Fine-Motor Skills: Overview, Examples, and Improvement (2024)

Fine-motor skills are movements that require coordination of the fingers, hands, and wrists to complete everyday tasks. Fine-motor skills require manual dexterity and start to develop in babies and young children, improving over time with maturity.

This article reviews examples of fine-motor skills, the typical timeline of their development, and ways to improve them.

Fine-Motor Skills: Overview, Examples, and Improvement (1)

Examples of Fine-Motor Skills

Fine-motor skills are used every day to complete self-care tasks, activities of daily living (ADLs), and school and work-related duties. Examples of fine-motor skills include:

  • Brushing your teeth
  • Writing with a pencil
  • Using a fork or spoon
  • Cutting with a knife or scissors
  • Buttoning a shirt
  • Zipping a zipper
  • Typing
  • Turning a key
  • Turning a doorknob
  • Turning the pages of a book
  • Tying shoelaces

Fine-Motor Skills vs. Gross-Motor Skills

Fine-motor skills require coordination of the small muscles and joints of the fingers, hands, and wrists. Gross-motor skills require larger muscles and joints to coordinate the movement of the arms, legs, and body.

Timeline of Development

Babies start to develop fine-motor skills at 1 or 2 months old, and they refine fine them and learn new ones as they grow. Advanced fine-motor skills take a longer time to develop, such as those used to play an instrument or create certain types of art, and can continue to develop into the adult years.

Children typically accomplish certain fine-motor skills along a predicted timeline with milestones at different ages.

2 Months

At 2 months old, a child should be able to do the following:

  • Open their hand from a closed fist
  • Hold their hands together
  • Hold onto a rattle if placed in their hand

4–6 Months

At 4-6 months old, a child should be able to do the following:

  • Reach for objects
  • Hold an object placed in the palm of the hand
  • Transfer objects between the mouth and hands
  • Hold their hands together

8 Months

At 8 months old, a child should be able to do the following:

  • Grasp small objects in their fingers
  • Remove an object from a cup
  • Bang a spoon on a surface

10–12 Months

At 10–12 months old, a child should be able to do the following:

  • Grasp or pinch an object between the thumb and index finger
  • Throw objects
  • Stir with a spoon

1–2 Years

At 1–2 years old, a child should be able to do the following:

  • Hold a crayon
  • Scribble
  • Attempt to stack two cubes

2–3 Years

At 2–3 years old, a child should be able to do the following:

  • Make a "train" of cubes
  • Stack cubes
  • Brush their teeth with assistance
  • Put on a coat without assistance

3–4 Years

At 3–4 years old, a child should be able to do the following:

  • Put beads on a string
  • Eat independently
  • Unbutton buttons
  • Pour liquid from one container to another
  • Draw objects

4–5 Years

At 4–5 years old, a child should be able to do the following:

  • Cut with scissors
  • Write their first name
  • Dress themselves
  • Wipe after going to the bathroom

5–6 Years

At 5–6 years old, a child should be able to do the following:

  • Use clothespins to transfer small objects
  • Bathe independently
  • Write their first and last name

6 Years and Up

At age 6 and up, a child should be able to do the following:

  • Tie their shoes
  • Copy drawings of a flag
  • Write short sentences

Ways to Improve Fine-Motor Skills

You can improve a child's fine-motor skills by giving them opportunities to do the following:

  • Put together puzzles
  • Help set the table
  • Draw or scribble
  • Cut with child-safe scissors
  • Open and close containers with lids

Adults can lose their ability to perform fine-motor skills from acquired hand and finger weakness from aging, different forms of arthritis, and neurological conditions like strokes and Parkinson’s disease. Practicing hand and finger exercises, along with attending occupational therapy, can improve fine-motor skills.

Hand and Finger Exercises to Ease Arthritis Pain

When to Talk to a Doctor

If you notice that your child isn't meeting milestones, you should talk with your healthcare provider. Certain conditions like autism spectrum disorders, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, muscular dystrophies, and others can affect a child’s ability to perform fine-motor movements.

Aging and neurological conditions can also affect your coordination and ability to complete fine-motor tasks. If you have difficulty with the daily tasks of living, talk with your healthcare provider. Occupational therapy can be beneficial for practicing and improving fine-motor movements.

Summary

Fine-motor skills are movements that require coordination of the fingers, hands, and wrists to grab, hold, and manipulate objects in order to complete everyday tasks, such as brushing your teeth, bathing, eating, writing/drawing, and getting dressed.

Babies and young children typically follow a general timeline for developing fine-motor skills but may take longer if they have certain health conditions. If you are concerned about your child’s fine-motor skills or your own, working with an occupational therapist can help.

A Word From Verywell

Performing fine-motor skills are crucial for maintaining independence with everyday tasks and activities of daily living. If you notice that you are losing your ability to perform fine-motor skills or if your child has difficulty with or is taking longer than expected with learning fine-motor skills, talk with your healthcare provider about starting occupational therapy.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is the difference between fine- and gross-motor skills?

    Fine-motor skills require coordination of the small muscles and joints of the fingers, hands, and wrists, while gross-motor skills require coordination of larger muscles and joints to coordinate movement of the arms, legs, and body.

  • What are examples of fine-motor skills?

    Examples of fine-motor skills include brushing your teeth, holding a pencil/pen to write, using a fork or spoon to feed yourself, cutting with a knife, buttoning a shirt, zipping a zipper, typing on a computer, cutting with scissors, turning a key in a lock, turning a doorknob, turning the pages of a book, and tying shoelaces.

  • Do fine-motor skills decline with age?

    Fine-motor skills can decline with age due to lack of use and acquired muscle weakness affecting coordination of the hands and fingers.

  • How can I help my child develop fine-motor skills?

    Providing different types of toys that involve pressing buttons, turning knobs, opening or closing lids, placing objects through holes, and fitting puzzle pieces together can help your child develop fine-motor skills as well as encouraging your child to participate in arts and crafts and tasks around the home, like cooking and cleaning.

4 Sources

Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

  1. Scharf RJ, Scharf GJ, Stroustrup A. Developmental milestones. Pediatr Rev (2016) 37 (1): 25–38. doi: 10.1542/pir.2014-0103

  2. National Association for the Education of Young Children. Help your child build fine motor skills.

  3. Moving With Hope. What does an occupational therapist do for adults?

  4. Choo YY, Agarwal P, How CH, Yeleswarapu SP. Developmental delay: identification and management at primary care level. Singapore Med J. 2019;60(3):119-123. doi:10.11622/smedj.2019025

Fine-Motor Skills: Overview, Examples, and Improvement (2)

By Kristen Gasnick, PT, DPT
Kristen Gasnick, PT, DPT, is a medical writer and a physical therapist at Holy Name Medical Center in New Jersey.

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Fine-Motor Skills: Overview, Examples, and Improvement (2024)

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