Fine Motor Skills in First Grade: Cutting, Writing, and Other Intricate Little Tasks

First Grade Fine Motor Skills Fine motor skills are improving in the first grade, but they are not perfected yet. A first grader recently announced to me, "When you write fast things go all scribble-scrabble!" And it's true: unless first graders go nice and slow and concentrate on what they are doing, their writing does indeed tend to go all scribble-scrabble. Six and seven year olds are not yet accomplished in their fine motor development, and they need lots more practice before writing and other small motor tasks become automatic.

"You can't write so fast. Because, when you write fast, everything goes all scribble-scrabble." --first grader

Muscle development is generally divided into either gross motor skills (the use of large muscles) or fine motor skills. Fine motor, or small muscle development, usually refers to the use of hands and fingers as they are used in precise, intricate movements. A related term is visual motor skills, or eye-hand coordination. These require children to blend visual and small muscle activities to accomplish a task, such as putting a puzzle together.

By the ages of 6 and 7, most of children's fine motor skills have developed. They are refining the skills they already have, and focusing on more advanced fine motor areas such as eye-hand coordination-such as putting together more complex puzzles or using building toys with smaller pieces. Kids are also improving their writing technique. They are learning to use the "dynamic tripod" when writing, in which thumb, index and middle fingers work together and give more stability to holding and using a pencil. Children in first grade will need to master the more refined skills of writing fluently, so that they can focus on content without thinking about how to hold the pencil. Their proficiency in these skills will vary greatly depending on the amount of exposure and practice they are given.

Developmental Milestones for Fine Motor Skills: What to Expect in First Grade

  • child is clearly right handed or left handed
  • skilled at using scissors and small tools
  • manages buttons, zippers, laces, and other closures
  • can tie a knot and a bow
  • copies designs, shapes, numbers and letters
  • prints words
  • cuts soft foods with a knife
  • draws pictures with great detail
  • has necessary dexterity to play a musical instrument
  • can dribble a basketball
  • puts together complex jigsaw puzzles

Helping Children Develop Strong Fine Motor Skills

First Grade Fine Motor Skills For some kids, their hands don't seem to be able to do what is required of them. The larger movement necessary for gross motor skills feels very different than the actions needed for fine motor activity, and small motor tasks can feel frustrating and difficult. If a child has a fine motor weakness, she may resist writing, experience anxiety about going to school, or actively avoid situations that require the use of fine motor skills. Kids may feel stressed or depressed, and begin to perceive themselves as being poor students.

Fine motor skills are hard for some kids. Encourage them and find fun ways for them to practice those skills.

It is important, therefore, that if a first grader seems to be struggling with fine motor development, caring adults are able to give targeted help and practice. Parents and teachers can incorporate fine motor activities into their children's day, many of which are fun for children and do not feel "like school". Practice is the key when developing small motor skills, and with enough targeted practice, children can show significant improvement. If possible, practice fine motor skills after a "warm-up" of larger muscle activity on the playground, stretching, or other movement, as these muscles give good support for smaller motor activity.

  • Table games like tic-tac-toe, dominoes, or cards are fun and give good fine motor practice.
  • Bake together. Measuring, stirring, and spooning out cookie dough require good eye-hand coordination.
  • Encourage construction activites such as building with Legos.
  • Plant seeds.
  • Do a jigsaw puzzle together.
  • Buy tracing paper and show how to trace a favorite picture.
  • Create with play dough or clay.
  • A rubber pencil gripper can make holding a pencil more comfortable and help position fingers correctly.
  • Spray shaving cream on the table and let children draw or write with their fingers.
  • Use manipulatives like counters to help with school work. It will help children understand concepts more concretely, and also give important fine motor practice.
  • Join children for crafts and drawing. Keep activities new and exciting by introducing new and different art materials.
  • Allow extra time in the mornings for kids to dress themselves. Do not do it for them.
  • Do not ask for too much at once. Take it in small bites and give kids lots of breaks.

Most of all, be patient as children are mastering fine motor skills. Providing opportunities for small successes will increase their confidence and make it more likely that they will tackle fine motor tasks on their own in the future.

Are you concerned about your child's fine motor skills? Be sure to bring it up with your family doctor. You can also find targeted activities to help small motor development at (It will open in a separate window.)


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“Education is not preparation for life. Education is life itself. ”
~John Dewey