How to Help Develop Fine Motor Skills in Your Baby

Fine motor skills are the small motions we make that use muscles in the fingers, wrists, toes, tongue and lips that are necessary for life skills such as writing and drawing, cutting with scissors, buttoning and unbuttoning, manipulating small items, and feeding oneself with utensils. Additionally, experts say that fine motor skills are related to cognitive development--through our hands, we make the connection between thought and action.

Your baby’s first movements are usually involuntary, but when her grip becomes stronger, usually between seven to 12 months old, fine motor skills begin developing in earnest.

PincerGrasp Photo     MotorSkills Photo

Fine motor skills are very important to build independence, confidence, and school readiness. Parents can provide opportunities and practice to help foster those skills. Below are some strategies you can use to promote your baby’s fine motor skill development:

  • Encourage a one-handed reach for objects by offering smaller items for him to grab. Most babies will reach with two hands for larger objects, so instead, offer smaller toys and finger food, like berries or a cookie.
  • Teach the pincer grasp--the ability to grab an object with the thumb and forefinger--by laying out small items for her, like Cheerios, nesting toys, or cotton balls.
  • You may need to invest in some earplugs, but banging items does help foster fine motor skills. Babies love to bang pots and pans. Or, give him spoons, cups or a small plastic toy. (Of course, be sure no household items are damaged in the process.)
  • Introduce real utensils with patience. Model their use, and then stand back and try to let her manipulate them herself and figure out on her own what to do.
  • Stacking and sorting may seem boring to you, but they’re usually fascinating to babies and toddlers--and lets them practice their fine motor skills too. Almost anything can be used--stacking toys, like blocks and rings, or household items like measuring cups, plastic bowls, etc.
  • Join in activities with your baby like waving hi and bye, clapping to music, and peek-a-boo to help build wrist strength, and have lots of fun in the process, too.
  • Bring household items like plastic cups, bowls, measuring cups, and sponges into the bath. Practice pouring skills and manipulating these items in a contained space.
  • Look for learning toys with dials, switches, knobs, buttons, and other manipulatives. Usually these are very simple and inexpensive items and are readily available.
  • Save containers like butter tubs, shoe boxes, or salad bins. Clean them out and put small, colorful items inside for your child to pick from. Things like crayons, small pom-poms or napkins can provide lots of entertainment and help build skills.
  • Once babies are around 15-18 months, they can make simple lines with crayons and can scribble back-and-forth by age two. Provide lots of paper (large-size like butcher or poster paper with lots of space, if possible) and let them have fun making their mark. Start off with large size crayons and size down as they become more proficient.

If you feel your baby may not be developing fine motor skills on an age-appropriate timetable, don’t hesitate to consult your pediatrician. If a delay is detected, early intervention can help build her skills and enhance her future development.