This week, we're checking in with our ProSquad developmental specialist about the importance of fine motor skills, and what parents can do to work on these skills with their children.


My son has problems with his fine motor skills. His teacher is always complaining that he can't cut on the lines and that his handwriting is messy. What should I do?

It can be extremely frustrating to learn that your child is struggling with tasks such as writing and cutting in school. Fine motor skills are how we use our fingers and hands to manipulate small objects, such as pencils, crayons, and scissors. However, these skills begin to develop long before school age.

Around 3 months of age, a baby begins to use his hands to grasp objects and his arms to swipe. Between 9 and 12 months of age, most infants can pick up a small object using only the thumb and index finger, which is called a pincer grasp. By 2 years of age, a child can scribble on a piece of paper by holding a crayon in a fisted position with the thumb facing upward, and around age 4, most children can imitate a cross and trace a diamond and a triangle.

When a child reaches age 5, the ability to hold a pencil with the thumb, index, and middle finger (a tripod grasp) is typically mastered. This is the optimal grasp to have when writing, although there are others that are acceptable. Hand dominance is typically established by this age as well.

If your child is struggling with fine motor skills, first of all, be sure that they have good postural stability. Once adequate core strength is present, have her carry out several of the following activities at least 3 days each week.

  1. Squeeze clothespins and place them on a ruler that your child holds with the opposite hand. Your child should only use the thumb, index, and middle fingers for squeezing each clothespin. If necessary, hold a small peg or cotton ball in the ring and index finger for stabilization.
  2. Play tug- of-war with your child using small objects (plastic coffee stirrers, paper clips, etc.).
  3. Have your child use tongs or tweezers to pick up small objects such as cotton balls, and place them into a container.
  4. Your little one should use her thumb and index finger to pop bubble wrap (used for packaging).
  5. Show your child how to bring coins or buttons from the palm out to the fingertips to place the coin into a bank while stabilizing others in the palm of the hand. Have your child try to do the same. Remind him not to use the table or other hand to assist in scooping or manipulating the coins.
  6. Show your child how to squeeze the trigger of a spray bottle using the index and middle fingers while holding the bottle with the thumb and other fingers.
  7. Roll putty or play dough between the tips of the thumb, index, and middle finger to make small balls. Make each ball as smooth and as round as possible. Remind your child to keep his ring and pinkie fingers curled into his palm.


Developmental Pro, Anne Zachry

Anne Zachry, Ph.D. is a pediatric occupational therapist, child development specialist and mother of three. She's had articles published on and Pregnancy & Newborn Magazine online, has written a parenting course for Daily OM, and writes for a variety of regional parenting magazines.

Dr. Zachry's research has been published in national peer-reviewed journals, including The Southern Medical Journal, The American Journal of Occupational Therapy, and The Occupational Therapy Journal of Research, and she's had articles published in her profession's trade magazines, Advanceand OT Practice. She is a member of the American Occupational Therapy Association, and she has also given numerous presentations to parents and teachers on a variety of topics related to infant and childhood development.

Her websites are Dr. Anne Zachry and Pediatric Occupational Therapy Tips.