Many of you have heard the term “fine motor skills,” but what exactly does this mean, and how do you know if your child’s fine motor development is on track? Fine motor skills are the small, coordinated movements of the hands utilized to complete everyday activities. A strong foundation of these skills is essential for ensuring successful participation in tasks such as dressing, playing, eating, and performing in school. Fine motor skills allow one to zip up his/her jacket, turn on/off a light switch, hold a fork or spoon, brush his/her teeth, and write his/her name. Although we may not think about the development of these skills, they involve a complex effort between the brain and the muscles and begin to develop as early as infancy!
Infants begin developing these essential skills between 0-3 months by opening/shutting their hands, bringing their hands to their mouth, and grasping a rattle or small toy placed in hand. Between the ages of 3-6 months, they should begin to hold a breast/bottle with one or both hands, reach for and feel their feet, hold hands together, or hold a small object with palm and fingers (excluding thumb). Additionally, between the ages of 6-9 months, a baby should be developing skills such as: shaking and banging toys/rattles, utilizing a raking (claw-like) grasp to grab objects, transferring objects from one hand to the other, and beginning to pick up small food items. Next, between 9 and 12 months of age, a child should be able to release items voluntarily, bang toys together, turn thick (cardboard) pages of a book (a few at a time), and begin to place objects into a container.
But how can you ensure there are opportunities for your child to develop these skills? Toys/items that may be beneficial to facilitate reaching, grasping, hand strengthening and laying a strong foundation for fine motor development within the first year of life and beyond include:
- Baby gym (including hanging toys close to eyes/hands using plastic links)
- Small bath squeeze toys
- Oball with rattle
- Board books
- Soft, crinkly blocks
- Ring stacker
- Stacking cups
- Cheerios/Gerber puffs
- Pop up toy
- Piggy coin bank
By age of 12 to 18 months, a child should clap hands together, put objects into a container, use both hands to play, use an isolated index finger (pointing to objects), dump contents of containers, scribble with a marker or crayon, drink from an open cup without much spilling, and begin to use a spoon. By 18-24 months, he/she should be able to zip/unzip easy zippers, build a block tower using 3-4 blocks, turn hands to screw lids on, put rings on a stacker, and wash/dry hands with help.
By providing opportunities for your child to engage in fine motor activities, you can set them up for success as they begin to participate in more skilled, occupation-based tasks such as dressing, grooming, feeding/eating and school activities like writing and cutting. Additional ways to facilitate fine motor skill success include:
- Tummy time – (0-3 months) to develop postural control and strength which enables stability for use of the hands and fingers
- Prone activities – once your child is able to push up onto their elbows/hands in tummy time (around 3-6 months), begin to engage them in tasks to further develop shoulder stability and arch development in the hands
If your child is delayed in attaining the fine motor milestones mentioned above, skilled occupational therapy services may be helpful in addressing these challenges through the use of individualized therapeutic activities to meet your child’s needs.