How Does Holding a Fork Help Kids Get Ready for School?

A young child grasps a paintbush during an arts program at the libraryLearning to hold a fork helps a child with more than simply being able to eat in the school cafeteria. Research shows that the mastery of fine motor skills, like holding a fork, helps lay the foundation in young children for overall learning in school.*

On the surface, that may not make sense, but early childhood researchers point out that a child’s hand needs to be strong and coordinated enough to hold a pencil steady during classroom instruction, and mastering fine motor skills helps children gain independence, boosts their creativity and encourages exploration.

A father watches over his young child as he grasps toys floating in a small pool“Here at the library, we love to highlight that fingerplays help with fine motor skills, as does playing with playdough, cutting with safety scissors, building with blocks, putting together puzzles and using crayons. These are activities all children can do at home and in child care centers,” said Sarah Howard, youth and community services manager at the Daniel Boone Regional Library.

The library offers many options to help you encourage your child to develop their fine motor skills. Our in-person children’s programs often include a craft, and you can borrow one of our early learning kits to take home. Each library also has an interactive play area which is enhanced with a rotating set of traveling “discovery stations.”

Children’s team library associate Dana Bocke manages the discovery stations. “We have a set of discovery toys which go on a three-month journey around the service area — first to Fulton, then Ashland and then Holts Summit. Each toy focuses on a different set of skills like vocabulary, imaginative play or fine motor skills. One of the stations currently making the rounds has lacing trees and birds which are excellent examples of toys to develop fine motor skills, as well as problem solving,” said Bocke.

So during these winter months, go on a field trip to the library or bookmobile and check out an early learning kit, take your child to a program (see a complete list) and explore the children’s activity area. Your child will have fun practicing their fine motor skills while engaged in a playful activity, and will be gaining useful skills that will help them in school.

Age Range Fine Motor Skill Activities*
0-6 months
  • Tummy time to increase strength
  • Offer a variety of touch textures and experiences
3-6 months
  • Offer them toys when they’re on your lap
  • Introduce messy play opportunities
6-9 months
  • Play with basic shape sorters
  • Have them drop in and take out objects from large containers
9-12 months
  • Allow them to help turn pages of books
  • Finger painting with safe paints
  • Stacking cups
  • Practicing with eating utensils
1-2 years
  • Pour water into different sized containers
  • Pull silk scarves out of a tissue box
  • Stacking cups
  • Have them use their pointer finger and thumb to pick up (by pinching) small items
3-4 years
  • Coloring and scribbling with different tools, like crayons and chalk
  • Building with blocks
  • Snipping with scissors
4-5 years
  • Painting with Q-tips to practice pencil grasp
  • Playing with pipe cleaners to make designs
  • Sorting items by shape or color using tongs or tweezers

*Source: Fine Motor Skills, reviewed Sept. 7, 2023, Cleveland Clinic Health Library