What are fine motor skills?
Fine motor skills are our ability to perform specific controlled movements using our hands and fingers to do specific activities requiring good coordination and precision. These skills are important in child development because if a child has trouble with specific activities (or cannot do some of them at all) when they reach a certain age, that's a sign that they might have developmental problems.
Examples of fine motor skills include the following:
- Manipulation of small objects or tools
- Draw pictures or simple shapes
- Cut out simple shapes
- Draw straight lines
- Draw diagonal lines
- If they can grasp well and firmly (e.g., pincer grasp, mature grasp)
- Can build towers or structures by connecting large linking blocks to smaller linking blocks
- Button clothes
- Tie shoelaces
- Paint with wrist action
The ability to perform fine motor tasks will begin in early childhood. Through practice, a child can refine them. They can do so by engaging in simple activities like writing, drawing, coloring, painting, picking up and transferring objects from one place to another, playing with toys (especially building blocks), and learning to cut paper with scissors (while being supervised!). They must develop these skills so they can do specific activities like cooking and crafting when they grow up.
Do note that fine motor skills are different from gross motor skills. The latter has more to do with larger muscle groups like our arms and legs to perform activities like walking, jogging, running, jumping, lifting, reaching, and kicking.
Developmental milestones: understanding fine motor development
As mentioned earlier, fine motor development begins in early childhood. Fine motor skills are divided into fine motor skills milestones, which are groups of fine motor skills that they typically learn when they're a certain age. Here they are:
0 to 6 months:
- At birth, they have a reflexive grasp
- At three months, they should be attempting to grasp objects (visually-directed reaching/global ineffective reach for objects)
- At three months, they're able to voluntary grasp for things
- At three months, they should be able to perform a two-handed palmar grasp
- At five months, they should be able to perform a one-handed palmar grasp
- At six months, they should have a controlled reach
6 to 12 months:
- They should be able to reach for, grasp, and put objects in their mouth
- They must be able to voluntarily release objects from their hands
- They must be able to perform a (static) pincer grasp using the thumb and one finger and pick up objects using this type of grasp
- They must be able to transfer objects between their hands or another person's hands
- They must be able to voluntarily drop and pick up toys
1 to 2 years:
- They must be able to build a tower using three small blocks
- They must be able to put four rings on a stick
- They must be able to place five pegs in a pegboard
- When they turn the pages of a book, they should at least be able to turn two to three pages at a time
- They must be able to scribble
- They must be able to turn knobs
- When they paint, they should be able to shift their hands and make strokes
- They must be able to self-feed with minimal assistance (like bringing a spoon to their mouth on their own)
- They must be able to hold and drink from a cup independently
- They must be able to use signing to communicate with others
2 to 3 years:
- They must be able to string four large beads together
- When they turn the pages of a book, they should be able to turn single pages at a time
- They must be able to snip with scissors (someone should watch over them for safety reasons)
- They can grasp crayons with their thumbs and fingers and without grasping them with fists
- They must be able to use one hand consistently for most activities they engage in
- They must be able to imitate circular, vertical, and horizontal strokes
- They must be able to paint dots, lines, and circular shapes
- They must be able to paint with wrist action
- When playing with playdough, they must be able to roll, pound, squeeze, and pull dough
- They must be able to eat without assistance
3 to 4 years:
- They must be able to construct a tower using nine small blocks
- They should be able to copy circles and imitate crosses
- They must be able to manipulate playdough to make balls, snakes, cookies, and other things
- They must be able to use their non-dominant hand to assist and stabilize objects
- They must be able to snip paper with scissors (someone should watch over them for safety reasons)
4 to 5 years:
- They must be able to cut lines continuously
- They must be able to copy crosses and squares
- They must be able to copy letters
- They must be able to write their name and write numbers 1 to 5
- Their handedness must be well-established
- They must be able to dress and undress themselves without assistance
5 to 6 years:
- They must be able to cut out simple shapes with scissors
- They must be able to copy triangles
- They must be able to color drawings within lines
- They must be able to grasp pencils with three fingers and use these fingers for movement
- They must be able to draw basic pictures
- They must be able to paste and glue appropriately
6 to 7 years:
- They must be able to write on a straight line consistently
- They must be able to write most letters and numbers correctly
- They must have good writing endurance and demonstrate controlled pencil movement
- They must be able to build things using building block toys independently
- They must be able to tie their shoelaces independently
7 to 8 years:
- They must maintain the legibility of their handwriting whenever they write, especially if they're writing paragraphs or a short story.
