Typical fine motor development is cephalo-caudal (head-to-toe) and proximal-distal (closest to trunk to farthest). Strongly developed trunk muscles, back muscles and shoulder muscles set the stage for the development of arms, hands, and fingers. Self- feeding, self-dressing, writing, cutting with scissors and tying shoelaces are all examples of activities that use fine motor skills.
Infants between 0-4 months of age are just learning about their bodies. They will wave their arms around and experiment with how they work. They may be amazed just by gazing at their fingers when they realize they can control their movements. They will coordinate what they see visually and begin to reach and grasp for objects and hold them close to their trunk.
At around four months of age, infants gain more control of their arms and hands and will begin transferring objects from one hand to another. As early as six months, they begin picking small objects up with their fingertips.
The pincer grasp, picking up a very small object between the thumb and index finger, develops around 12 months of age. They may begin to make marks with markers, stack rings or large blocks, play in sensory materials (a bucket of rice or beans), turn pages in a board book or roll a ball.
With improved trunk control and sitting balance, toddlers are able to use their arms and hands more readily for exploring their environment. They will attempt to use both arms and hands together at the same time for bi-manual tasks, such as filling a bucket with one hand while stabilizing it with another.
A hand preference may emerge around age 2-3 years, but may still alternate dominant hand during play activities. More finger isolation will be observed, such as pointing, poking and touching. Toddlers may show an increased interest in crayons and markers as they begin to grasp writing utensils with a closed fist.
By age three, this may develop into a pronated grasp (fingers pointed towards to paper). They will begin drawing straight lines, circles and simple shapes with appropriate scaffolding and modeling.
Beginning scissor skills evolves around 3-4 years of age, beginning with snips and moving towards cutting along a straight line. Children this age usually have a dominate hand, but may still switch occasionally.
Bi-manual tasks become a more natural part of play such as holding the paper with one hand while drawing or writing with the other. Writing skills evolve into independently drawing lines, shapes, and even attempted letter-like forms. Their grasp will progress more towards tripod grasp. Finger isolation is improved, but may need strengthening.
Activities to Support
- Access to appropriate sized objects/toys to encourage grasp
- Small blocks for stacking
- Rattles for shaking
- Small balls to push and throw
- Putting large pompoms into containers an dumping them out again
- Ring stacking toys
- Stringing large beads onto pipe cleaners
- Play dough with plastic tools and cookie cutters
- Large stickers
- Large simple knob puzzles
- Button sorting or use of buttons in arts and crafts
- Tongs to pick up various objects
- Sensory play materials with scoops and containers
- Multiple writing utensils for exploration (markers, crayons, pencils, etc.)
- Stringing of hard penne pasta onto string or other lacing activities
- Adding straws or popsicle sticks to playdough activities
- Small, interlocking puzzles
- Tweezers to pick up small objects such as cotton balls, beans or buttons
- Using small objects in art activities such as buttons, feathers, small beads
- Building 3D structures with toothpicks and marshmallows
- Balancing marbles on golf tees hammered into Styrofoam
- Textured paint or shaving cream for art activities
The mastering of fine motor skills is a natural progression in a child’s growth and development that can be supported in appropriate, child-centered ways. Through hands-on, fun activities, children can explore what amazing skills they are capable of with their very own fingers and hands!