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Fine motor skills refer to your child’s ability to use the small muscles in their fingers, wrists and hands to manipulate objects. Important fine motor skills include:
• The ability to coordinate how one’s fingers move or to coordinate both hands at the same time
• The ability to keep one’s wrist stable
• The development of scissor skills,
• The development of the pincer grasp (ability to hold objects using the thumb and finger tips)
• The development of precision grasping, and so on.
Your child develops fine motor skills from as early as one to two months. For example, newborns start to bring their fingers to their mouth and from three months, babies start bringing their hands together.
As your child’s muscles strengthen, they begin to develop new fine motor skills. That said, not all children develop fine motor skills at the same time. In other words, some children may develop these skills later than other children the same age, but most children with developmental delays eventually catch up.
As your child grows older, their hand-eye coordination improves, and this allows them to perform both simple and more complex tasks and activities. The good news is that there are many simple tools, games, toys and activities that can help strengthen your child’s smaller muscle groups.
This article will focus on:
- Developing fine motor skills in preschoolers
- Fine motor skills by age
- How to improve fine motor skills at home
- Examples of toys and games that can reinforce fine motor skill development
Remember that this is just a guide with examples of activities that can help develop your child’s fine motor skills. Several resources are included here, but you probably already have everything you need at home.
Also, there is no need for multiple tools: most toys boost the same fine motor skills so the fewer the better (and the less clutter you add to your home!). Choose only a few toys and use whatever you have at home to help your child work on their fine motor skills.
Fine motor skill development: How it affects your child’s behavior
Fine motor skills enable your child to carry out everyday tasks and activities both at school and at home. They are important because they allow them to perform tasks such as:
- Self-care tasks – brushing their teething, getting dressed, eating, tying shoelaces, brushing hair
- School related tasks – writing, coloring, drawing, using scissors, turning book pages
- Play – gripping, playing with toys, building block towers, doing puzzles, dressing dolls
- Other – turning doorknobs, playing instruments, switching lights off and on
While some skills such as visual perception skills are not considered as fine motor skills, your child needs to develop these skills alongside the development of their fine motor skills. In other words, the development of fine motor skills goes hand in hand with the development of hand-eye coordination.
Below are fine motor skills activities depending on your child’s age. Different kids develop at different rhythms, so don’t focus too much on the categories – do whatever you feel your child is capable of doing depending on the stage of their development (rather than on their age) and privilege the activities they prefer.
An age-by-age guide to developing fine motor skills
Fine motor skill development in toddlers
Your child begins to develop their fine motor skills quite early. From simply putting their hands in their mouth, toddlers go on to activities such as:
- Holding and shaking objects
- Manipulating toys and moving them from one hand to the other
- Gripping, squeezing and grasping objects
Between ages one and two, your child begins to
- Bang objects together
- Use their fingers to feed themselves
- Build simple towers using blocks and Lego
- Coordinate the index finger and the thumb to hold objects (spoon, crayon, pencil, etc.) (usually from around 10 months)
22 activities to strengthen your child’s fine motor skill development
1) Practice self-feeding. When they start eating solid food, cut up soft foods such as bananas and let them feed themselves.
2) Give them toys that encourage them to bang. Drums, music instruments and really anything they can bang together are all great tools.
3) Give them something to hold in both hands. For example, you can give them a wooden block in each hand.
4) Toys that require pushing, pulling and twisting such as the Fisher-Price Monster Pop-Up Surprise are great for developing fine motor skills
From ages one to two
5) Puzzles help your child strengthen their finger muscles and their hand-eye coordination. Puzzles with knobs are a great option for toddlers from 18 months, or you can get a floor puzzle and do the puzzle as a family.
6) Give your child crayons and let them unleash their creativity.
7) Use playdough. Playdough is really one of the best tools to strengthen your child’s fine motor skills because your child can roll it, squeeze it or twist it, and these are all activities that strengthen the small muscles in their fingers. You can let your young child play independently and ask older ones to make shapes such as snakes or snails.
Remember that you can also make your own play dough with ingredients you probably already have at home! It is recommended to wait until your child is at least two to introduce play dough because your baby can put into their mouths. Even after age 2, it is important to supervise them when they are playing with play dough.
8) Get appropriate baby books and help them point at objects in the books. If you need help choosing the best books for toddlers, check out the award-winning Bookroo.
