Developing fine motor skills using everyday objects

Have you ever noticed a baby concentrating on picking up a small toy? The small but skilled movements required aren't present at birth but babies quickly develop these fine motor skills. Fine motor skills is one of our six key streams of development in the My First Five Years app. Fine motor skills develop following on from the progression of gross motor movements. This is because fine motor skills require the strength and coordination of the gross motor muscles to operate smaller muscles in the body, such as hands, fingers and wrists. 

Fine motor skills present themselves as intricate, more defined actions that require manual dexterity such as picking things up between a finger and thumb, wriggling toes and even the manipulation of lips and tongue. So, fine motor skills are small, detailed movements that involve using the tendons and cartilage in your wrists, hands, fingers and thumbs.  

As adults we don’t often give much thought to these slight movements, however, they are complex and involve the coordination of the eyes, brain and muscles to allow us to develop movements such as holding, grasping, pinching and releasing small objects. 


Supporting your child to develop their fine motor skills

The good news is that there are plenty of fun, everyday activities that you can do in the home, and our app puts thousands of simple ideas at your fingertips. Building these fine motor skills will also give your child a sense of independence as they realise they can complete daily tasks, such as such as getting dressed, brushing their teeth, holding cutlery, drinking and turning the pages of a book, all of which are very satisfying! 

brushing teeth

The pace at which fine motor skills develop is very individual, but some of the milestones children achieve follow a similar pattern of development as the muscle groups mature.  

Supporting your baby, toddler or child to develop these skills can be done through lots of play-based activities with everyday household objects and materials. Our app gives you lots of ideas about how you can support your child’s fine motor skills, here are a few ideas to get you started.  


Fine motor skills activities for babies 

Early in life, babies have limited control over their hand and arm movements, which is why you may have noticed a few jittery or jerky movements in the early days. But before long, you’ll see them start to hold and grasp objects, often your hair!  


Touch and stroke  

stroking hand

Touching you baby’s hands will help them to gain awareness of their hands and develop the ability to control their movements. This could be done while singing rhymes such as ‘Round and Round the Garden’ as you touch and stroke their palm. Similarly, a gentle foot and toe massage brings awareness to the feet. 


Objects and containers 


baby box exploring

You may notice your baby begin to use their thumb and index finger to hold and manipulate smaller objects. At this point, offer containers such as tins, boxes or bags with a selection of smaller objects that are safe to explore. Playfully demonstrate how you can put the objects into the box or tin and take them out again. 


Fine motor skills activities for toddlers  

When your child starts to walk, they will have built up more balance and coordination skills and are often looking for more physical challenges!  


Posting activities 

sorting toy

Posting toys are brilliant for fine motor skills as they require precision and fine motor manipulation to rotate and twist items between the fingers and thumb to fit. You could make you own posting toy by cutting a slot in a box or tube and offering objects to post through. Slotting or poking straws into holes in a container also helps to develop precision. As skills develop, a range of slots of different sizes and shapes will further challenge your child. 



finger painting

Young children will need to explore making marks on a larger scale initially, before moving on to a smaller scale with paper and pens. Supporting your child to playfully explore making patterns with their fingers is a good starting point, perhaps with finger paints or in the steam on a window or shower screen. Using tools such as a stick in mud to makes marks or a wet paintbrush on the wall outside is great fun. In this way, children’s movements are made visible to them through the marks they leave behind. 


Fine motor skills activities for children  

Preparing and cooking food 


As your child’s skills develop further, encourage them to help with preparing and cooking food. Activities such as peeling and chopping vegetables, pouring, mixing and stirring ingredients, spreading butter and grating cheese are all great to develop skills and it’s useful to have help too! 


Making more marks! 


Your child will be moving towards making smaller, more precise marks and patterns, which will support them to developing writing and handwriting skills. Let them continue to experiment with a range of mark-making materials to ensure they remain engaged and enjoy the process. Perhaps use brushes or cotton buds to make patterns in condensation and use crayons, chalks or pens to write on clipboards, labels and notebooks.  

Encourage opportunities for ‘real life’ writing such as cards, lists, letters, reminders, et cetera. Let your child watch you writing for a purpose, perhaps as you make your shopping list. Your child will eventually have the dexterity and fine motor skills to be able to make controlled and recognisable shapes and marks and you may notice your child has developed preference for using a particular hand. 


Our app will give you even more ideas to support your child’s fine motor skills, with ideas linked to their unique developmental journey.  

Download the app today for more ideas.