Fine Motor Skills in Infants and Toddlers

You might have heard of fine motor skills and may be wondering what exactly they are, and how you can support your child's development in this area. Find out what fine motor skills are, and how you can help foster your baby or toddler’s fine motor skills based on her age.

What Are Fine Motor Skills?

Fine motor skills are the ability to coordinate movements of those small muscles in the wrist, hand, fingers, and even toes. In contrast, gross motor skills are the ability to coordinate the large muscle movements of the arms, legs, and feet, as well as the ability to coordinate and control the entire body as a whole.

You can encourage your child’s fine motor skills through activities and play that’s appropriate for her stage of development. All of it, whether it’s being able to move a toy block or pick up a small piece of food off a plate, serve as building blocks for eventually being able to handle more complex actions like writing or buttoning a shirt.

Remember that since each child develops at her own pace, the development of your child's fine and gross motor skills may happen earlier or later when compared to another child.

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Fine Motor Skills of a 1- to 3-Month-Old

Before he's 1 month old, your baby's hands will most likely be clenched most of the time, with his little fingers wrapped around his thumb. He can grasp anything you put in his hand, like a rattle, but he won't be able to do anything with the toy just yet.

The same goes for your finger. If you stroke his palm, he will grasp your finger very firmly, but don't try lifting him this way as he can let go suddenly. This grip is referred to as the palmar grasp, and your baby doesn’t have control over it—it’s just one of many baby reflexes he's born with.

It's when your baby turns about 3 months old that you may notice him start to relax his hands, and he may now keep his hands partially open most of the time. Now, if you put that same rattle in his hand, he'll grab it, maybe bring it to his mouth, and let go of it when he loses interest.

How to Help Develop Your 1- to 3-Month-Old's Fine Motor Skills

To help encourage your baby's development around this time, here are some activities you can do:

  • Dangle a toy above or in front of him and watch him reach for it or swat at it

  • Provide him with colorful objects to play with—if possible in a variety of sizes, shapes, and textures.

Fine Motor Skills of a 4- to 7-Month-Old

By 4 months old, your baby may be clenching that rattle, shaking it, putting it in her mouth, and possibly even switching it from hand to hand.

Between 4 months and 7 months old, your baby may start to use her hands like a little claw or rake, picking up things she likes by scraping her hand at the item.

She may claw at something with one hand, move it to her other hand, and twist her wrist around to take a better look at the object.

How to Help Develop Your 4- to 7-Month-Old's Fine Motor Skills

Here are some examples of activities you can do to help stimulate your baby's development around this time:

  • Encourage your baby to reach for toys

  • Give her toy blocks and soft toys to help develop her hand and eye coordination.

Baby playing on the floor

Fine Motor Skills of an 8- to 12-Month-Old

From about 8 months of age to the time your little one turns 1, you might be surprised by how well your baby may be doing with developing his gross motor skills, such as crawling, standing, and possibly even walking. But he's making good progress with his fine motor skills, too. Just take a closer look.

During this time, he may switch from the clawing or raking motion to the pincer grasp, which is using his thumb and forefinger or second finger to pick up objects as small as O-shaped cereal. You might even show him how to snap his fingers and he might start trying!

Don't be surprised if your baby starts flinging things around this time. He'll be so excited to explore this new development in his hand coordination that he may pick up objects and throw them repeatedly, hoping you’ll be there to pick them right up for him.

This behavior helps him understand cause and effect, and can be a way to grab your attention. If he is in the mood to throw toys, you may consider giving him soft balls to play with instead of hard, wooden blocks, for example.

Keep him away from any breakables during this time, as you never know when he’ll send that salt shaker flying. Give him plastic cups and plates during mealtime for his own safety and yours! And, as part of your babyproofing efforts, place any breakable objects, like vases, out of reach.

How to Help Develop Your 8- to 12-Month-Old's Fine Motor Skills

Help your baby's fine motor skills improve by playing games together that encourage the coordination and control of his hands and fingers. Here are just a few examples:

  • Join your child on the floor and get a large ball (one with beads or chimes inside to make noise will make this game even more exciting for him). Then, roll the ball toward him, and wait for him to roll it back. In the beginning, your child may swat the ball, but eventually he will learn how to roll it back to you.

  • Give him an object to open and close, such as a lidded box. You might consider hiding a favorite toy in the box, and calling out peek-a-boo every time your baby opens the lid.

  • Give him a basket full of objects—stuffed animals, soft toys, or safe household objects like wooden spoons and tubs. Let him take each one out of the basket, and then put them all back in. You can get involved by naming the objects and describing their shape, texture, and color as your baby picks them up.

  • Children at this age also love playing with latches, wheels, levers, hinges—basically anything that can move. So, look for toys with these types of functions, like an activity center.

