Want to help your tot get a head start in meeting milestones? These are the 6 fine motor skills to start with! Most of us take for granted the skills we use every day. As I type this, the fact that I am able to make my fingers move exactly where I want them is a gift. For my daughter, simply using her fingers in a controlled manner takes a great deal of focus, and my fingers just fly over the keys like it’s nothing. It hardly seems fair!
Whether you have a typically-developing child or one with developmental delays, there is nothing to be lost by starting early with development of fine motor skills. While I am certainly not an Occupational Therapist (and if you have concerns that your child may have delays, I encourage you to speak with your pediatrician), I have spent the last 7 years learning from the incredible OTs who have supported my daughter. Give these skills a whirl and help your little one get started perfecting them!
Early Fine Motor Skills Your Toddler Needs to Know
1- The Pincer grasp. Put your index finger and your thumb together – there you go, that’s the pincer grasp. And whoa, buddy, can it be hard for a toddler to get those fingers to move together to pick up something. Start with finger food, and as you see your baby working to advance from the palm grasp, encourage the pincer by gently folding down the other three fingers. Once your toddler has started to get the hang of it, games like Connect 4 (the travel size version is great to make it harder) and the triangle peg board game are fantastic. Puzzles with small knobs are also great because it is impossible to get the piece out without using the pincer.
2- Using a spoon. Long before you think your toddler should be controlling his own fork or spoon, let him try. You may be surprised at how quickly he catches onto it! The action of stabbing the fork down into the food and holding the spoon so that the food doesn’t all fall off can be challenging, and the more practice you give your little one early on, the better off he’ll be. The Gerber ones were our favorite, as they were simple for chubby toddler hands to control.
3- Finger painting. Part of fine motor is also sensory input. Some toddlers don’t like to be messy, and others aren’t fond of the goopy feel of the paint. Give it a try to see how your toddler does. If she enjoys it, great! Finger painting can provide countless hours of fun. If she’s not such a fan, put some paint in a gallon-sized zipper top bag, tape it to the table, and let your little one smoosh it around. Her hands will stay clean, but you’ll also work to de-sensitize her to the strange sensation of the paint squishing under her fingers.
4- Holding a crayon. Toddlers start with a grasp with the thumb up to the ceiling and all four fingers wrapped around the writing implement. Let them color and write all they want. Sit with them, and encourage them to write a “line down,” “line across,” and “circle.” It will take some time for them to get the hang of it, but keep it up! Once they are getting pretty good holding the writing implement, begin working toward a grip with the crayon/pencil resting on the middle finger with the thumb and index finger controlling it.
5- Beading. The hand-eye coordination and alternating of hands to thread beads on a shoelace is not easy! It is a great skill to develop with your older toddler, however (make sure the beads are not too small so as to be a choking hazard). You can make your own version with large wooden beads and shoelaces, or buy one of the sets in the toy department.
6- Snipping. Snipping with scissors is also much harder than we realize. The scissoring motion of the fingers requires a great deal of control, not to mention the coordination needed to hold the paper steady with one hand while cutting with the other. Start with a piece of paper and just allow your little one to use safety scissors to snip lines. As she gets more adept at cutting, start drawing straight lines on the paper, and help her learn how to cut on the line. The more comfortable she gets, the more squiggly the line and advanced the shapes can become.
As you work on these skills, don’t forget to have fun! If either your child or you start to become agitated or overwhelmed, move on to a favorite activity. While working on fine motor development is important, you don’t want it to become a battle of wills. This is hard work, and as the skills emerge, your child will be a more willing participant. Good luck, and have fun!