9) Help them or let them turn the pages when you are reading together
10) Give them appropriate cutlery that they can use to feed themselves.
11) Stacking activities. Your child will enjoy stacking and nesting the wooden arches of this rainbow tunnel, an activity that will help them develop their fine motor skills and their hand-eye coordination. As they grow older, they will be able to use the arches in many different ways – building tunnels, houses, boats, bridges, and whatever else they can imagine!Fat brain’s Tobbles Neo is also a great tool for boosting your child’s fine-motor and coordination skills. Stacking toys are among the simplest toys you can make at home so check what you already have – Lego, Paper cups, blocks – that your child can use.
12) Finger paint together.
13) Let your child undress themselves (avoid clothes with zips/buttons) and put their dirty clothes in the laundry basket
14) Let them put their books and toys away. Remember to use low shelves that they can access easily, or use specific bins for specific toys.
15) Encourage them to participate in household chores – anything that you think they can do (opening and closing the dishwasher, setting the table, wiping seats with a rug, etc.) will help develop their fine motor skills.
16) Let them participate in waste sorting and recycling.
17) Encourage them to help clean up using child-size brooms, brushes, dustpans and mops
18) Let them help with cooking. Activities such as stirring, mixing, pouring ingredients, kneading dough, etc. are effective for developing their fine motor skills. A kitchen helper is a great investment that will allow your child to fully participate in your family life.
19) Let them play with blocks. Blocks are not only good for the development of your child’s fine motor skills, they also encourage open ended play. If you buy good quality ones, your child can use them for years! The Lovevery Block Set is a bit costly, but it will allow your child to practice stacking, threading, shape sorting, matching activities, imaginative play, and much much more, and they can use the set from 18 months to their fourth year.
20) Let them play in sandpits or take them to the beach! Playing with sand and filling and emptying containers will help them strengthen their finger and hand muscles.
21) Bury small objects in sand (or in a container with grains) and let them look for them.
22) Take two bowls, fill one with a little water, then give your child a sponge and ask them to transfer all the water to the empty bowl by squeezing the wet sponge.
Developing fine motor skills in three- to four-year-olds
Between age three and four, some of the fine motor activities your child can do include:
- Turning doorknobs
- Using cutlery properly (spoon and fork)
- Threading (able to string beads)
- Zipping and unzipping clothes
- Using scissors effectively
- Buttoning and unbuttoning clothes
- Tracing and cutting out shapes
- Completing a puzzle (4 to 12 pieces depending on their age and development)
16 activities to develop 3- to 4-year-olds’ fine motor skills
23) Board games. Any games that require your child to roll dice or manipulate small objects will help strengthen their fine motor skills.
24) Encourage your child to serve themselves water using appropriate pitchers or water dispensers
25) From age three, your child will enjoy more complex puzzles. We have a thing for Melissa and Doug wooden puzzles but any good quality puzzles are good for developing fine motor skills.
Or, you can make your own DIY puzzles at home – have your child choose an image, cut up the image using scissors and mix the pieces up, then let them put the picture back together. DIY puzzles are great because you can adapt the puzzle difficulty (for example cut the picture into 4, 8 or 10 pieces) depending on your child’s actual abilities.
26) I bet you already have coloring books in your home – these are effective tools for helping your child practice their fine motor skills
27) Letting your child thread anything – beads, buttons, marbles, etc – will help in the development of their fine motor skills as well as their hand-eye coordination. Large-sized beads and thick string are great for letting your child practice using their fingers. Skoolzy has great beads if you’re looking to get beads your child can use.
Lacing cards are also a simple way to get your child threading, and they are really easy to make – cut out simple shapes such as squares, circles or triangles (or even a car or a shoe!) on a cardboard (empty cereal boxes are great for this!), take your paper punch and make holes, then give your child string, wool or a shoelace to pass through the holes. You can also get lacing cards online.
28) Sorting activities. Any form of sorting activity is great for developing children’s fine motor skills. You can use shape sorters or simply place different objects in a container and ask your child to sort them out depending on their color, type, or shape. Remember to supervise if you are using small objects because of choking hazards.
29) Activities with tweezers. Activities with tweezers help your child practice their grasp. In the sorting activity mentioned above, you can ask them to remove the objects using child friendly tweezers.
30) Make cutouts. Ask your child to make cutouts in playdough using a cookie cutter.
