Most of us know (or at least could guess) that fine motor practice is important in the early years/grades simply by looking at how much we, as adults, use our fine motor muscles on a daily basis to write, chop veggies, text on our phones, cut a piece of paper, etc. Fine motor skills are kind of a prerequisite to everyday life! As early as in the second grade, studies have found that students are spending 30% to 60% of their time engaged in activities that require fine motor skill, including writing, building, and cutting (McHale and Cermak, 1992).
However, I’m going to take a leap of faith and assume not many of you are aware that fine motor skills are a good predictor for later academic success. In fact, fine motor skills play a big role in cognitive development! Let’s look at some data to back this statement up:
- Duncan et al. (2007) found that fine motor skills in preschool were a very strong and consistent predictor of later academic success (through the 5th grade)! They found that fine motor skills were able to more accurately predict a student’s later mathematical, reading, and science success than social skills or internalizing and externalizing behavior.
- In comparative studies, fine motor skills have shown to be as significant or more significant than attention, persistence, and concentration at predicting later math and reading achievement.
- Laura Dinehart and Louis Manfra (2013) explored the specific impact certain types of fine motor skills have on academic success. They studied:
(1) Fine motor manipulation (i.e. weaving, stacking, lacing, cutting, manipulating play dough, turning pages in a book, folding paper into shapes, etc.)
(2) Fine motor writing (the production and often replication (copying) of symbols, numbers, and letters on a piece of paper using a writing utensil)
Dinehart and Manfra’s results indicate that performance on both fine motor writing and object manipulation tasks had significant effects on 2nd-grade reading and math achievement, as measured by grades and standardized test scores. However, stronger effects were yielded for writing tasks compared to object manipulation tasks.
After looking at the data, we should all feel justified in ignoring the never ending mess that is raising kids (I mean seriously, who knew little people produced SO MUCH laundry?!) to sit and make bead necklaces, cut play dough hair, make some cool sticker art, hammer golf tees into an amazon box, etc. Let’s let our kids paint our toenails and know that they might be a little better at math and reading for having the extra practice holding a pencil-like utensil and using their tiny little hand muscles in coordination with their eyes and visual parts of their brain to give us the cheapest pedicure ever. Although it may take an extra 10+ minutes, let’s invite our kiddos into the kitchen with us! Let’s let our kids peel their own oranges, squeeze their own orange juice, cut up their own banana, spoon out their own kiwis, pour out their own cereal, flip their own pancake, etc.
If you are tempted to sit your child down with a pencil and paper and practice writing or drawing symbols, consider instead:
- playing pretend air plane and have your kids write up their own plane tickets
- have your kids make labels for pretend grocery store items (let them raid the pantry), make a pretend grocery list, hop in their pretend car, and have a blast shopping at the pretend grocery store (which could be as simple as your kitchen table with a host of goodies from your pantry).
- go on a walk and pretend to be explores writing down things you see
- Open up a coffee shop, donut shop, cookie shop, etc. and turn your kiddos into waiters writing down your orders before they hustle off to pretend cook for you.
- Write some post cards to relatives and take a visit to your local post office.
- Open up a stuffed animal clinic and print off some pretend vet sheets for your children to scribble notes on while examining the wellness of their stuffed animals.
Even if your child knows no letters, pretending to write (aka scribbling) is so important. That means they are developing an appreciation for written words and connecting meaning to lines and symbols made on paper. If they are pretending to write, they are on their way to learning to read and write.
Have fun PLAYING and learning with your children today and consider bringing your child over for preschool at my house next year!