Skills Glossary

Grab a cuppa and come and have a read of all the brilliant skills your little one will develop. As a parent, we all want to give our children a good foundation and set them off on the right track. We are here to help you!

Here is an extensive list of all the skills that can be developed when using our activities.

Fine motor skills: 

  • Thumb opposition
    • The ability of the tip of the thumb to touch the fingertips of the same hand in order to carry out precise actions (e.g. pick up small objects or hold a pencil)
  • In-hand manipulation
    • The ability to move and manipulate small items within one hand without the help of the other hand; to pass items between the fingers and the palm with dexterity (e.g. holding a coin against the palm and then bringing it up into the thumb and index finger)
  • Pre-writing skills
    • This covers a wide variety of skills that are all needed to be developed before a child is properly ready to start learning handwriting. Some of these include hand and arm strength; thumb opposition; tripod grasp; bilateral coordination; finger isolation; visual-motor integration.
  • Pencil grasp
    • This is the way the pencil is held. There is a typical pattern of pencil grasp development that children go through as they develop skill and strength (see note 1: pencil grasps). It is normal for children to start with a more fisted grasp as a toddler, to an “immature” (developing) four/five-fingered grasp at around age 4, to a more mature and efficient tripod grasp by age 5/6.
  • Pincer grip/grasp
    • This is the ability to pick up small items using the tips of the thumb and index finger.
  • Tripod grasp
    • This is the grasp between the thumb, index and middle finger, and most often used when holding a pencil. It is normally developed by about 5/6 years old.
  • Pre-scissor skills
    • These are a group of skills that are all needed to be developed before a child is properly ready to use scissors effectively. They include hand and arm strength; bilateral skills; grip strength; supination of the wrist (thumb on top).
  • Open thumb web space
    • The web space is the fleshy area between the thumb and index finger. It is important to be able to form an open web space (making a circle with the thumb and index finger) for good thumb opposition and pincer and tripod grasps which are all important for using scissors, writing, doing up buttons, etc.
  • Finger isolation
    • This is the ability to move each finger individually, one a time. The ability to isolate the index finger (e.g. pointing) usually occurs by the age of 12 months. Later, the ability to isolate the other fingers develops, which is important in the development of all fine motor skills.
  • Wrist extension
    • Lifting up or raising the back of the hand so that the fingers come together in a functional position.
  • Whole hand grasp
    • When an item is held in the palm of the hand or with all fingers around the item. A whole hand grasp is part of normal fine motor and pencil grasp development.
  • Hand strength
    • This means having the appropriate strength and stability in the small muscles of the hand and fingers necessary to carry out fine motor and precision activities effectively.
  • Hand eye coordination and control
    • This is the ability to use the eyes (visual system) to guide the hands in movement effectively.
  • Hand dominance
    • This is the use of one hand over the other for skilled activity. A dominant hand usually emerges between 2 and 4 years old and is usually established by age 5/6. As children develop hand dominance they become more skilled and automatic in carrying out that activity.
  • Grasp and release
    • The ability to pick up items with precision and release accurately. For example, picking up and placing a block when stacking, picking up small beads and placing in a container.
  • Dexterity
    • The ability to use the hands competently and effectively in a skilled way. It involves in-hand manipulation; finger isolation and appropriate grasp.
  • Bilateral coordination (or Bilateral hand coordination)
    • This is the ability to use the two sides of the body together in an effective and controlled way. This could include doing the same thing on both sides, alternating movements between sides, or one side doing something totally different from the other.
  • Sensory exploration
    • Activities that encourage learning, discovery and exploration through stimulation of the different senses: touch; smell; taste; movement; balance; sight and hearing.
  • Body awareness
    • The internal knowledge of where the body is in space and how the body moves, as well as the parts that make up the body and how they fit and work together.
  • Coordination
    • Being able to use different parts of the body together in an effective and smooth manner.
  • Spatial awareness
    • An understanding of oneself in space, as well as the objects in that space in relation to oneself.

