Fine motor skills are the smaller muscle movements mostly involving the hands and fingers, but also sometimes the mouth, lips and tongue. However, shoulder and trunk stability as well as shoulder strength and trunk control affect fine motor skills. Visual strength and accuracy also impact fine-motor-skill development. Fine motor skills rely on coordination and strength in the wrist, hands and fingers and also work in cooperation with gross- or large-muscle skills. In children, fine motor skills development over time.
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Newborns use their arms and hands together and rely on a reflexive grasp. They cannot let go of objects at will at this beginning stage of development. Once they have developed the ability to turn their head and eyes from side to side, more refined fine motor skills can develop. Around 4 months of age, babies can reach out with one hand for a object and become more accurate with their swatting motions. At 6 months, infants can pick up small things like cereal pieces. However, most objects are held rather awkwardly in the palm until around the child's first birthday, when a major fine motor skill milestone is reached. This is when the pincer grasp allows the child to hold an object between his thumb and index finger and therefore have more sophisticated fine motor movements.
Children between 1 and 2 years of age will use their whole arm together in movement and both arms together. A big change occurs when the child is able to use fingers independently, which can be noted when they point or poke at objects. Children of this age often switch off which hand is dominant. Although a left- or right-hand preference may be observed, it is not yet established. Toddlers develop more control of their fine motor skills, enabling them to turn dials, push buttons, string large beads or scribble in a closed-fist grip.
Around age 4, a child will develop a tripod grasp or a mature pencil grip, taking the pencil between thumb and index finger and resting on the middle finger. Children have developed the ability to copy lines, circles and crosses and may trace diamonds or triangles. The ability to colour within the lines is emerging but not perfected. Cutting skills are improving with the child capable of cutting forward on a line and moving the paper with the guiding or non-cutting hand. More advanced skills like adept use of silverware or tying shoelaces require patience and time to master. The messages sent back and forth between the smaller muscles of the fingers and the brain remain complex for the still-maturing nervous system of a preschooler.
By age 5 or 6 handedness should be established and the pencil grip should be a stable tripod grip. Cutting should be smooth and more skilled than the preschool years. Children should be able to draw basic figures without aid, such as lines, circles, crosses and triangles. They should be tying shoes, fastening buttons, zipping and snapping clothing. As they continue through the upper elementary school years, children should be able to do increasingly sophisticated finger motor tasks such as playing video games, completing jigsaw puzzles, playing instruments and typing on a computer keyboard.
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