Preschool Fine Motor Activities for Fine Motor Groups

I love fine motor groups because they offer collective motivation.  We know that to develop preschool fine motor skills, our children need repetition and practise.  When we are confronted with children whose fine motor skills are way behind the curve, they need a lot of repetition to improve their skills.  As much as we try to be creative and offer fun fine motor activities, some of the skills need to be repeated, and this can become tiresome for the children resulting in us losing them.  Groups provide a lovely environment to engage the children and build enthusiasm, making repetitive preschool fine motor activities fun.

An example of a preschool fine motor skills activity from The Happy Handwriter’s Muscle Mania pre-writing groups.

Is there a place for group preschool fine motor activities?

In the privileged setting, we see many kids who need specialist intervention for fine motor skills.  The reasons for this are for another day, but when we have a group of children who need intervention for exactly the same thing, surely it makes sense to see them together?

In the previously disadvantaged setting in South Africa, where children have not been exposed to even the most basic of classroom-related fine motor skills, a lot of catch-up needs to take place to prepare them for writing readiness.  We have successfully run groups in this setting and have brought about measurable changes in skill levels for large numbers of children.

The use of resources and manpower is always an issue in any setting.  If we can see a child alone and address these skills, or see 20 children simultaneously and address the same skills, it makes sense to see them together.

Do preschool fine motor skills groups work?

Yes, subjectively, they do!

We have been running fine motor groups in school settings since 2008.  Everyone agreed the children’s skill development benefitted significantly from the groups.  Unfortunately, one year there were administrative hiccups.  I was weary of advocating for something everyone agreed was working so well, so I just said: “fine, we won’t do them”.  The year passed, and the children all progressed to the next grade.  A few days into the new school year, teachers began contacting me.  They were alarmed.  What was going on with this group of children?  Why were their fine motor skills so obviously weaker than those of previous years?  The answer was they hadn’t had the benefit of the preschool fine motor activities groups.

But only some are happy with anecdotal evidence

In one of the settings, a therapist decided that before and after assessments were a must!  She identified the core skills offered in the groups. Then, she ensured each child underwent a before and after assessment of each of those skills. This is what she found!

If you are anything like me, and graphs are not your thing, these before and afters may do it for you!

Results of the Muscle Mania preschool fine motor activities programme run in a previously disadvantaged classroom.

How many children can be included in a preschool fine motor skills group?

The possibilities are endless.  Groups can include as few as two or three children, and I have been part of groups as big as 45!

45 seems a considerable number, and I can hear you protesting as you read this!  However, where the class size is huge, and the need is great, there are ways to make this work and make it work well.  It comes down to the child to adult ratio.  In such large groups, we always have assistants or volunteers and look for a ratio of 1 adult to 6 or 10 children.

Apart from the example of the very large group, the configurations are endless.  Small pull-out groups work well, as do class groups.

There was one model an occupational therapist based at a non-profit shared with me that I have always remembered:

  1. She was one OT who covered 6 schools from the previously disadvantaged sector.
  2. These children had little or no exposure to crayons, scissors or paper.
  3. Each school had 3 Grade R (the year preceding Grade 1) classes, and each class had 24 children.
  4. That comes to 432 children!
  5. Her model was to offer 60 minutes of weekly training to the teachers.  They would go on to implement 30-minute fine motor groups twice a week.
  6. That amounts to one OT facilitating targeted fine motor input to 432 children for an hour a week!
  7. And this is a fantastic thing in a landscape where so many children need so much.

A study in 2017 revealed that 78% of Grade 4 children in South Africa could not read for meaning.  An expert panel found that in 2022 this had increased to 80%!  This is so alarming that it is hard for us to wrap our heads around it!  So what has this got to do with fine motor groups?

Fun fine motor activities from the Happy Handwriter’s Muscle Mania programme of fine motor and pre-writing skills.Research has found that early graphomotor or pre-writing skills directly impact maths and reading abilities in Grade 2.  Furthermore, it has been suggested that these early skills prime the brain circuitry for learning to read. This research is not a one-hit-wonder and has been replicated.

If early pre-writing skills have an impact on learning to read, they are critical in a landscape where an unprecedented number of children are battling to achieve basic literacy skills.  Fine motor skills underpin early writing skills, so we need to target both fine motor and pre-writing skills to give our children the best chance of succeeding.

A blog post on how to structure and plan groups for preschool fine motor activities.
How should I design my preschool fine motor activities group?

The best advice I can offer is to be clear about your scope and mandate from the beginning.  You need to structure your group around the number of lessons per week, their length, and the period for which your group will run.

I designed a Grade 1 group as an 8-week bridging group for children entering Grade 1.  At the request of the teachers, the lessons were offered twice a week for 30 minutes.  Once the groups started, it became clear the twice-weekly model that had been so effective in Grade R didn’t work as well in the Grade 1 setting and the groups had to be converted to hour-long lessons.  So, I had to re-work the lesson plans completely.  You can’t just tack two lessons together – it doesn’t really work like that!

