For most people, writing a birthday card or tying your shoelaces probably seems like a relatively easy task. But these activities are complex movements that require the coordination of the muscles and the brain.

To be able to carry out these tasks, we have to develop our fine motor skills.

Fine motor skills are the ability to make movements using the small muscles in the hands and wrists. These skills involve the coordination of the hands and fingers with the eyes.

Improving these skills is a really important part of our development, as we use fine motor skills in various ways daily.

What is the difference between fine motor skills and gross motor skills?

While fine motor skills involve the muscles in our hands or wrists, gross motor skills refer to the coordination of the larger muscles in the arms or legs with the eyes.

So, fine motor skills are essential for smaller movements and actions like picking things up or holding a pencil, while gross motor skills are important for larger activities like walking or throwing a ball.

Fine motor skills examples for children

Some activities that require us to use fine motor skills include:

  • Holding a pen, pencil, or paintbrush
  • Drawing, tracing, and writing neatly
  • Stacking and organizing objects
  • Using scissors and rulers
  • Typing on a computer
  • Fastening clothing – zips, buttons, and velcro can be difficult to use at first
  • Opening lunch boxes – the clasps on food containers can be clips or sometimes screw tops
  • Tying shoelaces
  • Video Gaming – the controllers, have small buttons and require fast reactions
  • Using a knife and fork – if you don’t correctly hold them, the food may not stay on the utensil, or it will take the child a long time to finish their dinner
  • Opening doors
  • Brushing their teeth

A fine motor skill example that some adults attempt to perfect throughout their life and sometimes never master is playing a musical instrument. Quite often, it requires small intricate movements from the fingers that must be timed and positioned correctly. This is why schools and parents often suggest their children take music lessons at a young age – even if they never become world-class musicians, their agility (the ability to move their hands quickly and deliberately) will improve incredibly.

Fine Motor Skills Development

Children develop fine motor skills at different rates, but generally, the bulk of fine motor skill development happens between the ages of 6 and 12. As a result, children will improve their fine motor skills differently at each developmental stage.

The progression of fine motor skill development will vary from child to child and is reliant on the age-appropriate development of certain physical skills that can act as a base for arm and hand control.

Below is a list of milestones that may be expected at certain ages:


Fine motor skill development starts when we’re babies, primarily with reflexes.

A good example is the ‘palmar grasp,’ where babies grab a person’s finger by closing their hand around it.

Before reaching 12 months, babies may pick objects up using a pincer grasp (using their thumb and one finger) and maybe even pass toys between their hands.

If babies don’t meet these milestones, there may be some reasons, such as poor muscle development and control.


At this stage of fine motor skill development, children learn through play. For example, an important skill toddlers pick is understanding that different objects have different weights and sizes.

Toys and games that toddlers will play that can help to develop fine motor skills:

  • Making towers with building blocks
  • Doodling with colored pens, pencils, and crayons
  • Placing beads and buttons on string and ribbon
  • Playing with Play-Doh, especially rolling into small balls or sausage shapes
  • Turning the pages of picture books


By this stage, children will have developed some basic fine motor skills which allow them to cut and stick, hold a pencil and build things out of blocks.

Another way that children develop fine motor skills is by manipulating materials such as clay or dough, and they may be able to create more complex shapes than toddlers.

At this age, children may develop the ability to use their non-dominate hand to stabilize objects like paper when playing and drawing.

Other activities that will help preschool children to develop their fine motor skills include:

  • Using scissors to cut a continuous line
  • Writing their name and numbers 1-5
  • Using zips and buttons independently

Poor pencil grip or frustration when holding pencils may cause a delay in development at this age.

Primary School:

As they progress through school, kids develop more fluidity in their fine motor skills, such as better accuracy when cutting and sticking and learning to write neatly and within the lines.

Activities that primary school children will be expected to complete that employ the use of fine motor skills include:

  • Cutting out shapes
  • Coloring within the lines
  • Form letters and numbers correctly
  • Write within the lines
  • Tie their shoelaces independently

Slower development of fine motor skills can be a sign of developmental coordination disorder (DCD), also known as dyspraxia.

Ideas for fine motor skills development at home

  • Encouraging children to play with small toys and playdough
  • Finger-eating and painting
  • Completing puzzles

Threading beads onto pipe cleaners

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