The Many Ways Your Toddler Uses His Hands

The Many Ways Your Toddler Uses His Hands

It’s quite remarkable all the things we do with our hands throughout the day: picking up things, turning the pages of a book, writing a shopping list, typing an email, and more. Your baby may not be ready for all these activities, but he’s getting there!

At 12-18 months old, his hand and finger muscles have strengthened, allowing him to expand his Small Muscle Movement and Dexterity skills and use his hands in a variety of new ways. His pincer grasp also continues to improve, and he can do other complex things, such as grasping, throwing, squeezing, and pinching. You may see him “hold a toy with one hand and use the fingers of the other hand to explore it,”1 or “use [his] wrists to rotate objects in order to explore all sides.”1

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Your baby may enjoy nesting cups or bowls together, building small stacks of blocks, turning pages in his board books, or placing rings on a stand.2,3 He also probably has fun dropping objects, such as blocks or large beads, into bowls or boxes. The simple actions of filling these containers, dumping them out, and refilling them will likely provide your baby with lots of entertainment, as well as terrific dexterity practice. He may start to enjoy using craft dough, which will build strength and coordination in his hands in addition to entertaining his sense of touch.4 He may even develop enough coordination to be able to do different things with each hand at the same time, such as holding a doll with one hand and grabbing the doll’s blanket with the other.1

Your baby will also continue to develop his self-feeding skills, becoming better at using a cup to drink milk or feeding himself with a spoon, meaning that more applesauce may make it into his mouth than onto his shirt these days!2 If you enjoy baking, try giving him a little piece of dough to shape. Whether it’s cookie, pizza, or pie dough, he’ll be excited to eat his creation when it comes out of the oven!

At this age, your baby is becoming increasingly interested in learning more about the world around him, so you may notice an interest in repeating certain fine motor motions, such as opening and closing doors or turning lights on and off.5 These activities will help him build his knowledge of how the world works and how he can work within it. However, because many of these activities could be safety hazards for him, be sure to baby proof your doors, cabinets, outlets, and other household objects with proper child-safety locks and covers.6 To support his curiosity and interest in these actions, offer safe alternatives, showing him that his toy animal barnyard has a door that opens and closes or offering him a latch board to explore with his fingers.

What you do and how you support your baby in experiencing the world will have a great impact on “the velocity and quality of [his] developmental progress.”7 It’s a good idea, therefore, to offer him plenty of opportunities to use his hands for different small muscle purposes. Look into activities that involve the practice of grasping, releasing, sorting, and scribbling to support and speed the development of your baby’s fine motor coordination.

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Play Tips:

Do you want to know how you can support your baby’s development of these Small Muscle Movement and Dexterity skills at this age? It’s easy! Read on for some simple tips to incorporate into your daily play time together.

  1. Provide a variety of toys and activities that focus on fine motor development.3 Give your baby many opportunities to turn the pages of board books when you read together. Offer him different toys that encourage him to sort, stack, place, and pour. Consider letting him explore shape-sorting puzzle blocks, large beads and a container (for filling and emptying), different-sized blocks, and latch, zipper, or button boards. Be sure that all toys are safe to use and do not pose any potential choking hazards.
  2. Encourage your toddler to self-feed as often as possible.8 In order to build his confidence and feeding skills, you need to allow him to feed himself. Although he may initially spill his food, making a mess, he will soon get better at using his utensils and putting the food in the right place, his mouth! Even if he needs your help in filling his tummy, just encouraging him to hold the spoon while you guide it into his mouth will improve his grasp and fine motor ability.
  3. Hand things to your baby. The act of handling objects of different sizes, shapes, and textures will allow your baby to practice his fine motor skills. Make it a game by asking him to hand things back to you, which will also develop his understanding of “give and take” play.

Developmental Milestones:

Has your baby achieved the following Small Muscle Movement and Dexterity developmental milestones yet? If yes, check off all the skill(s) she has already mastered to date using Playful Bee’s developmental milestones tracker. It’s absolutely FREE and easy to use, just click HERE!

  • Drinks from a cup.
  • Uses spoon to eat.
  • Turns container over to pour out contents.

(SPECIAL OFFER: Sign up for Playful Bee’s Bee Well developmental learning program to give your baby the best start in life. The first 10,000 children enroll for FREE! Sign up today.)


1California Department of Education (2009). California Infant/Toddler Learning and Development Foundations.

2Maryland State Department of Education (2010). Healthy Beginnings: Supporting Development and Learning from Birth through Three Years of Age.

3Early Steps: Louisiana’s Early Intervention System (2005). Louisiana’s Early Learning Guidelines and Program Standards: Birth through Three.

4BabyCenter Medical Advisory Board (2012). Toddler Fine Motor Skills: Poking and Pinching. BabyCenter. Retrieved February 3, 2014, from

5Klaff, Leslie Gross. Why Kids Love Opening (and Closing) Doors. Parenting. Retrieved February 3, 2014, from

6WebMD Health News (2001). Baby-Proof Your Home: A How-To Guide. WebMD: Newborn & Baby. Retrieved February 3, 2014, from

7Johnson, C. P., and Blasco, P. A. (1997). Infant Growth And Development. Pediatrics in Review, 18(7), 224-242.

8Washington State Department of Early Learning (2012). Washington State Early Learning and Development Guidelines: Birth through 3rd Grade.


Playful Bee

Education Team at Playful Bee
Playful Bee is an e-Preschool that delivers inquiry-based preschool learning from the classroom to your home. Our preschool curriculum was created by our talented team of rock star teachers. With years of hands-on preschool and Kindergarten teaching experience, they've developed a high-quality preschool experience that is convenient-to-use and easy-to-teach by you, grandparents, or your nanny at home.

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