The Dilemma:The Young Gifted and (Lack of) Fine Motor Skills

What to do when his brain is far more advanced than his body...

Posted Apr 29, 2013

“I don’t know what to do with this information, that he’s now ‘gifted.’ It’s great and we’re happy to know this but I also want to know what I can do at home to foster his talents appropriately, especially since you will see him only a little each week for his enrichment class. Specifically, here’s where I need your advice: Paul is so young that I’m afraid his fine motor skills will hold him back from doing whatever I personally could think of doing. You’re the elementary gifted resource specialist, and I am hoping you have dealt with this before. Can you help?”

For the parents of the very young and gifted, this is indeed a tricky time of childhood to navigate: his mind and brain is ready and eager to explore and express itself but often his physical abilities to do so are limited. Most frequently I hear about this when the fine motor skills required for such tasks as penmanship, cutting and pasting, or even drawing simple lines simply have not evolved as quickly as the child’s intellect. So, what to do? Here are some suggestions.

When it comes to writing, consider using parental dictation, Dragon Speak, or other voice-to-text programs to help your child express ideas. Many times, the minds of gifted children move much much faster than their fingers can. They have an idea for a wonderful story about the pet dog, for example, but they become so frustrated by the tedium of writing that the excitement quickly ebbs. Seize that energy! Does your son need help with a step-by-step to-do list in order to carry out his grand scientific experiment? Sit down with your child and take notes for him. Or sit him at the computer and let one of the many dictation software programs do the work for you. (Most computers even come equipped with a voice-to-text applet. I just looked on my Windows computer, for example, and found under the Control Panel options for “Speech Recognition” and an “Ease of Access Center” that make the computer more ideal for young children.) Your goal, again, is to act on his energy and give him an outlet to express himself. Once complete, you can build from there.  

For visual expression, there are even more options. No child needs to be able to draw like Michelangelo to express her ideas. She has a great idea about how to save water? Help her look through magazines for pictures that you might cut out and then paste down to show the steps of that invention. Go online and carefully (Hey, turn on that Safe Search option!) conduct an image scavenger hunt for more precise examples of her invention’s components. As she tries to explain what the invention will look like and how it will be constructed, you’ll hear her describe her ideas critically and she’ll be engaged by your assistance. (“Tell me again why we need a sieve?”) Print out your finds and go from there. All you need next is paper, scissors, and glue.

Or don’t. Instead, save the images you have found and use a program like Movie Maker or PhotoStory to do the same thing. (“Museum Box" is also a wonderful online way to do the same thing.) You might be tempted to think your child is still too young to manipulate these kinds of programs but don’t assume this! I have seen pre-school children successfully (and quite easily) manipulate programs that require little more than drag-and-drop skills. On its face, PowerPoint requires little more than this, unless you want to get fancy with backgrounds, transitions, and sound. And if you are worried that a certain software throws up too many dialogue boxes, then keep in mind that simply placing pictures on a blank word document is just as handy—if not as elegant.

Some wonderful (and free!) programs that tap into a child’s logical-mathematical mind to express creativity are available as well. “Scratch” software (from M.I.T.), “Storytelling Alice” (from Carnegie Melon) and “Pivot Stick Figure Animator” are wonderful downloadable programs that are just a Google search and click away. (Parents, do not be intimidated by their sophistication. The tutorials are extremely helpful.) Similarly, online ways to express ideas through simple cartooning applets are available at sites like Toondoo. These are wonderful because each contains a “bank” of pictures, sounds, templates and even samples that you and your child can use as a springboard for later independent exploration.

Perhaps your child is more in need of a 3-D task, one that is truly “hands-on”…. He just read about volcanoes (Hey, he knows all four types now!) and he wants to “build” one. Easy enough. Get the pictures he has been looking at and turn those 2-dimensional images into a miniature version using Play-doh or Sculpy. Whatever you do, keep it simple. Your child will be less jazzed about waiting for you to make a batch of salt dough if he is focused at that moment on showing the difference between a “cinder cone” and a “lava dome.” Again, seize the enthusiasm as it arises. In that same vein, remember that…

You likely carry nearly all you need to express or record ideas in your own pocket! You’re driving in the car and suddenly Jimmy has a brain-flash of inspiration. Your cell phone has a camera. It has a video camera. At the next stop light, hand the phone over to him and record the conversation you two might have. When you get home, use some of the ideas listed above to explore them more thoroughly.

In the end, however, no matter how clever you might be at tapping into your child’s enthusiasm and keen intellect, keep this final caveat in mind: it is essential to practice those very fine motor skills that your child might not yet have mastered. She will need to know how to write—and cut and paste and everything else. And because your child is gifted, she will likely need those skills to express herself sooner rather than later. Practice those skills in short but regular bursts. Gifted children are typically bored and irritated by rote practice, true. So recognize this and use her passions as the motivation point. Have her work on penmanship by writing about her interest in horses or falcons rather than helping you, say, write a list of items for a grocery store. Furthermore, many fine publishers such as Tin Man Press offer fun and engaging enrichment activities specifically to assist young bright children with these essential skills. Keep at it and remember that your child, gifted as she may be, is still subject to the whims of biology and developmental benchmarks.