31) Let them use macaroni to make jewelry (bangles, necklace, etc.). This will help them practice the pincer grasp.
32) Drawing. Kids love drawing, and this activity helps them develop their fine motor skills. Encourage them to practice their drawing on different surfaces and textures. If your child is a reluctant drawer, they won’t be able to resist Melissa & Doug’s Deluxe Standing Art Easel!
33) Building with blocks or Lego. Blocks are a great activity for any age! From age three, Magna-Tiles can help your child develop their spatial and fine motor skills and start learning mathematical and scientific concepts. These open-ended toys allow them to combine different shapes to create objects of their choice, and they can play with them for years!
34) Painting. Holding a paintbrush is good practice for your child’s smaller muscle group.
35) Here is an activity your child is sure to love – get soft sweets and match sticks (cut off the flammable end) and ask your child to create an object by using the sticks to hold together the sweets.
36) Draw a picture and ask your child to either decorate it using beans or to trace the lines with glue then glue the beans onto the design.
37) Let your child dress by themselves.
38) Cutting and sticking activities are very effective in developing children’s fine motor skills. All you need is paper (different textures and types are great) and age-appropriate scissors, then let your child cut everything up! You can also ask them to cut out “everything green” or “everything you like eating” or “the toys you want for your birthday” from old magazines.
There are also activity books designed to help your child develop their fine motor skills, their visual perception skills and their hand-eye coordination. This one proposes over 100 activities that children between ages four and nine will enjoy.
Developing fine motor skills in five- to six-year-olds
Between age five and six, some of the fine motor activities your child can do include:
• Dressing and undressing themselves
• Forming letters
• Using knife and fork
• Opening and closing containers
• Drawing pictures
• Making simple Lego models
• Pencil control
• Cutting around shapes
• Completing puzzles (about 20 pieces)
16 activities to improve fine motor skills in 5- to 6-year-olds
39) Construction toys that your child can twist, turn, click and so on are great options for helping 5/6 year olds work on their finger, wrist and hand muscles.
40) Propose activities in which your child can use a hole puncher.
41) Give them a 20-piece puzzle
42) Pompoms are fun and easy-to-make activities that help your child practice the muscles in their fingers. YouTube has hundreds of adorable pom pom activities for kids.
43) Clothing pegs can help your child develop their fine motor skills because they require them to press them open and clip them. Grab an empty shoe box or a paper plate and ask your child to clip the pegs all around it. Better still, let your child participate in household chores by helping you peg clothes.
44) Tweezers are great for strengthening the finger muscles of 5/6 years olds. Give your child child friendly tweezers and ask them to go find and pick up “10 tiny green things using their tweezers.
45) Although many children cannot lace up at this age, their fine motor skills are sufficiently developed to start practicing lacing activities. Cut out an image of a shoe, let your child color and decorate it, punch in the shoe holes, then give them a shoelace to practice lacing. Some kids can tie shoelaces at around age six, but generally speaking, boys usually take longer to lace successfully.
46) Origami activities are great for helping your child practice using their fingers. There are many simple models you can get online or if your child is a real fan, they’ll love the book Origami for Kids which has over 20 easy projects.
47) Teach your child to make paper airplanes.
48) Take two bowls, fill one with a little water, then give your child a pipette and ask them to transfer all the water to the empty bowl.
49) Let your child help in the garden. Activities such as using age-appropriate gardening tools and transplanting seedlings to the garden all help them develop their fine motor skills.
50) Ask them to make play dough alphabet letters.
51) Give your child duct tape and a cardboard and ask them to create a drawing using the tape (house, car, boat, etc.).
52) Give them a cardboard sheet and ask them to paste items on them. They can paste leaves, flowers, sand, grains, and so on. You can also give them a drawing (for example of a house) and ask them to decorate the drawing by pasting objects with different textures to outline the different parts of the house.
53) Musical instruments encourage your child to use their fingers so they are a great tool for developing their fine motor skills.
54) Give your child a simple drawing and ask them to copy it.
Fine motor skill development in seven- to nine-year-olds
Between age seven and nine, some of the fine motor activities your child can do include:
• Legible writing
• Pencil control
• Drawing detailed pictures
• Cutting neatly around shapes
• Tying shoelaces
• Using knife and fork with ease
• Building complex Lego models
• Completing complex puzzles
Developing fine-motor skills in 7- to 9-year-olds
55) Matchstick creations are a great activity for teaching your child to use their finger and hand muscles. This is an open-ended activity so let your child’s imagination run wild!
