Hand and Finger Skills of Your Preschooler

Your Three-Year-Old Child

At age three, your child is developing both the muscular control and the concentration she needs to master many precision finger and hand movements. You’ll notice that now she can move each of her fingers independently or together, which means that instead of grasping her crayon in her fist she can hold it like an adult, with thumb on one side and fingers on the other. Now she will be able to trace a square, copy a circle, or scribble freely.

Because her spatial awareness has developed quite a bit, she’s more sensitive to the relationships among objects, so she’ll position her toys with great care during play and control the way she holds utensils and tools to perform specific tasks.

This increased sensitivity and control will allow her to build a tower of nine or more cubes, pour water from a pitcher into a cup (using two hands), unbutton clothes, possibly put large buttons into buttonholes, and use a fork and feed herself independently, spilling between the plate and her mouth only occasionally.

She’s also extremely interested in discovering what she can do with tools such as scissors and paper and with materials such as clay, paint, and crayons. She now has the skill to manipulate these objects and is beginning to experiment with using them to make other things. At first she’ll play randomly with craft materials, perhaps identifying the end product only after it’s completed.

Looking at her scribbles, for example, she might decide they look like a dog. But soon this will change, and she’ll decide what she wants to make before starting to work on it. This change in approach will motivate her to develop even more precision in moving and using her hands.

Quiet-time activities that can help improve your child’s hand abilities include:

  • Building with blocks
  • Solving simple jigsaw puzzles (four or five large pieces)
  • Playing with pegboards
  • Stringing large wooden beads
  • Coloring with crayons or chalk
  • Building sand castles
  • Pouring water into containers of various sizes
  • Dressing and undressing dolls in clothing with large zippers, snaps, and laces

You can encourage your child to use her hands by teaching her to use certain adult tools. She’ll be thrilled to progress to a real screwdriver, a lightweight hammer, an eggbeater, or gardening tools. You’ll need to supervise closely, of course, but if you let her help as you work, you may be surprised by how much of the job she can do herself.

Hand and Finger Skills of Your Four to Five-Year-Old

Your four-year-old’s coordination and ability to use his hands are almost fully developed. As a result, he’s becoming able to take care of himself. He now can brush his teeth and get dressed with little assistance, and he may even be able to lace up his shoes.

Notice how he uses his hands with far more care and attention when he draws. He’ll decide in advance what he wants to create and then go ahead with it. His figures may or may not have a body, and the legs may be sticking out of the head. But now they’ll have eyes, a nose, and a mouth, and, most important to your child, they are people.

Because of this growing control over his hands, arts and crafts in general are becoming more exciting for him now. His favorite activities may include:

  • Writing and drawing, holding the paper with one hand and the pencil or crayon with the other
  • Tracing and copying geometric patterns, such as a star or diamond
  • Card and board games
  • Painting with a brush and finger painting
  • Clay modeling
  • Cutting and pasting (using safe, nonpointed child’s scissors)
  • Building complex structures with many blocks

These kinds of activities will not only permit him to use and improve many of his emerging skills, but he’ll also discover the fun of creating. In addition, because of the success he’ll feel with these activities, his self-esteem will grow. You may even notice certain “talents” emerging through his work, but at this age it’s not advisable to push him in one direction over another. Just be sure to provide a broad range of opportunities so he can exercise all his abilities. He’ll take the direction he enjoys most.


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