The groups ran in the new format the following year and were so successful the teachers asked if the group programme could run for 6 months, rather than the 3 we had started with.  So back to the drawing board!  There was now more time, so the focus was different and more in-depth.  They ran the following year for 6 months.

You’ve probably guessed the rest. They asked to extend it to a full year, so yet again, it was back to the drawing board!  It certainly is less time intensive to do it the right way the first time!  So to reiterate what I said at the beginning of this section, be clear about your scope and mandate from the beginning!

Be clear on the following for your groups:

  1. How many lessons per week?
  2. How long is each lesson?
  3. How many terms?
  4. Goals for the group.
  5. Activities for the group.

Goals for preschool fine motor activities groups

You need to have clear goals and a laser clear picture of what you want to address.  There is a temptation to tack on “extras”.  For example, you have an activity that you have included because it addresses dynamic finger movements for handwriting.  But it just so happens it requires the children to colour blocks on a grid, making the activity look so much like it is a spatial activity.  I would encourage you not to claim you are working on spatial skills.  Yes, the activity requires spatial skills, but you are not working on them per se.

To claim a programme works on a skill means you need to:

  1. Introduce it;
  2. The children need to master it;
  3. It needs to be upgraded;
  4. It needs to be consolidated.

Requiring children to make use of spatial skills once or twice in the programme does not mean they are improving the skill.  They are just using it.  Be sure to be clear on your group goals and that you are effecting a change in their skills.

Fine motor groups are not a collection of random fun fine motor activities.  You need to have a plan.  You need to know what your goals are, and you need to keep your eye on those goals.  I learnt to be careful of the “random brainstorm”.  It is easy to get carried away choosing fun fine motor activities without keeping our eye on the defined goals of the programme.

Selecting preschool fine motor skills for groups

Always ask yourself if the activity can be done in the group setting.  Certain activities do not lend themselves to being done in the large group setting, which means there are sacrifices to be made in groups.

When I started running groups, I was going to be Super-OT, changing the world!  I included activities that were best suited to one or two children.  Chaos reigned in the classroom.  I was frazzled, and my back was burning!  And I wonder if the teachers were on board with what I was up to!  Group intervention and individual intervention are different.

We need low preparation, high return activities

If you cannot find an activity that fulfils the criteria for inclusion, a specific aspect may be left out.  Rather omit something than pretend by including it once it is going to bring about a measurable lasting change.  We want our groups to target preschool fine motor skills, but also to ensure they are mastered and carried through.

We also need low preparation, high return activities.  When running groups for large numbers of children, there isn’t time for time-consuming preparation.  A group is always going to require you to prepare in advance.

You cannot quickly prepare things in the moment when you have 20 little people ready to go.  So, choose preschool fine motor activities that have as little preparation as possible!

It is easy to become attached to an activity after a brainstorm!  You want to include this piece of brilliance!  Be ruthless!  If these fun fine motor activities don't fulfil the criteria, they have to go to go.  You must always have more activities than you finally include in your programme.  This way, you can be sure you have chosen the best of the best for your programme.

Be prepared to ruthlessly leave out your favourite activity if it is not fulfilling all the requirements.
Fun fine motor activities are not enough in themselves.  Activities also need to be cost-effective.  For example, if your activity requires an expensive piece of equipment for each child and the activity is only used once during the programme, it is not cost-effective.

We need versatile, budget-friendly equipment which can effectively meet different goals.  First we need to introduce a skill.  Next, we look for the children to master and consolidate the skill and, finally, to maintain and generalise it.  If we have achieved this clearly, we have chosen wisely and created opportunities for the children to improve.

Watch out for the one-hit wonder!  The one-hit wonder is a brilliant activity that is randomly included in the programme.  It is introduced, but never followed up or consolidated.  So, while the children may enjoy it while it is happening and there is a goal in mind, we know that to effect a change in fine motor and pre-writing skills, we have to repeat and consolidate the skill before we can claim we have improved it. So if it isn’t part of a thread that is woven through the programme, then the chances are better than even, it is not going to bring about measurable changes in the children’s skills.

If you have made it this far and are ready to take it on, go for it!  If, on the other hand, you feel like a deer in the headlights, it doesn’t mean you can’t run groups.  The Muscle Mania® groups have been running since 2008.  I have done the sweat and thinking for you!  Grab your Muscle Mania download below to find out more about the groups.

In closing about preschool fine motor activities in groups

I love fine motor groups!  We need to take care when designing them to ensure we set them up to achieve the goals we are looking for.  If you don't want to design your own, I have done the work for you in the Muscle Mania groups.  I believe in preschool fine motor skills groups and am excited about the number of children we can reach and the improvements we can make.

©Bunty McDougall
Occupational Therapist

Muscle Mania is a programme to develop preschool fine motor skills and is filled with fun fine motor activities.

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