56) Weaving can help your child work on their fine motor skills. Cut out different images on cardboard, give them wool, then ask them to cover the cut outs completely with the wool.
57) Hands-on art projects will help your child work their finger muscles and keep them occupied at the same time! The good news is that your have great options for the artsy kid, the science-oriented kid and even the kid into computers and coding! There are so many options out there, you’ll find something for even the most reluctant kid!
58) Finger knitting is a great activity for developing your child’s fine motor skills. It is also a good activity for helping your child practice mindfulness or calm down. There are great tips here if you want to get started with finger knitting.
59) Mandalas will not only help your child work their finger muscles, they will also help them develop skills such as focus and concentration. You can make your own mandalas or get ready child-appropriate ones like these ones.
60) Draw a picture (for example a leaf or a shape) on a piece of paper, create different sections by drawing wavy lines that cut across the picture, ask your child to fill in each section with a different design (dots, lines, rain drops, etc.)
61) Draw a picture and ask your child to trace the lines with glue then to glue rice onto the design using child friendly tweezers.
How to improve fine motor skills in tweens and teens
Developing tweens’ and teens’ fine motor skills is harder because children at this age are likely to find activities such as the ones listed above “childish” and “boring”. Remember that whatever can get them to practice their fingers, hands and wrists is good for them. Here are just a few examples that may help your child.
10 activities for fine motor skill development in tweens and teens
62) Playing an instrument. With all the free online videos about learning how to play instruments, your child does not necessarily need to enroll in a music class. Grab them their favorite music instrument and let them practice playing it on their own!
63) Play crumpled paper toss. Get old newspapers, crumple them and see who will win tossing the crumpled papers in a basket.
64) Let them play video games 😊. Video games that require your child to play actively can help them practice their finger, wrist and hand muscles and their hand-eye coordination. Just make sure that they are not spending all their time in front of screens!
65) Sewing is an effective activity for helping older kids practice strengthening their muscles, and there are plenty of amazing YouTube videos to get them started.
66) Knitting and crocheting are both activities that will help your child work on their fine motor skills.
67) If your tween or teen is the artsy type, let them unleash their creativity using collages or mosaic art. Motivate them by telling them that you would like them to make you (or someone else in the family) a mosaic object for your birthday!
68) Art classes can help older children strengthen their fine motor skills
69) Computer coding is great for helping your teen work their finger muscles
70) Is your child the sporty type? Encourage them to play tennis, badminton or table tennis!
71) Encouraging your child to bake and cook can help them improve their fine motor skills
Developing fine motor skills in your child’s everyday life
The best way to integrate fine motor skills into your child’s life is to make use of everyday activities that help strengthen those skills. I spoke earlier of activities such as letting your child help prepare meals, encouraging them to do age-appropriate chores, playing boardgames or doing puzzles together, encouraging them to turn the pages of books when reading together, expecting them to pick up after themselves, and so on. All these are really simple activities that will help your child learn important skills.
But if you are worried about the development of your child’s fine motor skills and feel like they need more practice, using short and regular exercise sessions (5 to 10 minutes) will be more effective than long and irregular activities.
If your child decides to do the activity by themselves, do not interrupt them – let them keep on with the activity for as long as they would like to. Remember to follow your child’s interests. There are so many ways to build fine motor skills so if there is something that they hate doing, stop doing it and focus on the things that they appreciate.
Fine motor skill development: Does your child have a problem ?
Most children eventually develop their fine motor skills and while some may develop them later than at the “expected age”, children with developmental delays often end up catching up with other kids by around age six, seven or eight (there are divergent views on this).
That said, up to 5% of preschoolers have a coordination disorder that requires professional intervention. If you notice the following issues in your child after age seven, please consult your GP who will carry out an in-depth assessment or point you to the right professional:
- Always dropping objects
- Unable to use scissors
- Difficulty holding pens/pencils correctly (trouble writing, drawing, coloring)
- Difficulty holding cutlery or any other objects
- Extreme clumsiness
- Consistent avoidance of activities that require fine motor skills
All information presented here is for educational purposes only. If you think your child has a medical problem or if you need professional advice, please see your family doctor.
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