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Colouring-in activities: fine motor skills
Monique Harris

Firstly, fine motor skills are the movements of the smaller muscles of our body and include the coordinated movements of the hands, wrist, fingers, feet, tongue, lips, toes and eyes.  This skill requires a lot of control and precision.

The primary reason for fine motor control problems is a lack or abundance in muscle mass.  A child with an increase in muscle tone can make mistakes based on the over activation of muscles that could lead to activities being executed with clumsiness. A child with a decrease in muscle tone in his hands is very common; this child may battle to exercise even the smallest form of control over his pencil or scissors.  Finger movements can also be very effortful for children with a decrease in muscle tone.

Hands are the tools that are used the most in order to master work and play as well as to execute daily living tasks.  If a child’s fine motor skills are not adequately developed it hampers the intake of sensory information from the environment and the experience thereof on his/her world.  The child may also have delays when learning to colour, using a scissors, fastening clothes, holding eating utensils, etc.

But how does fine motor skills influence colouring between the lines?

It needs to be kept in mind that there are also many other factors that could possibly influence coloring skills, however we will only be focusing on fine motor skills. From about the age of 3 years, a child starts becoming aware of coloring between the lines but because their pencil grasp is not adequately developed yet, the control and precision is not yet adequate.  From about 5 years of age the child demonstrates a three point grasp.  The pencil is controlled by individual finger movements that will allow a child to execute colouring tasks with sufficient control and precision. If fine motor skills are developed age appropriately it will allow the child to execute colouring tasks successfully with the necessary control to stay between the lines. In contrast with this, a child who has poor developed fine motor skills will find it very challenging to execute tasks and activities with the necessary control and precision.  As the child gets older it is important to execute colouring tasks correctly from left to right with the wrist in extension.  This is important as this same position is used in writing skills.

Colouring tasks also help with the development of eye-hand coordination.  Further it also helps with concentration and it makes the child more aware of boundaries.  These skills that a child learns through colouring, forms the foundation for writing skills in formal schooling - to exercise successful control over the pencil for the formation of letters and to form letters on the lines.

Colouring is therefore not just colouring.  It forms part of a bigger picture of development and function that is needed for writing skills.  So, if fine motor skills are not adequately developed, it will hamper writing skills and most probably lead to problems with letter formation and pencil control.  The child’s self-confidence may also be hampered as they may feel that they are not capable to execute tasks and activities successful.


Monique Harris, Occupational Therapist, 0743598192, moniqueharris77@yahoo.com


Source: Schneck, C. M., 2010. Development of childhood occupations and evaluations and internvention to develop hand skills. In: Occupational therapy for Children. Missouri: Mosby Elsevier.

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