Fine Motor Development in Children

Why is my child having difficulty writing?

What are fine motor skills?

How can I improve my child’s writing skills?

As an Occupational Therapist I am often asked a number of questions about how to support a child’s writing or typing skills.

Often it is discovered that the child had some challenges with their fine motor skills and subsequently their development was a little delayed. Maybe their pencil grip isn’t quite right, maybe they experience pain or fatigue when writing, or maybe they could be pushing down too hard on the pencil?  These questions often tell us as therapists that maybe the child has some challenges with their fine motor skills.

Fine motor skills involve the smaller muscles in our hands, wrists and fingers that help us perform everyday tasks such as writing, eating with a knife and fork or tying our shoelaces.

Sufficient fine motor skills require a number of precise movements or skills to occur so that a task may be completed to the best of their ability.

Some of these skills include

  • digit isolation; that is being able to isolate each finger,
  • opposition; the ability of the thumb to touch the pad of each finger,
  • hand and finger strength,
  • object manipulation and
  • bilateral integration; using two hands together with one leading. 


Of course, all of these skills develop overtime with exposure and experience, however, did you know they start to develop from very early infancy? At just 6 month of age a child should be able to reach and grasp for an object, hold an object in one or both palms of their hands and pick up an object that is outside of their visual field by touching and feeling for it. This is the beginning of early fine motor skills.

Delays in early fine motor development can result in challenges with muscle development and control, sensory development due to delayed interaction or lack of sensory play experiences, and independent play skills.

All of these skills are the building blocks for writing competency and independence in activities of daily living. 

Here are some fine motor milestones to look for across development. 

  • 6-12 months
    • Reaching and putting objects in mouth
    • Transferring objects from one hand to another 
    • Picking up smaller objects with thumb and one finger 
    • Pointing with index finger 
    • Banging objects together
    • Controlled release of toys
  • 1-2 years
    • Building simple towers with 3 or more blocks
    • Turning thick pages of a book 
    • Painting or drawing using a fisted grip and whole arm movements
    • Finger feeding
    • Brining spoon to mouth
    • Putting shapes into a shape holder 
  • 2-3 years
    • Stringing large beads
    • Holding a crayon with fingers (not in base of palm)
    • Using one hand consistently for more activities
    • Imitates circular, vertical and horizontal pencil strokes
    • Pounds, rolls and squeezes playdoh
  • 3-4 years
    • Can copy a circle 
    • Builds large tower 
    • Manipulates playdoh (rolls into balls, makes snakes, cookies) 
    • Snips paper using scissors
    • Imitates a cross 
  • 4-5 years 
    • Writes name 
    • Can write numbers 1-5 
    • Copies letters 
    • Handedness is well established 
    • Dresses and undressed independently 
  • 5-6 years 
    • Cuts out simple shapes 
    • Colours in the lines
    • Copies a triangle 
    • Uses 3 fingers on the pencil generating movement 
    • Can draw basic pictures (a person, a house, outside, playground etc) 
  • 6-7 years
    • Forms most letters and numbers consistently and correctly 
    • Demonstrates good pencil control 
    • Good endurance for writing 
    • Writes consistently on the lines
    • Ties shoelaces independently 
    • Can build smaller blocks e.g. lego and other blocks independently 
  • 7+ years
    • Maintains legibility of handwriting for an entire story. 


Bre Surawski

Occupational Therapist

If you have any concerns about your child’s fine motor skills or if they are having difficulty writing, typing, doing up shoelaces, using cutlery or they avoid playing with small objects such as lego, please contact us on 3265 4495 or via our website to chat with one of our Occupational Therapists today.