Developing motor skills is essential for all age groups. This includes both gross motor skills that involve using larger muscle groups for balance and movement, and fine motor skills that use smaller muscles for more intricate tasks.
The motor skill coordination involved with using one or both hands when engaging with a craft helps with practical routine activities. These include day-to-day tasks such as dressing and eating, handwriting, and using a keyboard, or the “nimble fingers” needed to operate the many other electronic devices used in daily life nowadays.
Craft activities encourage people to explore different ways of doing things and to adapt and be flexible if something does not turn out quite as planned. What’s more, from engaging with the creation of a craft there is a tangible result. The patience and practice that can go into achieving a finished item is a rewarding experience.
Here are eight craft activities that can help with fine tuning motor skills. We have grouped these into four categories depending on the type of materials—beading, paper arts and crafts, textile crafts, and the art of food.
Beading involves bilateral coordination (use of both hands), hand-eye coordination, and using the smaller muscles in fingers and hands to pick up and grasp components. A few techniques can be used for working with beads. These include stringing, lacing, weaving, knitting, and sewing.
Beads and precious gemstones have been used around the world to adorn and embellish clothing and garments for centuries. Use beads imaginatively and ingeniously by incorporating them into household furnishings such as picture frames, wall hangings, cushions, curtains and tiebacks, and hanging chandeliers. Smaller items that can utilize beading skills include coasters, napkin rings, hair ties and decorations, guitar straps, and bookmarks.
Beading is ideal for any age group since beads are available in a variety of sizes and shapes. Young children can make simple bracelets by threading alphabet beads together or use pony beads to make this creative holiday ornament.
The elderly can make handmade jewelry with quality gemstone beads, metals, charms, focal pieces, and chains.
There are unlimited combinations of colors and types of beads for creating personalized jewelry pieces, whether for you, or as a gift to someone else—necklaces, bracelets, broaches, earrings, hair decorations, and bracelets. Beading is a therapeutic and gratifying hobby. It also improves fine motor skills, visual perception, and cognitive skills across all age groups.
Paper Arts and Crafts
You can get crafty with paper in various forms—all of which encourage the use of motor skills. Here are three ways to use paper creatively and help with hand function and skill development.
With the different steps involved in making papier-mâché, hands are used in a number of ways. Strips of paper are hand torn or ripped into long shreds (a good project for recycling newspapers, brochures, magazines, and so forth), pasted with glue (either store-bought, or homemade flour water combinations), and shaped using your hands around a support structure (such as an inflated balloon).
Finished papier-mâché products are painted or colored to suit. All tasks involved in papier-mâché also involve hand-eye coordination, especially in the positioning of the strips and the final decoration of the object.
Popular types of papier-mâché objects include masks, piñatas, ornaments, and animal shapes.
- Painting and Drawing
Painting and drawing usually involves gripping an object such as a brush, pencil, crayon, or piece of chalk. However, painting does not have to involve a brush! Painting can be done by fingers, hands, sponges, spatulas, cotton balls, or even marshmallows!
- Card Making and Scrapbooking
Papercraft, such as card making and scrapbooking, that involve using scissors (that are age appropriate and designed for safety) use a number of hand functions. Operating a pair of scissors involves coordinating the use and placement of thumbs and fingers and moving them separately to cut paper effectively.
Knitting, sewing, crochet, cross-stitch, tapestry work, and macramé use a range of motor skills that will be useful throughout life. Even though some of these mediums go in and out of fashion in terms of the finished products produced, being able to adeptly mend, darn, or fix a loose thread are very useful skills.
Crochet is enjoying a comeback! Yarns range from fine cotton to chunky blends, and the items that can be made range from potholders to cushion covers, to clothing, to blankets. Crochet involves bilateral motor skills (both hands), hand-eye coordination, and, as with knitting, a bit of basic math is needed to keep track of the number of stitches and rows.
An excellent way to improve hand dexterity, macramé keeps joints supple and involves bilateral coordination—both hands are used to tie knots. Macramé projects can be practical—for example, covers for knife handles to improve grips, belts, and bracelets. Alternatively, decorative pieces such as wall hangings—which, incidentally, can also incorporate beading.
The Craft of Food
The motor skills involved in making and creating food can range from the very basic to the most intricate manipulations involving every minute muscle, eye for detail, and creative technique. Simple baking and cake, cookie, and cupcake decorating all use and develop motor skills.
- Salt Dough Decorations
Working with salt (play) dough uses a range of fine motor skills. Different muscles are used to work with and knead dough to the best consistency. Hand/eye coordination is used to cut shapes. And, depending on the decorative method of choice—for example, painting, or spreading with glue/glitter or something similar—a full range of motor skills are used to create the end product. Although inedible, the craft of salt dough products ultimately helps with learning culinary skills and techniques.
- Food Art
Food art is fun for everyone! Not just about intricate knife carving, it is amazing what you can do with the careful placement and color coordination of some simple ingredients and few of toothpicks. Due to their firmness, root vegetables, such as carrots and potatoes, are particularly good for learning how to handle and use a knife safely under supervision and to create something fun at the same time.
A great activity for preschoolers is an apple art project. Discuss the different types of apples and their tastes and why some taste sweet and some taste tart. Then cut any uneaten apples in half and have your child dip them in red or green paint and make an apple print on some construction paper. It’s a perfect fall or Thanksgiving project.
Creative play at any age is beneficial for fine tuning motor skills. Craft activities such as those listed also provide a break from any stressors of daily life—with the added benefit and satisfaction of creating something unique and learning skills that will be used for many years to come.