Many pediatricians believe that the toddler years are among the most crucial for fine motor skills development. Since toddlers are often eager to leave the crib or play pen and explore their world, this is a great age to find your children willing to try fine-motor activities. In addition to using fine motor skills for fun and games, toddlers also need these abilities for essential tasks like brushing their teeth and learning to get dressed.
General Milestones in Fine Motor Skills
By the time a child reaches the toddler years, there are important milestones you should look for in development. If you believe your child may have trouble with some of these skills, a pediatrician or specialist will be able to help determine if there is a developmental delay that causes fine motor skills to fall below what is expected for your child’s age.
Milestones to look for in toddlers include the following:
- Child enjoys turning pages in cardboard books (one page at a time)
- Puts objects and toys into containers
- Consistently uses both hands to play
- Points at interesting objects with index finger
- Can easily isolate index finger with all other fingers closed
- Stacks blocks to build a tower
- Scribbles on paper using pens or crayons; begins to hold writing utensil with forefinger and thumb (pincer grasp)
- Eats with a spoon
- Turns doorknob
- Learns to wash hands
- Places and removes lids from large containers
- Learns to zip and unzip clothes
Top Ways to Help Your Toddler Develop Fine Motor Skills
If you see that your child has noticeable delays, contact your pediatrician for an evaluation. Your child may need to work with a coordination specialist or occupational therapist to improve fine motor skills.
Fortunately, there are also excellent ways to help develop your toddler’s fine motor skills at home.
Play with Playdoh
Playdoh encourages children to work the small muscles in their hands. Another sensory benefit is that children can use Playdoh to grow accustomed to different textures. The product lasts for months before expiring, and the variety of colors and shape possibilities are great for your toddler’s boundless imagination.
Play with Pom Poms
Shake, rattle, and roll! Pom poms help children practice grasp, coordination, and movement. Children need their fingers to hold on to pom poms and coordination of both hands to perform cheers correctly. The shaking and colors can also signal the reward centers of the brain. Finally, you can use the pom poms to teach children empathy and positive reinforcement by cheering on themselves and others. Who doesn’t love praise for a job well-done?
Practice with Buttons
Keep a shirt with larger buttons or purchase a fine-motor skills kit for button practice. Buttons help children practice flexibility, finger strength, and hand-eye coordination. This skill is also important for self-care as children begin to get ready for school.
Enjoy Rainbow Threading
Using colorful uncooked pasta and thick (unused) shoestrings, help your child make giant rainbow necklaces and bracelets. This activity helps children express their creativity while strengthening coordination of fingers and wrists.
Designate a Drop Jar
Very young toddlers love to see and hear items scatter and drop. Consider designating a large, transparent container as the “drop jar.” Supervise your child in practicing using the pincer grasp by dropping items into this jar.
DIY Zipper Board
Using guides on sites like Pinterest, you can create a DIY zipper board. This allows toddlers to use large, child-safe zippers to practice finger strength and the pincer grasp. Similarly, you can create a Twist-Off Board (using items like applesauce lids) to help toddlers practice screwing and unscrewing containers. This can help children build hand control and wrist coordination for everyday activities.
Pin the Tail on the Bunny
This classic matching game actually helps build pinching skills. Use felt-cloth designs with Velcro on the back to help toddlers pin the correct color tail on a matching bunny.
Pick Up Sticks
As another tried-and-true favorite, pick up sticks helps develop all fine-motor skills. Have your child use chopstick or other colorful sticks to pick up toys (like bottlecaps) using both hands.
Although it can at times be messy, finger painting is an easy way for children to flex their digits. Minimize the mess by rolling out large sheets of newspaper before setting out paint trays. After dressing your child in an old shirt or suitable smock, encourage your child to dip each finger in a different paint color. After that, let imaginations run freely!
Spring Flower Tray
Bring out a large collection of carefully pruned flowers (of different varieties, sizes, and colors). Have your child pick up different flowers individually to practice pincher and grasp skills. Then allow your child to create their own flower arrangement for display in your home.
For more tips and ideas or to connect your child with an occupational therapist, contact The Warren Center.