skip to main content

Fine Motor Skills Development

Fine motor skills are the precise movements of the small muscles in the hands, fingers and toes in coordination with the eyes and related to the nervous system. These complex levels of manual dexterity aid in the growth of intelligence and develop continuously throughout a lifetime. They are different from gross motor skills, like running and jumping, which use larger muscles.

A child needs fine motor skills for daily, self-care activities—like getting dressed, eating and writing (see more examples)—requiring practice as the child develops. Such activities can increase muscle strength and coordination, prepare children for more advanced skills, from writing with a pencil, using a computer mouse, or playing a musical instrument. 

Examples of fine motor skills

For self-care activities

Common tasks: dialing phone, turning doorknobs, opening locks, putting plug in socket

Dressing: buttoning, zipping, snapping, fastening, tying shoelaces, using Velcro

Grooming: brushing teeth, flossing, bathing or showering, using the toilet

Eating: holding fork or spoon, cutting food with a knife, pouring juice in a cup, picking up small foods like raisins, opening lunch boxes and zip-top bags

Helping in the kitchen: mixing, shaking, chopping, spreading, peeling, opening containers, setting the table, serving food, wiping table with sponge

For school

    • Holding and turning pages of a book
    • Writing, tracing
    • Measuring with a ruler or protractor 
    • Typing, using computer mousepad
    • Playing musical instruments

For play

    • Making artwork: cutting with scissors, fingerpainting, using paintbrush, pasting, gluing, playing with playdough, sculpting clay, drawing, stringing beads
    • Playing with toys: shaking a rattle, placing pegs in a board, working puzzles, playing board games (rolling dice, moving small pieces, spinning spinners), stacking blocks, building with Legos, dressing dolls, playing with puppets, putting trains on tracks, playing video games (using controller)

Fine Motor Skills Developmental Milestones

Fine motor skills milestones are those that children generally develop by certain ages, some earlier or later than others. Most children develop these at their own rate. However, many children struggle with these skills due to neurological or physical differences. If the child does not seem to reach many of the milestones for his or her age group, a doctor can help a parent decide whether an evaluation with a neurological or OT specialist is needed. 

3 months. Can probably bring hands to mouth, can unclench hands, may try to reach for dangling toys and swing arm in direction of a toy 

6 months. Can clasp hands together, reach for things with both arms at the same time, may be able to hold small objects for a short time

9 monthsCan bring objects to mouth, pass things from one hand to the other, start using a pincer grasp with thumb and index finger to pick up small items

12 months. Can let go of things on purpose, hand an item to another if asked for it, bang two toys together, take items in and out of a container, point at objects

18 months. Can clap, wave goodbye, scribble with a crayon without help, drink from a cup, eat with a spoon

2 years. Can point to pictures in books, turn pages, stack blocks in a tower


The OT clinician can help children strengthen fine motor muscles and coordination toward developing independence in their daily lives and succeeding personally, socially, artistically and academically. 

Children with fine motor delays get assistance in developing strength and dexterity to use their hands to reach, grasp and release, along with related perceptual and sensory processing skills. For the very young, this might include learning how to grasp small objects, press buttons or point to pictures. The parents and other family members, teachers and caregivers can be given instruction to continue the child’s skill building at home, at school or at play. 

These are some of the benefits of building fine motor skills at a young age:

Learning to use tools: As children learn to use tools like pencils or scissors or to manipulate small items like buttons or zippers, they can handle more tasks on their own.

Improving hand-eye coordination: The ability to coordinate hand and eye movements is instrumental to performing basic acts, from catching a ball to playing games to writing.

Promoting independence and confidence: Growing proficient and independent in completing increasingly complex fine motor tasks reduces frustration and boosts confidence 

Augmenting cognitive development: Research shows a link between fine motor control and cognitive development, with a probable path toward academic achievement.

Learn more about Occupational Therapy at CFI…


Stay in Touch