How Reading Supports Fine Motor Skill Development in Children

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While it may feel like pointing, turning a page and moving our hands is something we’re born to do, they’re actually fine motor skills we need to develop. Books are one of the many ways we learn to do many fine motor skills, and are one of the many tools we can use, as parents and guardians, to support this development.

How reading supports fine motor skill development in children can depend on their age and current progress. However, this article will help you navigate the different stages and what fine motor skills you can develop with books and how.

What are fine motor skills?

Fine motor skills refers to our abilities to make movements with, and coordinate our hands, fingers, wrists and eyes. It’s generally thought of as our skill in using our hands to communicate, move things and manipulate objects, like reaching and grasping.

What age do kids start developing fine motor skills?

Every child moves at their own pace. So, while one child may start to grab and play from 5 months, another may not make these movements until 7 or 8 months.

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On average, babies will begin to use their hands (but not necessarily their thumbs) 5 to 6 months, and start playing with handheld toys between 6 to 12 months. While toddlers will start to be able to hold pencils, drink from cups and other more complex movements by around 18 months. Around the age of 2 is when you’ll start to see kids begin to scribble and trying doorknobs (eek)!

How does reading help with fine motor skill development in children?

Turning pages

When a baby or toddler first engages with a book, they’ll likely grab a handful of pages. As they develop, they’ll likely be able to turn these pages, and by the age of 3, will typically be able to turn a book page-by-page.

Thicker pages can often make it easier for kids not to rip pages and begin to turn pages. However, exposure to paper pages is also good to help them develop those fine motor skills with books!

To help your child get used to turning pages and more delicate objects, Busy Books is also a good option. Busy Books are children’s activity books designed to help with their fine motor skills through movement of flaps and other sensory objects on the page.

Interacting and pointing

Monkey see, monkey do! While you’re reading with your baby, toddler or child, try pointing to different words or pictures. Pointing is shown to help with language development for kids to associate verbal words with written words, but also helps with their fine motor skills.

Books are great for developing fine motor skills in kids of all ages, reading is great for hand-eye coordination.

Your child will learn pointing is a way to explain an emotion, object or word. The pointing is also flexing the finger, which helps them exercise these muscles and joints, allowing them to develop more complex finger skills, like grabbing.

Books with flaps, different textures and moveable objects also help encourage your child to point, touch and use their fingers. Encourage your child to move the flap, slide or touch the texture repeatedly to really train that motion. This is where Busy Books can also be useful as they provide more elements for kids to want to reach out, touch and manipulate. 

Holding and manipulating books

Holding a book and keeping it stable while you read is using fine motor skills! So, allowing your child to pick and carry the book they want to read (depending where they are in their development), as well as holding the book while you read helps them develop their stability and grip.

If the book slips, let your child try to grab and move the book into a more comfortable and stable position. These actions help them refine their hand and finger movements, as well as improve their coordination and control.

Tracing and following words

Reading is great for hand-eye coordination. As you’re reading, use your finger to follow the words as you say them. Your child is likely to follow this when they begin to read themselves.

This activity helps your child to learn to coordinate their fingers and eyes as they read. Through tracing and following the words, they’re also fine-tuning their precision finger movements.

Writing and drawing

Reading is often a gateway for drawing and writing. Kids start to get their own ideas for stories, which can be encouraged to be drawn or written down.

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As kids begin to draw and write, they will learn to refine their movement to form shapes, numbers and letters. This uses a combination of their eyes, hands and fingers, so is a great way to develop those precise fine motor skills through books.

Many Busy Books also encourage the use of writing and drawing, prompting kids to try tracing outlines of letters and numbers, replicate drawings and more. 

What types of activities are recommended for helping kids develop their fine motor skills?

There are plenty of fun activities you can do with your child to help them build up their fine motor skills. For younger children, this could look like exploring textures—like squishing playdough or pasta between fingers—or placing wooden blocks in different shapes.

Older toddlers may be able to start using scissors or doing puzzles; which require coordination and control of the hands. While for older kids, you could look into threading beads, making origami or simply drawing and writing.

Books are great for developing fine motor skills in kids of all ages, progressing from simple books made for babies, progressing to picture books and young adult novels as they age. 

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