Making Muscles Move: A round-the-classroom exploration of fine motor work – Part 2

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When Dr. Maria Montessori was creating the Montessori philosophy of education in the early 1900s, children in classrooms around the world sat at desks as their teachers tried to pour facts about history and math into them as if they were empty vessels. What we now understand, in great part due to the work of Dr. Montessori, is that this is not how children learn. They are innately curious and motivated learners who absorb their environment and need to experience it for themselves. There is a critical link between movement and cognitive development that is facilitated and encouraged in the Montessori classroom. 

In education we typically split movement into fine and gross motor movement; gross motor skills relate to big body movements and fine motor skills relate to small movements of hands, fingers and arms that use hand-eye coordination, dexterity and control. We have previously written about how we develop fine motor skills from the beginning, in our Nido. In part two of this series, we are exploring how fine motor skill development is built into materials across the Montessori curriculum and part of every child’s daily work. 


Short bead stairs: learn quantities 1 to 9 

      • Fine Motor skills at work: As the child counts each quantity they will use their finger to point and touch each bead. This requires precise control of their hand and concentration so they don’t skip a bead! Soon they will begin to arrange and line up the beads precisely to create a pyramid with the single bead on top and the group of 9 beads on the bottom. 

Cards and counters: associate quantity with numerals and learn concepts of odd and even

      • Fine motor skills: The child must count and place the correct number of red, circular counters under each numeral. In this activity the counters must be placed in a certain way, so the child can see and feel the difference between odd and even. For example, the number 7 would include three rows of two, with the seventh counter in the center. The child will use one finger to trace between the rows, until they hit the remainder, the odd one out. After the lesson the child will roll up the floor mat with fine hand movements! 


Pink tower: stack 10 cubes from largest to smallest

      • Fine motor skills: in addition to the sensorial skills of visual size discrimination, children are practicing fine motor work as they stack the tower. They work on their grip as they grasp the cubes and develop hand stability as they try to place the cube without knocking over the tower. As children progress they will learn to be even more precise with their hand movements, lining up two edges of each cube or placing each in the center of the previous. 

Knobbed cylinders: matching each wooden cylinder with the correct hole according to length and diameter.

      • Fine motor skills: When the teacher first introduces this activity she will begin by removing one cylinder, tracing her index finger around the circumference of the base of the cylinder, tracing her index finger around the top of the hole, and then placing the cylinder inside. By mimicking this movement the child will understand the relationship between the diameter of the cylinder, and the diameter of the matching hole. It is a fine motor movement that requires stability and exactness. As they learn to hold each cylinder by the knob they also work on their fine pincer grip.


Biology puzzles: learning the names of plant and animal structures 

      • Fine motor skills: The biology puzzles include images of various plants and animals. Each piece has a small knob that children use their pincer grip to manipulate. The puzzles are accompanied by cards that follow the same outline as the image and include the names of each part. The child can recreate the puzzle’s image on the card, using careful movements to line up the puzzle piece with the lines on the card.

Practical Life 

Dressing frame: practice skills needed for dressing yourself in various clothes 

      • Fine motor skills: Dressing frames help children learn to dress themselves, which is a task full of fine motor skills! Zippers, velcro, safety pins, buttons and more all require pincer grip, hand eye coordination, lots of patience, and different, precise finger movements.

Transfer trays: various trays that isolate the skills of transferring materials from one dish to another using spoons, tongs, sponges and more. 

      • Fine motor skills: Transfer trays on the practical life shelf each focus on a different kind of transferring, and thus encourage different refinements of fine motor skills. Tongs, chopsticks, spoons, ladles, and droppers all require different manipulations of the hands, and once that is mastered the child must maintain the grip as they transfer the material from one dish to another!


Sandpaper letters: learn phonic sounds by tracing each sandpaper letter while repeating the sound 

      • Fine motor skills: Dr. Montessori knew that children needed physical movement to accompany their learning! The tracing motion across the sandpaper helps children remember the phonic sounds, and it also is good motor skills practice with a built in control of error. The child can feel that when the card becomes smooth they have drifted away from the letter. With practice they stay on the sandpaper and at the same time learn the shape of the letter, which helps with writing. 

Writing: once a child masters phonics they are ready to put pencil to paper and begin the work of spelling and writing 

      • Fine motor skills: Writing is a very complex fine motor skill, good thing children have been practicing fine motor skills in all their other work! To write one must grip the pencil and move the pencil from top to bottom, left to right to form the letters.

This post is part of our ongoing series on motor skills. Check out Part 1  and Part 3 here!

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