Fine Motor Skills Defined by an Occupational Therapist

May 18th, 2020 | by Jonathan Rodil, MS, OTR/L
Jonathan Rodil, MS, OTR/L

Jonathan Rodil, MS, OTR/L

May 18th, 2020

“Man, through the use of his hands, as they are energized by mind and will, can influence the state of his own health.”

– Mary Reilly, EdD, OTR, FAOTA. 

Fine Motor Skills, Defined

In occupational therapy, we call the diverse array of skills our hands are capable of as fine motor skills, defined as the ability to efficiently utilize the complex musculature of our hands with appropriate strength, dexterity, and coordination, in order to grasp, manipulate, and accomplish functional tasks. Today I will be talking about the important subset of skills that are monumental in the development of our fine motor skills. 

What are Fine Motor Skills?

Hands! I don’t know about you guys, but I definitely take for granted just how I use my hands for basically everything I am doing in life. Whether that’s playing guitar, using them as a handling tool for the kids that I work with, making strokes with a paint brush, turning a page of a book, or using them as paddles to propel my surfboard, it’s pretty amazing what we can do with our hands right? We can create with our hands, we clean with our hands, we eat with our hands, we provide encouraging touch with our hands, we even treat ourselves out with our hands (I personally have never gotten a pedicure, but it’s definitely on my bucket list.) Point being: our hands are amazing, versatile, functional, and creative tools utilized in our daily lives. 

Fine Motor Strength

The first skill I will be talking about is fine motor strength, which is our ability to generate an appropriate amount of strength in our hand to accomplish a functional task. We need our hands to be strong in order to accomplish important tasks, such as being able to squeeze tooth paste out of a tooth brush, grasping a zipper, grasping the lid of a jar, being able to connect Legos, maintaining our grasp on a writing tool with good endurance, in addition to many more things. Can you think of different ways that you or a child in your family utilizes hand strength on a daily basis? With that said, it’s important to generate a just right amount of force to accomplish a functional task, which is defined as gradation of force. For example, if you’re squeezing lemons to make lemonade, you would probably want to use your hand strength at its maximum capacity. However, if you’re drawing or writing something, you do not want to push down too hard in order to conserve your energy and to provide just enough touch with what you’re writing or drawing. Here are some activities that you can do at home in order to improve your fine motor strength: 

  • Squeezing playdough or theraputty 
  • Making something out of dough, such as pizza or cookies 
  • Using syringes and eye droppers for art projects 
  • Picking up items with tweezers, clothesline pins, or kitchen tongs 
  • Using a hole puncher for art activities 
  • Engaging in origami 
  • Finding leaves outside, using them as a stencil placed below a paper, and using the appropriate amount of strength to color over to create an indent of the leave’s shape 


Fine Motor Precision

The next skill I will be talking about is fine motor precision, defined as the hands ability to coordinate an efficient and targeted movement of the hands with a precise goal in mind. Fine motor precision is engrained in our everyday activities, such as being able to button a shirt, put earrings on, being able to write words right on a line, being able to stab a small piece of food with a fork, etc. Adding a time component with finger agility, you then have another important subskill of manual dexterity, which is defined as being able to efficiently execute a quick, precise, and coordinate movement with our hands. What are some ways that you use fine motor precision and manual dexterity on a daily basis? 

Fine Motor Activities

Here are some fun activities to do at home to work on fine motor precision. Add a timed component, or sequential steps to add the increased challenge of improving manual dexterity. 

  • Threading to make a necklace or a bracelet with cereal or beads 
  • Mazes 
  • Perler beads 
  • Snipping on a line 
  • Inserting coins into a piggy bank 
  • Using glue on a precise target for an art project 
  • Putting pegs into a pegboard 
  • Engaging in puzzles 

Our Hhands are Pretty Incredible, Right!? 

It’s pretty cool to look at these amazing tools we have at disposal, and think about the things we’ve created with them, and the things that we’ll accomplish in the future with them. Have fun and get hands on with these fun activities at home with your family! 

About the Author

Jonathan always knew that his life purpose was to help people. Jonathan is passionate about pediatric mental health, family-centered practice, and learning more about innovative evidence-based therapies. Jonathan refers to himself as an “oversized child” and loves the process of families working together to maximize a child’s full potential. In his free time, Jonathan plays basketball and music, dances, travels, watches his teams play, and hangs out with his friends and family (most especially his dog!)

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