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Developing Baby's Fine Motor Skills

Katlyn Joy |19, November 2008


Developing Baby's Fine Motor Skills

Fine motor skills are those movements involving fingers, hands and wrists, and helping babies learn to hone those skills can be both simple and lots of fun for baby and parent. Some examples of the skills are things like grasping and letting go, turning objects in hand, stacking, threading, drawing with crayons, snapping, buttoning, zipping, cutting and tying.

A natural area for building fine motor skills is at the highchair. Giving little ones, usually around nine to ten months, finger foods like O-shaped cereals, or other similar food is a great way for babies to practice their beginning pincher grasp and to build new foods into their diet at the same time. The pincher grasp is when baby uses the thumb and index finger together to hold onto objects.

At bath time, let babies and toddlers play with various empty containers to pour and spill water. This encourages them to use those hands and explore the world around them. Be sure to use different sized containers, and perhaps some with holes for sprinkling. It is also a great use for those recycled yogurt and fruit containers you have got stacking up.

Then out of the tub, take some of those same containers and show baby how to stack them, or fill them with smaller objects and dump the contents into different ones. Don not impose any rules, just model some ideas and let baby go.

Sometimes you don not need any toys to play and develop fine motor skills. Ball up some aluminum foil and let baby bat it back and forth to you. Maybe let the baby drop it into a container, or toss it. Again, don't worry about structuring the play, just be sure to put the foil up when playtime is done, and always supervise.

Art can be helpful in building those fine motor skills, too. Let baby and toddlers enjoy writing with crayons. They won't particularly care about the end result, it is the process that they are enjoying. Just give them a safe place to doodle. In a high chair, you can give them dollops of pudding to play with, or some edible peanut butter playdough.

When dressing baby, don't rush all the time, but let baby help you by encouraging him or her to wriggle fingers free through sleeves or to aim arms into sleeves. Let baby pull off those socks, and go ahead and put them back on. It is a game that develops those fine motor skills and babies never seem to get enough of playing.

When baby is ready, find some heavy thread and beads large enough that they can not be choked on, and teach baby how to string them. Also, bigger wooden puzzles with knobs are great for chubby hands to develop new skills.

While reading books with your little one, encourage your child to do the page turning. This is another great skill builder. Soon you will realize how accurate baby is getting. Where once several pages would be skipped, now she or he is reliably turning single pages.

Blow bubbles outside and let baby try to catch them with their hands. Show them how to pop them with a clapping movement. Sidewalk chalk can be fun, too, as long as you make sure it does not become an afternoon snack.

Toys that can be stacked, pulled or pushed are always good skill builders. Look for things that baby can play with in a variety of ways to keep their attention and avoid stifling creative play.

Musical instruments that baby can shake, pounds or press will reward those fine motor movements with delightful sounds. You can buy them, or make your own by filling a container with beans or pebbles and securing the lid carefully with duct tape. Or just open the cabinet and let baby discover the joys of banging pot lids together.

Go to the library to expand your repertoire beyond bye-bye and pat-a-cake. Finger plays are great for both fine motor and language skills and there are plenty of books out there for parents to help them when they run out of ideas after "Five Little Monkeys."

Another great idea to combine fine motor and language skills is teaching your baby some basic sign language. While you're at the library looking for fingerplays, pick up a book on signing for babies and learn a few key words and phrases. Proponents say there is the added benefit of less frustration in communicating for your toddler, and maybe as a result fewer tantrums.

However you decide to work on these skills just remember to keep it fun for you both.

Curious about what developmental milestones to look for in baby and toddler regarding fine motor skills? Here is a list that outlines the main areas.

Fine Motor Skills Development Timeline
0-3 Months
  • Grasps rattle
  • Holds hand open or with loose fists
6 Months
  • Reaches for/ grasps objects
  • Plays with toes
  • Transfers toys from one hand to the other
  • Shakes rattle
9 Months
  • Plays pat-a-cake
  • Waves bye-bye
12 Months
  • Finger feeds self raisins, cereal
  • Pincher grasp develops
  • Puts blocks in and out of container
  • Bangs blocks together
18 Months
  • Pushes, pulls and dumps objects
  • Pulls off hat, gloves, socks, shoes
  • Turns pages of book
  • Scribbles with crayon
  • Stacks two blocks
2 Years
  • Feeds self with spoon
  • Helps wash hands/self in tub
  • Helps dress self by putting arms into sleeves
  • Opens boxes, drawers, and lids

Recommended Toys To Help Develop Fine Motor Skills

Fisher-Price Brilliant Basics Baby's First Blocks

LeapFrog Learn & Groove Musical Table

Lamaze Freddie the Firefly

Katlyn Joy is a freelance writer with a Master's of Arts in Creative Writing. She is mom to seven children, and lives in Denver, Colorado.

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gayle phipps Mar 1, 2010 05:07:50 PM ET

Great article!I am an infant nurse consultant and found the suggestions useful. One caution re: peanut butter playdough. Would suggest avoiding use of peanut butter with young children due to risk of allergic reaction.

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