Babies are tiny little learning machines and by the time they celebrate their first birthdays, they are refining what we in occupational therapy refer to as their fine motor skills. They might not be talking much, but they are developing keen coordination between their hands and fingers and all they can see. These visual motor skills and the way the baby’s brain combines them with their larger muscle actions is an amazing process.
Moms and dads occasionally find frustration in the new talents their children develop, whether it’s their uncanny ability to get shoes and socks off while shopping for groceries or the way baby can reach up and carefully grab dad’s glasses right off his face.In some cases, parents can worry that baby is perhaps growing up too fast, or that their fine motor skills seem to be running a bit late.
Every child differs, but these guidelines look at the typical actions we’ll see in children ages 1 and older:
12-18 months: Uses one hand consistently in most activities; uses hand to hold paper in place when drawing; places small items in containers; stirs with a spoon; tries to wash his/her hands and face.
18-24 months: Can imitate and spontaneously draw circular, vertical and horizontal strokes; stacks 6-7 blocks; removes loose clothing independently, like a jacket or shirt; uses handles or knob to open doors, puts on simple clothes and uses spoon independently.
24-30 months: Uses an adult-style “tripod” grasp when holding a crayon, pen or pencil; removes shoes, socks and loose pants; washes/dries hands; uses a fork to stab food.
30-36 months: Threads small beads on a string; snips paper with scissors; completes 3-4 piece puzzles; can pour milk/juice with some assistance; gets a drink of water unassisted and brushes teeth independently.
36-42 months: Copies a drawing of a cross and hammers in pegs; manipulates large buttons/snaps; hangs clothes in a designated location.
42-48 months: Copies a drawing of a square and glues neatly; dresses self completely, and serves self at the table; can copy own name and draws a face with at least three features.
48-54 months: Can cut a straight line and can rapidly touch each finger to thumb; knows which shoe goes on which foot; puts dishes in sink or dishwasher.
54-60 months: Colors within lines, and cuts out a square; draws a person with six recognizable parts and prints first name without a model.
60-72 months: Copies a diamond and cuts out simple geometric shapes; uses a knife for spreading, draws five or more identifiable objects; writes first and last name from memory.
As the list shows, there are amazing changes taking place in the way children interact with the world around them during the six years of their lives. As parents, we keep an open heart and mind at the rate in which these changes happen.
When you collaborate with your occupational therapist, you can use their expertise to evaluate and, in some cases, help coach up your child who may have need for help. The multi-year process that goes with building fine motor and visual motor skills is something wonderful to watch, and of course practice will refine these skills.
Sometimes having an expert’s insight helps mom and dad know things are on pace, even if there’s a setback now and again. Make sure you use resources like an occupational therapist so your clever, coordinated child can be the best kid he or she can be.