Fine motor skill development in toddlers

Your infant is growing, and his hands are getting better at performing different delicate tasks day by day. At this fine motor skills development age, his eyes and hands are coordinating to work together. So, while his one hand is busy, the other will probably be on the move too. This is called the mirroring effect that fades away once the nervous system matures. You can support your child with different fine motor development activities. Read below to know how you can help with motor development in children and about the different activities for fine motor skills.

What Are Fine Motor Skills?

As your child grows, he can smoothly coordinate the small muscle movements in his wrist, hand, fingers, and even toes over time. This ability is called fine motor skills. On the other hand, the ability to coordinate large muscle movements of the arms, legs, and feet, along with coordinating and controlling the entire body as a whole is called gross motor skills. You can encourage your child’s motor skill abilities through different activities for gross motor skills and fine motor skills along with play that’s appropriate for his stage of development. Be it your baby being able to pick up a small piece of food off his plate or move a toy, all of it serves as building blocks for developing more complex actions like writing or buttoning a shirt. Keep in mind, every child develops at his own pace. So, it is possible that your child's fine and gross motor skills development may happen a little earlier or later as compared to other children. Your child's early development includes getting hold of fine and gross motor skills. Although these skills involve movement, there are some differences between them. Both these motor skills will help your child to become more independent. However, fine motor skills are crucial because they help your child to perform self-care tasks without assistance. These tasks are:

  • Brushing his teeth

  • Eating

  • Writing

  • Getting dressed

Examples of Fine Motor Skills

Every infant or toddler develops fine and gross motor skills at their own pace. It is perfectly normal for a toddler to develop some skills earlier than others. However, usually, most children start acquiring these skills as early as one to two months old and continue to learn additional skills through their preschool and early elementary school.

The most important fine motor skills that your toddler needs to develop include:

  • Strengthening the palmar arches that allow the palms to curl inward. It will help coordinate the movement of your child's fingers needed for writing, unbuttoning clothes, and gripping.

  • Your child's wrist stability will start developing by his early school years, allowing him to move his fingers with strength and control.

  • Your baby will need to develop the skilled side of his hand for precision grasping. This involves the use of the thumb, index finger, and other fingers together.

  • The ability to perform small movements with the hand where the tip of the thumb, index finger, and middle finger touch is called intrinsic hand muscle development.

  • Your child will be able to coordinate both his hands at the same time with bilateral hand skills.

  • Your toddler will develop scissor skills around the age of four that will teach him hand strength and hand-eye coordination.

Fine Motor Skills Activities for 1-3-Month-Olds

Before he's one month old, your baby's hands are likely be clenched most of the time, with his little fingers wrapped around his thumb. He can grasp anything you put in his hand, like a rattle, but he won't be able to do anything with the toy just yet. The same goes for your finger. If you stroke his palm, he will grasp your finger very firmly, but don't try lifting him this way as he can let go suddenly. This grip is referred to as the palmar grasp, and your baby doesn’t have control over it—it’s just one of many baby reflexes he's born with. It's when your baby turns about three months old that you may notice him relaxing his hands, and he may now keep his hands partially open most of the time. Now, if you put that same rattle in his hand, he'll grab it, maybe bring it to his mouth, and let go of it when he loses interest.

How to Help Develop Your 1- to 3-Month-Old's Fine Motor Skills

To help encourage your baby's development around this time, here are some activities you can do:

  • Dangle a toy above or in front of him and watch him reach for it or swat at it

  • Provide him with colourful objects to play with—if possible, in a variety of sizes, shapes, and textures.

Fine Motor Skills Activities for 4-7-Month-Olds

By four months old, your baby may be clenching that rattle, shaking it, putting it in his mouth, and possibly even switching it from hand to hand. Between four months and seven months old, your baby may start to use his hands like a little claw or rake, picking up things he likes by scraping his hand at the item. He may claw at something with one hand, move it to his other hand, and twist his wrist around to take a better look at the object.

