Fine-Motor Skills & Special Needs


From Cheryl Swope | February 17, 2020 | For Special Needs, Teaching Resources

For some children, coloring seems natural and engaging. For others, fine-motor skills need help!

This afternoon a homeschooler asked how to help her son. This was my response:

You may do any or all of the following to help him:
1. Pre-outline
Before he sees the page, outline his written work. Use a thick black marker to help him see the boundaries.
2. Teach Hand-Over-Hand
Write with him hand-over-hand when needed. This assists muscle memory as you write top-to-bottom, left-to-right, with proper pressure on the page.
3. Color Side-by-Side
Color side-by-side, as if you are a team. “I’ll color the girl. You color the boy.” Or “Let’s color this one together. I’m going to color the hat brown. What color will you make his shirt?” Play gentle instrumental music during coloring time if that would help. Think of this time as contemplative, engaged, shared art-therapy, as well as the lesson itself.
4. Go 3-D
Use cut-out sandpaper letters, magnetic letters, playdough letters, or Wikki sticks to provide him with matching 3-D letter forms.
5. Measure Progress
If you want to see progress, use a ruler to measure how far he colors or draws outside of the lines. See where the measurement lies currently. It might be 1″, 3/4″, 1/2″, or 1/4″. Work on lessening this distance over time. Cheer him on. Remeasure as you go.
6. Go Sensory
Set aside a 9×9 pan of cornmeal, rice, or sand for tracing letters with an index finger prior to writing. Hand-over-hand, trace the letter form in proper order, top to bottom, to imprint the form in his mind.
7. Allow Tracing
Sometimes allow index-finger tracing of letters, rather than writing. Do this when he is fatigued or when you anticipate undue frustration. If he is more advanced than the index-finger approach, allow tracing paper. Tip: Then mark “Traced” with a star on the page. This avoids the blank page and lets him know that he completed this page AND that you approved this.
8. Use Your Simply Classical Curriculum Manual
Implement the many fine-motor/pre-writing suggestions at the front of your Simply Classical Curriculum Manuals to improve fine-motor strength and dexterity in your child’s free time. If you are not familiar with these, explore our Simply Classical Curriculum via the link.
9. Consult OT
Consult an Occupational Therapist (if you haven’t already) for ways to boost your child’s fine-motor coordination.
10. Play
Make fine-motor work, such as board games (little tokens to move), Lego play, crafts, or puzzles, part of your everyday afternoon and evening family time.
Need individualized help? Email


If you feel especially ambitious, a mother of a little girl with Down syndrome suggested this on our Simply Classical forum:
I’m using the raised-line kindergarten paper Cheryl recommends in one of the levels. I used a highlighter to draw five circles (essentially capital Os) on each line. Then, I used a colored marker to make a dot at the top of each. We also counted them and I wrote the numbers inside each O. She traces 5 Os each day. Nothing more. Just five. I’m taking the approach that five circles/Os done every day with very little to no resistance is better than a full page of anything. We’ll move onto vertical lines, horizontal lines, diagonal lines, capital Us, and upside down Us over time. My goal is to help her learn to control her fine movements to get closer and closer to the actual shape. Right now I’m holding loosely the tip of the marker (the fat Crayola washable markers) for stability. After we get good with the marker and the ease with which it glides on the paper, I’d like to use crayons (a bit more resistance), and then pencils/colored pencils for even more resistance/sensory input. 
Most of all, know that you are not alone in these struggles with writing! Perseverance in these early years is the key.
For many of our students with special needs, intellect outpaces fine-motor skills. Even so we believe that the fine-motor work is beneficial neurologically and cognitively, with or without adaptations. Just give yourself permission to experiment and enjoy the therapeutic aspects of the work together!
Cheryl Swope, M.Ed.
Special Needs Coordinator
Memoria Press — Simply Classical resources, curriculum, community
Any information provided in this article is general information about medical and educational conditions and treatments. The information is not advice, and should not be treated as such. The educational and medical information is provided “as is” without any representations or warranties, express or implied. Cheryl Swope and Memoria Press make no representations or warranties in relation to the information given in this email. You must not rely on the information given in any of these email conversations as an alternative to medical advice from your doctor or individualized advice from any other professional healthcare or educational provider. If you think you or your child may be suffering from any medical condition you should seek immediate medical attention. You should never delay seeking medical or educational advice, disregard medical or educational advice, or discontinue medical or educational treatment because of any information provided in articles by Cheryl Swope or Memoria Press.
Photo courtesy of Alicja, Pixabay



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