It was this time last year that my four-and-a-half-year-old’s preschool teacher hinted that my son was not ready for kindergarten. Chief among his failings was a lack of fine motor skills. I was given a sheet listing “fun” ways to strengthen those skills, like popping bubbles with a toothpick. That did sound fun, but I figured if my child needed to strengthen his little hands, I might as well do it by putting them to work. Here are some things he was able to do at four and a half that primed his handwriting, scissor-cutting muscles and made my life easier. (And they’re all things I had been doing for him!)

  • Get dressed. We’re always rushing out the door to get my daughter to school, and waiting for my son to dress himself seemed like a luxury we could ill afford. But once I broached the subject with him, he was really into it. We started on weekends, and, with some patience and instruction, it didn’t take long before he was able to put on his own underwear, shirt, pants, socks, and shoes, which he was also able to Velcro shut. (We still haven’t ventured into shoelaces, and for some reason he has a problem with snaps, but we’re working on it). Sometimes he emerged from his room with pants on backwards or with the elastic waistband curled under, but guess what? If it didn’t bother him, I actually let him out of the house that way.
  • Buckle his own seatbelt, and open and close the car door. I can’t believe how long I was needlessly offering free valet service!
  • Fold napkins. Once he cleared this hurdle, setting the table for dinner became his signature chore, for which he began earning an allowance (more on that in a future post!

Help your child's little hands to do it themselves (and make your life easier) ->

  • Open individually wrapped packages. Granola bars, string cheese, and all those other processed foods you’re not supposed to feed your kids come in packages that are seemingly made for strengthening little hands. (Pulling off the lid of individual cups of applesauce, yogurt, and the like is also good, as is having your child insert the straw into his juice box.) Come to think of it, I should have trained my son to open the packet of sugar for my morning coffee. That would have made for a really happy Mommy.
  • Disassemble water bottle parts and put them in the dishwasher. My son loves those FUNtainer water bottles, which come with two pieces that have to be pushed into, and out of, place.
  • Put silverware away. Ok, maybe this one doesn’t really strengthen fine motor skills all that much, but at four and a half, Frankie was more than capable of taking the silverware basket out of the dishwasher and putting each utensil in its proper place.

Most Important Tip

I’m sure you have your own list of things that would strengthen your preschooler’s fine motor skills and help you out in the process. But I found that the key to making any of them work is to plan to be ready at least 30 minutes early—to everything. That’s not always possible (i.e., when you have to get to work and the kids to daycare, it’s a miracle it happens at all, let alone early!), but when it is, you’ll be more likely to have the patience to let your child pull the lid off his morning yogurt, dress himself, and let him experiment. In fact, if you’ve got the time, start getting everyone ready as soon as you know you’ve got someplace to go. What’s the worst that can happen? You’re all dressed and ready to go an hour before you need to get in the car? So go outside and look for rocks, or sit on the porch or the couch and read a good book together. But trust me: That’ll rarely happen. Just as you’re somehow always running late even when you think you’re on schedule, when you plan to be early, you somehow end up right on time.


More by NJ Family's Real Moms of NJ Blogger, Renee Sagiv Riebling: