Develop fine motor skills in babies and toddlers through the coolest way possible – play.
Fine motor skills are subtle movements of the hands and fingers in coordination with the eyes. They help achieve tasks like pinching and pointing. And anyone who’s ever spent time with a newborn understands that those fine motor skills aren’t part of their movement repertoire. Newborns can mostly grasp. It’s a reflex that starts to fade just in time for babies to discover their own hands. So, fine motor skills need to be develop. Fine motor skills really begin in the brain with the ability to sense things through sight and hearing. A baby will not be able to reach and grab for something specifically until they are able to see it.
- Fine motor skills are on purpose: they are subtle movements of the hands and fingers, coordinating with the eyes, to achieve a task.
- Babies don’t have fine motor skills: though newborns can grasp things reflexively, they don’t have the perception to recognize what they are doing or interacting with.
- Busy brains: as babies learn to crawl, to walk, to understand language, and bond with their family, they are also learning how to manipulate small objects.
- Daily tasks are important: learning to feed, bath or to dress themselves are all important developmental opportunities for babies and toddlers.
Around three months old, an infant’s vision, hearing and memory will be developed to a point where they can recognize items and reach for them with deliberation. That’s when fine motor skills start to develop rapidly.
- For the first few months, play mats with dangling texture toys are great tools for promoting fine motor skills.
- By three months, most babies will be able to recognize and reach for the toys.
- By four months of age, most babies will be able to grasp a toy.
- By six months, they are generally able to bring an object to their mouth – and parents need to watch out for choking hazards.
- By six months many babies will be able to roll over or wriggle out of the play mat.
The ability to move items to the mouth grows more refined, and while the choking hazard doesn’t diminish, babies general become better at feeding themselves. Between 8 to 12 months is generally the time when babies are introduced to very small pieces of food and encouraged to self-feed.
Babies also learn how to use a spoon and drink from a cup, if not particularly well though. But those mealtime messes provide some amusement and are the results of trial and error of learning any skill. It also happens to be tons of fun!
Promoting fine motor skills at 2 years
By 18 months a child is throwing things with much more purpose and they are mobile enough to do most of the retrieving themselves. Their fine motor play is much more varied, too. They draw, build with blocks, open drawers and containers, and open books. These are more complex actions and the concentration they require is a huge part of their development.
It’s a great idea to promote fine motor skills through sensory play with things like play dough, sand, and finger paint. Pretend tools, Legos and instruments like drums, guitars and pianos are fun exploration toys for kids this age.
By age two, kids are starting to show a hand preference when they draw or eat.
Promoting fine motor skills at 3 years and older
Three-year-olds can accomplish fairly involved tasks, both in play and their regular daily life skills. They are learning to wash hands, brush teeth, and may even be fairly independent bathers. Dressing is a great opportunity to practice for fine motor skills – buttons, zippers and snaps all require nuanced motions. And they all need to be in learned before kindergarten.
After all, these aren’t reflexes – like to grasp.
These complex and compound movements aren’t just going to appear when the child reaches a certain age. They have to be taught. Parents need to approach the process with patience and kindness, whether it’s with bunny ears and rabbit holes or some radically new, unconventional method.