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Fine motor milestones refer to specific behaviors or skills that children develop within a certain age range. Specifically, they refer to the development of your child’s fine motor skills, meaning their ability to use the smaller muscles of their hands to accomplish:
- 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 activities – gripping, playing with toys, building block towers, doing puzzles, dressing dolls
- Other activities – turning doorknobs, playing instruments, switching lights off and on
Just as with other developmental milestones, it is generally believed that children in a specific age group are able to meet similar fine motor milestones.
In this article, we’ll look at some of these milestones depending on your child’s age, and then at simple games and activities that you can do at home to strengthen your child’s fine motor skills.
But first things first – fine motor milestones are a guide, nothing more. There are huge discrepancies in children’s development during the childhood years, and it is not uncommon for some children to develop some skills quickly, but not others, or to appear disinterested in activities that they are “supposed to be interested in”.
Do not forget that no two kids are exactly alike and that your child will develop according to their own rhythm (and personality!). In other words, “delays” in the development of children’s fine motor skills are often just that: delays.
Instead of focusing on fine motor milestones depending on your child’s age, focus on what they are really capable of doing and help them practice their skills. By strengthening the skills that they already have, you make it easier for them to learn new skills.
Also, as children strengthen other skills such as their hand-eye coordination, it will become easier for them to strengthen their fine motor skills as well.
The good news is that there are simple activities that can help your child work on these skills while having fun.
We will look at the different fine motor milestones in the sections below and at the activities that you can propose to help your child strengthen their skills. While some of the activities proposed may not look like “fine motor activities”, remember that developing skills such as their hand-eye coordination will help them strengthen their fine motor skills.
Fine motor milestones from 3 to 6 months
Children in this age group can:
- Hold small objects in their hands briefly
- Grasp and shake toys
- Open and close their hands
- Try to grab an object dangled above them
- Hold hands together.
- Push up on their arms when placed on their tummy
How to develop your child’s fine motor skills
- Tummy time is one of the easiest ways to help your child strengthen many skills including their fine motor skills. Never leave your baby alone during tummy time and remember to privilege regular but short tummy time sessions.
- A play gym is great for babies’ fine motor development. This Award-winning play gym is washable and comes with 5 Montessori-inspired development zones to prevent overstimulation, teach focus, sound making, encourage sensory exploration, hiding and finding, and exploring colors.
- Age-appropriate grasping toys are a good option for kids in this age group.
Fine motor milestones from 6 to 12 months
Between six and 12 months, babies are able to:
- Hold objects in their hands
- Shake objects
- Move objects from one hand to the other
- Grip and squeeze objects
- Grasp objects
Activities to help your child strengthen their fine motor skills at this stage
- Encourage your baby to practice their pincer grasp by picking up their food with their thumb and forefinger and feeding themselves when they start eating solid foods.
- Encourage them to turn pages in books. Flap books are also great at reinforcing their fine motor skills. This article proposes great books for babies under one.
- Give your baby wooden bricks to hold in each hand. You can ask them to pass the bricks to you, then pass them back.
- Most babies begin showing an interest in using utensils to self-feed at around 12 months, but some start as early as 9 months. If yours is keen to start, spoons like this one are the easiest option to start with because they do not conduct heat and are gentle on babies’ gums. If you’re interested in baby-led weaning, this training spoon is a great option.
Fine motor milestones at 1-2 years
Between the ages of one and two, your baby can:
- Feed themselves using their fingers
- Build simple towers using blocks
- Bang objects together
- Start scribbling
- Hold objects such as spoons and crayons more easily
How to strengthen their fine motor skills
- Get age-appropriate books, encourage them to turn the pages, and help them point at objects in the books. The best books at this age are interactive and they help babies discover different textures, different words, different colors, and so on.
- Books that encourage manipulation are great for the development of children’s fine motor skills. If you need help choosing the best books for toddlers, check out the award-winning Bookroo.
- Give your baby two objects to bang together.
- Give them toys that encourage them to bang. Drums, music instruments and really anything that they can bang together are all great tools.
- Get your baby edible finger paint and let them unleash the artist within. You can also use ordinary paint but it will be a lot less messy to put the paint in a plastic bag, seal the bag completely, and let your baby express themselves on the plastic surface.
- Toys that require pushing, pulling and twisting like this one are great for developing fine motor skills.
- Bury small objects in sand (or in a container with grains) and let your baby look for them.
- Infantino press and stay sensory blocks will provide hours of play and will help develop your baby’s fine motor skills.
- 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.
Fine motor skills for kids between 2 to 3 years
Between the ages of two and three, your child can:
- Use age-appropriate scissors.
- Easily stack blocks.
- Hold objects such as crayons and spoons with their thumb and fingers.
- String large beads.
- Draw circles.
- Reproduce vertical and horizontal lines.
Fine motor activities for 2- to 3-year-olds
- Your child will love helping with the 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 them to fully participate in your family life.
- 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 up to their fourth year.
- Take your child to the beach! Playing with sand and filling and emptying containers will help them strengthen their finger and hand muscles.
- Encourage them to undress themselves (avoid clothes with zips/buttons) and to put their dirty clothes in the laundry basket.
