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How to Develop Fine Motor Skills in Toddlers

By Pam Murphy ; Updated July 21, 2017

Children who are 12 to 30 months of age are considered toddlers and the toddler stage refers to the time between infancy and preschool age when children are walking, learning to be independent and mastering the important gross and fine motor skills they will need to move around in and participate in their environment. Fine motor skills develop naturally through developmentally appropriate play, so toddlers need plenty of time to explore and experiment with age-appropriate toys, manipulatives and art materials.

  1. Provide containers of toys in assorted sizes and colors for toddlers to dump out and refill. Your toddler will progress to picking up objects and placing them in the container, but even the initial process of dumping out the toys helps develop the fine motor muscles of the wrist, hands and fingers.

  2. Give your toddler age-appropriate finger foods that he can feed himself. Picking up small pieces of cereal or baby green peas gives toddlers practice manipulating small objects with their fingers. To promote fine motor development, let your toddler practice feeding herself with a spoon and drinking through a straw, advises the National Network for Child Care. These motions will help your toddler develop hand-eye coordination and master the pincer grasp, a fine motor skill that involves using the thumb and index finger to pick up and hold objects. The pincer grasp is a pre-writing skill that precludes the proper grasping of a pencil or crayon.

  3. Provide stacking, sorting and lacing toys. Nesting and sorting toys help toddlers practice manipulating items with their hands and fingers, and also help develop hand-eye coordination. Shape sorters work well, but toddlers also enjoy and benefit from sorting objects by color. Offer shoelaces and cardboard or laminated cut-outs with lacing holes to older toddlers. Lacing or "sewing" the string through the holes helps toddlers refine the pincer grasp.

  4. Let your toddler play with art materials, including non-toxic modeling clay, crayons and paper. Modeling clay inspires creativity, and the squeezing motion will strengthen the muscles of the hands, wrists and fingers, according to Family Education. You can make your own clay by mixing 1 cup of plain flour, 1/2 cup salt and 1/2 cup water. Encourage your toddler to scribble using non-toxic crayons. Your toddler will hold the crayon with his fist initially, which is a normal stage of the developmental process.

  5. Provide dress-up clothes, soft books and transportation toys for toddlers to enjoy during free play. Learning to manipulate buttons and to put clothing on and take it off helps toddlers develop confidence in their own abilities while improving the dexterity of fine motor muscles.

  6. Turning the pages of books improves control and coordination of fine motor movements. Pushing around toy cars, trucks and boats gives children fine motor practice during relaxed, independent play time.

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