Fine motor skills milestones for children

little hands and paint image by Pix by Marti from

Joyce Powell and Charles A. Smith at the National Network for Child Care website explain that although each child is different and develops at his own rate, "experts agree there are 'normal' signs of development." Children often achieve specific skills by the time they reach a certain age. These are called "developmental milestones."

The development of children's fine motor skills refers to their growing ability to control small movements of the hands and fingers, such as picking up an object, holding a spoon or getting dressed.

Babies 0 to 6 months

Newborns perform a grasp reflex action with items placed in their hands, but do not hold on to them. One-month-old babies connect their fist with their mouth. By the age of 2 months, babies hold on to a small object for a few seconds, perhaps moving it toward their face. They look at their hands and fingers with interest and make early reaching movements with their arms toward their toys. At 3 months, babies stretch their hands toward nearby objects. At this age, the development of fine motor skills enables babies to grab toys firmly and attempt to put them in their mouths. Grasping is now a deliberate action, rather than a reflex. By the age of 4 to 5 months, babies wave small toys held in their hands, and by 6 months, babies pass objects from one hand to the other.

Babies 7 to 12 months

From 7 months on, babies bang and shake their toys, as well as put them in their mouths. At this stage of children's development, there is use of the index finger and thumb in a "pincer" movement. By 8 months, they can voluntarily open and close their hands and by the time babies are 9 months, they feed themselves little pieces of food. Other developmental milestones at this age include voluntarily placing their hands together, pointing at objects with the index finger and playing hand games such as "Pat-a-Cake." From 10 months on, babies begin to show hand preference and can build small towers with their stacking cups or bricks. By the time they are 12 months old, babies can stir with a spoon, slot shapes into a shape sorter and hold a crayon to make marks on paper.


Fine motor skills continue to develop from 12 months on. Children develop a firm hand grip that enables them to enjoy a wide range of toys and activities. By the time children are 15 months, they enjoy activities such as hitting pegs into a peg board or placing pieces into an inset board puzzle. Other developmental milestones for children at this stage include the ability to hold an item in each hand simultaneously. They also attempt to dress themselves independently. By the time children are 2 years old, they can thread large beads onto a lace and make controlled marks when painting or drawing. By this stage, children show a clear hand preference. The development of fine motor skills enables children to fasten and unfasten large buttons and to use a knife and fork as well as a spoon with increasing success.

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