Develop your baby’s fine motor skills and strengthen those little muscles with these simple fine motor activities for babies and toddlers! For ages 0-3.
If you look at the milestones that parents celebrate, they’re usually things like the first time their baby sat up, or crawled, or walked. You’ll even find baby books in many homes, filled with pictures of babies doing these tasks.
However, it’s rare to find a memory of the first time baby picked up something from the floor with her fingers, or the first time she stuffed something inside a jar. And this is why fine motor skills don’t get the recognition gross motor skills do!
Gross motor skills are the ones that use large muscle groups for tasks like walking, standing or running. These require less precision and are developed early. Fine motor skills are the ones that use the smaller muscles for tasks like writing or drawing. These usually require more precision and are more complex.
From this you can see that while gross motor skills usually develop largely by normal development processes, fine motor skills need some extra help.
Why are fine motor skills important?
Fine motor skills come into play whenever we use our hands and fingers – which is for everything we do on a daily basis. As a result, if these skills are weak, children can struggle with everyday tasks, especially once they start school. They can have trouble writing neatly, or tying their shoe laces or using a pair of scissors. That’s why it’s so important to develop fine motor skills and the good news is that you can start any time!
Here is a collection of fine motor activities for babies and toddlers, for ages 0-3. So go the section featuring your child’s age group and let’s strengthen those tiny muscles!
36 Fine Motor Activities for Babies and Toddlers
Newborns don’t have any fine motor skills to speak of, but as they get aware of the world around them, you can notice a few developments. Here are some milestones to watch out for by the time your baby completes half a year:
- Follows Mom or Dad by moving their eyes and then head in that direction
- Watches their hands move and can bring them to the mouth
- Bats at objects by moving their arms
- Grasps a person’s finger or a rattle handed to them
- Holds hands together, somewhere along the midline of the body
- Transfers objects from one hand to the other
- Reaches out for objects with both arms
- Can use both their hands in a seated position when adequately supported
1. Rattle Grab
Take a rattle and offer it to your baby and let him grab onto it. Pull on it gently, so that you can feel baby holding on to the rattle more strongly. This will help to strengthen his arms.
2. Shaky Toys
Get a rattle that’s not too loud and shake it gently in front of baby and then offer it to him. Let him grasp it and once he’s got a hold on it, gently encourage him to shake it.
3. OBall Play
Hand baby an Oball and let him explore it. With the many openings in it, baby will get a lot of practice in grabbing the various edges and transferring it from one hand to the other.
4. Toy on Chest
This is a cute idea from Can Do Kiddo. Take your baby’s favorite soft toy and place it on his chest. You can place it inside his onesie if you think it’ll fall off. Let baby touch, feel and pull at the toy’s parts and explore his new friend. Make sure the toy doesn’t have eyes or other parts that can come off and get swallowed.
5. Tummy Time
Tummy time is a great opportunity for baby to exercise his muscles! Just Simply Mom props her baby up on a rolled up towel so his hands are free to reach out and grab the toys nearby.
While your baby’s on his tummy, why not use that time to paint? You can try out any art project for babies, but Mama Papa Bubba has a really easy one here!
Drums are an excellent way to exercise baby’s muscles, whether they bang on it with their hands or with a stick. Play Create Explore shows us how you can use regular pots and pans and turn them into a drum orchestra!
8. Board Books
It takes some skill to turn the page of a book, even if its a board book! Give baby large, thick books with bright illustrations, so she’ll be tempted to turn the page and see what’s on the other side.
By now, your baby has started solid foods, and this automatically opens up a lot of exploration opportunity! You can now notice the following developments:
- Uses fingers to move objects
- Uses index finger to poke at things
- Explores most things through the mouth
- Holds the bottle or cup
- Squeezes objects with fists
9. Finger Foods
If you want your child to self feed early, now’s the time to start! Place different bowls with different finger foods like fruit, vegetable sticks or pancake pieces and let your baby have a mini buffet!
Let’s Live and Learn has a great way to exercise the tiny muscles in the fingers. Use large, chunky magnets and a cookie sheet or baking tin so baby can keep on attaching and removing magnets with his fingers.
11. Pom Pom Whisk
Hello, Wonderful has an excellent idea that not just develops fine motor skills but hand eye coordination as well. Stuff a kitchen whisk with pom poms and let your baby try to get them out.
12. Peeling Tape
Messy Little Monster has an easy, no-mess activity for your baby – peeling tape! Use craft tape that’s not too strong, so your baby can peel it easily. Leave the ends up initially and then let your baby put some effort in getting it up.
13. DIY Tugging Toy
This tugging toy from The Imagination Tree is a great idea for a DIY toy that’ll keep baby busy for some time. Your little one will have a good workout for his arms when he tries to pull at all the ribbons from the box.
14. Ball Drop
You can try this activity with small balls and a PVC pipe as shown in The Paige Diaries, or you can go smaller with pom poms and a cardboard tube. You can also start with the big balls and then move on to the pom poms for a better challenge.
Let your baby strum a tune on this DIY guitar from Laughing Kids Learn! She’s sure to have fun moving her fingers along the strings and finding that they make a tune.
16. Baby Ribbon Box
This is a nice, easy activity to keep your baby busy without too much effort. Teaching Mama’s little idea will encourage baby to pull at the ribbons, swat them left and right and even try to crawl through them!
