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Editor’s Note: Please keep in mind that every child is different and these milestones are general suggestions.
If you’re wondering how to keep your child physically engaged or worried about your little one falling behind in development, you’re not alone. Many parents are in the same boat.
Dr. Josh Martin, pediatrician at Atrium Health Levine Children’s Charlotte Pediatrics in SouthPark, explains how to keep your toddler’s motor skill development on track.
“It’s not about how many toys you have, it’s about the type of toys you have,” says Martin. “Parents should focus on buying multi-purpose toys. My favorite toy when I was younger was a set of wooden blocks that I used to build all kinds of forts and towers. In fact, I I still have it.
Blocks, playdough, and other toys are great for mastering fine motor skills, but don’t forget gross motor skills like running, which are just as important.
From running outside, kicking a ball and more, you can find activities that are fun while engaging your child’s development.
Here’s a quick guide, by age, to what your little one should be working on:
During the first year of life, a baby learns everything from who mom is to how to pick up a toy, how to sit up, how to crawl, and maybe even how to walk. Wow, what a year!
A one-year-old should be able to:
- Shoot and be alone
- Bang two toys together
- Put a block in a cup
- Grasping food with thumb and forefinger (known as a pinch grip)
Martin says don’t worry if your one-year-old hasn’t taken a step yet, but if he hasn’t tried rolling, crawling or walking, you should talk to your pediatrician.
Many one-year-olds can also wave and point.
At home, you can encourage fine motor skills by serving your one-year-old finger foods and allowing them to play with blocks, playdough, sand and other sensory objects.
Three months doesn’t seem like a long time, but in baby years it’s a whole lot. Toddlers learn so much from 12 to 15 months.
A 15 month old should be able to:
- Forward and backward
- Bend down and pick up a toy, then stand up unaided
- Say “goodbye”
“A 15-month-old is probably the smartest creature on earth,” Martin says. But they often decide that things they used to enjoy, like vegetables and sleeping through the night, no longer work for them.
Tap into the creativity of their rapidly expanding minds by allowing them to doodle with crayons, markers and crayons. You can also give your child a spoon or fork to start eating at this age, but be prepared for a mess!
Another three months have passed. Now what? It’s time to perfect his fine motor skills.
An 18 month old child should be able to:
- Climb the stairs
- To run
Help your 18 month old develop fine motor skills by playing with blocks. Martin says that at this age they should be able to stack two cubes on top of each other. Children this age also like to imitate their parents when they do household chores, so don’t be afraid to let your toddler “help” with the cooking and cleaning.
Martin also says that 18-month-olds should be able to take off clothes, especially shoes, which most kids this age can’t wait to take off. Having them help you get ready each morning is also a great way to hone their fine motor skills.
Your toddler is now truly a whole person – with likes, dislikes and demands. Pay attention to this personality as they learn to push buttons to get what they want!
A two-year-old should be able to:
- Throw a ball over
- Build a tower of four cubes
If you have a two-year-old, now is the time to play ball! Children at this age should be able to throw a ball overhand and will likely have established either right-handed or left-handed dominance.
Keep playing with blocks. Your two-year-old should be able to build a tower of four cubes stacked on top of each other.
Three years later, a lifetime to go! This age is all about teaching and mastering independence.
A three-year-old should be able to:
- Balance on one foot
- Jump forward
- Draw a vertical line
Encourage your three-year-old to wash their hands and brush their teeth with your help and supervision to make sure it’s done correctly and safely. Let your little one’s imagination run wild with arts and crafts. Try providing paper and pencils to see what they will come up with on their own. Your toddler should be an effective doodler by this stage.
You can also practice gross motor skills like jumping and kicking a ball outside.
Your toddler is growing! And to prepare for school, there are many things they will perfect this year.
A four year old should be able to:
- Balance on one foot for two seconds
- Copy a cross and a circle
- Draw a three-part person
As your child grows, they should have good control of their fine motor skills. At four years old, they should be able to draw a person in three parts, including a head, body and limbs.
Don’t worry if your four-year-old can’t draw a triangle. Martin says the skills to copy this particular shape won’t come until age six. You can also hone fine motor skills by having your four-year-old cut along a straight line or cut out a specific shape you’ve drawn for them. Please supervise them when using scissors.
You do it well
The best advice for parents is to get involved, ask questions, and be prepared to play. Good parenting starts with caring and showing up. And remember: playing with your child is the perfect way to hone motor skills while providing fun times for both of you.
“Tossing and kicking a ball, running, jumping, balancing and catching are all easy to practice in the backyard or at the park,” says Martin. “Fine motor control and manipulation of objects can be encouraged through the use of modeling clay, sandbox time, doodling or drawing or even pretend cooking and cleaning with parents .”
It bears repeating that every child develops at their own pace, and these milestones are just guidelines for tracking your child’s progress.
If you have specific questions about your child’s development or motor skills, contact your pediatrician. You can find a pediatrician here.