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Fine Motor Skill Development and Playground Play

Posted by May Recreation Content Team on June 12, 2019

Boy playing at the monkey bars and smilingDexterity and fine motor skills require the use of many small muscles in sync. Parents tend to associate the playground with the development of gross motor abilities like jumping and running, but it also improves fine motor skills.

The Power Grasp

There's a reason that the first fine motor skill infants master is the grasp. You use it every time you grab a pen or pair of scissors. You use it when you open a door or reach out to pick up your keys.

The playground is the perfect place for children to develop their power grasp. They use it when they swing or climb. It gives them leverage when they go back up the slide the wrong way. It keeps them anchored on the monkey bars and see-saw. The power grasp is the one fine motor skill that gets the most workout in a playground.


Stability is the ability to hold some parts of the body still while others move. For example, when the shoulder muscles allow the hand to reach the bar, the body must be able to hold the shoulder still while the fingers grasp it. Like the power grasp, stability is enhanced on every piece of equipment in the playground. Stability strengthening is a critical part of improving handwriting skills.   


Playground equipment that allows children to climb is critical for fine motor skill development. The act of grasping a bar to pull yourself up works the muscles of the hand, teaching them to work together to achieve a task.

Climbing requires coordination and balance as well. The climbing allows the brain to coordinate that balance with exploration and different types of movement. Fine motor coordination combines body movement with spatial direction and force to achieve the goal of reaching the top and then coming back down.

Unique Climbing Tools

Climbing equipment can be more innovative than just a monkey bar. Steps and rock-climbing walls challenge the child’s foot-hand coordination and hand-eye coordination. This activity requires them to change the way they normally move and how they grasp structures, too.

Activity Panels

Building different activity panels into playground equipment increases creativity and learning along with fine motor skills. Spinning blocks, for example, build hand-eye coordination. Pulling levers stimulates children to engage fine motor skills like grasping targeted levers and moving them in one direction or the other to achieve the desired outcome.

Creating Different Levels

A playground with varied levels improves sensory processing and problem-solving skills. As children figure out how to move from one place to the next, they learn to interact with the environment and learn from it. As they meet friends along the way, they strengthen problem-solving further and enhance social skills at the same time.

Gross Motor Skills

Playgrounds do also develop gross motor skills. All fine motor skills start there. With the power grasp, the larger muscle groups must work efficiently to get the hand to the place it can grab. Any development of gross motor skills ultimately refines the fine ones, as well.

Playground time promotes core muscle strength along with both gross and fine motor skills. It also enhances a sense of creative play and encourages a love for physical activity that can last a lifetime.

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Topics: Play & Fitness, Childhood Unplugged

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