Keep calm and carry on ... with fine motor skills
October 15, 2015 9:55 AM   Subscribe

Our kiddo is in Pre-K, where he gets frustrated that he can't do fine motor skills (writing, drawing), then he doesn't listen to the teacher. Otherwise, he's a bright, good kid. How can we help him overcome his annoyance at his own limited capabilities?

Our little guy got assistance with language and gross motor skills when his pediatrician was concerned that he wasn't talking or walking, and now he runs around and will tell you everything you wanted to know about dinosaurs, so those concerns are well behind us. Last year, we were a bit concerned about his inability to jump, but as folks said then, that also happened in due time.

Given his record of picking up some of these motor skills later than the average kid, we wouldn't worry about his fine motor skills, except he's in Pre-K now where he has writing and drawing exercises. He recognizes he can't draw circles, and thus write rounded letters, as well as the examples and other people. He's getting better, but when he thinks he's doing a bad job of something, he freaks out a bit and/or refuses to listen to instructions. He told his teacher that "it's my fingers, they won't listen." (My heart, it breaks.)

He turned four in the end of August, and he doesn't nap much. We're trying to get him to bed earlier, because he gets upset more quickly when he's tired, but that doesn't always happen, and it doesn't always help.

We have play-dough, stringing things and painting practice on our list of things to do at home. What else can we do to help him 1) get better, and 2) stay calm in the face of frustrations? Thanks!
posted by filthy light thief to Education (17 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
It sounds like he should be eligible for OT services -- has he been formally evaluated? (My son has similar problems and received services paid for by the county even before he started kindergarten.) There are lots of fine-motor activities online, including these from an OT who's a mom. As for the frustration part, I don't have much advice -- we're dealing with the same issue. I've thought about getting a book like Beautiful Oops, which has great reviews.
posted by trillian at 10:02 AM on October 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

Now is the perfect time to instill in him the notion that, just because something doesn't come naturally, that doesn't mean you're a failure. If he keeps working on his writing, it will get better.

I was a very literate kid, but like your son I also have never been terribly coordinated. My writing and drawing wasn't the awfullest, but I definitely got frustrated that pictures never came out like I saw them in my mind, and also that writing letters had, like, rules and stuff (I was stuck writing my S backwards for so long I considered changing my name to Zara). I kind of wish my parents had met my frustration with some variation on the not yet coined 10,000 hours idea.
posted by Sara C. at 10:04 AM on October 15, 2015 [4 favorites]

I should have mentioned that he has made huge progress with ongoing twice-a-week OT sessions -- I'm amazed at what he can do now (write letters and shapes, use scissors pretty well, draw basic pictures, etc.), although he still struggles with certain things like holding a pencil/crayon correctly.
posted by trillian at 10:04 AM on October 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

Try some of the Montessori methods at home for letters and writing!

Scroll down about halfway to see Montessori sandbox letters and sandpaper letters. There's something about the sand and sandpaper letters that is comforting to kids with sensory / prioreceptive issues.

My oldest has struggled with her pencil grip too. Her kindergarten teacher said we should give her tiny crayon nubbins to color and write with, because it's much harder to hold a short, stubby crayon incorrectly. This didn't work with our child, but it might be worth a try.

I also want to say that the only teacher concerned about my daughter's pencil grip/writing was the kindergarten teacher. All of her other teachers have shrugged it off and acknowledged that she'll be typing most of the time anyway.
posted by Ostara at 10:39 AM on October 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: A quick clarification: he's getting better with scissors and his pencil grip isn't too bad, his biggest issue is getting upset that he can't draw like the examples. Even when he's tracing a shape with his finger on a tablet, he might freak out when he goes out of the lines.

Some apps don't help this, as he can (and will) scribble wildly to cover the shape or letter and the app still says "good job!" but this also allows him to focus on what he got within the templates and not on what goes outside the lines.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:48 AM on October 15, 2015

Maybe he is a frustrated achiever, who has never previously had an interest in fine motor anything, but he feels behind, and with healthy ego he is embarrased. So he just needs homework so he feels on par. That frustration might be the early stage of his typical learning curve. He is a strong player, in need of a game.

What most often happens is normal range parents get a fireball kid high on the intellectual scale and it is an education for them. But very bright parents might have strong expectations for their very bright kids, but forget that individuality, learning style and the acommodations bright kids make for their environments, make them unique in a structured situation. Often school is the first encounter with overall rigid social structure with a myriad of expectations.
posted by Oyéah at 10:54 AM on October 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

Can you keep weekly samples of his work so he can see his improvement over time (as opposed to getting frustrated that he's not perfect right now)?
posted by St. Peepsburg at 12:05 PM on October 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

For practicing, could you try having him trace a path on paper just with his finger? That way it doesn't leave evidence when he goes outside the lines. Maybe you could draw out a "road" for a "car" (with a few turns/curves and maybe buildings he knows) and talk through stories where he drives from home to school and so on.
posted by LobsterMitten at 12:21 PM on October 15, 2015

My son is a few months older than yours. My understanding from speaking with the director of his preschool (a play based/lab school run through the local college's early education program) is that early four is still pretty young to be writing much. At four they are still very much working on their gross motor skills, and the fine motor skills writing requires. FWIW, my son is interested in writing letters and gets extremely frustrated actually trying to do it, we had a little episode just a couple nights ago. So we work on other fine motor skill activities. For example, he's crazy about legos and while he couldn't do them at all when he got them 9 months ago, he has a patience with them he doesn't have with writing.

