Get Those Little Fingers Moving: Fine Motor Skills & Activities for Toddlers

Mar 22, 2023 | 4 Minutes Read

Developing fine motor skills is an essential part of your child's journey. Every baby and toddler develop fine motor skills at their own pace. Some children may develop earlier than others, while some develop later. You may have an over-achiever if all of these skills seem to come at once!

Your child will be building on these skills as they enter preschool and early elementary school. Here’s what you need to know in supporting your toddler’s fine motor skills development.

Toddler Fine Motor SkillsToddler Fine Motor Skills

What Are Fine Motor Skills?

Fine motor skills involve the development of the small muscle groups in your child's hand, wrist, and fingers. With more control over their hands and fingers, you child will be ready to learn and do tasks like:

  • Writing
  • Getting dressed—so many buttons!
  • Brushing their teeth
  • Eating

Two Popular Fine Motor Terms: Palmar Grasp & Pincer Grasp

Two popular terms parents need to learn when discussing fine motor skills are palmar grasp, also called fist grip, and pincer grasp, or you may hear it called pincer grip. A palmar grasp is when your child uses their whole hand and wraps it around an object. A pincer grasp is when your child uses their thumb and two or more fingers to pick up an object.


Most children fumble with the hands and fingers at first, but then seem to literally grasp the hand of coordinating their fingers and hands. Fine motor skills benefit your little one’s activities as follows:


  • Wrist stability lets your tike wave things around, moving the wrist in all directions
  • Using toddler scissors develops hand strength and eye-hand coordination
  • The ability to curl your fingers inward and manipulate things such as buttons pens, or pencils is called the palmar grasp
  • The pincer grasp includes picking up and manipulating items with the thumb and index finger
  • Using both sides of the body at the same time is called “bilateral coordination”
  • Grasping and releasing a ball builds up hand strength for fine motor activities

Progress on Fine Motor Development Milestones

Here’s when specific fine motor skills typically develop in babies and toddlers:

0 to 3 months

  • Putting their hands in their mouth
  • Clenching and relaxing their hands

3 to 6 months

  • Moving toys between both hands
  • Holding both hands together
  • Hold and shake a toy with both hands

6 to 9 months

  • Clasps hands
  • Touching fingers together
  • Using their  index finger to touch things
  • Squeezing items with their hands
  • Grasping things by “raking” them with their hand

9 to 12 months

  • Self-feed finger foods
  • Bangs items together
  • Holds a toy with one hand
  • Grabs objects with thumb and index finger

12 months to 2 years

  • Uses blocks to build a tower
  • Eats with a spoon
  • Scribbles on paper
  • Holds crayon with fingertips and thumb
  • Turns one page of a book at a time

2 to 3 years

  • Washes hands
  • Zips and unzips clothing
  • Uses a fork and spoon correctly
  • Places lids and remove lids from containers

3 to 4 years

  • Traces shapes on paper
  • Uses scissors to cut paper
  • Buttons and unbuttons clothing

4 to 5 years

  • Wipe themselves after going to the bathroom
  • Write their first name
  • Dress themselves

5 to 6 years

  • Wash themselves independently
  • Write their first and last name

6 Years and Older

  • Ties their shoes
  • Write short sentences

Fine Motor Activities for Toddlers

Fine motor skills occur naturally as your child gains the ability to coordinate and control their body. Each child may vary slightly in their timeline for developing fine motor skills.

Be creative implementing fun and engaging activities into your child’s daily routine to help support the development of their fine motor skills. Learning and practicing these skills early may benefit your child academically, socially, and personally as they grow. Here are some activities you can complete with your child to support the development of their fine motor skills:

  • Finger paint together
  • Assemble a puzzle as a family
  • Play games that use dice, cards or objects
  • Help prep meals by mixing and stirring ingredients
  • Pour their own drink
  • Set the lunch or dinner table
  • Pop bubbles on bubble wrap 
  • Build with LEGO® or building blocks
As you focus on your child’s smaller muscle groups, you will see them develop muscle memory right before your eyes!

When to Get Help with Fine Motor Skills

Fine motor skills develop at different ages and stages in children. There is no “one size fits all.” However, please follow up with your child's healthcare provider if they struggle with fine motor skills.

Sometimes delays may be a sign of developmental coordination disorders. Early detection is best to support your child's growth and to develop their skills. Signs of a problem with fine motor skills may include the following:

  • Inability to tie shoes
  • Trouble with writing, coloring, or using scissors
  • Dropping items
  • Challenges with holding a fork, spoon, or toothbrush

Your child’s healthcare provider may diagnose a coordination disorder is present if the following occurs:

  • Poor motor skills that make it hard to complete a task at home or school
  • Fine motor skills that are below what is expected for their age
  • Developmental delays in motor skills that occurred at an early age

Your healthcare provider may recommend that an occupational therapist work closely with your child to improve the coordination of smaller muscle groups.

Understanding fine motor skills your child should develop over time allows you to best support them with this stage in life. Although there are specific timelines for various fine motor skills, it is important to note every child develops at their own pace.

However, if there are any areas of concern, please be sure to reach out to your child's healthcare provider for evaluation. Early intervention best supports your child's growth and development in this area. Engaging with your child with fine motor skill activities will help them along this journey and serves as an excellent opportunity to interact with and support them. 

By Shawana S. Moore, DNP, APRN, WHNP-BC

Shawana S. Moore, DNP, APRN, WHNP-BC, is a women’s health nurse practitioner. She serves as an Associate Professor and the Director of the Doctor of Nursing Practice Program at Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing, Emory University. She is passionate about equitable, respectful, and inclusive maternal-child care. The information of this article has been prepared by nursing experts of the Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric, & Neonatal Nurses (AWHONN). The content should not substitute medical advice from your personal healthcare provider. Please consult your healthcare provider for recommendations/diagnosis or treatment. For more advice from AWHONN nurses, visit Healthy Mom&Baby at


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