What are the symptoms of impaired motor development?
Even if we indicated the milestones above, that doesn't mean all children can develop all those fine motor skills on time. Some children will experience difficulty with some of these and may become delayed in their fine motor development. If they're too delayed, they might have a developmental disorder.
Here are fine motor skill red flags to take note of:
- They have trouble grasping objects with their thumb and fingers by the time they reach 12 months
- They have trouble manipulating small objects or tools, such as buttoning a shirt, pulling up a zipper, or holding table utensils
- They have difficulty writing, especially on straight lines
- They have difficulty maintaining legibility in their writing
- They have trouble maintaining or assuming good posture for their hands when writing
- They have difficulty imitating and making shapes with pens or by snipping paper with scissors
- They have inconsistent handedness, meaning there is a lack of hand dominance
- They have limited or poor hand-eye coordination
- They struggle dressing up on their own and tying their shoelaces
- Their fine motor skills regress
- They have an aversion to fine motor activities and tend to avoid them
As soon as parents or guardians notice these red flags, they should immediately contact a child health professional or an occupational therapist to help address them through interventions and exercises. Having a child checked for these red flags can also allow parents and guardians to detect potential developmental disorders the child may have.
How to use this Fine Motor Skills Checklist
Now that you know the gist of fine motor skills and the typical developmental milestones for such skills, it's time to introduce our fine motor checklist!
The checklist template we created is meant to be used by healthcare professionals specializing in treating children, especially regarding child development. If parents or guardians are consulting with you about their child's development, especially regarding their fine motor skills, you may hand them this checklist.
The checklist is divided into the different fine motor milestones we indicated earlier, and each section has all the fine motor skills we listed above. Those using this checklist simply need to tick which skills their child developed. The checkboxes can be ticked with a pen (if a physical copy is being used) or by tapping or clicking on them (if a digital copy is being used, the PDF has interactive checkboxes).
Fine Motor Skills Checklist example (sample)
Now that you know how our checklist works, it's time to see what it looks like when it's fully accomplished.
Another feature this checklist has is a Notes section for each fine motor developmental milestone. This is where parents or guardians can detail their observations and what they do on their part to ensure their child develops the fine motor skills indicated per milestone.
If you like what you see and believe this is a good way to track a child's fine motor skills development, feel free to download our free Fine Motor Skills Checklist template.
When should parents or guardians seek help from an occupational therapist for their child?
If parents or guardians notice that their child has poor handwriting, limited or terrible hand-eye coordination, inconsistent handedness, difficulty holding and manipulating small objects or tools (e.g., eating utensils, pens, child-safe scissors, brushes), difficulty dressing themselves, and difficulty eating independently, they should consider consulting with an occupational therapist. This is even more so if the child dislikes and avoids activities that require fine motor skills.
It's also essential for parents and guardians to have their child's teachers observe them for the same problems. Suppose they inform them about the same issues in school. In that case, parents or guardians have a more vital reason to consult with an occupational therapist to help address the difficulties and challenges the child is dealing with and to determine if the child has a developmental disorder.
Why use Carepatron as your occupational therapy software?
Thanks for reading this guide! We hope this was an excellent introduction or refresher on fine motor skills, and we hope our checklist helps track the fine motor skills that your or your client's child has as they grow up.
While we still have you, we'd like to ask for your time to check more of the Carepatron platform if you haven't. We have various nifty features that will help you streamline and improve your work, and we're confident that they're fantastic and helpful enough that you'll consider us your number-one patient portal and occupational therapy practice management software. We won't get into our features here, but we'd like to highlight one related to this guide: our resource library.
Our resource library is one of our most popular features and one of the features we're most proud of! It houses a massive collection of clinical and non-clinical resources and covers numerous healthcare fields, topics, and practices, especially child development and developmental disorders.
One example of another resource you can benefit from is the Bayley Scales of Infant Development, which can help assess if a child potentially has a developmental delay. This can work well with checklists such as the Fine Motor Skills Checklist. The scale can help evaluate a child further.
We also have guides and templates for evaluating children and adults for Autism Spectrum Disorder, such as the Autism Spectrum Quotient, Childhood Autism Spectrum Test, Autism Symptoms in Adults Checklist, and more!
What's great about these resources is that they're all free, so you can read as many guides as you want and download as many templates as you need!