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Tamariki aged 12 to 18 months are likely to be strengthening their pincer grip so they build the small muscle skills they'll need for the more complex activities they'll do as they get older, like drawing, writing and building.

‘Small muscle’ development is also called ‘fine motor’ development. It refers to using the muscles in the fingers, thumbs and hands.

By this age a child will usually have mastered the pincer grasp, using their thumb opposite their index finger. Using a pincer grasp to grip, hold and manipulate things also involves hand and eye coordination – using the small muscles in the eyes in conjunction with their hands and fingers.

A skill for the future

During this stage, practice using a pincer grasp prepares a child for the more complex and useful skills they’ll need later on for drawing, writing, cutting and threading. Eventually it’s used in advanced skills including building, engineering, cooking, sewing, crafts or playing musical instruments.

Activities to strengthen small muscle skills

Parents can help their child strengthen their small muscle skills with a variety of activities. It’s even better when they do these activities with their child. Here are some ideas:

  • block play
  • doing simple puzzles (puzzle pieces with knobs)
  • drawing
  • feeding with finger food
  • filling and pouring – wet and dry things
  • finger-painting
  • nesting
  • painting
  • playdough
  • posting things into holes and slots
  • simple shape sorters
  • stacking
  • turning pages in books
  • using a fork or spoon to self-feed.

When they’re a little older, they can:

  • cut with small and safe scissors
  • help with food preparation – such as wash vegetables
  • squeeze sponges
  • thread things
  • use small tongs or big tweezers.