The Beginnings Issue

Helping Hands

By Bette Naughton, posted on Aug 3, 2022

Fine motor skill development is happening almost solely in the art room. Classroom teachers are required to focus on testing, ELA blocks, and math and science units. Activities that usually would require fine motor skills (such as writing) are sometimes done on computers or tablets so technology requirements are met. Therefore, it falls on the art educators to develop, support, and hone those fine motor skills. Consider adapting your lessons and creating fine motor integration activities and centers as a gift to the children of this technology-driven world.


SchoolArts magazine, The Beginnings Issue, September 2022, Meeting Individual Needs, Helping Hands, fine motor skill development
A student exercises fine motor development while creating a beaded bracelet.
SchoolArts magazine, The Beginnings Issue, September 2022, Meeting Individual Needs, Helping Hands, fine motor skill development
Pre-torn paper is a great adaptation for creating colorful mosaics.

Fine motor skills are essential in the art room as drawing, painting, and sculpting naturally engage the muscles of the hand. However, a growing number of students are entering the art room with fine motor delays. Increased time on mobile devices and computers have taken the place of playing with small toys, crafts, and puzzles.

You may notice certain indicators that a student is having fine motor difficulties. It is unfair to assume the student is lazy or uninterested in the lesson. Weaknesses in fine motor muscles can often manifest in avoidance tactics, poor handwriting, and an attitude from students that they aren’t good at art. Consulting with your school’s occupational therapist and alerting the student’s classroom teacher are good places to start. As art educators, we need to observe and remove barriers students encounter as they create art.

Material Adaptations
One way to do this is to offer a selection of adaptive art-making materials. There are a variety of scissors to explore, from minimal support scissors with an extra pointer finger loop to spring-loaded scissors for students with a weak grasp.

A variety of paintbrushes can also create the scaffolding necessary for students to be successful. Provide short shaving cream brushes and brushes with grips or air-dry modeling clay wrapped around them to encourage proper hand position.

Technique Adaptations
Be open to changing media, surfaces, and techniques so all learners can meet the lesson objectives. Instead of painting an area, a student could add color using small torn pieces of paper. Or perhaps students can cut out half the shapes in a collage and a paraprofessional can cut the rest. If students can’t create a patterned background for a piece, perhaps they could use stickers to create a pattern. Peeling stickers uses fine motor pincher skills.

Skill Builders
Incorporating fine motor skill development activities into your lessons will build students’ confidence in their art-making abilities. Encourage palm development by having students hold small art-making materials such as sequins or beads. Any activity that uses the thumb and forefinger develops fine motor muscles. Lacing activities, using a cotton swab to paint, holding a pencil, or tearing paper are also great fine motor skill builders.

Free-Time Bins and Activity Centers
In addition to integrating these suggestions into my lessons, I also have free-time bins and activity centers for students with known deficits. These include lacing cards, activities that use hole punchers to make a variety of shapes, pipe cleaners and beads in a jewelry center, tiny pieces that require the use of the thumb and forefinger to grasp in a collage center, and origami bins. All my students love these activities, and students with fine motor delays can be successful and develop their skills without feeling singled out.

It’s in Your Hands
Fine motor skill development is happening almost solely in the art room. Classroom teachers are required to focus on testing, ELA blocks, and math and science units. Activities that usually would require fine motor skills (such as writing) are sometimes done on computers or tablets so technology requirements are met. Therefore, it falls on the art educators to develop, support, and hone those fine motor skills. Consider adapting your lessons and creating fine motor integration activities and centers as a gift to the children of this technology-driven world. There are endless ways to incorporate fine motor exercises into your teaching—the possibilities are limitless.

Bette Naughton is an art educator, an adaptive art consultant, and the author of Adaptive Art: Deconstructing Disability in the Art Classroom, available from Davis Publications. BetteNaughton@MSN.com

View this article in the digital edition.