Fine Motor Skills

Fine Motor Skills are the skills that 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 in order to operate smaller muscles in the body, such as hands,
fingers and wrists.


Fine Motor Skills – Hands and fingers

Fine Motor Skills are the skills that 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 in order 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.

For your child to learn to do things for themselves, they will need to learn to coordinate both their fine and gross motor skills. You will be able to see this happening as your child uses toys as they steady themselves (using their gross motor skills) then grab at and manipulate the object (using their fine motor skills). 

They will become more precise and successful in their movements over time because as they say, practice makes perfect.

What is a fine motor skill?

Fine motor skills are small, detailed movements that involve using the tendons and cartilage in your wrists, hands, fingers and thumbs. They are slight movements that we don’t give much thought to. 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. They are thought to be essential in supporting children’s overall learning and development.

Fine motor skills allow us to carry out everyday tasks such as:

  • Holding and manipulating objects
  • Writing/Drawing
  • Cutting
  • Playing
  • Eating
  • Dressing
  • Taking care of our personal hygiene

When do fine motor skills develop?

Every child’s development is completely unique to them and as with all skills, they take time to progress and master. Fine motor skills grow upon established gross motor skills with development following a likely sequence.

Starting at the inner body, large muscles develop first including core, head, neck, arms and legs and then development moves to the outer body with hands, fingers, feet and toes. 

Therefore, it is important that your child has lots of opportunities to practice and develop their gross motor skills through play first of all. The pace at which fine motor skills develop is very individual, but some of the milestone’s children achieve follow a similar pattern of development as the muscle groups mature.


Some of these milestones include:

  • Grasps objects with whole hand (Grasp Reflex)
  • Opens and closes hand (Ulnar Palmer Grasp)
  • Holds object between fingers and thumb (Radial Palmer Grasp)
  • Grabs toys by opening and closing hand and extending fingers (Raking Grasp)
  • Transfers object from hand to hand
  • Plays and manipulates objects using fingers, palm and pad of thumb (Radial Digital Grasp)
  • Picks things up with thumb and finger (Pincer Grasp)
  • Stacks, turns and manipulates objects.
  • Mark making progresses to using thumb and fingers rather than fist.
  • Marks become more obvious (e.g., circles and lines).
  • Eats and drinks without assistance
  • Cuts snips using scissors
  • Copies marks
  • Independently dresses and undresses

How to develop fine motor skills in a child?

Making Marks 

Exploring the patterns that our fingers can make is crucial in developing fine motor skills. Some ways you could do this at home include using shaving foam on the wall of the shower, exploring how yogurt moves around the table of their highchair, using a brush in a tray of dried rice, a stick in the mud whilst on a walk or chalk on the pavement outside. When we talk about mark making, we don’t just mean using pens and paper, although this is great too.

Independent activities

Encouraging your child to be independent is a brilliant way to develop their fine motor skills. Putting on their own coat, using their own spoon, brushing their hair and teeth and attempting to pour their own water all require the use of their fine muscles, brain and eyes, so are great ways to encourage this development.

Building and constructing

Stacking objects takes a lot of hand and eye coordination, planning and movements such as pushing and pulling. This sort of play can be done with traditional blocks, but children might find it more enjoyable to use household objects such as boxes, tubs, tubes, toilet rolls or cans.

Sand and water play

Materials that move such as sand and water are brilliant for developing this skill. The process of moving, containing and pouring the materials whilst using different utensils helps to develop fine motor skills. You could do this sort of play during bath time and if you don’t have sand, you can use things such as dried rice or lentils in a tray instead.


Dough is a wonderful resource for children. It encourages both gross and fine motor development as they knead and manipulate the dough. It also encourages children to problem solve, experiment and be creative. You can make simple recipes at home and it’s also a brilliant way for some children to relax.


Puzzles support cognitive development as well as gross and fine motor skills as children manipulate the pieces to fit. Traditional wooden puzzles are tricky to master and so in the earliest years you can do simple puzzle like activities by putting cut up toilet roll circles onto a kitchen roll holder or pushing face cloths into a hole in a shoe box.

Cutting with scissors

Using scissors can make some parents feel nervous. But there are lots of benefits to allowing a child to use scissors early on as they are fantastic for developing fine motor skills, hand and eye coordination, visual perception, perseverance and concentration. When you introduce scissors make sure that they support your child’s current grip. Standard scissors with two holes for your thumb and first finger can be tricky for children to start with and can put them off. You can purchase scissors or shears that support children’s palm development that makes starting to cut a much easier and enjoyable experience.

Are fine motor skills related to cognitive development?

Scientists have found that there is a strong connection between fine motor development and cognitive abilities. Cognitive development such as reasoning, problem solving, comprehension, visual processing and perception and even the part of our brain which develops working memory, are all thought to be built upon the development of fine motor skills.

Therefore, by supporting these skills you are also supporting the development of the brain!

Are fine motor skills linked to physical development?

Fine motor skills support the development of hand-eye coordination, manipulation, dexterity and coordination which are all fundamental parts of physical development. The ability to throw and catch a ball, write, use tools, skilfully navigate space, drink, eat and take care of themselves is all built upon their physical development in conjunction with fine motor skills. 

All of a child’s development is entwined and by supporting your child with one aspect of their learning and development, you are always supporting them with many other areas.

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Streams of Development

At My First Five Years, we have divided your child’s unique learning journey into 6 streams of development focusing holistically on physical, emotional and cognitive development.

  • Gross Motor Skills – Bodies, arms and legs
  • Fine Motor Skills – Hands and fingers
  • Cognitive Skills – Thinking and processing
  • Language, Speech and Communication Skills – Making sounds and talking.
  • Social and Emotional Skills – Understanding feelings
  • Sensory Development – Senses (vision, hearing, touch, taste, smell, proprioception, interoception)

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