The term “fine motor skills” refers to movements your child makes using the small muscles in her hands and forearms. When she picks up a pea and throws it on the floor, she’s showing off her fine motor skills.
If you’ve been concerned about your child’s dexterity, you may have come across words like dysgraphia or dyspraxia. These are conditions that can affect fine motor skills. But having trouble with skills doesn’t necessarily mean your child has one of these conditions. The more you understand these skills, the more you can help.
Why Fine Motor Skills Are Important
Fine motor skills let kids perform crucial tasks like reaching and grasping, moving objects and using tools like crayons, pencils and scissors. As kids get better at using their hands, their hand-eye coordination improves. They also learn skills they need to succeed in school, such as drawing and writing.
Developing these abilities helps kids become more independent and understand how their bodies work. And as they learn how to have an impact on the world around them, their self-esteem may grow, too.
How Fine Motor Skills Develop
Kids build fine motor skills over time. At birth, babies have very little control over their arms and hands. But at around 8 weeks, they may start to bat at toys, using their hand and arm as a single unit.
By 5 months, babies are exploring the world through touch. They may grasp at a toy with their whole hand. But by 10 to 12 months, they typically can grip it between the thumb and index finger. Soon after, they may try manipulating things they pick up—by dropping, banging or shaking them.
Between ages 1 and 2, toddlers become increasingly skillful at using their hands. They can move their fingers independently, stack rings, turn the pages of a board book and scribble. By the time kids start preschool, they’re typically able to stack five or six blocks. And in the preschool years, many kids learn how to use scissors, button clothes and zip a zipper.
Knowing these fine motor milestones and when kids usually achieve them can help you track your child’s progress. Remember that the age at which skills are met isn’t the only thing to keep an eye on; the order in which skills are achieved is also important.
Improving Fine Motor Skills
Kids with issues like dysgraphia or dyspraxia may have trouble doing things like stacking blocks, even when most of their peers can. These issues often aren’t diagnosed until they start school and teachers see they’re struggling.
But kids who don’t have dysgraphia or dyspraxia may have some trouble with fine motor skills, too. If you’re concerned about your child’s development, it’s a good idea to reach out to your child’s health-care provider. He can evaluate her and recommend next steps if they’re needed.
There are also many fun activities you can do at home to help your child build her abilities. And specialists like occupational therapists can work with her to help her improve the skills she needs.