Baby Development - Your Child's Fine Motor Development

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One of the joys of parenthood is watching your child develop. Actions such as crawling, shaking a rattle or standing up are real milestones, greeted enthusiastically by doting parents.

But how does a child move from a helpless newborn to a functioning human being? How does a child learn all the skills necessary to cope with life?

The Early Years

Growth patterns in children tend to follow a pattern in three directions: gross motor skills will be developed before fine motor skills, muscle development will normally flow from head to toe and larger muscles will develop at an earlier stage than smaller muscles.

Because of these directional patterns, a child will, for example, be able to lift its head before it can crawl or be able to walk before it learns to scribble. The smaller muscles in hands and fingers simply take longer to develop than the larger muscles in the neck, body and major limbs.

In general, a child’s fine motor development will progress as follows:

  • 0 to 6 Months:

In the first 6 months, a child will start to develop arm and hand movement and by the age of 6 months, it will be able to pick up objects such as a spoon or cup.

  • 7 to 12 Months:

By 12 months, most children will be able to stack two small cubes on each other and be using thumb and fingers to pick up objects precisely.

  • 1 to 2 Years:

During the second year, fine motor skills will develop at an increasing rate, so that the child will begin to scribble with a crayon, be able to turn pages, two to three at a time and build block towers up to six blocks tall.

  • 2 to 3 Years:

The child will learn to turn pages one at a time, unbutton clothes, draw crosses and circles and unscrew lids on jars. The child will normally be able to make snipping motions with scissors and build block towers up to 9 blocks tall.

  • 3 to 4 Years:

Fine motor skills will develop over this period so that the child can make cuts with scissors, hold a crayon or pencil like an adult and make reasonable copies of crosses and circles.

  • 4 to 5 Years:

By the age of 5, most children will be able to cut a reasonably straight line with scissors and screw together large threaded objects.

  • 5 to 6 Years:

By six years, fine motor skills will have developed so that most children will be able to tie shoelaces and comfortably manage zips. The child will be able to copy squares and triangles and mostly stay within lines when colouring pictures.

Many child development experts stress the link between early gross motor skills like crawling, and the later development of fine motor skills, such as writing. Research has shown that crawling stimulates and strengthens the development of both halves of the brain, by creating neural pathways between the left and right sides of the brain.

Crawling is known to increase the production of a chemical, myelin, in the brain. Myelin plays an important role in the development of neuron transmitters and receivers, enabling messages to move faster and more accurately within the developing brain.

So great is the importance of so-called “tummy-time” – time spent by the child on their stomachs and bearing their weight on their hands – that many experts urge parents not to be too hasty in placing their child in a baby seat, baby bouncer or swing, otherwise critical development of fine motor skills could be affected.

Identifying Problems

Many parents are concerned that their child may have fine motor skill problems and are uncertain when to ask for help. Problems detected early on can be addressed before they lead to later difficulties, so symptoms such as difficulties in sitting up, raising the head or problems in crawling during the first two years should be raised with the child’s doctor.

Problems identified during later stages, typically during pre-school or early school years, such as difficulties in handling crayons, drawing, managing buttons or zips should also be tackled with a doctor, teacher or occupational therapist.

Helping Them Grow

Start early! Bright colours stimulate children, so make sure that your baby has plenty of bright, vibrant pictures and toys around from day one. In the first few months, baby’s vision is not sharp, but can determine contrasts.

One of the first games your child will enjoy is picking up and throwing down objects – everything not bolted down is suitable. The act of grasping and releasing is great for fine motor stimulation, so grin and pick up that spoon from the floor just as long as your patience lasts.

As your child develops, there are many toys and activities that can be used to stimulate her fine motor skill development. Activities such as finger painting, drawing and cutting out shapes can be enjoyable for both parent and child, while providing a boost to developing minds.

Hand-eye co-ordination exercises such as threading beads or building block towers are great joint activities. Make patterns with pegboards, post shapes through cut-outs, get messy with clay modelling!  Whatever you do, have fun – you are only limited by your own imagination!

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