Focus on toddler hand (fine motor) tasks

In the first year infants acquire the basic abilities to grasp, manipulate, throw, bang, shake and inspect interesting objects and toys. 

In the second year, toddlers start to engage in more complex hand (fine motor) tasks that require more accurate manipulation and complex motor planning, as well a s anticipation and prediction. 

When toddlers pick up, move, inspect and manipulate toys and other interesting objects they are not only refining their motor skills, but also improving their capacity to use their attention to gain important information, solve problems, try different ways to achieve their goals and importantly increasing their own sense of self-efficacy.

Self-efficacy is the belief in your own ability to achieve a goal, the sense of I-can-do-this. Success breeds success, and the more opportunities a toddler has to experience success, the more motivated he or she will be to explore and take on new challenges. 

An enriched environment filled with many opportunities to explore, experience and succeed has a profound effect on a toddler's developing brain. Experience shapes and refines the connections between different parts of the brain that underlie optimal development of motor, emotional and cognitive abilities.

But the child also needs to be motivated to engage and explore in order to benefit from the enriched environment.  

Toddlers who were born preterm, and those with developmental delay, coordination difficulties, joint hypermobility, low muscle tone, Downs syndrome and autism may need extra help and support learning new fine motor tasks. 

Importance of attention and motivation 

Toddlers with movement difficulties (developmental delay, joint hypermobility, low muscle tone, developmental coordination disorder, autism, Down's) may need dedicated time and support for learning new hand (fine motor) tasks. 

Poor fine motor development is often associated with low motivation and poor attention abilities, along with a tendency to avoid tasks that unfamiliar and appear to be difficult. 

Brain development is promoted when infants and toddlers engage in intentional, goal directed actions: they know what they want and use all their available resources to achieve their goal. 

Some toddlers and young children have a very strong dislike of touching soft and squishy substances and really dislike getting their hands dirty. 

This dislike or even fear of "dirt" is probably linked to having an overactive disgust emotion.  Disgust is a very primitive and visceral emotion, the core function being to protect the individual toxins and pathogens. 

As soon as they are able to sit independently infants will start to move their arms up and down rhythmically. They soon discover that they can use this favorite action to make a very satisfactory noise by banging their hands on different surfaces such a tins, boxes and tables.  

Infants start to coordinate the actions of their hands to grasp, feel and manipulate objects from the first months.  The desire to reach and grasp successfully provides a powerful stimulus for developing anticipatory control of the trunk and head to counteract the destabilizing effects of arm actions.  Given the right opportunities for practice infants as young as 3 months 

Toddlers love playing with play dough, and will roll it out, flatten and squish, make long rolls and then cut or break them into pieces.

All these actions are a great opportunity for improving finger strength and coordination, as well as exploring different ways of doing things. 

You can extend your toddlers repertoire of actions by joining your toddler at the table and demonstrating different things you can do with the play dough.