He’s learned to walk and talk, but your toddler’s mastering one more very important skill: manual dexterity. While this milestone doesn’t get as much attention (even the most doting parents don’t record the first time he picked up a cheerio) it’s very, very important.
Fine motor skills are all about learning how to move hands and fingers in a deliberate manner, Like all other skills this is developed gradually. Watch out for these little turning points.
He can pick up food one by one
Your child may still be a messy eater, but even if most of the Cheerios end up on the floor, the fact that he can grab them from his bowl means that he’s mastering his ‘pincer grasp’ (which uses the thumb and forefinger) and understands that he can place and remove small objects out of large ones.
You can encourage this skill by giving him finger foods (should be larger than half an inch in diameter, to prevent choking). Give toys that encourage him to twist, pull, slide, and push objects in and out of holes.
He can assemble things on a string
One of the classic toys that you can give your toddler is a set of large wooden beads and string. By 15 to 18 months he will be able to thread a thick piece of ribbon or yarn through these items. This teaches him how to use two hands to finish a task, what experts call ‘bimanual skills’. Demonstrate how to do this, and then guide his hands through it until he can manage on his own. But always supervise your child and don’t give any string or bead that is long enough or small enough to pose as a choking or strangling hazard.
He can stack blocks
Your child will love stacking blocks one on top of the other, creating tiny towers. Experts call this ‘controlled release’ and it involves the much trickier task of placing and letting go of an object. You can find many stacking blocks and toys, but even old boxes of different shapes (medicine, milk cartons, etc) can provide hours of fun and educational play.(Read on the other reasons why wooden blocks make your child smarter)
He can feed himself with a spoon or fork
This skill involves both manual dexterity and a sense of how his body relates to objects around it. It also involves knowing which part of the spoon should face his mouth, and rotating it properly. This fine orchestration of movements won’t be perfect right away (as evidenced by how most of the applesauce will end up on his bib, hair, and the floor) but let him practice. It’s an important part of visual-spatial orientation, and makes for cute photo ops, too!