Fine Motor Skills of a 1-Year-Old

Congrats! Your little one is now 1 year old! You'll be impressed by all the developmental progress you may be seeing in your toddler. Of course, the gross motor skills, such as those long-awaited first steps, may be the most impressive, but those fine motor skills aren't too shabby either.

These improved gross motor skills allow your child to better explore her surroundings, while giving her opportunities to hone her fine motor skills. She may not be able to pick up very small objects yet, but this achievement is not far off. However, she'll be very interested in examining and playing with bigger objects, like wood blocks and puzzle pieces.

Around this time you may also notice how much your little one's hand and eye coordination is improving. Although you may notice her using one hand more than the other, this doesn't necessarily mean she's developing a dominant hand (i.e., being left- or right-handed) just yet.

How to Help Develop Your 1-Year-Old's Fine Motor Skills

As your toddler gets older, you could try the following activities to help develop her hand and finger skills:

  • Show her how to fold paper—for example, how to make an accordion fan or a paper airplane

  • Have her put blocks of different shapes (squares, rectangles, triangles) or square pegs into their appropriate holes

  • Encourage her to stack toy blocks to make towers

  • Provide her with toys that she can safely take apart and put back together, like stackable cups

  • Give her some moldable clay to make shapes from

  • Have her help around the house with easy tasks such as sweeping, arranging items, and even simple food prep (like mixing batter or putting vegetables into a pot)

  • Play an outdoor game together—for example, throwing a ball to each other.

Baby playing outdoors

Fine Motor Skills of a 2-Year-Old

Although this period is sometimes known as the terrible twos, it really isn't all that terrible when you think about all the developments you'll see in your child.

Your child's hand and finger skills may be getting more and more impressive. Your little one may be able to pick up something as tiny as a pea, as well as make coordinated movements like opening a jar, for example.

How to Help Develop Your 2-Year-Old's Fine Motor Skills

Around this time your child's ability to focus will be much improved, and he's able to become absorbed in a creative activity for short stints. Here are a few examples of activities you can encourage your child to do:

  • Read books together, letting him turn the pages

  • Give him crayons, finger paints, or colored pencils to express his artistic impulses

  • Let him play with blocks or an interlocking construction set.

Fine Motor Skills of a 3-Year-Old

At 3 years old, your child will have a greater degree of muscular control. This means she may be able to move her fingers independently as well as together. You'll notice this when it comes to her holding a pencil or crayon, as her grip will be more like that of an adult.

During this time, she may becoming more aware of her surroundings and the objects in it. This means she may position her toys in a certain way during playtime. She may use utensils and tools more like an adult, such as using child-safe scissors to cut out shapes from paper. She's getting better at using materials to create things, and may experiment with arts and crafts supplies and activities.

How to Help Develop Your 3-Year-Old's Fine Motor Skills

Here are some examples of activities that will engage your child and help boost her development:

  • Playing with building blocks

  • Piecing together a simple puzzle

  • Playing with a pegboard

  • Stringing oversized beads to make a necklace

  • Coloring with crayons in a coloring book or drawing with chalk on the pavement

  • Making a sand castle at the beach

  • Playing dress-up with dolls that have buttons, zippers, or snaps on their clothing.

Under your watchful eye, your child can lend a hand with safe household tasks. Some examples include:

  • Using a screwdriver or a lightweight hammer on DIY projects, like helping adults build a playhouse

  • Working with a gardening tool such as a hand rake or trowel for planting flowers

  • Handling a whisk or egg beater to beat eggs for an omelet or to mix pancake batter.

Fine Motor Skills of a 4-Year-Old

At 4 years old, your child is a big kid now, and his hand and finger skills are almost completely developed.

How to Help Develop Your 4-Year-Old's Fine Motor Skills

Around this time, your child may take an interest in arts and crafts, games, and other activities that require dexterity. Some activities your child might find engaging include:

  • Drawing fully formed people with arms, legs, and faces

  • Printing or drawing letters

  • Drawing, tracing, or copying geometric shapes

  • Painting using a paintbrush or his fingers

  • Modeling clay into shapes

  • Using child-safe scissors to cut shapes out of paper

  • Playing with blocks and building oversized structures like a tower or fortress

  • Playing with cards or board games.

Fine motor skills are essential when it comes to daily tasks—the ones we often take for granted—like getting dressed, tying shoelaces, and typing an email. Encouraging your child's playtime activities isn't just about fun; play also helps your child gain the fine motor skills (and other skills) he will need each and every day.

Are you curious about learning more about your child's development? In the Pampers Club app, you can follow along your child's month-by-month development while also earning points for all the diapers and wipes you buy. Just scan the product codes, get the rewards points, and redeem for cool stuff for you or your little one.

How We Wrote This Article The information in this article is based on the expert advice found in trusted medical and government sources, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. You can find a full list of sources used for this article below. The content on this page should not replace professional medical advice. Always consult medical professionals for full diagnosis and treatment.