6 Ways to Encourage Fine-Motor Development During the First 6 Months

Baby’s brain and body are developing rapidly during his or her first six months. Every day, he or she is exposed to new sights, new sounds, and new experiences. Each seemingly simple event is an opportunity for baby to learn and grow.

Fine-motor skills refer to the movement of small muscles in our hands, fingers, and wrists—even the eyes—and the ability to use those muscles to focus on and manipulate objects. Skills like grasping, turning over an object, and releasing an object are all early examples of fine-motor development. While they may seem insignificant, mastering these tasks allows baby to eventually write his or her name, button a jacket, turn a doorknob, and brush his or her teeth.

As a parent or caregiver, there are simple ways you can help your child strengthen small eye and hand muscles and improve dexterity. Here are six everyday things you can do to improve your infant’s fine-motor skills.

1. Look at High-Contrast Images Together

In early infancy, babies only can see black, white, and some shades of gray. Their eyes are not very sensitive to light, and they do not yet work together well to focus. Baby will enjoy looking at faces as well as high-contrast patterns like checkerboards or stripes. Encourage development of baby’s vision and depth perception by showing baby high-contrast images. Talk about the patterns, the colors, and the items themselves. Include your baby in the conversation, asking him or her questions along the way, and giving time to respond.

Remember, baby can’t focus farther than 12 inches away early on, so hold items close.

2. Help Baby Track Objects with their Eyes

Between months 1 and 2, baby will begin tracking objects with his or her eyes. Help facilitate this skill by holding a toy about 10 inches from baby’s face. Once baby’s eyes are locked on the toy, slowly move the object left and right, and up and down, enticing baby to track the toy visually.

Talk to your baby about the toy as you slowly move the item.

3. Introduce Grasp and Shake Toys

You may have noticed that your baby was born with a grasp reflex, the ability to spontaneously grasp an object pressed against his or her palm. Help baby improve his or her ability to intentionally grasp and hold objects by playing with toys like a rattle. Place a rattle in baby’s hands and let him or her shake it.

After a few minutes, play music and encourage baby to shake the rattle to the beat by gently helping them along.

4. Begin Simple Hand Games

Staring at his or her upheld hand is a sign that baby’s hand-eye coordination and depth perception are improving. As baby stares at his or her hand, provide a running commentary. For example say something like: This is your hand. Your hand has five fingers. One, two, three, four, five. You have two hands. And so on.

Clapping games such as Patty Cake are also great ways to improve this skill.

5. Allow for Exploration

Instinctively, your baby will begin to put objects they pick up straight into their mouth. Baby uses his or her mouth to learn about the environment and to gather sensory information such as taste, texture, size, and shape. It’s OK to let baby explore, safely. Provide fun, baby-safe objects for your little one to reach for and pick up.

Remember to narrate his or her actions as you talk about each item.

6. Improve Finger, Wrist, and Hand Dexterity

At around 6-7 months of age, your baby can maintain a fierce grip on anything held in the hand. Once baby learns how to purposefully place an object by voluntarily releasing it, hand-to-hand transfers become possible. Give baby objects of different shapes and textures to explore. Different shapes tend to trigger more transfers and rotations; different textures cause more fingering activity and longer periods of manipulation.

To further advance this skill, place one object in each of baby’s hands and a third favorite object on the floor directly in front of him or her. Watch and wait to see what he or she does.

Want more playtime activity ideas? Learn more about your baby’s fine-motor skills and how you can help foster physical and cognitive development in the ParentPal app.