May 2022 Preschool Leader article image
Missions Discipleship

How Preschoolers Grow: From Large to Small Muscles

Have you ever wondered why they make those large, chunky crayons? Why we use the thick paintbrushes and large paper with preschoolers?

Preschoolers’ physical development progresses from large muscles to small muscles. The large muscles of their arms develop before the small muscles of their hands, and then they gain the dexterity of the smaller muscles in their fingers.

As we look at how preschoolers grow, it helps us to provide the activities and materials that will best meet their needs at their current stage of development.

For younger preschoolers, you can use a large ball so they catch the ball with the large muscles of their arms. As preschoolers grow and develop, they can then catch a smaller ball with the muscles of their hands.

During water play, younger preschoolers would use the larger muscles in their hands to suction and drip water using a large turkey baster. Older preschoolers can use a smaller pipette to suction and drip water suing the smaller muscles of their fingers.

For the leg muscles, preschoolers start out walking on a straight line of masking tape on the floor. Then they gain control of their feet and can walk on tape in a zigzag or curved pattern.

When I taught two- to three-year-olds in childcare, I would sometimes just let them have fun tearing scrap paper. It was a delight for them to tear paper! But I could tell if they were ready to start using scissors by the way they tore the paper with their hands or by using their fingers. We introduce scissors by letting preschoolers cut at random, then cut around a large object. As their finger muscles develop, kindergartners can cut on lines or around more details.

Large to small muscles. We use large paper and large crayons with preschoolers so they can paint or draw with the large muscles of their arms. As the smaller muscles in their hands and fingers develop, they will be able to hold a smaller pencil or paintbrush with better dexterity. Keep this area of development in mind as you lead preschoolers. Remember that their growth goes from large muscles to small muscles.

by Joye Smith