How to Help Your Child With Fine Motor Skills

As your child develops, he will learn both fine and gross motor skills. Fine motor skills utilize the small muscle groups in the wrists, hands, and fingers, while gross motor skills animate arms, legs, and larger muscle groups. Fine motor skills help your child complete more intricate tasks like eating, drawing, getting dressed, and writing. Studies show that well-developed fine motor skills in young children contribute to success in kindergarten and beyond. Fortunately, there are several methods you can use to help your child with fine motor skills. 

Types of Fine Motor Skill Milestones

While every child develops at their own pace, there is a general progression that many children follow as they develop. Common fine motor skill milestones include:

  • Six months. By six months of age, many children can roll over and bring items to their mouths.
  • Nine months. By the time your child is nine months old, they may be able to sit on their own, use a pincer grasp, and point with their finger.
  • Twelve months. Around one year of age, many children can help when getting dressed by offering their arm or leg. They may also make gestures, place things in a cup, and hit surfaces.
  • Eighteen months. By eighteen months, some children can walk, clearly point, scribble, and feed themselves with a child-safe spoon or fork. 
  • Two years. At two years of age, many children can point to specific items in a book, stack blocks, and throw items. 
  • Three years. At three, many children can dress and undress themselves, stack blocks, turn pages, push buttons, and turn knobs. 
  • Four years. By age four, many children can cut with scissors and draw a person with a few details.  
  • Five years. At age five, children can draw more detailed people and write some letters and numbers. 

Helping Your Child With Fine Motor Skills

Children gain fine motor skills at their own pace. Your baby may start stacking blocks months earlier or later than his cohorts. Don’t worry if your child seems to be developing at a different pace than other children his age.

While children naturally develop fine motor skills as they grow and learn, there are activities you can do with your child to help them with their fine motor skills, including:

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Encouraging Movement

Research shows that children who engage in more physical activity at school and at home show improvements in fine motor skills. To help your child get moving:

  • Dance along. Encourage your child to dance along with their favorite cartoon or find a dance video designed for young children. Dance video games have been shown to help preschool-age children build their fine motor skills. 
  • Copy-cat games. Play a copy-cat game with your child. Point to different body parts or make shapes with your hands and arms, then have them mimic your movement. 
  • Hopscotch. Set up a game of hopscotch for your child. Switching from one foot to two can help your child build important motor skills and coordination.
  • "Simon Says." Playing “Simon Says” is a great way to encourage your child to mimic your movement and challenge their fine motor skills in a playful format. 

Drawing or Painting

Studies suggest that drawing and painting can be an indicator of a child’s fine motor skill development. To help your child build fine motor skills through art:

  • Finger paint. The tactile experience of finger painting has been shown to help children strengthen their fine motor skills. Finger painting encourages your child to explore different ways of using their fingers and hands. 
  • Give them crayons and coloring books. Similar to finger painting, coloring with your child challenges them to practice new finer motor skills by learning how to grasp their crayon and find the right coloring motion. As your child develops new skills, they will learn how to color inside the lines and draw new shapes. 
  • Play with sidewalk chalk. Drawing with sidewalk chalk is a great way to encourage your child to build their tool-holding and drawing skills while moving around outdoors. 
  • Play with clay. Another tactile experience, playing with clay allows your child to explore new hand and wrist motor skills while creating fun shapes. Between rolling, pinching, stacking, smashing, and more, playing with clay offers a wide range of fine motor skills for your child to practice. 

Playing Typing Games

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Typing games may help strengthen fine motor skills in children. If you have a young child, play with simple memory games or buttons. With older children, use online typing games or speed tests. 

Play With Building Toys

Playing with building toys, like Legos, may help develop motor skills. Effective building activities include:

  • Stacking simple blocks for babies and toddlers. A great way to start building fine motor skills early is with baby block sets. As your child grows, they will learn how to stack blocks higher by developing the right skills to keep the blocks steady and place them correctly. Stacking ring toys offer similar benefits. 
  • Playing with pegboards. Pegboards or toys that require matching the shape to its cutout are a popular way for babies to build early motor skills. 
  • Completing puzzles. Puzzles are another great tool for building your child's fine motor skills. Puzzles come in a range of sizes and skill levels, from foam sets with only a few pieces to puzzle boards with hundreds of pieces. Picking up puzzle pieces and placing them in the correct spot does wonders for helping your child build strength and dexterity in their hands.
  • Building Lego sets. As your child advances, more complex building sets like Legos or log toys can be an important part of strengthening their motor skills. These sets come in a wide range of difficulty levels that requires increasing levels of dexterity. Studies have shown that building Legos can help preadolescent children strengthen motor skills and performance in other areas of learning. 

Limiting Screen Time

While some games can be helpful for building motor skills, research indicates a strong correlation between limiting screen time and higher motor skills. 

It is recommended that preschool-age children spend less than one hour each day in front of a screen, but the average preschooler spends at least four hours playing electronic games, watching television, or watching content on mobile devices. Instead, encourage your child to stay active and only use mobile devices or watch television during designated hours. Download enriching games for your child and balance their screen time with outdoor time. 

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on March 04, 2021

Sources

SOURCES:

Child Development: “Fine motor skills and executive function both contribute to kindergarten achievement.”

Frontiers in Human Neuroscience: “Motor-Enriched Learning Activities Can Improve Mathematical Performance in Preadolescent Children.”

Human Movement Science: “Improvement in children’s fine motor skills following a computerized typing intervention," “Precision in drawing and tracing tasks: Different measures for different aspects of fine motor control.”

Journal of Sport and Health Science: "Fundamental motor skills, screen-time, and physical activity in preschoolers," “Motor performance or opportunities to move? What do children need the most?”

Jurnal Penelitian: “The Effect of Finger Painting towards Fine Motor Skill of Intellectual Disability.” 

StatPearls: “Development Milestones.”

Trials: “Influence of motor skills training on children’s development evaluated in the Motor skills in PreSchool (MiPS) study-DK: study protocol for a randomized controlled trial, nested in a cohort study.”

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