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Alice Maclaine
Child development and education expert. Qualified Montessori teacher and children’s yoga teacher – including children with special needs.
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Stage 4 – 9 months

How can I encourage my baby’s fine motor skills?

Fine motor skills refer to our ability to pick up things between our thumb and forefinger, which is the thing that defines humans and some of our primate relatives. We're not born with this ability, it takes a while to develop and coordinate. You can encourage this ability by following a few simple guidelines.
Video Tutorial
In Short
A newborn’s grasp reflex is a reflex – it’s not under their control.

From around 3-5 months, the grasp starts to become controlled – using the whole hand.

Between 6-11 months, your baby will start to pick things up between her thumb and forefinger – sometimes successfully, sometimes not.

Encourage her by offering her something yummy like a raisin. 

From around 9 months you can encourage your baby to copy you clapping and waving.

Babies love knocking things over – you can encourage this developmental step by building up towers they can knock down.

Babies are ambidextrous until around 18 months.

Fine Motor Skills

Fine motor skills refer to our ability to pick up things between our thumb and forefinger, which is the thing that defines humans and some of our primate relatives. We’re not born with this ability, it takes a while to develop and coordinate. It starts with grasping with the whole hand on to big objects and gradually developing the skill to hold on to smaller and smaller things until we can carefully pick things up between thumb and forefinger alone.

This ability is the basis for nearly everything we do that makes us human – writing, holding a knife and fork, and so on.

The newborn grasp reflex

You might think your baby is amazingly developed because she can already grasp onto your thumb. This is actually what’s known as her grasp reflex and isn’t yet under her control , even though it feels like it is!

Controlled grasp

From around the age of 3 – 5 months (later for premature babies, a good guesstimate is to go from their expected birth date, rather than their actual birth date) your baby might start to grasp things in a controlled way. She’ll be using their whole hand at this point, so you can encourage her by offering bright and easy things to hold. Put things within easy reach and let your baby pick them up one by one and play with them,

Thumb and Forefinger hold

By around 6 months, to around 11 months, your baby will probably occasionally be picking up smaller things between her thumb and forefinger. She’ll probably get it right sometimes and drop it other times. She is practising and it’s good to encourage that with small things like raisins, bits of apple etc which have the added bonus of being a sweet reward. Your baby probably won’t do this easily until around 15 months.

Clapping and waving

By around 9 – 13 months, your baby might start to clap and wave. You can encourage her by clapping their hands together for them, so she’ll feel and see what it’s like. Then by playing with them and relying on her natural instinct to copy you. Clap and she will clap, wave and she will wave. As your baby gets more coordinated you can try the patty cake game and clapping action songs.

Knocking things over and dropping things

Knocking things over and dropping things is an important developmental step, your baby is not being naughty. You should actively encourage her to do it. Get lots of cereal boxes and build towers she can knock down, and she will love the game. Or give her things she can drop into a box and make a big noise. Doing this outside in the dirt has the added bonus of being good for developing your baby’s immune system too. Your baby probably won’t start putting things together and building (rather than knocking down) until around 18 months.

Should my baby be left or right handed?

No. Babies are usually completely ambidextrous until around 18 months when they start to favour the left or right hands. Let your baby lead you in this development, don’t try to force anything to change that isn’t natural.

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This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. Essential Parent has used all reasonable care in compiling the information from leading experts and institutions but makes no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details click here.