Developing fine motor skills

Posted on June 6th, 2014

Fine motor skills are crucial for everyday tasks such as dressing and writing, which adults perform with ease. But for young children, they require much concentration and effort. Here’s how to improve your little one’s fine motor skills.

*Originally published in March 2010

Fine motor development refers to the execution of tasks which require the effective use of all the smaller muscles of the hand. These fine and precision movements take place in collaboration with the eyes and can be done with one or both hands. The development of fine coordination takes place over a period of time, as part of normal development.

The importance of fine motor control

Fine motor control is one of the most important functions that influence the total development of a child. Fine motor movements are involved in most daily activities, perception and communication. They are exceptionally important for thinking, independence and for building relationships with others. Without fine motor control, it’s impossible to handle tools such as a spoon, knife and fork, crayons, pens and scissors.

When to be concerned

Fine motor development can already be identified as a problem within the first year after birth, depending on the severity, or it can be picked up at a later stage. Occupational therapist, Maretha Bekker, from the Department of Occupational Therapy at the University of Pretoria, says parents should be concerned about their child’s fine motor development if:

  • The child ignores certain activities
  • He doesn’t want to try new fine coordination activities, or after trying a few times, he still can’t get the activity right.

Activities and toys to help improve your child’s fine motor development skills

0 – 1 year

  • Put toys within your baby’s reach when he’s lying on his back or tummy, and later when he’s sitting.
  • Put some containers in front of your baby so he can drop objects into them.
  • Give your baby some smaller objects to play with. This will teach him how to hold things between his fingertips. (Always supervise this activity to make sure he doesn’t swallow some of the tiny objects.)
  • Invest in toys with holes so your baby can poke his fingers through them.
  • Let him feed himself with finger foods.

Recommended toys:

  • Rattles
  • Wooden blocks of different sizes
  • A sandpit
  • Push-and-pull toys
  • Soft toys
  • Beans in a container
  • Toys for bath time
  • Containers with lids, which your child can screw on and off
  • Wooden and metal spoons
  • Musical instruments, such as a drum
  • Balls of different sizes.

1 – 2 years

  • Your baby should be able to hold a crayon with his whole hand now, so give him an opportunity to scribble on paper as well as against a vertical surface.
  • Give your child containers filled with different objects so he can open and close the lids, and move the objects from one container to another.
  • Let your child stack blocks and try to build towers with them.
  • Give your baby soft balls of different sizes to play with.
  • Give your child clay to play with.
  • Draw lines on paper and see if your child can copy the lines.
  • Page through picture books and point the pictures out to your child.

Recommended toys:

  • Push-and-pull toys
  • A tea set (for girls)
  • A play telephone
  • Toys that can be taken apart
  • Wooden blocks
  • Puzzles with little knobs on top
  • Musical instruments
  • Crayons and paper
  • Pegboards with large pegs
  • Beads of different sizes to thread

2 – 3 years

  • Let your child colour in large shapes with crayons.
  • Your child can now start to snip with scissors. Give him newspaper, toilet paper, tissue paper or foil to cut. Children still cut using both hands at this age.
  • Give him paper and crayons to draw circles with.
  • Give him toys with moving parts to play with.
  • Let him play with blocks.
  • Give him different objects to thread.

3 – 4 years

  • Let your child draw more often, as he’s now developing a more precise pencil grip.
  • Give your child pictures to colour in. He will manage, but he might still go over the lines.
  • Give him examples of simple shapes to copy.
  • Let him cut paper into pieces.
  • Clay and painting activities are very important. Take away the brushes every now and again and let him use his fingers.

4 – 5 years

  • Give your child crayons to draw circles and vertical and horizontal lines.
  • Give your child easy puzzles to build.
  • Cutting and colouring activities are very important.
  • Your child now starts to copy his name, give him a pencil and paper to practice.
  • When your child works at a table, structure the equipment in such a way that he must cross his midline to reach things.

Download your free fine motor development guide here.

Living And Loving Staff

About Living And Loving Staff

Our experienced editors work with trained journalists and qualified experts to compile accurate, insightful and helpful information about pregnancy, birth, early childhood development and parenting. Our content is reviewed regularly by our panel of advisors, which include medical doctors and healthcare professionals.