19 Playtime Fine Motor Activities for Babies: 0-12 Month Development

When I was pregnant with Kevin and when he was a baby, Facebook wasn’t really a thing yet. It existed, but it was still only used by college students. At that time (early 2000s), online forums and chat boards were all the rage. Especially for moms!

And, like a lot of moms, I participated on several of them. None of my work friends or friends in real life had babies at around the same time, but every day I was engaging with other moms.

baby on a blanket with a bunch of fine motor toys with them

When he was born, he was unable to latch and breastfeed (more on that in a bit), so I had to exclusively pump if I wanted him to have breastmilk. So that’s what I did, dutifully, every 8 hours. The midday pump was at work, but the other two (4 am and 8 pm) were done at home, so I would go online and “chat” with other moms while pumping.

Honestly, it was a great distraction and great way to pass the time. I probably would not have exclusively pumped for as long as I did (over a year) had it not been for online forums.

And because of the knowledge and small talk I gleaned from these forums, I had red flags and concerns about Kevin and his development very early on. Say what you want about stuff like that being a waste of time, I know of many families who were prompted to seek medical help for conditions, due to learning from others online.

What concerned me the most, early on, was that Kevin didn’t really “do” anything. He was very pleasant, made eye contact, loved snuggling and being with Mom or Dad. But he appeared to have no instinctive curiosity. He didn’t seek out things, like toys put in front of him.

Years later, I realize that he likely had the thoughts going on in his brain, however he lacked the motor planning to “do” what he wanted to do.

In particular, I remember posting one photo of Kevin wearing sunglasses, as an infant. My friend Anne, who has a child the exact same age, commented that her baby would never in a million years leave sunglasses on.

baby in a swimming pool wearing sunglasses
In this photo, he’s 9 months old and likely hated the sunglasses but lacked the fine motor skills to take them off.

At the time, I didn’t think much of it. Now, I realize that even if he wanted to take off the sunglasses, he lacked the motor planning to do it.

For Kevin, his motor planning and processing skills play a huge role in his fine motor deficits. Still, the fine motor skill deficits are often what parents “see” first. And, they may alert you to other issues.

I’m not a doctor or OT, nor do I play one on the internet. But I can tell you that after 12-13 years of advocacy, I have never met a child who only lacks fine motor skills, and has no other skill deficits.

Fine Motor Skills vs Gross Motor Skills

Fine Motor Skills are the “smaller” tasks that we do as humans. Gross Motor Skills are the “big” tasks.

Running is a gross motor skill. Tying your shoe is a fine motor skill.

Swimming is a gross motor skill. Adjusting your goggles is a fine motor skill.

Other fine motor skills include handwriting, eating, buttoning a shirt or clothing, navigating a smart phone or typing, or doing a puzzle.

Doing gymnastics or an outdoor obstacle course is gross motor. Generally a PT will address gross motor deficits and an OT addresses fine motor. But they can work together.

Kevin really struggled with self feeding. His OTs worked directly with using utensils and getting food to his mouth.

But his PT addressed his poor core strength, sitting up properly and being able to sit straight (and not fatigue) so that he could use his energy to focus on the actual feeding.

A reminder that if at any time you feel your infant is not meeting a development milestone, you should contact your pediatrician.

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In the hospital, he wasn’t latching to breastfeed, and my gut told me that something was up.

But, new, first time mom, and no one would listen to me. They brow beat me into breastfeeding as was done then. “Some kids just take longer to get it!” they’d gaslight me over and over.

He never got it, and required therapeutic/orthodontic nipples to eat.

The skill I was most worried about in Kevin was that he was not rolling over at 3 months. New moms can tell you–this is a developmental milestone that is published everywhere. Every article I read, there it was, staring me in the face.

And so, at his 3 month checkup I inquired about it. From 3-6 months, she repeatedly told me “at 6 months we’ll worry, at 6 months we’ll worry.”

At 6 months, he still lacked the core strength to roll over and wasn’t doing it.

So she sent us to the local children’s hospital.

Thus began our journey of diagnostics. In hindsight, she should have recognized at 3 months how “floppy” he was, due to severe hypotonia. I did not recognize this, he was my first child. Then again, we got his genetic diagnosis at 8 months, would it have mattered if we got it at 5? Probably not.

Fine Motor Activities for Babies

So I don’t want to encourage any parent to helicopter parent. Or, to be so obsessed with skills and milestones that you don’t truly enjoy your baby.

