Home icon


Children demonstrate the ability to coordinate their small muscles in order to move and control objects.

Fine motor refers to the movement and coordination of small muscles, such as those in the hands, wrists, fingers, toes, and feet.1

Young  children begin to develop their fine motor skills during the first year. They bring their fingers and toes to their mouths, grasp objects, and, eventually, learn to twist and turn objects. Around 10 to 12 months of age, children transition from using a raking motion with their fingers to using their thumb and forefinger grasp when picking up small objects. Their hand-eye coordination improves and children start to manipulate small objects, exploring all the ways objects can be combined or changed.2

Children’s everyday activities help support the development of their fine motor skills. These skills include feeding, reading books, and playing with a variety of different objects. With improving skills, children change the way they explore their surroundings. They begin to push a toy car, instead of just holding and moving it around their hands. They may also pick up objects and place them inside containers. They begin to stack blocks, instead of just knocking them down.

Children are not only improving their fine motor skills, but are also improving their physical coordination. They begin to turn pages of a book and scribble. Close to 36 months of age, children may be able to hold a writing utensil in writing position, and can screw and unscrew objects, such as lids.3

Evolving Hand Movements

In the first year of life, children work on holding objects in a controlled manner. In the first two months of age, children’s hand movements are reflexive. At three months of age, these reflexes begin to fade as children bat at objects and soon will be able to pick up large objects. Between four and eight months, children are perfecting their grasp. They are able to intentionally pick up objects and bring them to their mouths in order to explore. Children start to manipulate objects while holding them in one hand. Around nine months of age children start to pick up small objects with their thumb and forefinger. This movement is known as the pincer grasp. As they perfect this skill, they will soon be able to pick up very small objects. The pincer grasp is important for self-feeding and also is the precursor skill to holding feeding and writing utensils.

Birth to 9 months

Children begin to reach for, grasp, and move objects.

Indicators for children include:

  • Opens hands when in a relaxed state
  • Reaches for objects
  • Grasps, holds, and shakes objects
  • Transfers an object from one hand to the other
  • Uses raking motion with hands to bring objects closer, e.g., uses all fingers to bring small objects closer to body
  • Holds a small object in each hand; bangs them together

Strategies for interaction

  • Strategically place objects around the child where he or she will have to reach for them
  • Provide opportunities for the child to grasp toys and other small objects
  • Model different ways of how to use objects, e.g., bang two objects together, shake a sensory ball, stack blocks

7 months to 18 months

Children begin to gain control of their small muscles and purposefully manipulate objects.

Indicators for children include:

  • Picks up objects
  • Uses pincer grasp, e.g., picks up a Cheerio with thumb and forefinger
  • Begins to use simple baby signs (if exposed to baby sign language), e.g., moves hands toward each other to signal more
  • Uses hands in a purposeful manner, e.g., turns the pages of a board book, drops objects into a bucket
  • Coordinates increasingly complex hand movements to manipulate objects, e.g., crumples paper, connects and disconnects toy links, flips light switch on and off
  • Participates in finger plays, e.g., moves hands to imitate caregiver’s hands when singing “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star”

Strategies for interaction

  • Provide art materials, e.g., crayons and paper, for the child to scribble on
  • Allow the child to explore books on his or her own
  • Provide the child with finger foods they can grasp and bring to mouth, e.g., dry cereal
  • Encourage the child to participate in finger plays, e.g., “Itsy, Bitsy Spider”
  • Provide different materials for child to explore, e.g., books and toys with different textures, cloth toys, water play

16 months to 24 months

Children begin to coordinate their movements when using their small muscles and begin to manipulate various types of objects.

Indicators for children include:

  • Attempts to fold various types of materials, e.g., paper, baby blanket
  • Uses baby sign to communicate various concepts, e.g., “all done,” “more,” “water”
  • Uses simple tools, e.g., scooper to scoop sand or water, crayon for scribbling
  • Begins to imitate lines and circles when drawing
  • Controls placement of objects in a more effective manner, e.g., stacks blocks in a more orderly fashion

Strategies for interaction

  • Provide the child opportunities to scribble with crayons, or use chalk on sidewalk
  • Encourage the child to experiment with tearing paper, popping bubbles (bubble wrap), and completing puzzles
  • Use sensory experiences for children to engage in, e.g., water table with objects to pour, move, and squeeze water; play dough

21 months to 36 months

Children effectively coordinate their small muscles to manipulate a wide array of objects, toys, and materials in different ways.

Indicators for children include:

  • Begins to use more complicated hand movements, e.g., uses eating utensils independently, stacks blocks
  • Attempts to help with dressing self, e.g., snaps buttons, pulls zipper, puts socks and shoes on
  • Scribbles with intent and begins to draw circles and lines on own
  • Uses hand-eye coordination in a more controlled manner, e.g., completes puzzles, strings beads together

Strategies for interaction

  • Model how to use writing and feeding utensils through everyday activities
  • Provide experiences and objects that promote fine motor development, e.g., stringing manipulatives, play dough, using plastic tweezers to pick up objects, and peg boards
  • Allow the child to help in dressing him- or herself; be patient and provide guidance as needed to limit frustration
  • Introduce more complex puzzles for the child to attempt, e.g., puzzles with more pieces


  1. Shelov, S.P. & Altman, T.R. (2009). Caring For Your Baby and Young Child, Birth to Age Five. American Academy of Pediatrics. Bantam Books.
  2. Shelov, S.P. & Altman, T.R. (2009). Caring For Your Baby and Young Child, Birth to Age Five. American Academy of Pediatrics. Bantam Books.
  3. Shelov, S.P. & Altman, T.R. (2009). Caring For Your Baby and Young Child, Birth to Age Five. American Academy of Pediatrics. Bantam Books.

View more…

About this resource

Age Levels (the age of the children to whom the article applies):
Reviewed: 2012