Another area of development to encourage this year is fine motor skills -- or use of the hands. Just as gross motor skills enable your child to perform important everyday tasks, such as getting out of bed and going downstairs for breakfast, fine motor abilities allow for increasing independence in smaller but equally significant matters: opening doors, zipping zippers, brushing teeth, washing hands, and so on.
When combined with increasing hand-eye coordination, fine motor skills also open new doors to exploration, learning, and creative expression. In fact, research shows that emphasis on purely intellectual activities -- memorization of letters and numbers, for instance -- is far less useful at this stage than pursuits that encourage fine motor abilities and hand-eye coordination. These skills -- rather than counting or reciting the alphabet -- lay the foundation for academic learning in later years. In order to learn to write or draw, for example, a child's hand must be strong and coordinated enough to hold a pencil steady for a long period of time; in order to participate in school sports, games, and projects, dexterity and coordination must be up to par.
Among the fine motor skills your child will perfect in the preschool years are the abilities to:
- paste things onto paper
- clap hands
- touch fingers
- button and unbutton
- work a zipper
- build a tower of 10 blocks
- complete puzzles with five or more pieces
- manipulate pencils and crayons well enough to color and draw
- copy a circle or cross onto a piece of paper
- cut out simple shapes with safety scissors
The best way for you to help promote these and other hand-related skills is to provide your child with a wide range of materials to manipulate as her imagination dictates. Good choices include blocks (especially the interlocking types like magnetic blocks, Legos, bristle blocks, Tinker Toys, and construction straws), crayons, nontoxic and washable markers and paints, paste, glue, modeling clay, an easel, construction paper, safety scissors, a smock to guard against stained clothing, coloring books, and simple sewing cards. This is also a prime time for puzzles, sand and water toys, and musical instruments.