Fine motor skills are activities in which you use the small muscles in your hands and wrists to make precise movements. They’re different from gross motor skills like running and jumping, which use larger muscles.
Examples of Fine Motor Skills
You need fine motor skills for self-care activities like:
- Dialing the phone
- Turning doorknobs, keys, and locks
- Putting a plug into a socket
- Buttoning and unbuttoning clothes
- Opening and closing zippers
- Fastening snaps and buckles
- Tying shoelaces
- Brushing teeth and flossing
- Bathing or showering
- Using the toilet
Fine motor skills are also necessary for cooking and eating, like:
- Picking up small foods like raisins
- Eating with a fork or spoon
- Opening and closing containers such as lunch boxes and zip-top bags
- Screwing and unscrewing lids
- Using a ladle, tongs, or a large spoon to take a serving of food
- Cutting food with a knife
- Spreading toppings like jam, mayonnaise, and butter
- Sprinkling spices
- Setting the table
- Pouring drinks and condiments like salad dressing and ketchup
- Scrubbing and peeling fruits and vegetables
- Stirring, mixing, and whisking
Fine motor skills are especially important for school activities such as:
- Turning the pages of a book
- Drawing and painting
- Cutting with scissors
- Pasting and gluing
- Measuring with a ruler
- Typing and using a computer mousepad
- Playing musical instruments
Children use fine motor skills during play, including:
- Shaking a rattle
- Stacking blocks
- Stringing beads
- Working puzzles
- Dressing dolls
- Playing with puppets
- Sculpting with clay
- Putting together train or car tracks
- Building with Legos or other construction toys
- Playing board games (rolling dice, moving small pieces, spinning spinners)
- Playing video games (using a joystick or other controller)
Fine Motor Skills Milestones
Milestones are skills that children develop as they grow. Most of them learn fine motor skills at certain ages.
3 months. Your infant doesn’t have a lot of control over their arms. They can probably bring their hands to their mouth. A newborn’s hands are often tightly clenched. Your baby’s hands start to relax and open up at 3 months. They may try to reach for dangling toys and might be able to swing their arm in the direction of a toy.
6 months. Most babies at this age can clasp their hands together. They can usually reach for things with both arms at the same time. At 6 months, your baby may be able to hold small objects for a short time.
9 months. Children can typically bring objects to their mouths and pass things from one hand to the other at 9 months. Their hands are relaxed and open most of the time. Many babies start using a pincer grasp. This is when they use their thumb and index finger to pick up small items.
12 months. Most children can let go of things on purpose and may be able to hand you an item if you ask for it once they are a year old. They can bang two toys together, take items in and out of a container, and point at objects.
18 months. Children at this age can often clap their hands, wave goodbye, and use a crayon to scribble without help. Your child may start drinking from a cup and eating with a spoon.
2 years. Most children will point to pictures in books and turn the pages by are 2. Your toddler may be able to stack three or four blocks into a tower.
When to Talk With Your Child’s Doctor
Children develop at different rates. Some learn to eat with a spoon earlier or later than others, and that’s OK. Talk with your child’s doctor if your child doesn’t seem to be reaching many of the milestones for their age group or if you’re concerned about their development. Your doctor can help you set up an evaluation with a specialist.
You can also call your local early intervention office for a free evaluation if your child is under 3 years old. Call your local public elementary school if your child is 3 or older. Tell them that you’re concerned about your child’s development and would like to have them evaluated for preschool special education services. Acting early can help your child get the support they need.