Fine Motor Skills for Young Children

For babies who are blind or have low vision, fine motor skills play a critical role in the ability to explore and interact with their environment. They serve as the foundation for many important life skills such as self-care, communication, and academic success.

One of the primary ways babies who are blind or have low vision develop fine motor skills is through touch. Babies can develop spatial awareness and build the fine motor control needed to manipulate objects and perform tasks such as feeding, dressing, and grooming by exploring objects with their hands, fingers, and even their mouths.

As a parent, you can support your baby’s fine motor development by providing a variety of safe and tactile objects for them to explore. This may include toys with different textures, shapes, and sizes and household objects such as cups, spoons, and other utensils.

You can also engage in activities that encourage your baby to use their hands and fingers differently. This may include finger painting, playing with playdough, or practicing reaching and grasping exercises.

In addition to touch, it’s also important to provide verbal and auditory feedback to help your baby understand the world around them. By describing objects and actions in detail and using descriptive language to provide context, you can help your baby develop a more comprehensive understanding of their environment and build the cognitive and language skills needed to communicate effectively.

Remember that developing fine motor skills takes time and patience; every child develops at their own pace. With your love and support, your baby, who is blind or has low vision, can develop the fine motor skills they need to explore their world and achieve their full potential.

In The Beginning

In the first few months of life, your baby may begin developing basic motor skills such as reaching, grasping, and holding objects. By around three months, they may swipe at toys and objects as their motor skills are just beginning to emerge. They may be able to grasp objects placed in their hands and start to wave their arms and legs in response to stimuli.

To support your baby’s fine motor development at this stage, you can offer them a variety of age-appropriate and safe toys that encourage exploration. 

  • Soft toys 
  • Textured toys that are easy to grasp such as rattles, noggin sticks, canary and quack sticks.
  • Toys with some sound, such as bells, will stimulate your baby’s senses and encourage them to reach out and explore their environment. 
  • Use a play frame or play mat to have toys hanging down from them, including some that make noise, light up, and toys that can easily be held onto. 

Let’s not forget the many opportunities to engage in activities that involve touch and physical contact, such as gentle massages or skin-to-skin content during feeding and diaper changes. These activities not only promote fine motor development but also help to strengthen the bond between you and your baby. 

Holding, Exploring, and Fun!

Around six months of age, your baby’s fine motor skills may be developing rapidly. They will likely be able to hold and manipulate objects using both hands and may start to transfer objects from one hand to the other. They may also begin to develop a stronger grasp and be able to hold objects for more extended periods of time. 

At this age, it’s important to provide your baby with plenty of opportunities for exploration and play. Offer them a variety of toys with different shapes, textures, and size to encourage them to use their hands and fingers in different ways. Soft toys, such as plush animals or fabric balls, can be a good option as they are easy for your baby to grasp. Other items, such as an Oball or Sensory Balls, will be easier to grasp and provide additional sensory input. As you engage with your child developing these skills, it is important to use the hand-under-hand technique to support them. 

Some activities that would support fine motor skills are:

  • Stack blocks, cups, or magnetic blocks to help stacking abilities.
  • Play with shape sorters.
  • Fill and dump items into containers of various sizes. 

Pincer Grasp and Further Engagement

Around nine months of age, your baby’s fine motor skills will be progressing. They will likely be able to reach and grab objects more precisely and accurately, using a pincer grasp (thumb and forefinger) to pick up smaller items. They may also start using their fingers to explore and manipulate objects; they may tap, bang, or shake objects to explore cause and effect. By sitting with your child’s back to your belly, you can use hand-under-hand to model how to bang, shake, or manipulate toys. 

You can use what you have in your home to support fine motor, such as playing with mixing bowls, wooden spoons, and Tupperware. You can also offer finger foods with high-contrast plates or bowls, such as light-colored cereal on a dark plate or blueberries on a light plate or tray, to encourage the use of the pincer grasp.

Additional activities that support pincer grasp and fine motor development:

  • Provide toys that encourage turning, twisting, and putting objects into a larger container.
  • Use busy boards or activities with a variety of textures.
  • Offer textured board books for them to explore and begin developing skills to turn pages after you have separated the pages. 
  • Play with musical toys such as drums, maracas, a xylophone, or a keyboard. 
  • Assemble sensory bins with larger items such as scoops, pom poms, large noodles, or crushed cereal for sand.

Beginning Problem-Solving and Self-Advocacy

At 12 months old, your baby’s fine motor skills have come a very long way. They will be able to do a variety of skills such as grasping, manipulating objects, and even beginning to self-feed using spoons or cups. They may also be ready to explore coloring, finger painting, and other new experiences. 