How to Help Develop Your 4- to 7-Month-Old's Fine Motor Skills

Here are some examples of activities you can do to help stimulate your baby's development around this time:

  • Encourage your baby to reach for toys

  • Give him toy blocks and soft toys to help develop his hand and eye coordination.

Fine Motor Skills Activities for 8-12-Month-Olds

From about eight months of age to the time your little one turns a year old, you might be surprised by how well your baby may be doing with developing his gross motor skills, such as crawling, standing, and possibly even walking. But he's making good progress with his fine motor skills, too. Just take a closer look. During this time, he may switch from the clawing or raking motion to the pincer grasp, which is using his thumb and forefinger or second finger to pick up objects as small as a pea. You might even show him how to snap his fingers and he might start trying! Don't be surprised if your baby starts flinging things around this time. He'll be so excited to explore this new development in his hand coordination that he may pick up objects and throw them repeatedly, hoping you’ll be there to pick them up for him. This behaviour helps him understand cause and effect and can be a way to grab your attention. If he is in the mood to throw toys, you may consider giving him soft balls to play with instead of hard, wooden blocks, for example. Keep him away from any breakable items during this time, as you never know when he’ll send that salt-shaker flying. Give him plastic cups and plates during mealtime for his own safety and yours! And, as part of your babyproofing efforts, place any breakable objects, like vases, out of reach.

How to Help Develop Your 8- to 12-Month-Old's Fine Motor Skills

You can help your baby improve his fine motor skills by playing games together that encourage the coordination and control of his hands and fingers. Here are just a few examples:

  • Join your child on the floor and get a large ball (one with beads or chimes inside to make noise will make this game even more exciting for him). Then, roll the ball toward him, and wait for him to roll it back. In the beginning, your child may swat the ball, but eventually, he will learn how to roll it back to you.

  • Give him an object to open and close, such as a lidded box. You might consider hiding a favourite toy in the box and calling out peek-a-boo every time your baby opens the lid.

  • Give him a basket full of objects—stuffed animals, soft toys, or safe household objects like wooden spoons and tubs. Let him take each one out of the basket, and then put them all back in. You can get involved by naming the objects and describing their shape, texture, and colour as your baby picks them up.

  • Children at this age also love playing with latches, wheels, levers, hinges—basically anything that can move. So, look for toys with these types of functions, like an activity centre.

Fine Motor Skills Activities for 1-Year-Olds

Congrats! Your little one is now a year old! You'll be impressed by all the developmental progress you may be seeing in your toddler. Of course, the gross motor skills, such as those long-awaited first steps, may be the most impressive, but those fine motor skills are equally admirable. These improved gross motor skills allow your child to better explore his surroundings, while giving him opportunities to hone his fine motor skills. He may not be able to pick up very small objects yet, but this achievement is not far off. However, he'll be very interested in examining and playing with bigger objects, like wood blocks and puzzle pieces. Around this time, you may also notice how much your little one's hand-eye coordination is improving. Although you may notice him using one hand more than the other, this doesn't necessarily mean he's developing a dominant hand (i.e., being left- or right-handed) just yet.

How to Help Develop Your 1-Year-Old's Fine Motor Skills

As your toddler gets older, you could try the following activities to help develop his hand and finger skills:

  • Show him how to fold paper—for example, how to make an accordion fan or a paper airplane

  • Have him put blocks of different shapes (squares, rectangles, triangles) or square pegs into their appropriate holes

  • Encourage him to stack toy blocks to make towers

  • Provide him with toys that he can safely take apart and put back together, like stackable cups

  • Give him some mouldable clay to make shapes from

  • Have him help around the house with easy tasks such as sweeping, arranging items, and even simple food prep (like mixing batter or putting vegetables into a pot)

  • Play an outdoor game together—for example, throwing a ball at each other.

