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Developing Fine Motor Skills in Infants
Usually when parents begin discussing fine motor skills, it’s a conversation with their child’s preschool teacher about learning to write. It’s a discussion about the correct grip on a pencil that will help them use their hand-eye coordination to control the pencil and stay within the lines on the paper. However, for a child to reach that point, they need to have been practicing from a much younger age. Developing fine motor skills in infants is rarely front-of-mind for parents of newborns, but without starting early children may struggle as they get older with things like using cutlery, getting dressed, or brushing their teeth. So to set your child up for success, it pays to be cognizant of the many opportunities for your child to learn these skills early.
What Are Fine Motor Skills?
Fine motor skills, as opposed to gross motor skills, require the use of the smaller muscles in our hands, wrists and fingers. By example, rather than waving “bye-bye” with their whole arm, a gross motor skill, waving “bye-bye” with a wrist-motion or by flapping their fingers is a fine-motor skill. It is a movement that requires more precision and control of multiple smaller muscles to complete. There are many different forms of fine motors skills, each tackled at different stages of your child’s development, but all relate to overall dexterity and hand-eye coordination.
Developing fine-motor skills in infants starts with the simplest things. Next time you see a cute bub, or are happily playing with yours, observe how their little hands like to grasp onto their parent’s fingers. This motion is often a baby’s very first use of fine-motor skills. At this early age, the grabbing of a finger is actually a reflex and not a learned skill. It’s nature’s way of providing their bodies with a little bit of pre-programming to help with the development yet to come.
How To Support Developing Fine Motor Skills in Infants
As the child grows, they will begin to grasp for objects themselves. Obviously, this can get a little dangerous, particularly once they gain a little mobility, but this is absolutely something you should encourage. You can promote their learning by providing them with toys that are suited to this stage of development. The classics really shine here, like stacking ring toys, rattles and balls. Just be careful, as this stage of development often coincides with teething, when your baby is likely to put whatever they can find in their mouths! Be sure to keep any sharp objects or choking hazards away from your child and check the materials of their favorite toys are not-toxic and suitable for oral play. Teething toys can also be a great idea and some are perfectly designed to serve as both teethers and fine-motor skills development toys.
In just three to four months, your baby will master the new skill of gripping and grasping. The more you encourage grabbing and holding of toys and other suitable objects, the better you will become at developing fine motor skills in infants and the faster you will see them master this new skill.
Long before you need to think about pencils and paper, there are some essential fine motor skills your baby will need to learn. To help promote these, start simple:
- Practice picking up and building with blocks
- Provide balls to grab and throw – balls with holes or cut-outs are often easier to manipulate
- Allow them to hold larger objects, like a doll or a truck
- Let them practice picking up finger food like a rusk-stick – This nifty toy is also perfect!
- Encourage pressing of buttons or grasping of shapes – Activity cubes are a great idea here
- Encourage them holding your hand or finger
- Pop-it toys are can also be great, and some are even designed especially for babies
Watch your child and help them out as they try each activity. Pause and reflect on the extreme level of dexterity that it takes for someone so young. Praise them as they succeed, it really is a huge accomplishment!
In What Other Ways Does Developing Fine Motor Skills in Infants Support Their Growth?
Developing fine motor skills in infants provides the foundation for much more complicated actions. One day, the same skills they learn as a baby will lead to them zipping up a zipper, button a shirt, tying a tie, learning to type or even painting a masterpiece. Different skills are learnt at each stage of development, and can be supported through age-appropriate toys and activities.
At the core of fine motor skills is hand-eye coordination, including tracking items with their eyes, pointing, and passing. As these skills improve, so too will their fine motor skills and vice versa. To encourage the growth of hand-eye coordination skills, you can look for toys like shape sorters or touch-and-feel books. Toy cars and balls are also a great source of hand-eye coordination training, and are super fun too!
By the time your baby is a year and a half old, the development of their fine motor skills will have given them the ability to stack three or four blocks on average. This is an amazing feat for them. Take a moment to think of any new skill you remember developing and the surge of joy and self-empowerment you felt once you mastered that skill. That is exactly how your baby feels as they successfully place another block on their tower. What’s more, the bigger the tower, the bigger their gorgeous smile is when they knock their tower down!
As your baby’s fine motor skills develop, so does their sense of self and self-confidence. The more your baby’s fine motor skills develop, the more independent they will become, and the more their self-esteem will grow. The positive physical development is therefore also coupled with positive mental development, providing them with the foundation for feeling comfortable when being away from their parents, trying new things, learning to share and developing relationships with others. It may seem simple, but developing fine motor skills in infants really sets the foundation for their growth and happiness over the coming years.
Get A Grip On Your Child’s Development!
Developing fine motor skills in infants requires plenty of opportunities for them to grasp, pick up, move, and manipulate objects. Practice makes perfect, and the more exposure your little one has to these skills, the more they will grow and learn! With your help and attention to their progress through each stage of development, by the time your child reaches the age of two they will have mastered close to 20 fine motor skills that will send them into the preschool years ready to learn and grow even more.
How About A New Toy For The Little One?
This is our jam! Baby toys are what we’re all about, so you’re sure to find something exciting, educational and super-duper fun! Why not check out loads of great ideas right here!
And if you’re just starting your baby toy journey, then it’s best to begin with the basics by taking a look at our Definitive Guide to the Best Toys for Babies. Here, we’ll teach you everything you need to know to get those creative juices flowing and help you find the perfect baby toy.