Want to know what fine motor skills your baby should be mastering and how you can help them?
Your baby’s fine motor skills are the way they zero in on things with their eyes and manipulate them with their hands and fingers. It’s also known as hand-eye co-ordination.
For example, buttoning up your shirt is a fine motor skill as it involves small muscles and very precise movement by you.
One of the most valuable fine motor skills your baby will learn in the first year is the “pincer movement”, where they use their thumb and forefinger to grasp small objects such as toys and food.
Your baby’s fine motor skills will go through a huge amount of change in the first year, from grasping things placed in their hand to being able to see what they want, reach out and take it.
During their early years your little one learns absolutely everything through play and exploration.
So the very best thing you can do to nurture their brain development and physical skills is to enable them to do this as much as possible.
There are lots of ways you can play and have fun with your baby that will also help to nurture those crucial fine motor skills.
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Related posts: 40 ways to play with baby at home
Baby’s fine motor development
Before we get to the fun stuff, the play ideas, let’s talk through your baby’s fine motor development and which skills they are likely to pick up and when.
This is not an exact science. Every baby will hit a milestone at a slightly different time. Some may even get it spot on one day, and then not repeat the action for a month!
Try not to stress too much about your baby getting to these stages at the exact timings suggested. Just use the fine motor development timeline for your baby as a bit of a guide.
Fine motor development at 0-3 months
During these early months your baby will begin to learn they have control of their limbs and be fascinated they can move their hands and feet. At this stage your baby will begin to:
- Turn their head towards sounds.
- Follow objects as they move around the room (although their vision is not great in the first few weeks, this skill will develop as their eyes improve).
- Move their arms and legs together as well as apart.
- Bring their hands to their mouth.
- Lift their head and shoulders up when on their tummy.
Fine motor development at 3-6 months
Lots will be going on during this time, and your baby will be finding it easier to master their fine motor skills as they may be sitting up to play with their toys. Skills being learned at this stage include:
- Reaching toward dangling objects and people’s faces.
- Holding a toy and shaking it.
- Playing with their fingers
- Reaches out and grasps a toy with their whole hand.
- Passing a toy from one hand to the other.
- Banging a toy on the table or floor.
Fine motor development at 6-9 months
At this stage your baby will be starting on solid food. Whether you are spoon-feeding with purees or trying baby-led weaning, your baby’s hands will be getting involved with the fun.
At this stage of development your baby will be learning to:
- Hold two objects and bang them together.
- Bring an object, such as a spoon, to their mouth.
- Play with their own hands.
- Use a raking motion with their fingers to grab an object.
- Squeeze a toy with their whole hand.
- Turn pages in a book.
Fine motor development 9-12 months
The following skills will develop over these final three months of the first year, but remember that some babies may develop these skills a little later.
Try to keep an eye on what your baby is doing, and if you ever have any concerns about their overall development always speak to your doctor. At this stage your baby will learn to:
- Push buttons.
- Feed themselves.
- Grab and hold onto smaller items such as crayons.
- Master the pincher grasp, where the thumb and forefinger are used to pick up objects.
- Put small objects into a container or cup.
Fine motor activities for 0-6 month olds
So what can you as a parent do to encourage your baby’s fine motor development? The good news is it just involves playing and having fun!
Make the learning experience enjoyable for you and your baby, and you’ll find yourself amazed at how much they come on!
Here are some great play activities and ideas to do with your baby that will help them master those fine motor skills and develop their hand-eye co-ordination in the first six months.
Some babies love tummy time, but many will fuss and cry when placed on their tummy.
There are several things you can do to encourage tummy time, and it’s important to do so every single day! Not only does tummy time help with your baby’s fine motor skills, but it also helps develop their gross motor skills too.
You could try laying on your back on the bed or sofa and popping back on top of you on their tummy. They may be happier this way as they can have a cuddle and get comfy.
You can also try propping them up using a rolled up blanket underneath their armpits.
For lots more tummy time tips check out this post.
Play with rattles
Anything that makes a noise will attract your baby’s attention! In the early weeks, try just shaking the rattle close to their face as their vision is not the best when they are newborns.
Get them to track the object using their eyes to follow it. As they figure out how to use their arms and hands, they will start to reach out to grab what’s making the noise.
Eventually, they will hold onto the rattle and shake it about to make the noise themselves.
Give them toys with texture
Feeling toys with different textures gets your baby to exercise their fingers and discover how different objects may feel differently in their hands.
You can buy gorgeous toys stitched together from different fabrics. Look for things that also have different sounds as baby touches them, such as crinkly paper or toys that make a squeak when squeezed.
Some play mats have multiple types of fabric on them so that as baby moves around the mat they can feel different textures as they go. This just encourages them to get those fingers and hands moving.
