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Fine Motor Skills Examples and Fine Motor Development by Age

Jan 03rd, 2023 | by Audrey Dwinnel, OTD, OTR/L

Audrey Dwinnel, OTD, OTR/L

January 03rd, 2023

Motor Skill Development 

Motor skills develop in what is called the developmental sequence, which moves from head to toe. This essentially means that skills appear as they build upon each other starting with head and trunk control, working down to shoulders, elbows, wrists, and fingers, as well as hips, legs, feet, and toes. You have likely heard of the terms ‘milestones’ or ‘inch stones’ which are the skills that are achieved as a child develops.

What are Fine Motor Skills?  

If your child attends occupational therapy, you will likely hear their therapist talk about fine motor skills. Fine motor skills are the coordinating of the smaller muscles of the body, most frequently in the hand, wrist, and fingers. This also includes the coordination of the eyes and what you have probably heard as “eye-hand coordination.” Fine motor skills are used for things like coloring, drawing, writing, grasping, and dressing.

Fine Motor vs. Gross Motor

Gross motor skills are the larger, more stabilising skills such as balance and locomotion including things like sitting, crawling, creeping, and walking. Children typically grow from their torso or core, out. Because of this, children also develop gross motor skills before fine motor skills. We need the basis of gross motor skills and strength before we can strengthen the smaller muscles. Therapists will often say “proximal stability leads to distal mobility.” Proximal means closer to the body, like your shoulders and hips, where distal means farther from the body, like your wrists and ankles. So, without stability and strength in your bigger muscles, it is much harder to achieve mobility in your smaller muscles. This is why you will often see therapists focusing on gross motor movements before fine motor movements.

Importance of Fine Motor Skills

Fine motor skills are used throughout everyday life in ways adults typically don’t even realise! Fine motor skills are needed for things like self-feeding, dressing and undressing, grooming/bathing, toothbrushing, writing, and even texting. For a child, fine motor skills are important for completing school work such as drawing, coloring, and writing their name. They are also important for independence with self-care.

Fine Motor Skills Examples:

Typically, fine motor development milestones for infants and toddlers are as follows:

0-3 months:  

  • Brings hands to mouth
  • Moves arms against gravity
  • Might try to swing arms at toys
  • Hands begin to open more

3-6 months: 

  • Holds small object (without thumb tucked)
  • Holds hands together
  • Reaches for items with both hands
  • Pushes up on arms during tummy time
    Briefly sustains grasp on a toy (ex. rattle)
  • Follows objects with eyes

6-9 months:  

  • Shakes and bangs rattles
  • Brings toys to mouth
  • Uses a raking grasp (all fingers rather than just 2-3)
  • Transfers objects from one hand to the other
  • Keeps hands open and relaxed
  • Starting to try to pick up small items like Cheerios

9-12 months:  

  • Able to release an object
  • Hands toy to caregiver
  • Bangs items together
  • Turns pages of book (one at a time if cardboard, 2-3 together if paper)
  • Begins to put items into a container
  • Points
  • Stacks 2 blocks
  • Uses a pincer grasp (index finger and thumb)

12-18 months:  

  • Claps
  • Puts things into containers
  • Waves
  • Uses both hands to play
  • Can isolate index finger
  • Beginning to use spoon and cup

1.5 – 2 years: 

  • Utilises palmar supinate grasp (hand fisted) on writing tools
  • Scribbles
  • Can manipulate items to move from fingers to palm
  • Scoops with a spoon
  • Stacks 3-4 blocks
  • Puts rings on ring stacker
  • Begins to hold crayon with fingertips and thumb

Fine Motor Skills for 2, 3, 4, and 5-year-olds Develop as Follows:

Fine Motor Skills for 2 Year Olds:

2-3 years:

In addition to the skills listed above, fine motor skills for 2 year olds include:

  • Holds crayon with fingers
  • Snips with scissors
  • Able to imitate vertical and horizontal strokes, and scribble in circular pattern
  • Strings beads

Fine Motor Skills for 3 Year Olds:

3-4 years:  

Examples of fine motor skills for 3-4 year olds include:

  • Stacks up to 9 blocks
  • Copies a circle
  • Imitates a cross
  • Manipulates Playdoh
  • Uses non-dominant hand to stabilise

Fine Motor Skills for 4 Year Olds:

4-5 years:  

Fine motor skills for 4 year olds include:

  • Cuts on a line
  • Copies square and cross
  • Writes names (Upper case letters)
  • Copies letters
  • Handedness established

Activities to Promote Fine Motor Skill Development:

0-6 months:  

  • Lots of tummy time (strengthens head, neck, shoulders, wrists, hands)
  • Visual stimulation – hang mobiles/toys for them to explore visually and hit when they are ready
  • Offer a variety of touch experiences – children tend to explore with their hands and mouths, offer lots of different textures for them to begin to explore

3-6 months:  

  • Offer toys when they are on your lap – allow them to hold with both hands
  • Introduce self-feeding and messy play opportunities
  • Use suction toys when seated in a highchair

6-9 months:  

  • Basic shape sorters
  • Tape things down on their highchair and have them “rescue” the items by pulling the tape
  • Wood, form board puzzles – start with basic shapes and work towards more complex shapes
  • Put in/Take out activities – dropping and releasing items into a container, get creative and use items around your house!

9-12 months:  

  • Allow them to help turn pages and/or lift flaps in books
  • Place pom poms or cotton balls into a whisk, have your child help to get them out
  • Practice waving hi and bye to friends and family
  • Finger painting! (At this age, make sure it is edible to be safe as children like to explore new textures with their mouths)
  • Have them practice using utensils – it may be too difficult for them to spear with a fork or scoop with a spoon, so you can load the utensils and have them practice bringing it to their mouth independently
  • Stacking cups – this is a good prerequisite to stacking blocks as it requires less control and dexterity
  • Opening and closing – this can be simple pop-up toys or even drawers and doors!
  • Popping bubbles!

1.5-2 years:  

  • Edible Playdough (here’s some recipe options!)
  • Painting (outside is less messy)
  • Sponge activities – practice squeezing the sponge with hands or feet!
  • Water pouring into different size containers
  • Pulling scarves out of boxes
  • Pinching – place small items like pom poms into ice trays and have them practice taking them out with their “pincher fingers” (index and thumb)
  • “Poke-It” books – practice index finger isolation

3 years:  

  • Coloring/scribbling with different tools such as crayons, markers, chalk
  • Building with blocks or Legos
  • Stacking items
  • Snipping with scissors
  • Putting together simple puzzles
  • Playing simple board games
  • Stringing large beads

4-5 years:  

  • Q-tip painting – practice pencil grasp
  • Squeeze painting – fill some squeeze bottles or use pipettes and watered-down paint
  • Use clothespins to pick up cotton balls and paint using the cotton balls
  • Play with pipe cleaners to make sculptures
  • Use Playdoh to make the letters of their name
  • Sort items by color using tongs or tweezers

Find Additional Resources and Activities in the NAPA Blog:

About the Author

Audrey is an occupational therapist at NAPA Center Denver. She is a Colorado native but spent 6 years in Texas before coming back home. She was a competitive gymnast and cheerleader growing up and in her free time she enjoys playing with her pup, Ellis!

TAGS: Blogs, OT
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