06/17/2014 06:52 pm ET Updated Aug 17, 2014

What You Need to Know About Your Baby's Fine Motor Development

Once young babies discover their fingers, parents are often thrilled to see their children learn to control those little fingers to grasp, pinch or fist. Child development experts call this process of learning to use the small muscles of the hands and fingers fine motor development. This includes development of both control and strength in grasping and pincer motion (using the thumb and index finger together) and eventually in writing.

Fine motor development not only impacts everyday living skills and learning skills, it is also an important aspect of a child's ability to engage in independent activities. Therefore, it's essential that there are opportunities at home for a child from birth to kindergarten to practice using these muscles.

Here are examples of everyday activities that involve fine motor skills:
  • Buttoning a shirt or coat
  • Zipping up pants
  • Snapping the snap on a pair of jeans
  • Tying shoe laces
  • Picking up a small piece of fruit with fingers
These are examples of fine motor skills that children use at school:
  • Turning pages of a book
  • Drawing with a crayon
  • Using safety scissors
  • Sorting small shapes into sets
  • Stringing beads
  • Using a computer tablet

Families can use similar activities to help their children practice in a play-like atmosphere. There are also objects at home that a family can use to promote practice in using the small muscles of the hand (always making sure that none of the objects chosen are choking hazards).

Examples of some engaging activities are:

Play Dough Snake
Give your child a round pat of play dough, and urge him to roll the play dough back and forth on the table using his palms until it turns into a play dough snake. Encourage your child to use his pincer grasp to pick up the snake and coil it into a circle.

Zipping and Buttoning Time
While you are sorting laundry, give your child small towels to fold, shirts to button, and zippers to zip. For variety, use a timer to see how long it takes her to button a shirt; then next time, compare the times.

Pasta Patterns
Give your child a few varieties of dry pasta in a bowl, and have him make a pattern using the pasta, picking up one piece at a time.

Scissor Skills
Provide your child with safety scissors, and explain what can be cut and what can't! Give your child a box lid and an old newspaper page, and show her how to cut strips of newspaper with the scissors. Tell her to put all of the cuttings into the box lid.

Nature Walk
Take your child on a nature walk, and find objects to place in a "walk box." Show him how to use his pincer grasp to pick up such items as a special rock, a beautiful leaf, a funny-shaped stick, and an acorn and put them in his walk box.

There are many more creative and interesting activities that you can do to encourage your child's use of his or her small muscles throughout the day. And as you persuade your child to try them, you'll find that you're not only helping him or her to develop important skills, you're also giving him or her something even more important -- special time with you!