Baby's hand clutching toy.

Activities to support your baby's motor skill development

Your baby's movements in the first few months of life transition from quick, jerky actions to smoother, more intentional movements as the nervous system and muscle control start getting in sync. You can help strengthen your baby's muscle development and motor skills with simple activities and practice.

What are your baby's motor skills?

Improving gross motor skills involves the large groups of muscles your baby uses to sit, stand, walk, run, keep balance, or change positions. Fine motor skills include using hands to eat, draw, play, or pick up small items.

 

Your baby's motor skill development in year 1

For the first 3 months, your baby's muscles are undeveloped, and you have to support his head and neck. By month 4, your baby has the muscle control needed to turn his head and follow objects. The ability to balance, sit up, crawl, and eventually stand normally occur within the first 12 months. Your baby's fine motor skills also advance from clumsily raking objects in the early months to accurately grasping objects.

How to support your baby's motor skill development

In the early months and under your close supervision, place your baby on his stomach to strengthen his neck and back muscles. Hold a colorful toy, and make an interesting noise to get your baby's attention. Always keep "tummy time" sessions short — about a minute or two should be sufficient.

Roll a large ball to your baby. This allows you to interact with your baby and observe his developing skills. At first your baby will simply slap it back, but eventually he will learn to swat it in your direction.

Put a graspable object (such as a rattle) in your baby's hand and tug on it very gently. This activity helps build muscle as your baby resists your efforts.

Bring out the blocks. Nothing encourages an infant to crawl more than a tower of blocks that is just out of reach and waiting to be knocked down.

Around 4 to 7 months, gently pull your baby to a standing position. By this time your baby will start to understand the function of each body part, and start to use his feet and legs to bounce up and down with your help. This will help prepare your baby for walking in the future. You can modify this activity for a younger baby by using a supported sitting position instead.

Make an obstacle course. Place light sofa cushions, pillows, or boxes on a carpeted floor. Invite your mobile baby to crawl over or between them. You can even hide behind one obstacle and play peek-a-boo. Always closely supervise your baby while he's playing with pillows.

Use finger foods to provide fine-motor practice. As you begin adding healthy snacks to your baby's diet in the later months of your baby's first year (and with the approval of your pediatrician), make each eating experience a fun time for learning and practice. Encourage your baby to pick up appropriately sized bites of fruit, cereal, or vegetables, if possible. Demonstrate how to do this and praise every successful snack. If you're not sure what kinds of foods to use, the Feeding Expert team is available to answer your baby feeding questions.

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