Have you heard the terminology ‘fine motor skills’ and thought what in the heck does this mean?fine-motor-skills-definition

It’s a term that is naturally used by many therapists, doctors, and other medical personnel.

When I heard this word being used over and over again when my nephew who has cerebral palsy was going through therapy, I was curious as to what it meant. Most importantly, what exactly was he doing during therapy to improve his fine motor skills?

I was inspired to write this post because of my nephew working day in and day out to strengthen his fine motor functions. This is such an important muscle group to develop and strengthen for a child to use during their everyday life (especially early on)

Throughout this post I am going to breakdown the most important information of what to know about the fine motor skills definition, the difference between fine motor vs. gross motor functions, activities to enhance these skills, and much more. 🙂

What is Fine Motor Skills?

Fine Motor skills are the muscle movements in the smaller muscles such as the hands, wrists, and fingers.

Children rely on these skills to use during everyday life and while in school.  Other small muscles defined under fine motor functions includes movement of the toes and tongue.

These skills will improve overtime as a child develops and learns to strengthen these little muscles.

Why are Fine Motor Skills Important?

These important skills that involve a child’s small muscles in their hands, fingers, and thumb help them perform important tasks like getting dressed, feeding themselves, holding onto toys, writing, and drawing.

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Little hands need to develop strength.  Doing engaging activities (which we’ll cover some FUN activities below) that allow a child the opportunity to fine tune these skills is very important early on during their development.

Now that you are familiar with what fine motor skills and the importance, lets get right into what the difference is between fine motor vs. gross motor functions.

Fine Motor vs. Gross Motor Skills

First, a motor skill is simply an action using your muscles.

The main difference between fine motor and gross motor functions is when you use your larger movements or gross motor skills vs. fine motor skills which are the smaller movements your body makes.

When your body uses the larger and stronger muscles of the body, you are developing your gross motor functions. Another way to visually understand gross motor functions is when your body makes bigger movements such as sitting up, rolling over, walking, crawling, running, or jumping.

It’s important to know that gross motor functions usually develop before fine motor functions.

Large muscles (such as the arms, legs, and trunk) will develop first, so typically, a child will master their gross motor skills such as walking first. Then, the small motor skills which require control and performing small tasks with the hands and fingers, will come after.


Age Fine Motor Skills Develop

When an infant is born up to two years old is when fine motor skills begin developing. When a child moves to use their hands and upper extremities, fine motor functions start to happen such as grasping for objects, reaching, and holding items.

The following is a guide to follow regarding fine motor skill milestones your child should be demonstrating between the ages of 0-2 years of age:

  • 3 months old: holding objects in their hands.
  • 5 months old: begins to reach and hold their toys.
  • 6 months old: begins to follow objects with their eyes, reaches or grabs to put objects in their mouth, plays independently.
  • 10 months old: can let go of toys, pick up small objects, or move objects from one hand to the other.
  • 14 months old: can turn pages of a book.
  • 16 months old: points with their index finger, uses both hands to play, can build with a few blocks.
  • 24 months old: scribbles, turns knob, can self feed with minimal assistance, hold and drinks from cup independently, able to use signing to communicate.

It’s important to know that every child will develop at their own pace so do not be alarmed if your child is not meeting the above milestones in the recommended time frame (as this is just a guide to go by based upon the average of what a child normally demonstrates at that age).

Temporary delays should cause you no worry. However, if you are concerned or are noticing that certain milestones are not being met by your child, then that could indicate possible implications are present. If that is the case, lets quickly cover some warning signs to be on the lookout for by age:


  • 0-6 months old: delayed ability to play independently, poor muscle control and coordination, delayed sensory development such as showing delayed responses when interacting with toys.
  • 6-12 months old: finger strength is weak or poorly developed, difficulty grasping objects, delayed sensory development.
  • 1-2 years old: poor development of hand and finger strength, delayed response when playing with toys and self care skills (such as eating independently).

7 Activities to Boost Fine Motor Functions

To enhance your little one’s fine motor functions, there are many FUN and engaging activities you can do right at home!

Here are 7 of the most popular activities recommended to work on improving your kiddo’s fine motor skills:

  • Push lego parts together and pull them apart.

  • Using scissors to cut paper to strengthen the wrist, fingers, and hand muscles.

  • Kitchen tongs which are a great tool to work on hand strength and control. During clean up time, allow your child the opportunity to use the ‘tongs’ to pick up their smaller toys. Not only will they have a blast playing with the tongs (most of the time), but they are working on improving their fine motor muscles.

  • Playing with tape is an incredible fine motor activity. Have your child try to peel the tape and then place it on a sheet of paper. This activity takes some serious hand control!

It’s important to have your child work on strengthening their fine motor skills so they can move forward in their development.

Performing these small tasks and activities, will allow a child the opportunity to gain more confidence and independence!

Helpful Resources

#1.  The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provides a ‘Milestone Checklist’ outlining what specific milestones a child should be doing at their age.

#2.  Here is a helpful resource I recommend which is ALL about Fine Motor Skills.  It’s a wonderful guide to reference as well as suggested activities you can do for ages 1 to 5 years old to enhance your little one’s fine motor functions.

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