Fine Motor Skills

Small Muscles

Fine motor development is defined as the development of smaller muscle movement that involves using the hands and fingers to carry out detailed tasks.


Samantha is now four years old. Samantha walks by the of f ice and notices her dad working at his desk writing something. “Dad, can I have a pencil and paper, please?” asks Samantha. She loves to use more refined writing tools such as pencils and pens instead of crayons or markers. Samantha then takes the items and sits at her table. She starts at the top of paper and begins to make a series of zigzag lines on the paper.


In this scenario Samantha is demonstrating her ability to use her fine motor skills by pretending to write or creating a piece of art. This is a skill that is reflective of a child who is four, because it takes precision to make sharp lines. Fine motor skills play a significant role in your child’s physical development because the arms, hands, and fingers work together to complete the task. Fine motor development is ongoing. It never stops. Even as an adult Samantha may continue to refine her fine motor skills by learning to play an instrument or build and paint model airplanes.

You have witnessed first hand how your child has progressed in the area of fine motor development as you watched her go from uncontrolled hand moments in infancy, then bringing objects to her midline (middle of body) and picking up smaller objects as a baby, to using a crayon to scribble and a finger to point as a toddler; and now she can tie her shoe, use scissors, write with a pencil, draw circles on a paper, and “type” on a computer. Fine motor skills enable your child to grasp, hold, and manipulate small objects.

Your child was not able to progress through the timeline of fine motor development without having a strong foundation. You gave her this foundation as you provided her with learning experiences to increase hand-eye coordination skills, allowed her to have greater independence as she learned to open drawers and cabinets, and let her participate in routine tasks at home like picking up her clothes. All of these activities helped your child develop finger strength and control.

Fine motor development involves the senses. One in particular is her sense of sight and hand-eye coordination skills using her eyes to control the movements of the muscles of the hands, fingers, and wrists. Just as you supported your child in building the foundation needed to develop fine motor skills, you must continue to support her in refining her fine motor skills with specific activities provided through play experiences.

Parents can draw straight lines on paper and let their children cut along the lines or let them trace over their names if they cannot write the letters independently. Brushing teeth independently encourages fine motor development.

Activities that support small muscle development include your child buttoning her own buttons. If she is unable to do so independently, support her by starting the but ton and then let ting her finish. Show your child how to tie her shoes by modeling side by side or by using the “bunny ear” method.

When your child serves her own food this encourages wrist development, as does pasting pictures on paper. There are many everyday experiences that can be created for your child to hone fine motor skills. Many of the skills once refined will lead to your child developing writing and articulation skills for language development. If your child does not practice her fine motor development skills, she will weaken and lose her ability to perform some tasks required by her hands (e.g. the ability to hold scissors properly or use a pencil). Have you ever heard someone say, “I used to play piano and now I can’t?” When you ask what happened the response is usually, “I stopped practicing years ago.” A fine motor skill is like this: Without practice and refinement you can severely limit your ability to continue performing the skill.

Fine motor development supports strong writing skills. Strong writing skills will last your child a lifetime!