But, there are fine motor activities you can do with your baby to encourage development. But, let it be said, that most parents are doing these anyway.

Any time that babies use their hands to interact with objects or people, it is considered a fine motor activity.

And we want to make sure that our babies are on the right trajectory, so that more important fine motor skills (writing, cutting, eating) are able to develop normally later in life.

Finger and hand control are important for holding a crayon or a pencil and forming letters neatly when completing writing tasks. Muscles in the hand need to be strong and both hands need to work together to complete cutting tasks.

Fine motor activities also often require a level of executive functioning that we may take for granted. For example, let’s just talk about cutting with scissors. One hand needs to hold and turn the paper while the other hand operates the scissors to cut the paper in the desired pattern or shape.

child writing and cutting paper

It is not uncommon for a school aged child to be identified as having both fine motor and executive functioning deficits. A good assessment is essential to point out the issues.

You can practice strengthening the hand all day long. But if the brain cannot manage each hand doing a separate task simultaneously, the child will not acquire the skill.

Visual motor processing is important important component to fine motor activities. This is when the eyes interpret information and the hands complete the activity, aka hand-eye coordination. So again, if a child lacks a fine motor skill, it may be a processing issue.

Fine Motor Playtime for Infants

Again, please enjoy your babies. It’s such a magical time, and my goal here is not to make any parent or guardian neurotic about their child’s development.

But, when the child already has a disabled sibling, conditions run in your family, or you just have a gut feeling that something is up, you should be aware and trying to intervene.

mom and a baby outside

You may start doing some of these activities and it will just jump start their development, and you’ll realize you were worried for nothing.

Or, if your situation mirrors mine, you will have tried many of these things and your child still isn’t responding or developing skills. So, you pursue it and get them the interventions they need.

What is the Palmar Grasp Reflex?

Ever wonder why babies pull your hair and dogs’ tails? Because you put them there!

baby and a dog

A palmar grasp reflex is when small objects are placed in an infant’s palm of the hand and the infant’s fingers close around the small objects.

Palmar grasp reflex usually disappears by 7 months of age or so, and develops into a more mature grasp that is better controlled.

Fine Motor Activities for Babies 0-6 Months

  1. grasping things
  2. shaking a rattle or toy that makes noise or sound
  3. hanging a toy from the car seat, crib or stroller for swatting
  4. clapping to music
  5. Toys that have a variety of textured fabrics.
  6. Reach for and grab for any safe objects (again, this is why they grab dogs’ tails, so keep everyone safe)
  7. simple cause and effect toys–push or squeeze the toy, it makes a sound

Fine Motor Activities for Babies 6-12 Months

Infants at this age infants are learning to crawl which is good for strengthening the muscles of the arms, hands and fingers which develops their fine motor skills. As babies develop both their fine and gross motor skills, they are getting stronger.

baby doing water play

Examples of fine motor activities for infants ages 6-12 months include:

  1. playdough–rolling, squeezing, etc.
  2. filling and dumping containers–cups in the bathtub, a bean bin, sand box, etc.
  3. building a tower or stacking things
  4. magnets on your refrigerator
  5. block puzzles
  6. lacing (I mean the toy lacing cards with big holes, not lacing a shoe)
  7. turning pages in a book
  8. bathtub crayons and toys
  9. peg puzzles
  10. cause and effect toys
  11. finger painting
  12. shaking or rolling a sensory bottle

When should the pincer grasp appear?

My son is a teenager and still lacks a pincer grasp. But, please don’t wait until your child is a teen to report this issue to someone. The pincer grasp should appear in a child around 9-12 months and is a significant developmental milestone.

As we age, we often lose the pincer grasp due to arthritis or another condition, and require adaptive tools to do some activities of daily living.

This is why some elderly people get prescription containers that are not child proof. They lack the hand strength and fine motor skills to open the childproof ones.

An infant uses a pincer grasp by using the tip of the thumb and the tip of the forefinger to pick up and release objects. Think of the baby eating Cheerios from a high chair tray. They often start eating cheerios by smashing a bunch into their palm, and hoping some get to the mouth.

But, as skills develop, they are able to pick up just one or two Cheerios using a pincer grasp.

Again, if you have any questions at all about your child’s development, go with your gut. There are still clinicians out there who are biased or old school, and take the old “wait and see” approach. Wait and see is appropriate sometimes, but a second opinion never hurts either.

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