During infancy, babies use fine motor skills to discover their bodies and learn about their immediate surroundings. Because babies are already fascinated with the newness of their environment, they respond readily to structured guidance from parents and caregivers. It is never too early to support natural development of even the smallest movement of the extremities.
General Milestones in Fine Motor Skills
Although you should not get too preoccupied with “deadlines,” there are general milestones that you should watch for in your child’s fine motor development. Some important milestones include the following:
- 3 months – Holding small object in hand (without thumb tucked in hand)
- 5 months – Reaching for toy; briefly holding the toy
- 6 months – When interested in an object, follows it with eyes (in all directions); can hold hands together and shake an object with both hands
- 7 months – Can transfer an object from one hand to the other; demonstrates hand-eye coordination
- 8 months – Can keep hands open and relaxed most of the time (rather than tight and clenched); begins to pick up age-appropriate finger foods (such as Cheerios)
- 9 months – Squeezes objects; uses index finger to touch things; can clap hands and bang items together (such as baby cymbals)
- 10 months – Can let go of an object voluntarily or hand an object to a parent when asked
In addition to staying mindful of milestones, there are also planned activities that help children strengthen and hone these skills. If you need inspiration, consider some of the following most-recommended activities.
Top Ways to Help Your Baby Develop Fine Motor Skills
Create an Open-Ended Play Space
A fluffy blanket or contrast mat, floor mirror, and a few infant toys are all you need to create a wonderful play space for infants. Since babies love grasping different textures, you might try incorporating everything from stuffed animals to stacking toys for range. Choosing a surface like a lambskin rug (which keeps babies warm in the winter and cool in the summertime) can help keep the little one comfortable enough to stay occupied with exploration. The mirrors add excitement as babies watch their own discoveries, and you can use the same mirrors to help an infant through tummy time (when working on corresponding gross motor skills).
Bring on the Hand-Held Toys
Parents rightfully child-proof their homes to keep letting ones from grabbing inappropriate items. However, there are plenty of ways to use this grabbing impulse to hone fine-motor skills. Rings, blocks, and rattles help babies practice grasping objects and letting them go. As infants become more comfortable with a favorite item, they also begin to practice holding it in both hands and switching the item from one hand to another. Introducing novel toys also encourages children to turn the items with their fingers to figure out their new find.
Make the Most of Music
Infants are often curious about objects that make noise. Keeping a pair of baby cymbals handy can help babies practice bringing their hands together and other forms of coordination. A small baby drum also encourages babies to use their hands (either with a flat palm or with poised fingers using a baby drumstick). Pleasant-sounding rattles, pretend ring-of-keys, and other noisemakers are also great for getting infants busy with their hands.
Encourage a Love of Reading
Infancy is a great time to introduce books since many publishers deliberately emphasize texture for this age group. You can find large cushion books that babies can practice holding or large board books with tabs that babies can grab and turn. Some examples include books like My First Touch or Feel Picture Cards
Practice with Pincer Activities
You can help babies work on the pincer grasp with age-appropriate finger foods (such as teething crackers) or pickup toys (such as giant felt puzzles). Games like giant felt toys with Velcro attachments encourage babies to use the palmar grasp and raking grasp before developing a full pincer grasp.
Stack and Tumble for Fun
Children often love knocking items down for the tumbling sound and to see the cause-and-effect of gravity. Instead of becoming frustrated with this impulse, why not use it as a learning activity? Provide your baby with a stack of nesting bowls or transparent plastic cups. Your baby can then use fine motor skills to stack the toys and then knock the giant tower down again.
If you suspect delays in your infant’s fine motor skills development or simply need more guidance and ideas, contact The Warren Center.