Written by:

Dr Rachel Varughese

Rachel is a paediatrician in Oxford.

Overview of Fine Motor Development

In this article:

  • Introduction
  • 0-6 weeks
  • 3 months
  • 6 months
  • 9 months
  • 12 months
  • 18 months
  • 2 years
  • 3 years
  • 4 years
  • Main points

Overview of Fine Motor Development


Development is generally divided into gross motor, fine motor, speech/language and social skills. The expected ages of achieving certain developmental skills are described by developmental ‘milestones’. It is important to be aware that every baby will achieve their milestones at a different age. Some children might be weeks or months late in certain areas, and this might be entirely normal.

In order to reach their full developmental potential, babies must be exposed to the right stimulation. Paediatricians have different thresholds for investigating delayed development, so do not be surprised if, when seeking medical advice, the advice is to watch and wait initially.

This article will focus on fine motor skills, which are movement skills that involve the hands and arms in more precise movements than the crude ones discussed in gross motor. Fine motor skills are closely linked with vision – without proper vision, fine motor skills will be delayed. Social communication is also important, and children with delayed sensory development and social processing are also likely to have delayed fine motor development.

More information:

0-6 weeks

During this time, vision is improving rapidly, and babies learn to fix and follow, first on faces and then on objects.

3 months

Over the past three months, your baby would have started reaching out for objects, but they would have not yet mastered a grasp that allows them to hold on to anything for any length of time. At around 3 months, babies develop a two-handed palmar grasp, meaning they can hold objects using both hands. (Palmar grasp is a primitive reflex – when an object is placed in the infant’s hand the fingers close reflexively.)

6 months

By 6 months, babies are developing a single-handed palmar grasp, meaning they can hold objects using just one hand. They are then able to transfer objects from hand to hand. Their reach is now more controlled and organised.

9 months

Until now, babies have had no concept at all of object permanence. That is to say, when an object disappears from view, they don’t understand it is still nearby. At 9 months, babies start to understand object permanence. Their grip is now becoming more advanced and they have an immature pincer grasp, where they can pick objects up with their thumb and finger. This allows them to have much more control over handling objects, so that they have a much more controlled release.

12 months

Your baby now has a mature pincer grip and finds pleasure in picking up and casting objects. They have started to understand the concept of stacking and are able to put one brick on top of another.

18 months

That pincer grip is now being tested with crayons and other small objects, and your child will start to enjoy scribbling. It can be challenging to grip such a small object with a pincer grip, and initially children may revert to a palmar grasp. At this stage they are mainly able to just scribble back and forth, but over the next six months they will learn to copy mature and deliberate lines. When painting, children use their whole arm to generate movement.

2 years

Puzzles are a new game that your little one can now enjoy. Simple shape matching puzzles initially generate a random effort, but over time become more intentional and meaningful. This is also the age at which children start to interact more with books, and they start to turn pages themselves, albeit several pages at a time.

3 years

By now, children can turn one page of a book at a time. Their drawing skills are also much better, and they can draw a circle if shown how. They can snip cuts in paper with safety scissors. If being tested with blocks, they can build a bridge if shown how. Painting starts to be more detailed, with dots and lines rather than random strokes, involving wrist action, rather than the whole arm movement that was seen before. Any time from now until 5 years old children will develop a dominant hand, which for the majority will be the right.

4 years

Your child can now copy complex shapes such as a cross, and over time a square and a triangle. This will develop over the next year into being able to copy letters, numbers and write their own name. They can stack over 10 blocks of bricks and make steps if shown how. They can cut paper in half with safety scissors.

Main points

  • All babies achieve developmental milestones at different ages.
  • Babies must be exposed to the right stimulation in order to achieve their full potential.
  • A baby’s vision is key to early fine motor skills.
  • A two-handed palmar grasp should develop in the first three months, followed by a single-handed palmar grasp at around six months.
  • At around nine months, babies will start to understand object permanence and they will begin to develop an immature pincer grip.
  • From 12 to 18 months, infants develop their pincer grip and begin to scribble.
  • From 2 to 4 years, children will enjoy puzzle games, stacking items, and turning the pages in books. They will begin to develop more detailed painting techniques.

Important – If you or your child are unwell you should seek medical advice from a professional – contact your GP or visit an A&E department in an emergency. While My BabyManual strives to provide dependable and trusted information on pregnancy and childcare 24/7 via our website pages, we cannot provide individual answers to specific healthcare questions.