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1.4.5: Fine Motor Skills

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    More exact movements of the feet, toes, hands, and fingers are referred to as fine motor skills (or small motor skills). These include the ability to reach and grasp an object in coordination with vision. Newborns cannot grasp objects voluntarily but do wave their arms toward objects of interest. At about 4 months of age, the infant is able to reach for an object, first with both arms and within a few weeks, with only one arm. Grasping an object involves the use of the fingers and palm, but no thumbs.

    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): An infant feeding themselves. (Image by Matt Preston is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)

    Use of the thumb comes at about 9 months of age when the infant is able to grasp an object using the forefinger and thumb. This is known as the pincer grip. This ability greatly enhances the ability to control and manipulate an object and infants take great delight in this newfound ability. They may spend hours picking up small objects from the floor and placing them in containers. And as those objects will often next go into the mouth, caregivers must be vigilant about keeping items small enough to be choking hazards out of reach of little fingers. By 9 months, an infant can also watch a moving object, reach for it as it approaches and grabs it. This is quite a complicated set of actions if we remember how difficult this would have been just a few months earlier. 26

    Physical Fine Motor Milestones

    While fine motor skills are slower to develop (in accordance with proximodistal development), pretty remarkable progress is made in fine motor development during the first two years. As stated above, in the first few years of life children go from having no intentional fine motor control to being able to manipulate objects to play and learn, as well as beginning to care of themselves. The following is a table of the major milestones in fine motor development.

    Table \(\PageIndex{1}\): Fine Motor Milestones (Developmental Milestones by the CDC is in the public domain)
    Typical Age What Most Children Do by This Age
    2 months
    • Grasps reflexively
    • Does not reach for objects
    • Holds hands in fist
    4 months
    • Brings hands to mouth
    • Uses hands and eyes together, such as seeing a toy and reaching for it
    • Follows moving things with eyes from side to side
    • Can hold a toy with whole hand (palmar grasp) and shake it and swing at dangling toys
    6 months
    • Reaches with both arms
    • Brings things to mouth
    • Begins to pass things from one hand to the other
    9 months
    • Puts things in mouth
    • Moves things smoothly from one hand to the other
    • Picks up things between thumb and index finger (pincer grip)
    1 year
    • Reaches with one hand
    • Bangs two things together
    • Puts things in a container, takes things out of a container
    • Lets things go without help
    • Pokes with index (pointer) finger
    18 months
    • Scribbles on own
    • Can help undress herself
    • Drinks from a cup
    • Eats with a spoon with some accuracy
    • Stacks 2-4 objects
    2 years
    • Builds towers of 4 or more blocks
    • Might use one hand more than the other
    • Makes copies of straight lines and circles
    • Enjoys pouring and filling
    • Unbuttons large buttons
    • Unzips large zippers
    • Drinks and feeds self with more accuracy

    Contributors and Attributions

    26. Children’s Development by Ana R. Leon is licensed under CC BY 4.0

    This page titled 1.4.5: Fine Motor Skills is shared under a CC BY license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Paris, Ricardo, Raymond, & Johnson (College of the Canyons) .

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