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Children develop their fine muscles as they play and practise. Whānau can do a lot to support this, which leads to other skills like baking, playing music and sewing.

The small muscles in our fingers, hands, toes and feet are called fine muscles. These develop later than the big or gross muscles in our arms and legs.

In the Whakatipu booklet Te Māhuri 1, pages 10–17, there are many pictures of tamariki enjoying different activities in different places, all using their hands.

Pātai atu ki te whānau:

  • What has your tamaiti been doing lately where they’re using their hands and fingers?

On page 9, it talks about what’s going on in the brain during this time.

‘Neurons in the cerebral cortex are still being myelinated. This means messages are stronger and travel more quickly – as seen in the many skills tamariki have.’

Quickly and confidently

As they do things, the connections in the child's brain get a fatty coating of myelin, which acts like an insulation. Through this, the messages from eyes to brain to hands move faster, enabling a child to do things more quickly and confidently.

Let’s think about how many fine muscle movement skills a tamaiti has learned since they were a tiny pēpi. They started with holding your finger and progressed through:

  • reaching to touch
  • batting
  • grasping
  • mouthing
  • shaking
  • banging
  • using 2 hands to bang things together
  • holding and dropping a thing and turning it to see all sides
  • rolling and throwing a small ball
  • developing the pincer grasp
  • turning pages
  • holding a spoon
  • feeding themselves
  • stacking a few blocks
  • taking things apart
  • posting things into holes
  • scribbling
  • squeezing playdough
  • rolling playdough
  • digging in the sand
  • pushing a remote control button
  • swiping an iPhone!

Pātai atu ki te whānau:

  • Is there anything else they can do now?
  • What have you noticed about how they hold pencils and pens?

Learning becomes automatic

Many actions have become automatic for them, compared with when they were younger. Back then, everything was slower and they needed to concentrate more. It’s like any learning we accomplish, for example, putting a nappy on a baby. At the start, we go through each step slowly and purposefully until suddenly we find ourselves on auto-pilot, hardly thinking about what we’re doing.

Pātai atu ki te whānau:

  • What skills have you seen in your tamaiti that seem to be automatic, or that they’re able to do easily and confidently?

Play and practice

Two keys to developing skills and becoming confident in them is play and practice.

Play lets a child relax and repeat actions as many times as they like. The repetition makes the connections much stronger between the eyes, the brain and the hands.

Support from their whānau

Whānau have played a huge part in the development of their child’s skills so far. Their tamaiti wouldn’t have made such progress without the:

  • opportunity – a place to play safely with safe things to explore
  • encouragement – praising their efforts, sharing their excitement
  • patience – letting them do the same things over and over, even when whānau have had enough!
  • understanding – these early skills using hands and eyes together lay the foundation for other skills like writing, playing music, sewing, weaving and cooking.

Take a look at the Whakatipu booklet Te Māhuri 1, pages 10–17. Everyday activities at home, in the garden, in the neighbourhood and at the marae, the moana and the awa all provide great opportunities for tamariki to develop and strengthen their fine motor skills.

How does this relate to Tākai resources?

Baby wall frieze – Tukuna ahau kia mahi, kia mōhio ai ahau me pēhea te ako – Let me do things over and over again

Because of all those new connections being made, my brain is growing bigger.

Six things children need – Te aroha me te mahana – Love and warmth

Encouraging and helping our tamaiti to be involved in activities around the house.

Helpful resources for whānau