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Fine motor development - the first 1000 days

Fine Motor Development

Fine motor development is the refinement of all the small muscles of the body. It’s how your baby learns to control and coordinate his hands and fingers to feed himself and use tools such as scissors, tongs or tie shoelaces.

Strong hand and finger muscles and refined eye movements become very important for everyday activities and will aid tasks such as copying from the board and writing later on.

Lourdes Bruwer and Carly Tzanos occupational therapists for Nubabi share some important milestones you should notice your little one developing in the first three years:

  • Grasping an object voluntarily – using the last three fingers to grasp (baby finger, ring finger and middle finger).
  • Starting to hold objects with both hands.
  • Starting to pass an object from one hand to another.
  • Starting to make raking movements with his hands.
  • Picking up a small object the size of a button between his finger and thumb.
  • Developing a “key grasp” (his thumb grips an object along the side of his index finger).
  • He likes to hold food and/or a spoon himself.

Please remember that babies and toddlers do not always have the same developmental challenges in their spotlights at the same time. The real measure of your child’s development is how they’re progressing compared to themselves - not anyone else. Your baby is unique and will develop at his own unique pace. A solitary delay or lag is usually nothing to worry about and does not indicate any long-term issues. Watch out for a cluster of issues, especially if the delays are in more than just one area of development as this may need to be investigated.

Here are some activities to help boost your baby’s fine motor development:

Note: The activities below are examples and may not be suited to your child right now. To find activities that are just right for your child’s developmental stage, try Nubabi’s Weekly Stimulation Guide. You can sign up for a 2 week Free Trial here.

Learning to let go

It is important that you realise that earlier than 4 months your baby may not yet have the ability to voluntarily release an object and relies on the grasp reflex to let go. Should he pick up something hot or sharp, you may have to help him let go of it. This activity will help him to develop this mini milestone! Lourdes Bruwer, occupational therapist for Nubabi.

Equipment: your baby’s favourite toys.

What to do:

  1. When he can hold two toys (one in each hand), offer him a third toy.
  2. This will encourage him to start learning to release an object voluntarily - he’ll have to drop one to pick up another.

Skills: Fine motor, Bilateral Integration, Motor Planning, and Upper Limb Co-ordination

Postman Pete

At around 9 months, you should give your little one plenty of opportunity to practice her posting skills, otherwise she may post your cell phone in the washing machine and your car keys in the toilet! Posting offers opportunities to work on her fine motor skills as well as object permanence (if I post the piece of paper through a hole I know it’s still there, even if I can’t see it anymore) and motor planning abilities (working out which way around the piece of paper will fit through the posting hole). Carly Tzanos, occupational therapist for Nubabi.

Equipment: A cardboard box or a tin with a plastic lid, ping pong balls, squash balls or small toys

What to do:

  1. Make a post box from a cardboard box or a tin with a plastic lid. Cut holes in the lid so that your baby can post ping pong balls, squash balls or small toys into the box.
  2. Empty the post box and play again! Play the game with her by taking turns and encouraging her to alternate hands.
  3. Remember to watch your baby all the time as she may want to put the ping pong ball or other small objects in her mouth.

Skills: Fine motor, Basic Concepts and Motor Planning

Sticky Picture

The process of many activities is more important than the end product. It is during the process that time and effort is spent and most of your baby’s learning takes place. So try to slow down the pace and really enjoy watching him learn as he tries out new activities. Help him just enough to keep his attention on the activity without him becoming to frustrated, but don’t do it all for him! Carly Tzanos, occupational therapist for Nubabi.

Equipment: self-adhesive paper (e.g. contact), a marker, masking tape, coloured cotton wool/bits of tissue paper/paper shapes.

What to do:

  1. Draw with a marker on the non-sticky surface of a piece of self-adhesive paper. You can draw a simple picture of a sheep, clown, cow, motorbike etc. Use masking tape to tape it to a window or mirror so that the sticky surface faces away from the window and facing your baby.
  2. Now you can show him how he can “colour in” his picture using pieces of coloured cotton wool, bits of tissue paper or paper shapes by sticking them onto his sticky picture. You can tear little pieces off cotton wool to stick or dab cotton wool balls on the picture (and some of the “fluff” will stay behind).
  3. Tissue paper can also be torn into pieces and rolled into little balls for your baby to stick on or simply have the pieces of tissue paper or paper shapes available for him to stick on.
  4. Don’t worry if he does not get the fluff, tissue paper or paper in the lines of the picture, just getting it onto the piece of sticky paper will be helpful in developing his eye-hand coordination.

Skills: Fine motor, Eye-Hand Co-ordination and Sensory Tactile

Egg box hammering

Hammering is a wonderful activity to encourage shoulder and wrist strengthening in toddlers. The destructive nature of the activity also provides a much sought after vent for all that energy your little one seems to have! Your toddler is going to love this activity! Lourdes Bruwer, occupational therapist for Nubabi.

Equipment: Toy hammer or a stick/spoon/block, egg boxes, tape/adhesive putty.

What to do: You can get all sorts of toy hammers, but a stick, a spoon or a block is just as good. Your toddler will love smashing egg boxes. Stick the egg boxes up against the wall at his eye level, as this will encourage shoulder strengthening.

Skills: Fine motor, Bilateral Integration, Eye-Hand Co-ordination, Sensory Proprioception, Strengthening, and Upper Limb Co-ordination.

For more activities that will boost your baby’s Fine Motor Development and other key developmental skill areas, visit Nubabi and sign up for your 2 week Free Trial.

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