How to Improve Fine Motor Skills in Babies

Fine motor skills in babies are sometimes overshadowed by their gross motor skills and we forget they are just as important for their development. Fine motor skills in babies are smaller movements, such as grasping items, eating, waving hands.

If they don’t develop these skills now, it may cause delays in being able to do things such as write, cut or eat.

fine motor skills montessori quote

Palmar Grasp Reflex

As newborns, their movements are uncontrolled and they’re hands are usually in a fisted position. You’ll notice that when their hand is open and something is placed in their palm, they automatically grip.

This is called the Palmar Grasp or Palmar Reflex. If this reflex isn’t present, it may be a sign of a defect and is actually tested by the doctor or midwife right after your baby is born.

During this early stage, you just want to practice grasping (it doesn’t have to be intentional to be working their muscles), and give them opportunities to swat at things.

Their fine motor skills and gross motor skills are interconnected so doing the tummy and floor time activities suggested in my post here will help build their chest and arm muscles in order to be able to move their arms and motivate them to grasp things.

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baby grasping O ball
O balls are perfect for newborn hands to grasp
  • Montessori mobile
  • Play gym – hang different exciting items
  • Rattles and other grasping toys (tip: to get them to open their fist, rub the back of their palm)
  • O ball – this toy is fantastic for grasping!
  • Teething toys – ones that are easy for them to hold will encourage hand to mouth movements (and let them explore things with their mouth)

Fine Motor Skill Changes

Over the next few months, the palmar reflex will gradually go away, and their hand/arm movements will become more intentional.  They will go through so many small fine motor developments during the next few months.

Letting go of things, picking them up, transferring a toy from one hand to the other are all signs that your baby’s fine motor skills are on track. Here are some activities you can introduce once they start having more hand control:

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  • Silks or scarves in a tissue box, wipe container or O ball
  • Music – clap your hands, musical instruments, songs with hand movements (like “The Itsy Bitsy Spider”)
  • Banging on pots and pans
  • Bead maze (they may not be able to move beads up and down yet, but it’ll still be great fine motor practice)
  • Sign language – introduce Baby Sign Language or ASL to your baby early
  • Pulling container (I got this idea from Busy Toddler and made one out of an oatmeal container)

Pincer Grasp and Older Infant Activities

The development of the pincer grasp is an exciting fine motor skill milestone. The pincer grasp is using the tips of the thumb and pointer finger to pick things up.

Generally, they develop this around 8-10 months but really they can develop it anywhere in the second half of their first year, every child is different.

If they haven’t by the time they are reaching their first birthday you may want to discuss it with your pediatrician.

Once they get a little stronger and develop their pincer grasp, these activities will be fun to introduce:

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  • Stacking rings/stacking blocks
  • Shape sorter
  • Finger paint
  • Tape things down on table or highchair for them to pull up
  • Puzzles
  • Books – turning pages, lift and flap books
  • Playdough/clay
  • Object permanence box or ball drop
  • Pipe cleaners in colander
  • Put things in a whisk for them to pull out
  • Have them place things/take things out of any container

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Self-Feeding

One of the benefits of Baby Led Weaning is that they need to use their hands which supports development of the pincer grasp. However, even if you’ve chosen to do Traditional Weaning you can still let them practice using their hands to eat.

With purees, you can let them play with the utensil once you’ve fed them, and let them “play” with the puree. Let them get messy!

Once they’re ready introduce puffs, rice rusks or other food that they can practice picking up. I’ve seen many children flourish when regularly allowed to practice self-feeding.

Most of these activities can be done with things around the house and are easy to do. You’ll be surprised how quickly these skills will develop when you give your child the opportunity to use their hands to play and explore.

If you’ve done some of these activities with your child, please share how it worked out! Once your child is a little older, check out Sue’s 35 Pincer Grasp Activities for Toddlers and Preschoolers!

baby fine motor activities bead maze and puzzle

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14 thoughts on “How to Improve Fine Motor Skills in Babies”

  1. Great tips! I found that self-feeding really helps because my kids were always a very motivated to get that food in their mouth!

    1. Thanks! If there is one thing babies are motivated to do, it’s put things in their mouths! Might as well be something edible!

  2. I have a little 2 month old at home and am in need of twos! I also keep getting asked what to get him for christmas. This will be a helpful guide for sure!

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