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  4. Schemas and Fine Motor Skills

Schemas and Fine Motor Skills

Children engage and inquire into the world around them, through repeating actions and behaviours in play. We refer to these as ‘schemas’ – mental constructs that provide the building blocks for continuing understandings about how the world works.

Through observing children at play, we can identify schemas that the child may be engaged in, using this knowledge to further plan and facilitate learning. By tapping into these schemas, or inquiries, we balance facilitating experiences that respond to the child’s natural interests as well as the intention of developing fine motor skills.

Develop strength in fingers and hands as pieces are connected!

  • Thread beads, pasta or leaves on string (chunky items for smaller fingers, becoming smaller and finer as children grow).
  • Build with Lego, bricks, magnetic tiles and other construction pieces that connect together.
  • Use pegs to pin and join – clothes on a line, clipping pieces of paper or fabric together.
  • Support independence with dressing as children connect with buttons, zips and clips.
  • Use tape, stapler, yarn, and other materials in the create space that enable connecting as children make.

Develop fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination through a trajectory schema.

  • Use different sized balls to roll, throw, catch, and bat.
  • Chase and pop bubbles by poking or clapping.
  • Provide bottles and pipettes filled with water and paints, that little fingers can spray, squirt, drip, and drop.
  • Use hands to clack pebbles, click sticks, or strike drums.

Develop grasp as children pick up pieces to put in baskets, boxes and wagons for moving around.

  • Add tongs for children to use as they pick up and drop pieces into different boxes and baskets.
  • Use pieces or loose parts from a range of sizes to suit different pick-up movements – palmer, radial digital, and pincer grasps.
  • Add jugs, beakers, and cylinders to the water tray for liquid to be poured and carried from one vessel to another.
  • Provide buckets, spades, and claw diggers to give a range of opportunity for wrist movement and grasp in the sand pit.
  • Use different handles and tools for transporting objects, enabling hand and wrist muscles to push, pull, and hook as they carry.

Different small tools can be used to build fine motor skills as children mix and shake to affect change.

  • Hand whisks and a squirt of washing liquid are a great addition to the water tray as children work their muscles to make bubbles. Abracadabra!
  • Make lotions and potions in jars that can be shaken.
  • Cook together! This uses a lot of different hand and finger actions – rubbing to make breadcrumbs, kneading dough, gripping small tools such as garlic press, wooden spoons. Peeling, chopping, and grating. Lots of opportunity to develop fine motor skills as changes can be observed in the process.

Add loose parts of different sizes that can be manipulated as children organise, sort, and create with intention.

  • Start with bigger pieces like blocks, woodcuts, fir cones, and threading reels.
  • Introduce smaller items when appropriate – glass pebbles, nuts and bolts, and seeds that can all be arranged in different ways.
  • Think of irregularly shaped objects that children need to use their finger strength to hold and place with consideration and control.
  • Stickers peeled and placed during creative play gets little fingers working!

Support children’s wrapping and hiding of objects and self.

  • Add pegs, clips, and fabric to the role play area for children to use as shawls, wraps for babies, and to build dens. All that opening and shutting of little fingers as they manipulate pegs will build strength.
  • Get hands and wrists working in the kitchen as they prepare ‘wrapped’ food – sushi, fajitas, bao buns, dumplings (gyoza)… anything that is layered or has food ‘hidden’ inside.
  • Create a role play post office in the learning space – so many opportunities for developing fingers, hands, and brains as they work together to wrap, tie, tape, stuff, and post!
  • Use boxes and tubs with lids that snap or click on and off, as objects are hidden away.

Get fingers and hands working together as objects are sorted and organised.

  • Add loose parts to the area that can be used to create borders and fences – sticks, blocks, pipe cleaners, pebbles.
  • Get hands working together as masking tape is used in bigger spaces to create enclosures.
  • Develop grasp as children use chalks outside to create zones for play.

Lots of development for wrist muscles and grasp as children mix, turn, and whirl objects.

  • Play with toys that have handles for winding – a dynamo torch, music boxes, spinners.
  • Use lock and key machine games that get fingers twisting.
  • Provide round containers, jars and bottles with twist lids to get little fingers and hands moving and turning.
  • Sing songs such as ‘Wind the Bobbin Up’, ‘Wheels on the Bus’, and ‘Roll your Hands’. These are exciting for children exploring rotational schemas.

Hand-eye coordination can be developed through the use of objects that also enable seeing the world in different ways. Provide:

  • Binoculars and telescopes.
  • Coloured and translucent perspex, lenses, or cellophanes.
  • Kaleidoscopes and bug-eye viewers.
  • Magnifying glasses, mirrors, and microscopes.
  • Cameras and devices for taking photos.
Disclaimer: This guide has been produced independently of and not endorsed by the IB. Toddle’s resources seek to encourage sharing of perspectives and innovative ideas for classroom teaching & learning. They are not intended to be replacements for official IB guides and publications. Views and opinions expressed by the authors of these resources are personal and should not be construed as official guidance by the IB. Please seek assistance from your school’s IB coordinator and/or refer to official IB documents before implementing ideas and strategies shared within these resources in your classroom.