Developing fine motor skills in 3-year-olds

Explore suggestions to encourage and refine fine motor skill development in 3-year-olds.

There are many activities that help children develop fine motor skills. Photo credit: Pixabay.
There are many activities that help children develop fine motor skills. Photo credit: Pixabay.

At age 3, children are developing fine motor control: they’re more able to move their fingers independently, using them in more complex tasks such as holding writing utensils like an adult, cutting with scissors and making more complex and precise drawings. They have also developed more spatial awareness, allowing them to be more intentional in play. For example, they may be able to stack numerous blocks, unbutton buttons, thread beads and eat with a fork. Using their special awareness along with more developed fine motor skills enables them to complete tasks they weren’t able to a few months ago.

Michigan State University Extension suggests the following activities for children to take part in to develop fine motor skills: 

  • Dressing and undressing dolls
  • Playing with blocks
  • Threading beads
  • Sand play
  • Using different size containers for water play
  • Coloring
  • Tearing paper for collages
  • Manipulating zippers and snaps  

For parents who are having difficulty getting their children to engage in activities that are helpful in skill building, try putting away some of the toys laying that don’t encourage skill development, only giving your child access to the toys that promote skills your child may need to work on. Children also tend to play longer if parents are active with their children during their play sessions.  

You can check out the American Academy of Pediatrics website for more ideas or see these articles on theMSU Extension website:

  • MSU Extension educator Elizabeth Gutierrez suggests that parents and children engage in the four types of play to help them refine motor skills, physical skills, learn to problem-solve and regulate emotions in her article “Playing with Children Encourages a Variety of Skills."
  • MSU Extension educator Kittie Butcher explains that every area of development – physical, cognitive, communication and social/emotional – can be enhanced when children engage in pretend play or make believe in her article “Childhood Pretend Play Builds Critical Skills for Late Years."

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