How to Help Your Baby Develop Fine Motor Skills

Being a parent is tough work and helping your baby develop fine motor skills may not be the first thing you add to your daily to-do list. Parents Magazine offers a few ways you can help your baby develop manual dexterity by simply playing with their hands! According to developmental experts, manual dexterity is directly tied to cognitive development. Rhoda Erhardt, a pediatric occupational therapist in St. Paul, says "It's through her hands that your baby demonstrates the link between thought and action". It's important that parents track their child's hand development, whether you choose to journal or create a fun scrapbook. Here's what to expect in the first 12 months, as well as a few tips to help you along the way:

Tracking Motor Development:

0-3 Months

According to Parents Magazine, "Most of the hand movement that occurs during the first three months is involuntary". During this stage in your baby's development, you can place your finger in your newborn's palm, and their fingers will close around it tightly. Erhardt says, "It's simply his palmar reflex, an automatic response". As your baby gets older, these reflexes will eventually turn into voluntary actions. Parents Magazine offers a few more tips and tricks:

  • Stroke the backs of his knuckles with a rattle. Then, as his fingers open, place it gently in his palm. In the beginning, he won't be able to hold it very long, but the experience of holding and dropping it will let him practice for later play.
  • Make sure your baby plays on his tummy. It's crucial for helping him strengthen his back, shoulder, arm, and hand muscles.
  • Invest in a baby gym with dangling toys. Placing your baby under the arch and encouraging her to bat at the toys is wonderful practice for hand-eye coordination.

4-6 Months

These months are the most important in the development of your baby's fine motor skills. During their 4-6 months of life, your baby will begin to coordinate their thoughts with their hand movements. Your baby will be picky, and he or she will start to reach and grab for their favorite toys. Your baby will also begin to grab their own hands and feet and transfer objects from hand to hand. This type of movement teaches your child cause and effect, and shows them that their actions have an impact.  

  • Play pat-a-cake or "The Itsy-Bitsy Spider" with your baby to help improve her coordination.
  • Press a soft block between your baby's hands for practice holding toys.
  • Shift your baby's positions frequently. When an infant learns to play in a new position, such as on her side, her motor skills are challenged in different ways and develop more thoroughly.

7-9 Months

At 7 months, your baby is now a master at handling toys. The next challenge is learning how to feed him or herself. According to Parents Magazine, your baby will be able to wedge the food into their first, but whether they get it into their mouth is another story. In this stage, your baby's pincher skills develop and your baby will begin to learn how to feed themselves.

  • Let your baby make a mess. It's great practice for little fingers.
  • When your baby plays, make sure her back and shoulders are supported so she can concentrate on making her fingers work.
  • Let your baby do things by herself. This allows her to practice her skills and promotes independence.

10-12 Months

This is the refinement stage for your baby. Your baby will move on to harder tasks, such as learning how to operate their fingers independently of one another. According to Parents Magazine, "Your child will also be able to point to objects she wants and use hand signals to let you know that she wants to be held or picked up. She'll also start to clap along to music and willingly reach for and hold your hand".

  • Tie short pieces of different-colored yarn to each of her fingers so she can see and feel them moving individually. Make sure the yarn is snug but not too tight.
  • Poking holes is the best way to help your child learn to use each of her fingers independently, so invest in some clay and let her poke to her heart's content.
  • Babies this age understand dozens of words, so ask your child to perform tasks that challenge her motor coordination and her understanding of cause and effect, such as squeezing a squeaky toy.

For more tips and tricks, bring your baby to Developmental Movement with Jessie Wesoky. The class meets every Friday at 11:00am-11:50am. Come dance, move, sing, learn, explore, and play with your little one! All classes include a warm up, BrainDance, sensory exploration, dance concepts, folk dance, instruments and discussion of appropriate physical, emotional, and neurological development. Parents and caregivers will leave the hour long class with lots of ideas of how to support your child's development at home with movement, props and music.

Jessie also provides consultations on toddler development. This is a chance to get a lot of information on how to support your growing toddler in an hour. Topics covered include: social and emotional development, gross and fine motor skills, toys, and sensory play. Consultations on infant or toddler development are in home or virtual and are usually scheduled for evenings or weekends, schedule by emailing