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Activities That Help Develop Fine Motor Skills

Children enjoying activities that help build fine motor skills at Brighton Center

Fine motor skills are the small movements we make with our hands, fingers, feet, and toes. These skills allow us to do precise and coordinated activities, like typing, tying shoes, and doing fancy footwork in sports or dancing. Fine motor skills develop over time and with practice. The toddler years can feel like a long series of accidents as children develop physical skills like core control and shoulder strength that provide the base for arm and hand control. So, how do babies and toddlers develop fine motor skills that allow them to color, zip up their pants, and play soccer? We’ve broken down the fine motor development milestones for ages 0-3 and included some activities you can do with your child to help them reach them.

Overview: Fine Motor Skills Milestones

0 – 6 months

At birth, babies should be able to grasp the finger on a parent’s hand. This reflexive grasp is involuntary and goes away by six months as babies mature and begin to learn how to control opening and closing their hands. While babies develop at different rates, there are key milestones they should reach around six months, including bringing their hands up to their mouth, briefly holding small objects and waving them in the air, and following people with their eyes.

6 – 12 months

Between 6 months and their first birthday, babies should be pretty good at pinching things with their thumb and one other finger. This allows them to start self-feeding and picking up toys! At this age, they have so much more control of fine motor muscles that they release and grab things on purpose rather than just by accident. They can even grab and play with two toys simultaneously by banging or stacking them.

1 – 2 years

Babies grow rapidly during this time and become more active—especially once they begin to walk! By 18 months old, they should be able to clasp their hands, stack a couple of blocks on top of each other, wave hello and goodbye, sort toys, point with their finger, hold a crayon with all five fingers, flip the pages in a book, and start feeding themselves with a spoon.

2 – 3 years

Between 2 and 3 years old, toddlers can normally stack several blocks to create a small tower. They also have enough hand-eye coordination to put plastic rings into a stacker. By their 3rd birthday, they should be able to hold a crayon/pencil between their first two fingers and thumb and draw circles on paper. In fact, this age group loves to roll, squeeze, and pull putty. They can also use age-appropriate scissors to make small cuts.

5 Fine Motor Activities for Babies and Toddlers*

Playtime during the toddler years is also an important social-emotional learning activity. During playtime, children practice their social skills and learn conflict resolution! Here are some tips for planning a good playdate.

  1. Popping Bubbles
    (6 months – 3 years)
    Bubbles are fascinating and fun. Babies old enough to sit up can pop bubbles gently blown near them. Moreover, once they can walk, they can chase after, reach up, or stomp on bubbles to their hearts’ delight. Challenge older toddlers to only use one finger to ‘poke’ the bubble.
  1. Dropping Coins in a Piggy Bank
    (12 months – 3 years)
    Picking up and then dropping coins (or similarly shaped items) into a slot encourages toddlers to develop their ‘pinching’ muscles in their fingers and visual coordination and control. Help them develop their wrist strength by letting them twist tops on and off empty water bottles.
  1. Paper Folding and Tearing
    (12 months – 3 years)
    Younger children can be given paper and shown how to crumple and throw it. Additionally, older toddlers can be shown how to fold the paper in half and tear it along the crease. Get creative by providing glue sticks and large poster board for the kids to stick the torn paper and create a colorful mosaic!
  1. Stringing Cheerios
    (18 months – 3 years)
    For young toddlers, use something that holds its shape, like a pipe cleaner or piece of uncooked spaghetti, and let them push the Cheerios across it. By 3yrs, they can use a string for this activity.
  1. Attaching Clothespins to Clothing
    (18 months – 3 years)
    Clip a few clothespins to the children’s shirts/pants and have them locate and remove them.

*Caution: Always ensure children are supervised properly, especially when using items that can be swallowed or cause injury.

Child Enjoying Fine Motor Skills Activities with Brighton Center Teacher

Activities to Develop Fine Motor Skills

0 – 6 months

Tummy time is a great activity that helps babies strengthen their neck, shoulder, and arm muscles, eventually leading them to sit up and crawl. The National Institute of Health’s Safe to Sleep site has great suggestions for practicing tummy time. You can also provide toys of different textures, shapes, and sizes to stimulate their senses.

6 – 12 months

Babies become more interactive and curious as they get older. Let them start grabbing their own solid foods and encourage them to reach for toys while on their tummy. They will also enjoy toys with moving parts, such as wheels or latches. The more activities they do with their hands, the better.

1 – 2 years

Get messy and loud! Young children love to splash, squish, pick up, and sort things, which helps them strengthen shoulder and hand muscles while developing hand-eye coordination.  Squeezing and rolling small balls, popping bubbles, and feeding themselves with toddler-friendly utensils are a few activities they can try. Additionally, you can sit them down with crayons and a large piece of paper and let them draw all over. Of course, ripping and crushing the paper can be fun and noisy, too, and it helps strengthen the small muscles of the hand!

2 – 3 years

By 2 years, toddlers enjoy walking from place to place, picking things up, and knocking things down. To help develop coordination and core muscle strength, get a large ball and let them kick it or throw it. Moreover, for a quieter activity, give them a page of stickers and a paper plate, or encourage them to sort colored blocks into a color-coded bin. By 3, they can create a tower of blocks and can complete simple puzzle boards. Furthermore, encourage their creativity by sitting them down with watercolors, paintbrushes, and large pieces of paper.

What If My Child Isn’t Reaching These Milestones?

Toddlers do not magically reach these milestones on each birthday. Some develop more quickly than others. Nevertheless, if you notice that your child’s fine motor skills are not improving, it is important to discuss those concerns with your pediatrician.

Some kids may just need some support and guided practice to help them develop these fine motor skills. In fact, occupational Therapists (OTs) help children reach developmental milestones by focusing on how they move, play, and communicate. By incorporating toys and everyday items like utensils, cups, and crayons, OTs can help toddlers develop and strengthen their muscles and hand-eye coordination.

Children Enjoying Fine Motor Skills Activities with their Brighton Center Teacher

The Brighton Center is Here to Help!

Click here to learn more about our pediatric therapy clinic. If your child is struggling with motor skills, sensory processing, visual-perceptual skills, and other abilities that allow them to investigate and navigate their environment, contact us to schedule an evaluation.

Brighton ECI Services LogoClick here to learn more about our pediatric therapy clinic. If your child is struggling with motor skills, sensory processing, visual-perceptual skills, and other abilities that allow them to investigate and navigate their environment, contact us to schedule an evaluation.


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