Fine Motor Skills Activities for 2-3-Year-Olds

Although the period of two years old is sometimes known as the terrible twos, it really isn't all that terrible when you think about all the developments you'll see in your child. Your child's hand and finger skills may be getting more and more impressive. Your little one may be able to pick up something as tiny as a pea, as well as make coordinated movements like opening a jar, for example.

How to Help Develop Your 2-Year-Old's Fine Motor Skills

Around this time your child's ability to focus will be much improved, and he's able to become absorbed in a creative activity for short stints. Here are a few examples of activities you can encourage your child to do:

  • Read books together, letting him turn the pages

  • Give him crayons, finger paints, or coloured pencils to express his artistic impulses

  • Let him play with blocks or an interlocking construction set.

At three years old, your child will have a greater degree of muscular control. This means he may be able to move his fingers independently as well as together. You'll notice this when it comes to him holding a pencil or crayon, as his grip will be more like that of an adult. During this time, he may become more aware of his surroundings and the objects in them. This means he may position his toys in a certain way during playtime. He may use utensils and tools more like an adult, such as using child-safe scissors to cut out shapes from paper. He's getting better at using materials to create things and may experiment with arts and crafts supplies and activities.

How to Help Develop Your 3-Year-Old's Fine Motor Skills

Here are some examples of activities that will engage your child and help boost his development:

  • Playing with building blocks

  • Piecing together a simple puzzle

  • Playing with a pegboard

  • Stringing oversized beads to make a necklace

  • Colouring with crayons in a colouring book or drawing with chalk on the pavement

  • Making a sandcastle at the beach

  • Playing dress-up with dolls that have buttons, zippers, or snaps on their clothing.

Under your watchful eye, your child can lend a hand with safe household tasks. Some examples include:

  • Using a screwdriver or a lightweight hammer on DIY projects, like helping adults build a playhouse

  • Working with a gardening tool such as a hand rake or trowel for planting flowers

  • Handling a whisk or eggbeater to beat eggs for an omelette or to mix cake batter.

Fine Motor Skills Activities for 4-Year-Olds

At four years old, your child is a big kid now, and his hand and finger skills are almost completely developed.

How to Help Develop Your 4-Year-Old's Fine Motor Skills

Around this time, your child may take an interest in arts and crafts, games, and other activities that require dexterity. Some activities your child might find engaging include:

  • Drawing fully formed people with arms, legs, and faces

  • Printing or drawing letters

  • Drawing, tracing, or copying geometric shapes

  • Painting using a paintbrush or his fingers

  • Modelling clay into shapes

  • Using child-safe scissors to cut shapes out of paper

  • Playing with blocks and building oversized structures like a tower or fortress

  • Playing with cards or board games.

Trouble with Fine Motor Skills - Signs and When to Seek Help

For every child, fine motor skills develop at different rates. However, it is better to talk to your child's paediatrician if he is struggling with these skills or gross motor skills, as delays could be a sign of developmental coordination disorder.

Look out for delay signs like:

  • Dropping items

  • Unable to tie shoes

  • Difficulty holding a spoon or toothbrush

  • Trouble writing, colouring, or using scissors

Remember, delays in some fine motor skills go undetected until a child is older. It is best to identify a delay as early as possible to ensure your toddler gets the needed help to build his skills and help him grow.

Your child’s paediatrician may diagnose a coordination disorder if your kid has:

  • Poor fine motor skills that make it difficult for him to complete everyday tasks at school and home

  • Fine motor skills below what’s expected for his age

  • Delays in motor skills development that started at an early age

Your toddler may be suggested to work one-on-one with an occupational therapist, who will help him learn techniques that'll improve the coordination in his smaller muscle groups.

Takeaway

We often take our skills for performing the daily tasks for granted, be it getting dressed, tying shoelaces, or typing an email. However, these are nothing but the fine motor skills that are quite essential. So, encourage your child's playtime activities, as it isn't just about fun. Playtime also helps your kid gain the fine motor skills along with other skills that he will need in his day-to-day life.