How to Develop Motor Skills in Toddler

Girl playing with dolls in front of dollhouse

The toddler years are a time of rapid growth in kids’ cognitive and physical abilities. Within a few years, those once-wobbly toddlers have the motor skills necessary to run, jump, get dressed, feed themselves, and more! There’s plenty of things you can do to support your toddler’s motor skill development, and fortunately they’re all as simple as playing and performing everyday tasks together!

What are toddler fine motor skills?

Fine motor skills refer to the development of strength and coordination in small muscle groups, usually in the hands and fingers. Kids work continually throughout their toddler years to develop the dexterity and strength they’ll need for everyday fine motor tasks like writing with a pencil, buttoning buttons, and opening jars.

Fine motor development also happens in the muscles around the mouth and the tongue as kids learn to do things like drink from cups and straws and pronounce certain sounds.

How to develop fine motor skills in toddlers

Observe a toddler for a few hours, and you’ll notice that they’re driven to develop their fine motor skills all on their own! These little explorers have a natural desire to handle new objects, figure out how they work, and master tasks they see adults performing. Helping your toddler develop their fine motor skills can be as easy as providing a few simple toys and activities.

Here are some activities you can offer immediately with materials you probably already have:

  • Stacking wooden blocks and building with building bricks
  • Clapping and performing motions to simple songs
  • Opening an closing different types of containers with lids
  • Playing with shape sorters
  • Coloring with pencils and crayons
  • Digging and building with play sand
  • Writing on vertical surfaces like chalkboards, whiteboards, and easels (This helps kids develop shoulder stability and the correct pencil grasp).
  • Using craft supplies like glue sticks and safety scissors
  • Practicing with forks, spoons, and open cups at meal times
  • Pouring from small pitchers
  • Playing with play dough, especially with tools like rolling pins and cutters
  • Practicing everyday tasks like brushing teeth, combing hair, and getting dressed

What are toddler gross motor skills?

Gross motor skills refer to the development of strength and coordination in large muscle groups needed for balance, walking, running, climbing, lifting, jumping, etc.

How to develop gross motor skills in toddlers

Just as toddlers naturally gravitate toward fine motor activities, they definitely have a natural instinct to explore gross-motor-building activities as well! Just ask any parent who’s ever tried to stop a toddler from climbing the furniture or jumping on the bed! You can help support your toddler’s gross motor development by offering toys and activities that let them move and get active (and you just might save your couch cushions in the process!). Here are some ideas to help them burn some of that toddler energy and boost their gross motor skills:

  • Take trips to parks and playgrounds
  • Install outdoor toys like swing sets and climbers
  • Ride balance bikes or training bikes
  • Play catch with balls
  • Play chase and other running activities
  • Offer chances to lift, push, and move heavier objects (i.e. moving laundry baskets, arranging garden stones, or carrying buckets of water)
  • Spend time outdoors where kids have room to run, jump, and play!

Overall, there’s no need to stress about developing your toddler’s motor skills. Their own desire to play will help them develop both fine and gross motor skills all on their own! You can support them by providing simple toys and activities and limiting screen time, which can distract them from the motor-skill-building play they need. Still, if you’re worried that your child isn’t reaching their Developmental Milestones, always ask their pediatrician about your concerns!