4.5 Fine Motor Skills

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.

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 grab it. This is quite a complicated set of actions if we remember how difficult this would have been just a few months earlier.163

An infant feeding themselves.^[[Image](https://www.flickr.com/photos/dm3photography/12186486823) by [Matt Preston](https://www.flickr.com/photos/dm3photography/) is licensed under [CC BY-SA 2.0](https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/)]

Figure 4.14: An infant feeding themselves.164

4.5.1 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 4.2: Fine Motor Milestones165
Typical Age What Most Children Do by This Age
2 months Grasps reflexively
2 months Does not reach for objects
2 months Holds hands in fist
4 months Brings hands to mouth
4 months Uses hands and eyes together, such as seeing a toy and reaching for it
4 months Follows moving things with eyes from side to side
4 months Can hold a toy with whole hand (palmar grasp) and shake it and swing at dangling toys
6 months Reaches with both arms
6 months Brings things to mouth
6 months Begins to pass things from one hand to the other
9 months Puts things in mouth
9 months Moves things smoothly from one hand to the other
9 months Picks up things between thumb and index finger (pincer grip)
1 year Reaches with one hand
1 year Bangs two things together
1 year Puts things in a container, takes things out of a container
1 year Lets things go without help
1 year Pokes with index (pointer) finger
18 months Scribbles on own
18 months Can help undress herself
18 months Drinks from a cup
18 months Eats with a spoon with some accuracy
18 months Stacks 2-4 objects
2 years Builds towers of 4 or more blocks
2 years Might use one hand more than the other
2 years Makes copies of straight lines and circles
2 years Enjoys pouring and filling
2 years Unbuttons large buttons
2 years Unzips large zippers
2 years Drinks and feeds self with more accuracy

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

  2. Image by Matt Preston is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0↩︎

  3. Developmental Milestones by the CDC is in the public domain↩︎