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Recommended reading Small muscle development Stages: 13 to 18 months

‘Small muscle’ development is also called ‘fine motor’ development. It refers to using finger, thumb and hand muscles. By this age a child will usually have mastered using their thumb opposite their index finger — this is called the ‘pincer’ grasp.

Using a pincer grasp to grip, hold and manipulate things also involves hand–eye co-ordination — using the small muscles in the eyes in conjunction with their hands and fingers.

A skill for the future

During this stage, practice using a pincer grasp prepares a child for the more complex and useful skills they’ll need later on for drawing, writing, cutting and threading. Eventually it’s used in advanced skills including building, engineering, cooking, sewing, crafts or playing musical instruments.

Activities to strengthen small muscle skills

Parents can help their child strengthen their small muscle skills with a variety of activities. It’s even better when mum and dad participate in these activities too. Here are some ideas:

  • block play
  • doing simple puzzles (puzzle pieces with knobs)
  • drawing
  • feeding with finger food
  • filling and pouring — wet and dry things
  • finger-painting
  • nesting
  • painting
  • playdough
  • posting things into holes and slots
  • simple shape sorters
  • stacking
  • turning pages in books
  • using a fork or spoon to self-feed.

When they’re a little older, they can use their small muscles by:

  • cutting with small and safe scissors
  • helping with food preparation — for example, washing vegetables
  • squeezing sponges
  • threading
  • using small tongs or big tweezers.

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