T’s fingers are into everything at the moment! He has been interested in using his fingers to explore things since around six months old. But, right now, his pincer grip is really improving and so it makes him happy to be pushing, pulling, pressing, lifting out, posting in, flicking and flipping wherever and whenever he can.
Why are fine motor skills so important?
Once your baby goes to nursery or school, you will start hearing the phrase “fine motor skills” a lot. That’s because educational professionals know it really does make a difference to a child’s independence, confidence and overall success.
T has already sought and found his own opportunities to strengthen his little fingers: eating finger foods, holding a spoon, pressing buttons on his electronic toys. So, I suppose that his fine motor skills will develop pretty well if I do nothing at all to support him.
But – I think physical development is far too important to leave to chance. Children need to be able to manipulate things effectively because it gives them more independence to look after themselves, to play and learn. Once a child has refined fine motor skills, there are so many more things that they can do: tie their shoe-laces, fasten buttons on their coat, put their books away in their book-bag, eat with a knife and fork, build a model out of lego, hold a pencil to write their name, or use a paintbrush to paint a picture. In fact, I find it hard to think of any activity that doesn’t involve using your fine motor skills. From a mummy’s perspective – and indeed from a teacher’s perspective, the earlier you begin encouraging independence with these tasks, the better!
As with all life skills, the more opportunities your little one has to practise their fine motor skills, the earlier they will master them, and the sooner they can get on with learning. So, I think it is worth creating as many inviting opportunities as you can for them to use their fingers in different ways.
There is practically no limit to the number of amazing, exciting, fun, multi-sensory fine motor activities that you can try with a toddler or older child. But, with babies, you have to be careful what materials and objects you use because they need to be safe. This is why I thought it would be handy to share what’s worked for us.
Is your baby ready for these activities?
T is coming up for eleven months at the end of the week and he absolutely LOVES these activities right now – I think this is a sign that they are the perfect balance for productive learning: they are enough of a challenge to keep him motivated, but they are achievable because of where he is in his physical development.
He has shown an interest in them since he was around 6 months, but he is only – literally and metaphorically – getting to grips with them now. So, I guess what I am trying to say is that your baby may be ready for these earlier or later than my T, depending on the stage of development they are at. But, from what I’ve observed from him, even when he was way off actually completing these tasks, he got a lot of enjoyment and fascination from just holding the objects and passing them from hand to hand (and, inevitably, shoving them in his mouth for a good old chew!). Anyway, here they are:
NINE ACTIVITIES FOR HAPPY FINGERS
1. CONNECTING Duplo Blocks (twisting the blocks around)
I provide him with two pieces of one-block duplo to connect and un-connect. Simple but he loves it!
I build a tower of one-block duplo and he enjoys dismantling it, then trying to put it back together.
The Tomy Hide and Squeak Eggs mentioned in my post about toys are also good for this action.
2. LIFTING Flaps
With books, cardboard boxes, activity cubes, toy cars with flaps
I’ve encouraged this from very early on and I think he first did it at around eight months, but, since then, he’s gotten better and better.
3. PUSHING Lids onto Boxes
This game evolved because I found a little box in a charity shop recently to put in T’s treasure basket. He toyed with it for several days, trying to figure out how to get it on.
So, I then found two other small boxes around the house and put them out for him to explore in the morning. He’s loved this game and has now mastered all the lids except the heart-shaped one, but he’s almost there! I’m going to carry on leaving it out though, as it’s a good problem-solving activity – matching the lids to the boxes.
4. TURNING Pages of a Book
T has always adored books, so he began doing this at around four months. What we had to do to encourage this at the beginning was to open the page slightly, and he would bat it to the left. Now, he is able to do it himself with thick pages and is working on thinner ones. Still very interested, and I guess he always will be because he is a budding book-worm :).
5. PICKING UP Peg Puzzle Pieces
What a tongue-twister! You may think this is obvious, but I’ve included it because a friend recently told me that she hadn’t considered offering peg puzzles to her baby – she thought that they would be beyond his capabilities.
Of course they may not be able to match the pieces to their holes yet, but the little pegs are PERFECT for that pincer grip! And, because T has enjoyed doing this for a while, he is familiar with picture puzzles and has actually started trying to put one or two big pieces back in their correct place!
So, not only are the little pegs excellent for strengthening little fingers, but the puzzle is mentally stimulating too. And it never gets boring because you can switch the puzzles from time to time. This game is a winner in my book :).
6. PRESSING Buttons
Again, I suppose pretty obvious, but it’s worth noting down because it’s a specific action needed and T gets very excited about doing it! Here is a list of objects babies can use to practise doing this:
• electronic toys (anything with buttons)
• remote controls
• old telephones or mobile phones
• laptop or computer keyboards – we have great fun doing this in Word – to see what T types – SUCH a fun game!
7. FLICKING Tags, Toothbrushes and Balloons
We have had Taggies since T was born, but he has only recently (since around 9 months) begun to show an interest in them. He actively looks for tags on his toys now and then flicks them back and forth with his index finger, examining the patterns and writing on them. He does the same with his little toothbrush, so I have now put another toothbrush in his treasure basket that is just for playing with. He also likes doing this with the neck of a balloon…before putting it back in his mouth!
8. POSTING things into holes
T likes doing this a great deal at the moment. He posts shapes into holes in his sorting toys; a driver through the roof of a big car he has; and small toys through the bars of his cot (he also likes to pull them back through) – another favourite game :).
9. PULLING out nested stacking cups
…and then putting them back inside each other. I have saved this till last as it is probably T’s favourite game at the moment. He is occupied for half an hour at a time doing this!
So, there they all are. As always, I would love to hear of any other simple games or activities you have discovered for under one-year-olds or older children that make for happy fingers. Please don’t be shy and post them up on my Facebook page or here.