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The Common Core and Kinder Fine Motor Development

Over the last several years, state after state has adopted what is called the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). These standards are research based and have been implemented in large part to develop critical thinking skills in students at an early age.

Each grade has a set of Mathematics Standards and English Language Arts (ELA) Standards starting in Kindergarten. By the end of their kindergarten year, our first year students are expected to:

There are a lot, so I am going to summarize and condense the best I can. For a full list, visit the CCSS Website


  1. Count objects and compare different whole numbers up to 19.

  2. Understand simple addition and subtraction.

  3. Compare and sort objects by a measurable attribute.

  4. Identify shapes as well as compare and compose them.

English Language Arts (ELA)

  1. Ask questions regarding a text as well as identify key concepts and details such as characters and setting.

  2. Derive the meaning of unknown words from a text.

  3. Compare illustrations and stories.

  4. Scan a page from left to right, top to bottom, and page to page.

  5. Understand that words represent text.

  6. Recognize that words are separated by a space on paper.

  7. Identify and print all upper and lowercase letters.

  8. Pronounce and count syllables in spoken words.

  9. Produce the primary sounds of each letters.

  10. Read similar, yet different, sight words.

  11. Use drawings, text, and dictation to compose stories, opinion, and explanatory pieces.

  12. Use commonly used nouns, verbs, prepositions, and question words to form complete sentences.

  13. Use capitalization for first word of sentences and use punctuation at the end of a sentence.

  14. Spell simple words phonetically

As you can see, in kindergarten our students are learning the foundations of their educational careers. For this reason, it is important to ensure they are using the most efficient methods and mechanics so that they may continue to learn and achieve for the rest of their lives.


Students typically are enrolled into kindergarten at the age of five; thus, I will be focusing here on the development of fine motor development that occur as a student reaches his/her 5th birthday. These skills will be geared toward beginning to compose written work including shapes, letters, and numbers.

Before a student reaches school, much of what they do is unstructured and “free play.” As they start school, they will learn strategies to further their scribbles into shapes and letters.

One of the foundational developmental skills that I tend to look for first is whether or not a student has established a clear dominant hand. By age 5, hand dominance should be established. While some students may appear to be ambidextrous, at this age they should really be favoring one hand over the other. Developmentally, it is more functional to have one hand that works really well, rather than both hands working moderately. At this point, our students should also be able to use their non-dominant hand to stabilize the paper they are writing on, even if they requires a cue from the paper moving to do so.

The second skill I look for is their grasp on a pencil and how well they are able to manipulate the pencil. Research has indicated that both a 3-finger grasp and a 4-finger grasp are considered functional (Schwellnus et al.). The key points to emphasize here are encouraging the student to hold the pencil with the tips or pads of their fingers and to keep an open web space between the thumb and index finger.

Grasp Patterns

Examples of functional grasps. Top Left: Dynamic Tripod grasp; Top Right: Quadrupod grasp; Bottom Left: Unconventional Tripod; Bottom Right: Tripod Grasp with Thumb Wrap (Mickey is clearly interested)

Finally, once I see that they have an established dominant hand and appropriate grasp, I look to see what muscles they are using to manipulate the pencil while writing. They should be using their fingers and wrist to manipulate the pencil rather than their entire arm.

If a student is holding the pencil with a fisted grip it would be unfair to expect this because they would not be able to use their fingers to manipulate the tool. Writing on a vertical surface (wall, chalk/white board, easel) can sometimes facilitate a more dynamic grasp which will then likely transfer over to other pencil and paper tasks.


Quick pause:

Here is one fun and easy DIY activity I use to promote a pencil grasp while working on some academics skills like colors, shapes, and sequencing.


Okay, back to the article:

By looking at these three prewriting skills in a student, a parent, teacher or guardian can help a student get a good start to kindergarten. If a student appears to have these skills down and is still struggling to trace simple shapes and letters as they progress through school, it may be an indicator that an Occupational Therapy evaluation is appropriate.

Be sure to follow the RTI Process

Bringing this back to the CC state standards, I want to let you all know of a trend I am beginning to see. More and more district are starting to add in on their goals pages what specific CCSS the goal is aimed toward. I feel like this used to only be for “educational” goals, but as the lines dissolve between traditional “educational” and “OT” goals, I am seeing more and more OTs include the CCSS their collaborative goal relates to.

Are you all seeing this at your district? We would love to hear your thoughts (or perhaps your district’s lawyers thoughts) on this topic.

Comment below if you have an opinion or any other info related to this.

Well that wraps it up for this one. Thank you all for stopping by again.

Until next time,



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