Fine motor skills refer to how we use the smaller muscle groups in our bodies to perform tasks. The most common examples involve the muscles in the hands, fingers and wrists. Children use their fine motor muscles to tie their shoes, write their name and cut paper with scissors.

When a child develops their fine motor skills, they’re also mastering their coordination. Using the smaller muscles requires thought, action and precision. If you’re concerned about your child’s development, you can encourage their progression with fine motor activities.

Babies begin to coordinate their thoughts with their smaller muscle groups between 4 and 6 months of age. This is the stage when your baby reaches for their favourite object rather than grasping for things involuntarily. It’s demanding work learning to grab your car keys.

Want to discover more about fine motor skills and why you should encourage your child’s development? Read on to learn:

  • The difference between fine and gross motor skills.
  • Why are fine motor skills important?
  • Fine motor skill development in babies.
  • Fine motor activities for toddlers and preschoolers.
  • More fine motor skill examples.

Child uses her fine motor skills to play creatively with loose parts.

The difference between fine and gross motor skills

Fine and gross motor skills are actions made with muscles. Gross motor skills use large muscles to achieve movements that often involve the whole body. Fine motor skills use smaller muscles to make small, precise movements, like moving the tongue.

Gross motor skills are also divided into two groups:

  • Locomotor skills: Skills that move the whole body from one place to another, such as crawling.
  • Object control skills: Skills that involve performing a task with an object, either a propulsion task with an object such as throwing, or a receptive task, such as catching.

Fine and gross motor skills require coordination, but gross motor skills are also associated with:

  • Body balance.
  • Body awareness.
  • Physical strength.
  • Endurance.
  • Reaction time.

Fine and gross motor skills combine with balance resulting in complex patterns of activity such as dancing.

Child paints with brush on easel demonstrating fine and gross motor skills.

Why are fine motor skills important?

Fine motor skills are crucial for doing many of the actions that we take for granted, like feeding ourselves, holding things, doing up zippers and buttons and drawing. Learning to use smaller muscle groups leads to bigger accomplishments like playing a musical instrument.

As babies grow into preschoolers, they’ll begin to use their motor skills to do intricate tasks like looking after themselves. Being able to brush their teeth, put on clothes and tie up shoelaces builds your child’s confidence and wellbeing.

Fine motor movement:

  • Allows a child to play with small objects.
  • Encourages creativity.
  • Improves hand-eye coordination.
  • Assists in the development of communication skills (talking, writing and drawing).
  • Fosters independence.
  • Improves physical awareness.
  • Builds confidence.

Toddler plays with a bead maze. Fine motor skills are important for intricate tasks.

Fine motor skill development in babies

While most motor movement in the first few months is involuntary, you can help your baby to develop and refine their muscles. A baby gym is a wise investment for encouraging your child to reach up and grab different colours, sounds and textures. It also stimulates your baby’s senses.

Don’t forget to give your baby some supervised tummy time so they can strengthen their back, shoulder, arm and hand muscles. Soon your baby will reach for their favourite objects to bang, squeeze and shake.

And yes, when your baby drops their toys on the floor, they’re not just seeing if you’ll pick it up. They really are practising those fine and gross motor skills.

Between 7 and 9 months, your baby should begin squeezing food wedges, cheerios, vegetable sticks and teething biscuits in their tight little fists. It’s an excellent time to let them have a little independence and try feeding themselves.

And by the time your child reaches their first birthday, they will be doing a lot more holding, clapping, pointing and wiggling their fingers independently. They should also be picking up and dropping toys. There are so many different aspects involved in a child’s development.

Babies hold and rattle musical shakers for fine motor skill development.

Fine motor skill examples for early learners

As your child’s cognitive, social, emotional and sensory skills develop, so to will their motor skills. The more they play with large blocks, loose materials, balls, playdough, mud, sand, paper scissors and other objects, the more attuned their fine motor muscles become.

Every child develops differently, but our developmental milestones should give you an idea of where your child is at. If you’re concerned that your child’s development is delayed, you should discuss your concerns with your Educators and your general practitioner.

Fine motor skill milestones

By 18 months

  • Scribbles instinctively.
  • Puts their hat on their head.
  • Stacks two blocks together
  • Uses both hands to hold a toy.
  • Releases a toy into an adult’s hand.
  • Bangs two objects together.
  • Holds a drinking cup with a little spillage.

By 2 years of age

  • Uses a fork and spoon to feed themselves.
  • Pulls up a big zipper.
  • Throws a small ball.
  • Paints using the whole arm to move the brush across the paper.
  • Stacks four blocks vertically.
  • Pushes, pulls and dumps things.
  • Places small objects into a container.

By 3 years of age

  • Stacks 9 large blocks to create a tower.
  • Turns single pages in a book.
  • Uses paper scissors to cut across a piece of paper.
  • Fold paper in half.
  • Puts on some clothing with supervision.
  • Draws a rough circle on a page.
  • Slips four large beads onto a piece of string.

By 4 years of age

  • Places a big puzzle piece on a board to compete puzzles.
  • Favours one hand over the other.
  • Rolls, presses and flattens clay material.
  • Attempts to catch a ball.
  • Feeds themselves with minimal spillage.
  • Colours inside the lines.
  • Brushes teeth with supervision.

Children play with connector blocks, a fine motor skill example.

Fine motor activities for toddlers

You can encourage your toddler to participate in fine motor activities to strengthen their little fingers and develop hand-eye coordination. These fun activities help toddlers and preschoolers to prepare for writing and every-day tasks.

Colourful Pom Poms

Children love to sort out pom poms by colour and size. Watch them use a pair of tweezers or tongs to pick up and sort several small colourful pom poms into a muffin baking tray or an ice cube container.


Playdough is fantastic for kneading, pushing, pulling and rolling into shapes. This much-loved activity really gives the fingers a workout. Older children can learn how to use play dough tools to cut, press and squeeze it into all sorts of shapes.

Eyedropper painting

Ideal for 2.5 year-olds and up (with supervision), eye dropper or pipette painting uses the pincer grasp to suck up water-based paint and squeeze it paper or paper towelling.

Cutting out shapes

A simple activity for supervised children 2 years and up is to cut out shapes with a pair of child-friendly paper scissors. Draw different types of shapes including mazes, triangles, squares and wave-like lines on colourful paper and watch your child cut the shape out.

Playing with loose parts

Introducing loose parts like pine cones, blocks, pebbles, popsicle sticks, spoons, string, metal bowls, material and beads allow children to develop their curiosity and fine motor skills.

Drawing and colouring in with crayons

Young children love to grasp big crayons and explore the colours they create. Making lines across a page or colouring in a picture evolves fine motor skills.

finChild with lots of crayons in their hands, drawing is a fine motor activity.

Enhance your child’s fine motor skills at Petit Early Learning Journey

At Petit ELJ, our teaching teams engage with contemporary pedagogies to deliver our early childhood education programs. We believe play-based learning is one of the most valuable ways for children to develop. It ignites the imagination and engages children in discovery.

Children’s ideas inspire our curriculum, how it is delivered, and the tools we use to implement those ideas. Give your child’s curiosity the room to grow in our purpose-built centres. Come see your nearest centre and give your child the best start to their journey in lifelong learning.

Book a tour today.