Toddler Development: Visual and Fine Motor Skills 2 - 4 years

Vision and Fine Motor Skills Development 2 years - 4 years

This is a fun age for children and parents alike. Rapidly advancing cognitive and fine motor skills allow your child to engage in a wide variety of activities and games. Fine motor skills (small muscles in the hands, fingers and thumbs), are crucial for play, writing, drawing, eating, dressing, using electronic devices and tools and self care.  

Rapidly advancing cognitive and fine motor skills allow your child to engage in a wide variety of fun activities and games.

Visual milestones

 

Good vision and visual perceptual development has a significant effect on fine motor skills, gross motor skills and cognitive development. Between 2 to 4 years of age, your child’s vision is becoming fine tuned. Their eye-hand-body coordination, fine motor skills and visual perceptual skills will help them develop pre-school, pre-writing skills of “Stacking building blocks, rolling a ball back and forth, coloring, drawing, cutting, or assembling lock-together toys” (Amercian Optometric Association).  10% of preschoolers have eye or vision problems. Common eye problems presenting at this age are crossed eyes or lazy eye and difficulty with recognition of colors, shapes, letters and numbers.

 

Fine motor milestones

2 years

 

By the age of two your child may have established their dominant hand. She will be able to feed herself well now using an accurate fine pincer grip, or a fork and spoon. She should be able to build a tower of 6 blocks. She may enjoy drawing and be able to imitate a vertical stroke and circular scribbles. She will be able to sort colors and shapes.

 

3 years
 

Your three year old will be becoming more independent with her self care skills. She will be able to undress herself and may be toilet trained (wide range 2 ½ - 3 ½ y). She should be able to draw a circle and a cross. With simple bricks she should be able to build a train of 4 bricks at 3 years and a bridge at 3 ½.  She should enjoy turning pages of a book, and playing with more complex toys (buttons, levers, moving parts). She will enjoy make believe play with toy animals, dolls or lego-like bricks and be able to manipulate and move toys into position with increasing accuracy. She may also enjoy doing simple jigsaw puzzles of 3 or 4 pieces. She may also be able to screw and unscrew jar lids and turn door handles: watch out nothing is safe!

4 years

 

As your child becomes a fully fledged pre-schooler her fine motor skills are becoming increasingly refined. She may be able to draw diagonal lines, a square, a + shape, some capital letters and a simple person with 2 to 4 body parts. She may be able to cut out simple shapes with scissors. She will be an expert at dressing and undressing and may be able to manage buttons. Her advancing cognitive and fine motor skills will allow her to play simple board or card games: it’s time to dig out that old chutes and ladders board!

Please note
 

All children reach their milestones at different rates, so don’t drive yourself crazy comparing your child to others. Children born prematurely or with developmental disorders may reach their milestones later. If you would like further information theCDC has a good summary of all developmental milestones.

 

Helping Your Preschooler Develop Visual and Fine Motor Skills

Safety is essential at this age, especially if you have an escape artist on your hands. Make sure doors are locked and pills and cleaning products are safely locked out of harm’s way.

Mastery of skills takes much trial and error and it is best if you can ignore mistakes and praise successes. Try not to interfere too much in play and don’t be afraid to let her get a little frustrated, she needs to learn to persist.

Occupational Therapist Patty Bunce, of the Penfield Children’s Centre recommends several activities that will help your child develop her fine motor skills. These include:

  • Playing with small toys: like bricks, puzzles, dolls, toy animals and puzzles,

  • Reading paper books together and encourage him to turn the pages,

  • Providing access to play with a variety of textures: play dough, sand and water. Encourage him to use both hands together and practice rolling and cutting playdough. Even better cook simple recipes together, like cookies or macaroni. Allow her to mix, pour, chop and cut with age appropraite tools; this also acclimatizes her to feeling different food textures, trying new foods and developing a love of cooking.

  • Painting, drawing and cutting out: create alongside her, model the correct method and praise her efforts.  

  • Buttoning and tying: while many kids clothes today have become simple to use, with velcro and elastic replacing buttons, fasteners, zippers and laces, it is still important to teach your child these skills. If his clothes are too user friendly, dig out some of yours and play fancy dress.

 

Red Flags: When to call your doctor

 

The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests developmental checks at: 9 months, 18 months and 24 or 30 months. Children who were premature, low birth weight or have other health problems may be screened more frequently. If you are worried you can request an assessment at any time.

If you think your child is showing unusual signs don’t panic, there may be a very simple reason, every child is different. Signs to report to your doctor include:

  • Squint (misaligned eye) or lazy eye,

  • Sits too close or tilts head when watching TV or looking at a book,

  • Rubs eyes when not tired or blinks excessively,

  • Delay in reaching milestone or seems behind peers,

  • Avoids detailed activities such as coloring or puzzles,

  • Poor hand-eye-body coordination or appears clumsy,

  • Muscles that are unusually stiff or loose,

  • Loss of skills previously gained (regression),

  • Unusual movements or twitches.

It is recommended that you keep a record of your child’s development: if you are concerned it may help reassure you that your child is, in fact, progressing and if the need arises it will provide useful information for your doctor.