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5 Montessori Tools that Help to Develop Fine Motor Skills

Updated: Nov 11, 2023

More and more children are coming to school with poor fine motor control. As older children spend more time on devices, their motor control also suffers. As a third-grade teacher in a traditional public school, I see children struggle to properly hold a pencil, form proper numbers and letters, and maintain stamina during writing. Although fine motor activities are usually only done in preschool or kindergarten, I have found that incorporating Montessori math tools into my classroom to teach grade level concepts has had a secondary benefit to the fine motor development of my students.

If your child or students of any age struggle with fine motor skills, consider incorporating the following Montessori tools into your program.

CLICK HERE to purchase a set of knobbed cylinders.

Okay, so the knobbed cylinders aren’t exactly a math tool, well not directly anyway. Dr. Montessori designed this sensorial tool to primarily to help preschool aged children in the absorbent mind phase of development (0-6 years old), to develop their ability to differentiate dimensions of objects. With that said, differentiating dimension, mass, length, girth, and volume are definitely beneficial in mathematics!

The secondary purpose in her design was to prepare children for writing. The tiny knob at the top requires the child to use the same fingers and grip needed to properly hold a pencil. Dr. Montessori isolated the difficulty in this way, so that children would develop the fine motor skills they would later need to write. The benefit of this tool is that they wouldn’t need to simultaneously learn to grip a pencil while learning to write.

Although the knobbed cylinders were designed for preschool motor development, they could be beneficial to children in many circumstances, including: in a special education classroom, working with an occupational therapist, or as an exploratory activity for an older child who lacks fine motor development. With children in traditional schools using a laptop or tablet to do their work, I see more and more elementary aged children with pencil grip and handwriting challenges.

CLICK HERE to purchase a set of design insets.

The design insets, or insets for design, as they are also known, are actually a foundational language tool in the Montessori classroom. They indirectly strengthen the pencil grip by requiring children again to lift the inset shape out of the frame with the little knob on top. At this phase, however, children are using a color pencil to trace, and very carefully fill in geometric shapes that make up the lines in the letters of our alphabet. The secondary purpose includes developing a child’s design aesthetic, and a familiarity with different 2D geometric shapes. Again, this simple yet powerful tool designed for the Montessori preschool can also be used in many other settings to develop fine motor skills.

CLICK HERE to purchase a set of bead boards

When I went through my Montessori training, I still remember fumbling with the beads in this work. I had to carefully grasp the tiny colored beads used to create arrays in multiplication, and distribute in division. You probably have caught on that, yes, Dr. Montessori also designed these tools with the secondary purpose of developing the fine motor grasp. Although these tools help children learn concepts of multiplication and division usually not introduced in public schools until third grade, children in Montessori schools often use these tools at the preschool and kindergarten ages.

As an elementary educator in traditional public schools, my students love using these tools to practice common core standards. Little do they know that every time they place a bead on the board, they are also refining their underdeveloped fine motor skills.

CLICK HERE to purchase a set of fraction circles

The fraction circles have, yep, you guessed it, the little knob! And once again, we have another tool designed for Montessori preschoolers that introduces concepts not taught until years later in public schools. I use this tool to introduce fractions to my third graders, who get the added benefit of the fine motor practice.

In Montessori schools, children use a lot of hands-on concrete materials. However, they also use materials designed to help guide them to abstract concepts. These representational tools include the Montessori abacus, or the bead frames. There is a small, large, and golden bead frame. The bead frames consist of small beads strung on a wire that children move to represent simple to advanced math. Children can use their fingers to slide the beads, or a pencil resting on the wire. This continued use of manipulative tools with the older child reinforces the continued development of their fine motor abilities.

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