9 Skills Needed to Improve Your Child's Fine Motor Development

There are several areas of fine motor development that work together to allow a child to master fine motor skills. Understanding how these areas work together and how to encourage fine motor skills can help a parent to better recognize and address any concerns.

"Fine motor skills have a significant impact on later math, reading, and science achievement."  - Unknown


Motor skills - fine and large - are crucial for children's development. Using their fine and large motor skills is how children interact with, make sense of, and impact the world around them. Large motor skills are the organized and effective movement of the large muscles of the body, especially the arms and legs. This includes activities like kicking a ball and jumping. Fine motor skills are the ability to make coordinated movements using the small muscles of the body. Zipping up a jacket and building with blocks are examples of fine motor skills. Both types of motor development are essential for a child. Fine motor development helps children learn to complete everyday tasks independently, participate in school, and engage in more complex play activities. Fine motor development follows a fairly predictable path throughout childhood, but there is a range for when each individual child will develop a skill. If a parent is concerned about their child's fine motor development, or any development, it is recommended to speak with the child's pediatrician. There are several areas of fine motor development that work together to allow a child to master fine motor skills. Understanding how these areas work together and how to encourage fine motor skills can help a parent to better recognize and address any concerns.

Building Blocks for Fine Motor Development

There are nine individual skills that work together as part of fine motor development. Children may master some of these skills earlier than other ones. If fine motor activities are challenging, try identifying which skills are less developed and introduce play activities that strengthen those skills.


Hand Dominance

This is the unconscious preference to use one hand over the other. Children may start to show a preference around two years old, but a clear hand dominance is not established until 4 to 6 years old. There is no identifiable benefit to being left or right-handed.


Muscle Strength

Strength in the small muscles of the fingers, hands, and wrists is crucial for fine motor development.


Crossing the Midline

The midline is an imaginary vertical line down the center of your body dividing your left and right sides. Crossing the midline allows a child to reach across the center of the body to complete a task. Crossing the midline is important for tying shoes, handwriting, and hitting a ball with a bat.


Hand-Eye Coordination

This is a coordinated effort between the brain, eyes, and hands. The eyes see what needs to be done, the brain processes the visual input, and uses the eyes to guide the hands through the task. Activities like lacing, building with blocks, and jigsaw puzzles require hand-eye coordination.


Bilateral Integration

Bilateral Integration is the ability to use the left and right sides of your body together either at the same time or in an alternating manner. Rolling dough out with a rolling pin requires the use of both hands working together while tying shoelaces coordinates both hands doing different parts of the task at the same time.


Body Awareness

Body awareness is the ability of your brain to recognize where your body is in space. Muscles and joints continuously send the brain information about bodily movements and the brain sends signals back to adjust movements as needed. Under-developed body awareness often shows up as clumsiness. Spatial awareness is connected to bodily awareness. Body awareness allows a child to color within the lines and to reach their arm the correct distance to pick up a block.


Object Manipulation

There are two key parts of object manipulation. First, the controlled and purposeful use of an object, like a pencil, tongs, or scissors. Second, the ability to move and position an object in one hand without the help of the other hand. Object manipulation is important for using utensils to eat, drawing a picture, and zipping up a jacket.


Hand Division

Hand Division is the ability to isolate part of the hand to do a task. Most often, people will isolate the thumb, index, and/or middle finger. The unused fingers will be tucked into the palm providing stabilization for the fingers being used. Counting to ten on one's fingers is one example of hand division.


Postural Stabilization

Fine motor skills need a strong base to work from. Holding the trunk and shoulders steady while using the hands and wrists is needed to have well-developed fine motor skills. If the body is having trouble maintaining its position, then it is hard to use the muscles of the hands effectively. Postural stabilization requires torso strength and practice.


Why It Matters

Fine motor skills are an important part of many daily tasks. Functional tasks (eating, getting dressed), learning tasks (handwriting, sharpening a pencil), and play tasks (catching a ball, drawing) all use fine motor skills. When fine motor tasks are difficult for a child, they may become frustrated and even avoid the tasks. This can lead to underdeveloped fine motor skills, which may result in lower self-esteem and confidence. This is especially true as a child gets older and they have less refined fine motor skills than their peers. Addressing challenges with fine motor skills should begin by having a conversation with your child's pediatrician. They can help you to identify if there is a developmental concern and direct families toward appropriate resources and therapies. Parents can also use a play-based approach at home to help their children practice fine motor skills in a low-pressure and fun way. Activities, like drawing with the dominant hand, lacing cards, sensory play, building with blocks, busy boxes, and play dough, are simple and engaging ways to reinforce fine motor skills.


Additional Resources & Reference List


Beck, Colleen. (2019). Hand Dominance Activities 3 Simple Tips. The OT Toolbox. Retrieved from: https://www.theottoolbox.com/hand-dominance-laterality-functional-activities-kids/

Kid Sense. (n.d.) Crossing the Body's Midline. Retrieved from: https://childdevelopment.com.au/areas-ofconcern/fine-motor-skills/crossing-the-bodys-midline/

Your Therapy Source. (2017). The Ultimate Guide to Bilateral Coordination Skills. Retrieved from: https://www.yourtherapysource.com/blog1/2017/10/01/bilateral-coordination-skills/



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