If you are in the US, I think one of the difficulties is this increased pressure about what kids are expected to do by the time they reach kindgergarten. A lot of what I read about child development seems to run counter to what the schools are actually asking of our kids in kinder, etc. FWIW, my mom, a retired elementary school teacher, gave me this book which I've found very reassuring, it also happens to align well with my son's preschool's philosophy.


(I don't know how to link to the exact page about 4 years olds, but it's right at the beginning)
posted by snowymorninblues at 12:42 PM on October 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

Locate a half dozen people who are challenged in terms of fine motor coordination. One adult whose handwriting is totally illegible, someone who can't draw a straight line etc. Particularly of use is to find a quite a bit smaller kid whose efforts to use a pencil result in nothing that it would be possible to interpret. Get your kid to spend time with these people comparing skills and discussing difficulties in using a pencil.

Show your kid a program that enables him to insert circles and to print letters. Point out that whoever made those worksheets he is trying to trace used a program to print with and did not draw the circles by hand.

See if getting him to trace a circle will work and if he can use that to draw a circle.

Use these examples to explain to him that he is doing just fine and is demonstrating the aptitude to someday be a great artist or calligrapher, should he be interested in doing that and putting in the thousands of hours of practice it will require. However until he puts in the tens of hours of practice he's going to wobble.

Get him some pencil grips. Many people find that a fat pencil holder makes it possible to write more neatly than with an ordinary skinny pencil. They no longer seem to start kids with kindergarten crayons and pencils, but there is a reason why they did that, as many kids find it helps. You can also try to get a carpenters pencil if you can't find kindergarten pencils.

Find him some fun activities that do not require fine coordination while using pencils or crayons, for example putting coloured speckles on a birthday cake in a colouring book so that he spends time with pencils not getting frustrated.

I had a youngster who threw screaming melt downs when her careful lettering came out looking like it was written in pencil rather than like print in a book, and erased one e about fifteen times until there was nothing but a generously sized hole in the paper where the letter had started out. She now happily scans her art and puts it on line for her friends to appreciate so you can see she didn't let that early frustration stop her.
posted by Jane the Brown at 1:05 PM on October 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

This sounds so much like me as a kid! My motor skills have always been notably behind the curve, and handwriting and art courses were frustrating torture for me.

If the helpful suggestions from these fine MeFites does not seem to aid much in helping him tolerate his distress or make genuine strides in motor development, I would look into seeing whether he qualifies for a dysgraphia diagnosis and attendant services. (Like yours truly.)
posted by Keter at 2:27 PM on October 15, 2015

1. Pursue OT. My son's gross motor skills have improved dramatically in the 9 months he's been going, as has his willingness to try new things.

2. The best book we have on this front is "Ish", which is about a child who is frustrated with his inability to draw things like trees and flowers as well as his friends. The punch line is that he learns to draw something that is "tree-ISH" and be happy with it. This really spoke to Micropanda, who was at that time in a phase of refusing to even attempt drawing something because it wouldn't be good enough. After reading the book, he gleefully scrawled out several tree-ish and flower-ish things. We also got the companion, "The Dot", which is about a girl who at first refuses to draw anything but a dot, and learns to turn her dots into art that everyone loves. Beautiful Oops was good too.

3. Reassure him, and ask his teachers to, too, that different kids' fingers "learn to listen" at different times, and his will absolutely learn to listen one day, and right now he just needs to practice. Remind him of a thing he can do now that he used to struggle with, and tell him that "X used to be really hard for you, and then you practiced and practiced and your muscles learned what to do and now you're great at it! Aren't muscles great?" This kind of thing works well on my kid. X doesn't even need to be something he was developmentally behind on - every kid has to learn to walk and talk and jump and whatever. But if there's something he's aware of having learned, so much the better.
posted by telepanda at 2:36 PM on October 15, 2015 [6 favorites]

Can he do it if it's big? Maybe practicing letters on a chalkboard or the sidewalk with chalk would let him know that he knows what writing and drawing are supposed to look like and he can do it, but that his fingers will just take a little longer to get the tiny ones right.
posted by CathyG at 2:58 PM on October 15, 2015

Maybe he's frustrated because he's not developmentally ready for the writing exercises. In an ideal world, you could wait a little for the formal exercises. He just turned four! My son's OT said that practicing writing is not the best way to develop the fine motor skills that are necessary for writing. Maybe back off a little and do the kinds of play-based hand activities he enjoys, challenging him "just enough" to avoid turning him off to desk work. In reality, I don't know if his school is flexible enough to accomplish this.
posted by pizzazz at 4:50 PM on October 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

Try to find some Montessori style sandpaper letters. They are awesome.
posted by bq at 10:06 PM on October 15, 2015

"it's my fingers, they won't listen."

"Are you listening to them? What can you feel when you hold that pencil? Are your fingers holding it as tight as tight can be? They might be a bit scared of you. Maybe your fingers are trying to ask you to talk to them a little more gently, and give them a little more time to work themselves out."
posted by flabdablet at 7:54 AM on October 16, 2015

"How many different shapes can you put on this piece of paper? Can you do a mixture of big shapes and little shapes?"

(paper fills up)

(point to one of the shapes)

"How many shapes can you make that look nearly like that one but not quite the same?"
posted by flabdablet at 7:57 AM on October 16, 2015

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