Your toddler’s fine motor skills: what are they and what should you expect? - Essential Baby - Brand Discover

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Your toddler’s fine motor skills: what are they and what should you expect?

Every eager parent watches their child with excitement as they grow and reach their milestones. Reaching those milestones is an important part of a child’s development and parents should try to be aware of what to expect, and at what age.

While there is a strong focus on milestones related to gross motor skills, such as crawling, standing, walking and jumping, there is less of a focus on fine motor skills, which are equally important. Fine motor skills involve small, precise movements from the body, such as being able to pinch the fingers together, hold an object, pick a small object off the floor, hold a sippy cup and drink independently.

As a child grows, these fine motor skills are essential for what will become their ability to self-care. Mastering fine motor skills sets your child up for getting dressed, feeding themselves, holding a pencil, and, in the long run, writing. So while the gross motor skill milestones are important, an equal focus should be given to fine motor skills, as these are key to your child exploring the world and gaining independence.

AptaNutrition Advisory team midwife Amanda Saunders explains that, at a very basic level, children moving into the toddler years (12 months +) need these fine motor skills to survive – once they have mastered them, they can eat and drink on their own.

This further extends to educational outcomes as neglected fine motor skills can interfere with the ability to hold a pen properly and, later on, with hand writing. Fine motor skills also hone hand-eye co-ordination, so if you have high hopes for a tennis or golf champion, fine motor skills is the place to start!

Unlike gross motor skills, a child’s ability depends upon what degree their parent or care-giver exposes them to opportunities to learn. For example, no parent will be able to stop a baby from rolling, or from crawling when they are ready. Nor will they stop them from learning to walk in the early toddler years. These skills are innate and unfold naturally.

But, if a toddler is not given the opportunity to hold a cup and give themselves a drink, they will remain reliant on their care-giver to feed them. Likewise, if your child is only ever spoon-fed and not given finger food to pick up, hold and pass from hand to mouth, self-feeding may be delayed.

Amanda says: “Fine motor skills can be really affected by parenting. If mum doesn’t encourage her child to hold their bottle, or to eat finger food, most children will be really happy with someone feeding them, without wanting to be independent. If parents or care-givers don’t encourage them to develop their fine motor skills, then often they won’t.”

Amanda advises parents that all children develop at different stages and the spectrum for achieving milestones can be quite broad.  As a rough guide, parents can expect the following fine motor skills at each phase of the toddler years:

12 – 18 months

  • To be able to point with their pointer finger
  • Build a tower with two blocks
  • Use two hands to hold a toy
  • Hold a crayon in a fist clasp, to scribble on paper
  • Hold a cup and drink (with limited co-ordination)
  • They may be able to feed themselves with a spoon
  • Take their socks off (but not be able to put them on)
  • Put a hat on their head, and take it off.

18 months – 2 years

  • Build a tower with four to six blocks
  • Place / stack rings on a stacking toy
  • Turn pages of a book
  • Scribble with a crayon
  • Turn knobs
  • Throw a small ball
  • Paint using their whole arm
  • Copy an adult drawing a vertical line or a circle
  • Feed themselves with a fork and a spoon
  • Pull up a large zipper
  • Put large shapes into a shape-sorting toy.

Amanda Saunders

AptaNutrition Advisory midwife

What Amanda says:

Letting your toddler explore finger foods is often messy and you may find that most of it ends up on the floor rather than where it should be – in your little one’s mouth. It can require more effort and be time consuming, compared with spoon-feeding your child.

Try not to take the easy option. It is such an important opportunity to encourage your toddler to develop different grips, including the pincer, with their thumb and forefinger, or using their whole hand to grab fistfuls of food.

By 12 months, your toddler can probably pick up small bits of bread or rice crackers with the pincer grip. Look to purchase special toddler spoons for them to be able to start learning how to use cutlery as well. Please always supervise your toddler’s eating.

You can also engage your child in everyday tasks to help develop their fine motor skills. Practise passing objects to your toddler and ask them to help turn the pages in books. And remember – don’t give your child all their toys at once. Try rotating a small selection to keep your toddler interested; and handling a range of different objects.

Enjoy watching their progression!

Find out more

2 to 3 years

  • Fold a piece of paper in half
  • Draw straight lines and circles
  • Snip the edge of paper with safety scissors
  • Hold a crayon with thumb and fingers (rather than fist clasp)
  • Favour their left or right hand
  • Build a tower of up to nine blocks
  • String large beads together
  • Use a fork when eating
  • Manage large buttons
  • Put some items of clothing on (with supervision).

If you are at all concerned that your child is not developing their fine motor skills according to the above guide, or their movements are still very shaky and stiff, it is always best to check with a health care professional.

You can help your child reach these milestones by exposing him/her to opportunities for independence, such as encouraging self-feeding through sippy cups and finger food. In particular, Amanda says “make sure that foods offered are different shapes and sizes so your child can use different grips to pick up the food.”

By tapping into what you know your child already loves to do, you can keep them engaged in activities that will help improve their fine motor skills. Expose your little one to tactile play to encourage the navigation of grasping motion. Try providing craft materials such as beads, glitter/sequins, crayons and paints and play dough. Sand play is also valuable for encouraging your toddler to pick up cups, spoons and trays and helps promote play with both hands. For older toddlers (between two and three years) dress-ups are an excellent activity for honing buttoning and zipping actions.

By encouraging active play with your toddler and exposing them to everyday items around the house, you will also help improve their fine motor skills. Free play every day will set them on a strong path for mastering this essential skill set, so they can grow their independence and navigate the world.


There is nothing more rewarding than seeing your child branch out and achieve something new for the first time. You can support this progress, not only by extending your child through various activities, but also by ensuring he/she is receiving a nutritious, balanced diet to support this learning and development. Aptamil Toddler can help your child take on everything their future holds by helping lay the foundations so they can take one giant leap after another, when consumed as part of a healthy varied diet. Our AptaNutrition Advisory team is available to answer any questions you may have and can be contacted on 1800 438 500 or at