Babies grow and develop at an incredible rate. During your child’s first two years of life they will go from tiny, squishy, and completely dependent infants towalking, talking, and opinionated toddlers. Needless to say,it’s a bit of a blur.
However, there are some aspects of their development that you should definitelykeep an eye on. Certain motor skills areimportantmilestones that are indicative of your child’s healthy physiological development. Once you knowwhatthese skills encompass, you can incorporate activitiesthat help them practice.
Motor skills involve intentional movement and coordination to accomplish different tasks. While these skills are overtly physical in nature, they also involve your child’s maturing neurology (i.e brain signals).
There are two main groups of motor skills: gross motor skills and fine motor skills. Gross motor skills use large muscle groups in the arms, legs, (or sometimes) their entire body
Your little one is going to work on gross motor skills first. Once they can hold their head upright on their own and sit up unaided, then they will start to develop their fine motor skills in earnest. Namely,they should startbeing able to reach for, grasp, and release various items.
Getting started with gross motor skills is easy enough, think tummy time, standing, and crawling/walking/running, but how do you practice those more refined movements with your baby? Depending on your child’s age range (remember there is A LOT of development during the first few years), here are some ways to help encourage fine motor skills in your baby or toddler.
- Baby led weaning
Also referred to as baby lead feeding, BLW skips the traditional baby foodpurees. Many infants are ready to incorporate “solids” around 4-6 months old. Instead of relying on blended food on a spoon, BLW puts your little one in the driver’s seat of eating. Food is prepared in a holdable and easily chewable way. Your baby then learns to self-feed, in turn getting a lot of fine motor skills practice in. They have to learn how to pick up foods, with different textures, and get it to their own mouth.
- Games that involve object movement
Any game that requires your child to manipulate their hands will help their fine motor skills. This can be as simple as pulling out scarves from a box. You can increase the complexity of the game as your child develops, adding specific shape or color rules. You can even make your own games from things around the house. However, you must ensure that the pieces are still age-appropriate (i.e. no smaller pieces, like buttons as these can present a choking hazard to children under 3).
- Taking apart and putting together
Toddlers, in particular, seem to love taking things apart and putting them back together. For a while, my daughter was obsessed with deconstructing, and then reconstructing, an empty baby bottle. While not specifically a toy, I was happy to oblige as it was kid-safe and already readily available. It also works on fine motor skills AND cognitive development (win-win).
- Busy boards
Busy boards are a great way to keep an infant or toddler occupied, in addition to practicing their fine motor skills. The various activities on a busy board require a base level of dexterity and focus. Sliding locks, door knobs, short bits of fabric or ribbons, and buckles are all great activities to aid their development.
- Make some Art
Do you want to encourage your child’s creativity while working on their fine motor skills? Usually,the answer is “Yes!” and incorporating Art based activities is the way to go. Painting, coloring, and sculpting with Play-Dough are fun ways to practice. They can finger paint if they are particularly young. If they are a little older, try cutting with (toddler-safe) scissors in addition to pasting and holding different widths of writing instruments.
- Songs with hand finger motions
Music helps with memory and movement (not to mention it’s fun). “Patty Cake,” “Hokey Pokey,” and “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes” are classics that almost every kid enjoys. For fine motor skills specifically, think of melodies that involve hand or finger movements like “Little Bunny Foo Foo” or “Baaabbbbyyyy Shark doo doo doo doo doo doo…” (I’m so sorry.)