Note 1: Pencil grasps:

  • Fisted (supinate palmar) grasp
    • Typical for 1-2 year olds
    • Pencil held in a closed fist, with thumb on top, often like they may hold a fork or spoon
    • Use movement from the shoulder to move the pencil
  • Palmar (pronate palmar) grasp
    • Typical for 2-3 year olds
    • Pencil lies in the palm of the hand, with the thumb pointing towards the paper
    • Start to use movement from the elbow and gain more control
  • Splayed (four/five finger) grasp
    • Typical for 3-4 year olds
    • Four or five fingers hold the pencil, and the pencil rests in the web space (space between the thumb and index finger)
    • Movement starts to occur in the wrist, may start to see some finger movements as they gain control
  • Tripod grasp
    • Typical for 5-6 year olds
    • Pencil is held between the “tripod” fingers, the thumb, index and middle finger, with the pencil resting in the web space
    • May start with a more “static” grasp, where the wrist doing most of the controlling, but as they gain more control one should see more dynamic movement as the fingers start to do more of the controlling

Visual perceptual skills

  • Visual scanning and tracking
    • The ability to use the eyes to effectively and systematically search and/or follow something in the visual field. For example, read a line of text; navigate around obstacles while moving; follow a moving object.
  • Visual discrimination
    • The ability to see small differences between objects and pictures, e.g. seeing the difference between letters b/d; find matching socks; etc.
  • Visual motor integration
    • The ability to coordinate visual and motor information effectively (using the eyes and the hands together) in order to carry out a skilled action, e.g. being able to copy an action, a shape or a letter.
  • Visual efficiency
    • The extent to which one uses available vision effectively.
  • Visual spatial relations
    • The ability to perceive the relationships of objects in space, with oneself, and with each other. For example, up/down/right/left.
  • Visual closure
    • The ability to visualise a whole picture and to make sense of something when seeing only parts of a whole or a partial picture.
  • Visual figure ground
    • The ability to pick out something against a busy background, e.g. finding an object in a busy drawer or identify words sequentially within a paragraph.
  • Visual spatial relationships
    • The ability to perceive the relationships of objects to one another and to space, e.g. working out that a “b” is a “b” not a “d”.
  • Motor planning
    • The ability to work out and carry out a skilled, non-habitual motor action in the correct sequence from beginning to end.

Cognitive skills: 

  • Concentration
    • The ability to focus one’s attention and energy on a given task.
  • Problem solving
    • The process of finding a solution to a given problem by working through each step independently.
  • Language and vocabulary
    • Building a set of familiar words that are useful in everyday life and in a school setting.
  • Sorting and organisation
    • Arranging items in given groups and or according to common properties.
  • Counting
    • Saying numbers in the correct order to reach a total. Counting items in one-to-one correspondence, or assigning a number to each item.
  • Number recognition
    • The ability to recognise, identify and name the basic numbers.
  • Letter recognition
    • The ability to recognise, identify and name the alphabet, A-Z.
  • Colour recognition
    • Being able to identify and name the basic colours.
  • Shape recognition
    • The ability to recognise, identify and name basic shapes, both 2D and 3D.
  • Matching
    • Placing items together with similar properties or characteristics such as colour; size; shape or texture.
  • Copying
    • To imitate or reproduce something original, such as a pattern; picture; shapes or letters.
  • Following patterns
    • Noticing repetition in a certain order by size, shape or colour, continuing the sequence with the same rule.

Life skills: 

  • Dressing skills
    • Independently putting on one’s own clothes and shoes. Working zips, buttons, shoe laces, etc. There are different expectations or milestones at each age.
  • Self-care
    • Learning basic skills and habits to look after oneself. for example, combing hair or brushing teeth. There are different expectations or milestones at each age.
  • Patience and perseverance
    • Continuing with a task, even though it may be difficult, without complaint or irritation and achieving success.
  • Creativity and imagination
    • Come up with your own new ideas by forming a picture in your mind or solving problems in a new way.
  • Body scheme
    • Awareness of one’s body and body parts and their positions. Differentiating between one’s own body and other objects around oneself.
  • Use of pegs
    • Holding a peg in the correct way, with an index finger and thumb of the same hand. Squeezing the ends together to open and close.
  • Early reading skills
    • Familiarity with letters and their sounds. Identifying letters in written text, especially the first sound of a word.

Written and compiled by Sharon Lewis (consultant Paediatric Occupational Therapist) and Leanne Stewart (experienced primary school teacher).