Fine motor tasks may begin to become more challenging for your child. Now is the perfect time to support self-advocacy and problem-solving skills. Supporting your child as they work on more difficult tasks such as puzzles will be key for you to support them while they are learning and working. You can teach your child to ask for help and state when they may not want you to help. Helping model this communication will help them control the level of support they feel they need from you and others. Provide extra encouragement when your child becomes frustrated (and they will). Also, try to find ways to help them if the activity needs to be more accessible such as putting the puzzle on a slant board, adding high contrast painter’s tape, or adding sound or light to make the task easier to engage with. 

Fun activities to explore with your 12-month-old:

  • Play with finger paints.
  • Make edible play dough that is safe for your child to eat.
  • Offer busy boards with locks, objects to turn or twist, bells to push, switches, and other buttons to push.
  • Encourage the use of a textured puzzle or beginner puzzles.
  • Use Poke-A-Dot books for your child to scan with their fingers and pop while reading. 

Scooping, Building, and Play

Your 18-month-old is developing and improving their fine motor skills. They will likely be able to use their hands and fingers to manipulate objects with increasing precision, such as turning pages on board books, using a spoon to scoop food with help from the side of a bowl, or showing interest in constructing and creating. 

It is important to continue to develop hand strength through activities and daily practice. Work with your child to improve feeding skills by scooping or poking food with a fork. As your child works on more complex skills, such as stringing beads and building, remember to use hand-under-hand to provide support when needed. 

Fun activities to support development at this stage:

  • Play with Duplo or other large Lego-style building sets. 
  • Use a Sit and Spin with buttons and noises on the top.
  • Play pretend with a barn or dollhouse.
  • Use a water table to explore pouring, sinking, and floating.
  • String large beads.
  • Fidget with “dimples” or “Pop-Its.” 
  • Paint, draw, and craft using different materials.
  • Assemble a sensory bin activity with fake snow, noodles, feathers, dry beans using scoops, plastic tweezers, and scoop scissors. 

Matching, Exploring, and Building Strength

By age two, your child’s fine motor skills will have developed significantly, and they may be able to use utensils to feed themselves, string beads, and build towers with blocks. Muscles continue to develop with your child’s fingers and hands. They may be able to begin to explore similar and different textures. 

Some activities to consider at 24 months:

  • Use beginner scissors for simple cutting.
  • Play with play dough and tools to roll, cut, and create model objects. 
  • Begin working on dressing skills such as zipping, buttoning, and use of Velcro shoes.
  • Work on independent living skills in the bath, such as washing their body, hair, and face.
  • Invite your child to help you make snacks such as cutting softer foods with the use of hand-under-hand.

Refining Skills and Developing Independence

At 30 months, your child’s fine motor skills will continue to progress and become more refined. They may become more independent while eating and getting dressed. Continue to use hand-under-hand for support if needed.

Pretend play and imaginative play can further support experiences in fine motor skills development. Playing dress up and playing with dolls can provide opportunities to practice zipping, buttoning, and pretending to feed baby dolls.  

Some activities you can engage your child in:

  • Pretend cooking and eating with play food and pretend cooking set.
  • Dress up with imaginative career outfits such as constructions, cook, police officer, or doctor set.
  • Engage in sensory bin activities such as pouring into other containers, sorting textures, stirring, and mixing contents. 

As your child becomes more independent and continues to develop fine motor skills, you will need to continue to support and encourage them as their tasks begin to become more complex.  Encourage your child to speak up when they want help and provide support for problem-solving strategies. Celebrate and cheer your child on when they accomplish the tasks when they demonstrate problem-solving skills. 

Control and Strength

At age three, your child’s fine motor skills have come a long way. They can now use their hands and fingers with greater precision and control. This allows them to manipulate smaller items and perform more complex tasks. Your child may begin playing tactile matching games and other activities to include other children and siblings. They may further develop their interest in drawing and creating tactile artwork. Choosing to get dressed independently or eating independently are signs of your child’s confidence in their fine motor skills. 

Activities to continue to develop fine motor skills: 

  • Play tactile matching games such as Ruff’s House. 
  • Use Getting Dressed boards to help with snaps, zippers, and buttons. 
  • Play pretend with various tools for building, such as a hammer, screw, and saw.
  • Play pretend restaurant; gather play food to cut, teapots to pour from, and bowls to mix with. 
  • Plant seeds for flowers or a garden.
  • Pour cereal or milk from a cup into bowls.

Remember, every child develops at their own pace; it’s important not to compare your child’s progress to others. Instead, focus on providing plenty of opportunities for your child to practice their fine motor skills through play, art, and other activities. With patience and encouragement, your child will continue to grow and develop into a capable and independent individual.