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Fine Motor Skills vs. Gross Motor Skills: Preschool Learning

Fine Motor Skills vs. Gross Motor Skills: What’s the Difference? You may have noticed in many of my posts I write, “This activity builds fine motor skills!” What exactly does this mean? And, why is it so important? When little ones have strong hands, not only can they pick up and set down objects, but they can write, cut, zip, tie, color, and so much more! Fine motor skills and gross motor skills are essential for preschoolers to build so that they can explore the world and engage with new complex challenges as they come their way.

Fine Motor Skills

What are fine motor skills?

According to WebMD, “Fine motor skills are activities in which you use the small muscles in your hands and wrists to make precise movements.” In today’s world, an interest in passive activities like playing on the ipad, watching TV, or scrolling a screen do not build fine motor skills. Overuse in these activities may lead your child to be slow to develop the small muscles of the hand and fingers.

Child Coloring a Coloring Page, Fine Motor Skills

Some examples of fine motor skills in action include: grasping a pencil/ coloring a picture, scissor skills/ cutting out large shapes, dressing/ zipping a zipper, tying shoelaces, putting on a belt, personal care/ using a knife and fork to eat, using a toothbrush to brush teeth.

Awesome Activities to Build Fine Motor Skills

Coloring Pages & Dot Dot Sheets

Coloring Pages and Dot Dot Sheets provide the perfect space for your little ones to build muscle strength! Using crayons, markers, watercolors, and paint introduces your little ones to new materials and textures. Watercolors are great because it is a two-step process and also gives your little ones the chance to mix colors together. Dot Dot sheets are great for Dot Dot markers and stickers. When your little ones peel and stick one sticker onto each dot, they are building pincher strength which will also help them when it comes to snack time. They will be able to pick up gummies or goldfish with new found pincher strength!

Cut & Paste Activities

Cut and Paste Activities are another way to build finger strength. Printable puzzles are a great way to practice scissor skills by cutting large shapes, then gluing them into a specific pattern. Printable Crafts are also an amazing way to boost your little one’s imagination and build hand strength. Your little ones will explore new materials like cotton balls, paper plates, pipe cleaners, googly eyes, and more. Cutting, gluing, pressing, layering, and sprinkling are all ways to building up strength.

Playing with Playdough

Playdough is perhaps one of the most amazing ways to build fine motor skills because of all the ways you can manipulate playdough. You can smash, chop, pull, throw, flatten, smush, roll, twist, and squeeze! There is no limit to the ways you can create! Playdough is not only fun, but essential for building up hand muscles!

Daily Life Practice

There are so many small things we can practice in daily life to build fine motor skills. Practice brushing your teeth, practice putting on clothes, practice dinner movements like pouring a glass of water or using a fork/spoon. Small things like putting on a belt and zipping a zipper are huge achievements here! Also, have you ever tried baking a simple recipe with your little ones? Decorating cookies or building a gingerbread house is a great way to build fine motor skills. I have done this with my niece and nephew several times. Is it messy? Yes, and it is always tons of fun!

Check out 7 Different Ways to Use Your Coloring Pages for great ideas on how to mix it up! If you always use markers and crayons, this will give you some fresh ideas on how to engage your little ones.

What are gross motor skills?

According to WebMD, “Gross Motor Skills are the skills involved in coordinating the movements of large body parts such as arms and legs.” Gross motor skills are essential for developing further abilities. In, “The relationship between gross motor skills and academic achievement in children with learning disabilities”, the study found that poor gross motor skills were linked to learning lags, including problems with reading and math.

Girls Jumping on Trampoline

Some examples of Gross Motor Skills in Action include: balance/ walking, climbing the stairs, borad movement/ jumping, physical coordination/ catching and throwing a ball.

Awesome Activities to Build Gross Motor Skills

Play Games Outside

Playing games outside is not only for fun, it also builds muscle strength and coordination! Try playing games that test balance like hopscotch or tightrope walking. Then, play some games that test coordination like a game of catch or jump rope. “Simon Says” is a very popular game because it gets the little ones moving, thinking, and is tons of fun! Another fun thing to do is an obstacle course! Gather any items you have handy like chairs, blankets, or boxes. Set up a course and have the little ones crawl, jump, and climb over the objects. A bonus? The little ones usually want to help making the course! And, don’t forget about hula hooping!

Head to a Dance Class

Ok, I am a little biased here because I was a ballet dancer for over 20 years, but I have to give a shoutout to ballet class! This is an amazing way to build gross motor skills! Whether it’s ballet, tap, or modern get your little ones moving. You will learn to turn, jump, glide, shuffle, and so much more! You will build tons of muscle strength all while focusing on balance and coordination. This truly hits all of the gross motor abilities at once! Not into dance? Another great class to check out is Karate or Tai Chi. There are even kid yoga classes!

Go on a Hike

Sounds simple right? Well, it is! Hiking combines balance, coordination, and strength. Hiking on uneven terrain is a great way to build up muscles in the legs as well as coordination and balance. Getting outside, breathing fresh air, and being one with nature are all perks of this gross motor building exercise. Remember, take your time while hiking. It’s all about the journey, not the destination. Slow and steady wins the race!

Head to the Park

There are so many things at the park that will build gross motor strength. The monkey bars, balance, beam, slide, and swings are all great ways to get your little ones moving! Be sure to stay hydrated! This is a great place for a game of tag and a great place to take the dog for a walk. This is also a great time to engage with play. Learning to play nicely with others is a huge skill and the park is a great place to give it a try.

Rock Painting

This is one of my favorite activities that combine fine motor and gross motor skills! Rock painting is a great way to be creative and build hand strength. Get creative with different colors and make the painting as simple or complex as you like. Next, once the rocks are dry, head out side! Have one person hide the rocks, then have everyone try to find them! This will get everyone exploring. You might be crawling under a log, or climbing up a tree!

Rock Painting, Fine Motor
Rock Painting, Gross Motor

When little ones are beginning this process of building gross and fine motor skills it will take lots of practice. Often, little ones will cry or give up when a task is too difficult for them. It is so important to be patient and encouraging during these moments. Remember, building up these skills is a process and requires a lot of tries to get things right. When your preschooler can master these skills they will be one step ahead of the rest. Achieving little milestones like getting dressed by yourself, doing a pirouette, or winning a game of hopscotch will boost your little ones’ confidence and have them knowing that they can face new challenges!

For tons of awesome preschool activities to build fine motor skills check out over 1,000 Free Preschool Printables! Find coloring pages, cut & paste activities, Dot Dot sheets, printable crafts, puzzles, and more!

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