Let’s break down child development into the fine motor milestones typically seen at each age. This compilation of early childhood physical development includes a fine motor milestone checklist for each age range, birth through six years. This fine motor milestones list can be helpful for parents of young children, teachers in preschool through the early grades, and occupational therapy professionals looking for fine motor developmental resources.
Fine Motor Milestones
Developmental milestone guidelines may be shifting as reported in this Evidence-Informed Milestones for Surveillance Tools article, but your friendly neighborhood occupational therapist can help you understand what to look for at each stage of child development.
Most children follow a general developmental pattern in early childhood physical development. Understanding the typical and expected development of skills, is important when identifying potential areas of concern. Fine motor skills, the area of development detailed in this post, entails the actions of the arms, hands, wrists, and fingers, in order to manipulate objects.
It’s important to note that these fine motor milestones indicate a developmental progression. While not every date is a hard marker, it is important to see progression, and the ability to achieve the motor skills that make up pre-writing skills. Pre-writing fine motor skills are the important skills needed in preschool, before a child is asked to write.
It is critical that the child is developmentally ready for writing, by learning these early fine motor skills first.
If you know a child who is not meeting the early childhood physical development suggestions below, don’t fret – there are many ways to address fine motor skills through these fun activities found on the OT Toolbox!
FINE MOTOR MILESTONES – BIRTH to 6 MONTHS
In the newborn stage of life, starting in utero, foundational movement skills are practiced. Babies move their hands and arms generally and reflexively (check out this article on primitive reflexes), while they learn their bodies and the environment. As they start to grow, you will see a very active and capable 6 month old baby – see below for a fine motor skills checklist.
NEWBORN – 2 MONTHS
- Has a strong grasp; Opens and closes fists
- Brings hand to, or near mouth
- Arms stretch out and hands open
- Scratches fingers along blanket or clothing
- Looks toward outstretched hand (often eliciting the ATNR reflex)
3 – 5 MONTHS
- Holds a toy when placed in hand
- Uses arms to purposely swing at toys
- Brings hands to mouth consistently
- Pushes up onto elbows/forearms when on tummy
- Consistent, purposeful reach using vision to guide movement
- Transfers objects hand to hand
- Finger feeds large foods (e.g., biscuit)
- Shakes/bangs toys
- Leans on hand/s to support seated position
FINE MOTOR DEVELOPMENT 7 to 24 MONTHS
Gross motor development is very noticeable at this time, therefore fine motor development slows during this stage. Crawling, furniture cruising, and walking usually occur. What about fine motor skills? Read on to see all of the development that occurs in the “small” motor movements in the way of fine motor milestones for toddlers.
7 – 9 MONTHS
- Plays using arms (Peek-A-Boo; So Big!)
- Index finger use to “poke”
- Raking cereal with fingers to grasp
- Purposeful grasp and release of objects into containers
- Grasp on thumb side of hand
10 – 12 MONTHS
- Grasps with thumb and 2 fingers
- Pincer grasp develops; picks up cereal/small objects with thumb and index finger
- Imitates tool use (e.g. brushing hair, using a toothbrush)
- Uses hands to push, pull, squeeze and rotate
- Removes socks
- Stacks blocks; may not balance them
12 – 24 MONTHS
- Self feeds using hands or utensils
- Points with index finger
- Complete simple form shape puzzles (circle, square, then triangle)
- Brings hands together to midline for use
- Scribbles on paper spontaneously
- Holds crayon with fisted hand
- Stacks 2-6 block tower
FINE MOTOR MILESTONES FROM 2 to 4 YEARS
As children develop from toddlers into preschoolers, and gross motor development has reached major milestones, tons of fine motor skills begin to shine! Check out this checklist of fine motor milestones for young preschoolers.
2 – 3 YEARS
- Pushes, winds, slides to activate toys
- Self feeds with utensils and open cup, some spillage.
- Screws/unscrews lids
- Strings several large, 1 -1.5 inch beads
- Imitates, eventually copies from a model, vertical, horizontal lines, and circle
- Holds crayon with thumb and fingers
- Stacks 6-8 block tower, begins to follow block designs
- Uses scissors to snip paper
- Turns single pages in book
3- 4 YEARS
- Self feeds with utensils and open cup, little spillage.
- Strings small beads
- Snaps clothing, zips with assistance, begins to manipulate large buttons
- Folds and creases paper
- Imitates, then copies a cross (“t”)
- Draws a two part person
- Holds pencil with thumb and fingers
- Stack 9-10 block tower, begins to copy block designs (train, bridge, wall)
- Uses scissor to cut along a thick, straight line
FINE MOTOR DEVELOPMENT FROM 4 to 6 YEARS
Fine motor milestones for kindergarten and young elementary ages are a huge part of development during these years. Somewhere around this time, children with start school. Many of the fine motor skills will be tested here. Think of all of the crafts, puzzles, books, and small play items that they will encounter!
4 – 5 YEARS
- Self feeds with utensils and an open cup, no spillage.
- Imitates 4-6 part block designs
- Buttons clothes
- Laces sewing card
- Opens all fasteners
- Imitates then copies a diagonal line, square, triangle, and X
- Draws a 3 part person
- Uses scissors to cut simple shapes
5 – 6 YEARS
- Builds complex designs with Legos, Tinker toys, etc.
- Imitates, then copies a rectangle
- Connects two dots with straight line
- Copies, then prints first name from memory
- Copies letters and numbers
- Draws an 6 part (or more) person, and recognizable pictures
- Uses scissors to cut complex shapes
- Ties laces together
- Cuts food with butter knife
RELATED: Interested in more than just fine motor? Read all about Child Development!
Free Printable Fine Motor Checklist
Want a printable Fine Motor Checklist with ages for developmental milestones of these fine motor skills? Use it to support child development, progression of fine motor skills, and to check off fine motor accomplishments.
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Sydney Thorson, OTR/L, is a new occupational therapist working in school-based therapy. Her
background is in Human Development and Family Studies, and she is passionate about
providing individualized and meaningful treatment for each child and their family. Sydney is also
a children’s author and illustrator and is always working on new and exciting projects.