the parents to our observations when this occurred.

I suggested to this woman that she ask her prospective preschool directors what some of the objectives were as well as observe some of the objectives driven activities and lessons at each school.  If they seemed fairly reasonable for the age group, and if the kids were allowed activity options throughout most of the day, there probably wasn't any reason for her to worry.  At the same time, I once interviewed at a preschool that claimed that no child left the pre-k program not already knowing how to add single digits (that kind of an objective should throw up red flags and the minute that claim was made I knew that particular school was not for me).

I began thinking about the multitude of objectives we used to guide activity decisions and decided perhaps I should share some of these lists with my readers.  There are many categories of objectives so I thought I'd break it down with an article about each category at a time.  Since I had already written a few articles related to pre-writing and fine motor skills, I thought I'd start with that list.  Here are some of the fine motor skills objectives we addressed to help prepare our students for Kindergarten and the more academic expectations to come.

Grasping and Hand Control:

When your child was an infant you gave him/her tummy time to help build his or her back muscles so your child would grow strong enough to hold his or her head up, crawl, cruise and eventually walk.  Writing requires the same kind of stepping up and muscle preparation.  Children must build strength in various muscle groups to successfully open door knobs, tie their shoes, paint, sculpt and write.  Grasping, whether it is with the whole hand, or the "pincer grasp" is where it all begins.  Here are some of the "pre-writing" abilities we had the kids practice in a variety of ways in order to build their muscle strength and control. 
  • Grasping with whole hand.
  • Controlled use of tongs of various sizes.
  • Controlled use of scoops (and spoons) of various sizes.
  • Tearing papers into pieces.
  • Tearing with control - meaning the child can stop the tear before it divides the paper in two.
  • Approaches holding writing utensils correctly.
  • Transfers liquids from one container to another using a baster or aspirator bulb.
  • Uses squeeze bottles and tubes in a controlled manner (can squeeze glue and paints from a squeeze bottle in drops or dribbles instead of gobs and puddles).
  • Can stack three or more wood block, nesting cups or other objects with a flat edge in a controlled enough fashion not to cause the stacked objects to topple.

Pincer Grasp:

While this should be a grasp they begin using before they have finished their first year, continued growth should occur during the toddler years and preschool.
  • Strings medium to large sized beads onto yarn, shoelaces or other string.
  • Passes string, yarn or shoelaces through holes demonstrating "lacing skills".
  • Transfers liquids from one container to another using an eye dropper.
If your child needs help building any of the grasping skills take a look at this article regarding, "Fine Motor Control Activities" to get started.  You might also look at any of the art, sensory and water play activities I have outlined in other articles on this site because these activities will also help with grasping skills and control.  I'm sure there will be more to come as well. 

Cutting Skills:

Annoying but true: despite the mess it makes, cutting paper into all those little, itty-bitty, teeny-tiny, yet treasured (by only the child) bits of paper is an important thing for your child to do.  Yes, they need to develop scissor skills and the act of using scissors helps build some of those muscle groups used for writing skills too.  Here is an article all about developing scissor skills with your preschooler. 

In none of the objectives below did we expect perfection, simply, approximation. For example, a straight line is definitely not ruler straight and I would expect quite a bit of wobble.  A preschooler that has successfully cut a straight line is really a kid who has cut a line that is straight enough the average person can tell the child was trying to cut a straight line.  Stray slits and jagged edges are expected here.  Again, it is really important to remember that they are new at this and I am only saying to expect vague approximations of these objectives at this stage.
  • Scissor Safety (meaning the child knows how to walk with scissors held point down in a fisted grip, to sit with the scissors while cutting and not to fling the scissors about.  It is a good idea to introduce the concept of a "safety circle".  A safety circle is a circle around the person using the sharp tool that is about the radius of the person's cutting arm that is free of people or animals that might get hurt by the sharp object if it slips).
  • Can hold the scissors properly.
  • Can cut papers into smaller pieces.
  • Can cut following a straight line that was pre-drawn.
  • Can cut in a straight line without a pre-drawn.
  • Can cut to make fringe.
  • Can follow a curved line.
  • Can cut in a curved line.
  • Can cut out simple shapes (of moderately large sizes) such as squares and triangles.
  • Can cut following a zig zag line with minor help.

Writing Skills:

Without pressuring your kids to write their letters perfectly, there are things you can do to help them gain pre-writing skills that will make writing easier to learn for your children when it is time for them to learn to write their letters.  You can take a look at the article, "Learning to Write Letters" for a short list of helpful beginner's handwriting activities.
  • Can Scribble.
  • Shows desire to control direction of scribbles.
  • Can draw short straight lines.
  • Can draw mostly straight lines across a page.
  • Can draw curved lines and squiggles
  • Can approximately trace basic shapes of a medium to large size.
  • Can approximately trace lines with large curves.
  • Is beginning to approximate spirals, circles and simples shapes of own accord.
  • Can recognize and identify most of the letters of the alphabet and all the numerals, 0-9.
  • Recognizes his/her own name.


The final skill on the fine motor skills list was pouring.  We did teach the kids to pour from small pitchers (lighter weight) into cups.  This is not typical as far as I know, but there are still plenty of preschool activities where children get the chance to "play" at pouring.  The action does build strength in the upper arm and shoulder as well as the wrist so while the act of pouring without spilling is possible for a preschooler, it is not typically an expectation that they will master this skill.  It does seem to be an important activity to practice for building muscle and muscle control.  Pouring cups are typical bathtub and sand play toys for any kid old enough to use them and offer up plenty of opportunity for using this action even without it being about pouring out juice, water or milk at the table.

Keep an eye out for future articles about further activities to help introduce your child to these skills or practice these skills at home.

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