If you like to sew or know someone who does, you’re bound to have a bunch of fabric scraps. The Imagination Tree tells you how you can put them to good use – in this toy where baby can have fun pulling them out and stuffing them back in.
18. Baby Felt Play
Felt sheets are a great material to make things for baby. They don’t fray and are thick and firm enough for tiny hands. Check out this felt baby activity from Hands on As we Grow.
Your baby is now his own person and has come along way from that helpless newborn! Now your baby is old enough to do most of these:
- Develops the pincer grasp – holding objects with the thumb and index finger
- Holds two objects in one hand at a time
- Turns multiple pages of a regular book at once
- Puts smaller objects in containers
- Shows a marked preference for the right or left hand
19. Treasure Hunt
Your little explorer is up and about nowadays, so it’s time for a treasure hunt! Hide a favorite toy behind some cushions or under a blanket fort and let your little one work his way towards it. Keep a close watch especially around pillows.
20. Toy Rescue
Oh no, someone’s kidnapped the toys! Happy Stylish Fit turns this seemingly bad situation into a fun one by making it challenging for babies to reach through the web to get out their toys.
This is an easy, but effective activity to hone those fine motor skills. Little Learning Club uses an egg carton and Popsicle sticks to strengthen those baby hands as they push through the carton to insert their sticks.
22. Posting Activity
Time to post a letter? My Baba has another posting activity for little ones, using lids of jars and bottles as letters, and another empty container as the post box. This is a more challenging version of the shape sorter, since the slit is smaller.
23. Play Dough
Nothing like play dough to strengthen those fingers as they squeeze and mold the dough into any shape! Learning 4 Kids gives us a baby-safe recipe of play dough that’s also edible.
Happy Hooligans has a great activity that involves rocks and a muffin tin. Use smooth, polished rocks without hard edges for this activity to prevent cuts and bruises.
Your baby is now officially a toddler, and he has the skills to show! Over the next few months, your baby’s fine motor skills will develop at a fast pace and you can observe the following milestones:
- Uses hands for gestures like clapping and waving
- Builds a tower with a few blocks
- Scoops smaller objects with a spoon or scoop
- Scribbles with a crayon or pencil on paper
You’ll definitely have a wipes container lying around somewhere, and Hello, Wonderful shows us how to turn it into your baby’s toy! Stuffing that small hole with yarn is challenging and should keep your toddler busy for a while!
This idea from Preschool Inspirations is so creative! You need to get the right materials for this project, but once you do, it’ll be a lovely sensory experience along with a fine motor activity.
That OBall is useful in more ways than one! Stuff the ball with multicolored scarves or fabric scraps and let your baby become a magician, pulling them out one by one! Get the instructions at Still Playing School.
28. DIY Zipper Board
This is an easy activity to get ready, but make sure the zippers are safe for kids and won’t catch their skin. Laughing Kids Learn shows us how this activity will also develop focus and concentration as toddlers try to hold on to the zipper pull and tug at it.
29. DIY Busy Board
What we love the most about this idea from DIY Mama is that you can make this busy board anything you want. Depending upon what your toddler likes, you can add anything to the board and make it your very own.
30. Pom Pom Scoop
Once picking up pom poms with hands becomes too easy, let them try scooping it up with a spoon or a ladle. Make it more challenging by using a smaller spoon every time. More details over at Learn with Play at Home.
Your little one is heading towards becoming a preschooler and it’s more important than ever to exercise little muscles and polish up those fine motor skills! Here’s what you can look forward to now:
- Holds crayons with the thumb and fingers
- Turns pages one at a time in a regular book
- Inserts smaller objects through narrow holes, like threading or lacing
This activity from Laughing Kids Learn works as a good first step to threading or lacing activities. Let your child focus on the tiny holes in the cardboard and work on pushing the straws through them.
32. Net Fishing
Who doesn’t love playing with water? Check out this idea from Best Toys 4 Toddlers where you put in a few objects in water and get your child to fish them up with a net. You can also use a sieve if you don’t have a net.
Tired of picking up pom poms with scoops? Make it more challenging by using tongs, as shown in B-Inspired Mama! And when that gets too easy, go with tweezers!
A bunch of multicolored or wooden clothespins and a laundry basket can turn into a fun activity, like this one from School Time Snippets. Let kids have fun practicing opening and closing the clothespins with their fingers.
Here’s another way to strengthen those hands, via The Resourceful Mama. A hole punch! Kids are sure to love punching random holes in paper, and it’ll give their muscles a good workout.
Now this is an activity that requires a good deal of concentration, motor skill and hand-eye co-ordination. A Daily Dose of Mom also gives us tips on how to cut down on the post-activity cleanup.
Besides these activities, you can also get your child a few toys to develop those fine motor skills:
- Interactive Books
- Basic Skills Board
- Bead Maze
- Activity Cube
- Lacing Cards
- Threading Beads
- Peg Board
- Activity Gym
- Chain Links
- Doodle Pad
- Busy Board
Please remember that whatever toy or activity you choose, it has to be under adult supervision at all times. In fact, it is recommended that you get completely involved in the activity yourself, while also allowing your baby to explore on his own – under your watch! Always check all the materials for any sharp edges, parts that can come off or cause strangulation. Also, make sure nothing is made of toxic materials like lead. The age recommendations here are merely a guide – it is up to the parent to choose an activity that is best suited to the child’s age and abilities.
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