- Puzzles help your child strengthen their fine motor skills 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.
- Your child will enjoy stacking and nesting the wooden arches of this rainbow tunnel. As they grow older, they will be able to use the arches in many ways – building tunnels, houses, boats, bridges, and whatever else they can imagine!
- 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. It is recommended to wait until they are at least two to introduce play dough to avoid choking risks, and to supervise them even after this age when they are playing with play dough.
- 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 and can use – Lego, Paper cups, blocks.
- Give your child crayons and let them unleash their creativity.
Fine motor milestones at 3-4 years
Between the ages of three and four, your child can:
- Zip and unzip their clothes
- Turn doorknobs
- Use cutlery by themselves
- String beads together
- Use scissors
- Trace and cut out shapes
- Button and unbutton clothes
- Complete a puzzle (4 to 12 pieces depending on their age and development)
Activities to strengthen their fine motor skills
- Allowing your child to participate in age-appropriate chores such as putting their books and toys away, helping to slice soft foods using wooden knives, opening and closing the dishwasher, setting the table, etc., will help their fine motor development.
- Board games that require your child to roll dice or manipulate small objects will help strengthen their fine motor skills.
- Puzzles are one of the best activities for reinforcing fine motor skills as well as many other skills. We love Melissa and Doug wooden puzzles but any good quality puzzles are a great option.
- Give your child a coloring book and let them unleash the artist within.
- Threading is a great activity for the development of fine motor skills and it is also an activity that many kids enjoy. Remember to use thick string and large-sized beads that are easy to grasp such as these ones.
Fine motor milestones between 4 to 5
Kids between the ages of four and five can:
- Color inside the lines
- Color an entire picture
- Use a spoon or fork
- Hold a pencil correctly
- Button clothes
Fine motor activities between the ages of four and five
- Magna-Tiles can help your child develop their spatial and fine motor skills and to start learning mathematical and scientific concepts. We love these tiles because they are open-ended, meaning that your child can play with them in many different ways over the years!
- Encourage your child to dress by themselves.
- Lacing cards are a simple way to get your child threading and you can make them at home – simply cut out different shapes on a cardboard (empty cereal boxes are great for this!) and make holes using a paper punch. Your child can then pass string, wool or a shoelace through the holes. Melissa and Doug’s lacing cards are also an option if you’re looking for something more durable.
- 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.
- Encouraging your child to practice drawing or painting on different surfaces and textures is a great for their fine motor development. If you have a reluctant drawer, they won’t be able to resist Melissa & Doug’s Deluxe Standing Art Easel!
- Picture Sudoku puzzles are great for developing your child’s fine motor skills at this age. And they also help them develop many other skills such as hand-eye coordination, visual perception and concentration skills. Here are age-appropriate printable sudoku puzzles that your child will love.
Fine motor milestones at 5-6 years
Between the ages of five and six, some of the fine motor activities that your child can do include:
- Getting dressed by themselves (and undressing themselves).
- Forming letters
- Coloring inside the lines
- Completing simple Lego models
- Cutting around shapes
- Using one hand consistently for fine motor activities
- Drawing pictures
- Doing puzzles (approximately 20 pieces)
Activities to help your child strengthen their fine motor skills
- Mazes are great for your kid’s fine motor development. They are also great for the development of their visual perception skills and their focus and concentration. Here are age-appropriate mazes that they’ll enjoy.
- Give your child child-friendly tweezers and ask them to pick up “five red things and five green ones” using their tweezers.
- Construction toys are great open-ended toys and they also help your child work on their finger, wrist and hand muscles.
- Origami activities are great for fine motor development. If your child is a real fan, they’ll love the book Origami for Kids which has over 20 simple projects.
- Give your child age-appropriate gardening tools and let them help out in the garden.
- Ask your child to copy a simple drawing.
- Propose different activities to help them strengthen their executive function skills. Working on skills such as hand-eye coordination and visual perception skills has an impact on your child’s fine motor development. Also, executive function skills ensure the holistic development of your child. This Executive Function Kit is designed for kids between the ages of four and six and is packed with activities to help your child practice different skills.
Last thoughts on fine motor milestones
While fine motor milestones can help you understand what your child is capable of doing, they are just a guide. Childhood is not a race, and many children develop at a different rate than that which is “expected”.
Trial and error is a good way to judge whether your child is able to perform certain tasks or not. While some kids will be able to perform tasks proposed for an older age group, others will struggle with tasks that they are “supposed to be doing”.
Please do not panic if your child falls in the latter group – proposing a simpler version of the activity and regularly proposing the same activity will help them practice and develop the necessary skills.
The best thing about kids’ fine motor development is that you probably already have most of the tools that your child needs at home. Using plastic cups or empty cardboard boxes for stacking, or even helping with simple age-appropriate chores at home, are simple ways to help them develop their fine motor skills.
Also, more is not always better! Many toys help develop the same skills so focusing on quality open-ended toys is a more economical and ecological option as your child can play with the same toys to develop different skills, and they can use the same toys for years.
While most children succeed in meeting their developmental milestones, it is normal to feel anxious if the face of developmental delays. If you are worried that your child is not reaching fine motor milestones, your family doctor will be able to give you valuable advice about the steps to take.