As we continue to look at physical development this month, this week’s blog is exploring fine motor development! Fine motor skills refer to movements involving smaller muscles – like those in the hands, wrists and fingers, which are used to manipulate small objects.
Fine motor skills allow kids to:
- Stack blocks
- Grip peg-puzzles
- Thread & lace beads
- Eat with a spoon, knife and fork
- Hold a crayon, pencil and paintbrush
- Scribble, draw, write or paint
Fine motor skills are seen as an important aspect of pre-school development and key for school readiness and academic achievement.
What does the normal progression of Fine Motor Skill Development look like?
- Very young babies have little control over their bodies – though by about 5 months they may begin to hold objects for brief periods.
- Around 6 – 9 months, babies generally scoop objects up with both hands, grasp rattles and small toys, before progressing to using a thumb and index finger grasp by 9 months. This is referred to as the pincer grasp.
- Scribbling usually starts after the first birthday – usually holding a crayon with a fist grasp or palm grasp.
- By 18 months, most babies are accurately picking up objects with the pincer grasp, building small towers of blocks, and showing hand-dominance.
- By 2 years, most toddlers can pick up and place objects neatly, turn pages in a book and build taller stacks of blocks (6-7 blocks).
- Between 2 ½ to 3 years, toddlers start to hold a writing utensil in a tripod grasp – using the thumb, index and middle fingers. Many are also able to screw & unscrew lids.
Pre-School & School:
- Most 4 year olds can trace, draw and scribble, and by 5 years are holding a pencil correctly, and using scissors to cut and paste.
- Around age 6, kids can usually cut with a knife, coordinate their fingers to hold a pencil correctly and tie their shoelaces.
How can toys help?
During play, kids have the opportunity to explore and manipulate their environment with their hands – these interactions have been linked to developing fine motor skills.
A 2017 study of preschool children in Germany looked at specific fine motor activities to see which ones helped fine motor skills. They found kids who participated in more fine motor activities had better skills – particularly kids who did craft activities like threading and drawing, and kids who played with small toys that needed to be dressed using fine motor manipulations like buttons and clips.
When looking at toys to help practice fine motor skills, they don’t have to be the most expensive or fancy – they just need to be interesting to the child and meaningful! Here are some of our favourite ways to play and build fine motor skills:
Peg puzzles are good for babies, especially as little ones have the tendency to put everything in their mouth it allows for practising grasping small objects but eliminates choking hazards as the peg is attached to a larger puzzle piece.
For toddlers, playing with blocks requires good manipulation skills and accuracy when picking up and placing objects.
Craft requires multiple skills including holding and controlling scissors, colouring & painting, pasting objects and manipulating play-dough or clay. These skills improve the muscles in the wrists, fingers and hands, strengthen hand-grip, and practise the coordination of different muscles to build dexterity.
Stringing and sorting beads and buttons are a great way to strengthen the thumb and index finger muscles and practise highly coordination movements required to hold and write with a pencil.
Dressing small dolls is a great way to practice the complex movements required in daily life for dressing or using locks and clips. Also, pretend playing in the kitchen with cooking utensils and stirring or using tongs is great for building strength.
Click here to see our full range of ‘Fine Motor’ products.
Council, H. C. (2015). Supporting Children with Dyspraxia and Motor Co-ordination Difficulties. Routledge.
Sprenger, M. B. (2008;2014;). The developing brain: Birth to age eight (1st ed.). US: Corwin Press.
Suggate, S., Stoeger, H., & Pufke, E. (2017;2016;). Relations between playing activities and fine motor development. Early Child Development and Care, 187(8), 1297-14. doi:10.1080/03004430.2016.1167047