Play with balloons
Get a balloon filled with helium and either tie it to your baby’s wrist (not too tightly) or put the string in their hand. If they struggle to hang onto the string, you could tie the balloon to a larger object such as a rattle that they can grasp with their fist easier.
Now watch as they pull the balloon down and see it rise up. They will love seeing how they can manipulate it to move.
Hold objects just out of baby’s reach
As your baby begins to get control of their arms, hold toys that they are interested in just out of their reach to encourage them to reach out and grab it.
Pass objects between you and your baby
Make it into a game! If you have a small, soft ball, you could roll it to your baby then retrieve it and roll it back to them again.
Hand it to them and then ask for the object back. This is also a great way to teach them about language and connecting words with actions.
Be enthusiastic as the object is passed back to you and encourage your baby to keep trying.
Sit up in a chair
Some babies learn to sit unaided from around four months, but they may not be able to do this until eight months.
But sitting up is a great position for them to play with toys with their hands. So when they are able to hold up their own head with their neck at around four to five months, sit them up in a high chair to play with toys.
Play with an exploration box
Fill a box with a number of objects. You could make it themed, so for example pick a group of toys or items that are all red. Or you could find some objects from outside such as leaves, a feather, pine cone and twigs.
Either sit your baby up and help them go through the objects or hand them to your baby. Let them feel the items in their hands and explore those different textures.
A baby closer to six months may be able to sit up and pick out items from the box themselves. As they get a little older, they can pack and unpack the box themselves. My kids are three and four and they still love to put things into boxes as if they are packing to go on holiday.
Fine motor activities for 6-12 month olds
At this stage your baby is coming on in huge leaps and bounds! By now they may already be sitting up unaided.
They will be using a high chair as they start solid foods and so that opens up a whole world of play potential!
Play with different shapes/sizes of toy
By this stage your baby will be mastering the art of reaching out and grabbing onto their toys.
Try using different shapes and sizes of toy during playtime so that they can see how they may need to adjust their grip for different objects.
Give them a pencil or crayon
Now is a great time to show baby the fun of colouring! They won’t be making huge works of art yet, but show them how they can use a crayon to make a mark on a piece of paper.
They will be amazed at this activity! Try sitting them up in a high chair and give them lots of different colours.
Sticky hair rollers
Have you got a set of velcro hair rollers? They can actually make an amazing game for your baby!
Give your baby a few of the rollers and show them how they can be stuck together then pulled apart. They will love doing this, and see if they can connect lots together! If your baby has long hair just be careful that it doesn’t get tangled in the velcro!
You can buy books or large fabric sheets with stickers that are easier for babies to do.
The felt stickers are best for babies as they can be peeled and replaced as many times as they want. Look for books that include this feature!
Get some stacking cups, blocks or objects and show your baby how to stack them on top of each other.
Cups are great as baby can either make a tower or slot them inside each other.
Once your baby is around one year they will be able to stack and balance one object on top of the other.
Pouring water in the bath
Give your baby some cups and/or jugs to play with in the bathtub.
Show them how they can fill these with water and then pour the water out. Try a variety of holders, such as ones with handles and ones without, so that they have to grab the objects in a variety of different ways with their hands.
Hand your baby a cup or a container. Then give them a pile of craft pom poms or similar and show them how to pick the small items up and pop them into the cup.
As your baby gets older, you can expand on this activity by using different coloured cups and encouraging your child to match the coloured objects to the right coloured cup.
Place toys at a higher point
This has the added benefit of encouraging your baby to reach up and start to pull themselves up top a standing position.
Place objects on top of boxes, a low coffee table or the sofa so that baby has to reach up to get to it.
Explore the kitchen
Your kitchen is packed with things your baby will love to play with.
Pull out some saucepans, wooden spoons, a whisk and anything else without sharp objects so that they can hold them and bash them together.
The whisk is brilliant when combined with pom poms too! Simply fill the inside of the whisk with squashy craft pom poms and give it to your baby. They will then hopefully use their pincher grip to pick the pom poms out.
Play with food
I’ve noticed that all the nurseries my kids have attended used a lot of food for play time! That’s because it’s light, easy to pick up for tiny hands and if they pop it into their mouth it’s not going to hurt them!
Food you can give your baby to play with includes pasta (cooked or dry), rice (which you can dye different colours to make more visually stimulating), jelly, and yoghurt (trying colouring it with food dye to make finger paint).
If the idea of the mess this could potentially create puts you off, you could always buy a Tuff Tray. These are pretty inexpensive but big enough that baby can sit in them and play with things without getting it all over the floor.
As your child grows, you can get legs for the tray so that they can stand and play with the items on the tray.
I hope you found these play tips useful mama! Remember to get creative at playtime, you can try anything you think your baby will enjoy to engage them in play.