Understanding Fine Motor Skills

FIne motor skills are an integral part of your baby’s development. Put simply; fine motor skills are a person’s ability to use their fingers and hands with dexterity. Fine motor skills are learned through practice, like other physical skills such as rolling over, sitting up and walking.

As a new parent, you are probably wondering how fine motor skills develop, when the different levels of skill occur, and how you can support your baby in the process of refining this essential skill.

This article has everything you need to know about your baby and the process and order in which they develop their fine motor skills, what you can do to help, and if and when to be concerned. So, read on to discover all infant fine motor development ins and outs.

What are Fine Motor Skills?

Fine motor skills are movements that use the small mussels of the hands and the fingers. For example, fine motor skills are writing or drawing, dressing oneself, and using utensils. Additional fine motor skills include picking up small objects, transferring items from one hand to another, turning the pages of a book, using scissors, and turning knobs. 

How and When do Fine Motor Skills Develop?

During the first several months of your baby’s life, their movements will be primarily the function of reflexes. For example, if you place something in your baby’s palm, they will automatically close their hand around the object; this reflex is known as the palmar grasp. Your baby will outgrow the palmar reflex around three or four months. 

Fine Motor Milestones the First Year

  • 3 Months – The palmar grasp may still be in effect, but your baby may be able to grasp objects like a rattle or other similar toys.
  • 4 Months – Your baby will begin reaching for objects and grasp onto objects placed into their palm. Your baby will be able to follow objects with their eyes.
  • 5-6 Months – Your baby should be able to push up on their arms while on their tummy, hold onto large objects like a ball, and may be able to pick up small objects like puffed cereal or a Cheerio using a raking grasp.
  • 6-9 Months – Your baby will bring toys to their mouth and will begin passing objects from one hand to the other. They may begin using their thumb and forefinger to pick up smaller objects in a pincer grasp. Your little one may begin waving “Bye-bye” or playing games like pat-a-cake.
  • 9-12 Months  – The pincer grasp will continue to develop, and your baby should be able to pick up small objects using their thumb and forefinger. They should be able to grasp, hold, and pass objects. Your baby should also be able to clap, wave, and reach. By one year, your baby should be able to bang two objects together, hand an object to you when asked, point to objects, and put items into a container.

Ways to Promote Fine Motor Development

The more objects your child has the opportunity to play with and touch, the more adept they will become at using their fingers and hands. So make sure to provide a variety of toys with different textures materials. And shapes. Keep in mind anything your child plays with needs to be safe and should not present a choking hazard. 

Toy suggestions for babies 6 months and older:

  • Sensory Balls
  • Stacking toys
  • Soft blocks
  • Pull and push toys
  • Activity tables
  • Toddler safe instruments
  • Plastic or wooden kitchen utensils
  • Stuffed animals and dolls with no small parts

Foods to offer:

  • Puffed baby cereal
  • Cheerios
  • Diced soft fruit
  • Purees and yogurt with their own spoon 

Another way to help your baby develop their fine motor skills is to provide them plenty of room to move and explore. Place toys just out of reach to engage your baby and promote their desire to reach and grab. 

Challenge your baby with tasks that are just slightly too hard for them. Challenging your baby and allowing them to fail promotes their cognitive development and problem-solving skills. 

Once your baby is old enough, you can provide them with thick markers, crayons, and fingerpaints. Edible playdough, sensory bottles, sand, and water play are other safe ways to engage your baby in sensory play and promote fine motor development. 

Signs of Fine Motor Delay

All babies develop at their own pace; therefore, some milestones will occur slightly before and slightly after their peers. However, there are a few instances that could warrant a developmental delay.

  • Your baby favors one side of their body or only uses one hand to feed themselves.
  • Your baby has trouble transferring objects from one hand to the other. 
  • Your baby has difficulty grasping objects or holding onto objects
  • Your baby has poor hand-eye coordination

If you notice any of the above behaviors or regression of behavior, they stop performing a skill they already accomplished; you should speak with your pediatrician or an early childhood expert. 

Fine motor skills are an essential part of your baby’s development and skills they will need for the rest of their lives. While you cannot force fine motor development to happen, you can undoubtedly foster and support their growth. Each new skill sets your baby up for the next one, and it is exciting to watch them grow and learn. Support your baby’s fine motor development by offering plenty of hands-on learning opportunities in a fun, playful, and supportive way.

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