As your baby is now growing out of their newborn phase, you’ll notice a huge jump in their development over the next few months. From 3 to 6 months old, you will see your little infant’s fine motor skills really begin to emerge.
From finding their hands and feet, grabbing for anything within reach, bringing objects to their mouths, and taking more interest in toys, objects, and people, they’re learning so much about the world around them.
Learning Through Play
During this time, your infant will begin to play. Play is a baby’s way of learning about the world around them and that stays true into toddlerhood and preschool age, as well.
Children learn through their toys to discover textures, sounds, cause and effect, spatial relations, and so much more. Along with improving the strength and coordination of their hands, play develops their cognition, hand-eye coordination, gross motor skills, sensory processing, and social/emotional skills.
Fine Motor Skills from 3-6 Months Old
Fine motor skills are the small, precise, and controlled movements of the hands, used to grasp and manipulate objects. As the child gets older, they will help them eat, write, color, cut, tie shoes, button, and everything else we use our hands for.
During the first 3 months of life, your infant will use their hands in a reflexive pattern. They merely grasp onto your hands and objects automatically when something touches their palm.
Around 3 months, they begin to have purposeful and intentional movements with their hands. They’ll start to be able to keep themselves entertained through reaching, grasping, and exploring objects and people with their hands.
In the early part of this age range (3-4 months), your baby will begin to open their hands a lot more (instead of the fisted grip you saw for the first couple months of life). They’ll start to play by grasping objects put right in front of them and exploring things with both their hands and mouth.
Later on, toward 5-6 months, babies learn to aim better when reaching for something and can get what they want within an arms length reach, further developing their hand-eye coordination. They will be able to manipulate thier hands to turn, twist, and handle plenty of objects.
Tips for Play at 3 to 6 Months Old
It is very important to give your baby lots of opportunities to practice these skills. Use their longer wake times for plenty of playtime throughout the day. Your baby’s fine motor skills will start to develop through these activities so follow the tip below to get your baby learning and exploring at a young age.
Check out this Fine Motor Checklist for the exact skills that your baby will obtain during their first year.
1. Use Appropriately Sized Toys and Objects
Starting around 3 months old, your baby should be able to hold onto objects that fit perfectly in their little palms. These toys will typically be rings, long cylindrical objects, and toys that have lots of separate, skinny parts that your baby can grasp onto.
Lightweight toys are ideal so they can fully lift them overhead and up to their face and mouth. Some of my favorite toys that are perfect for this age are the Sensory Teether Toy (shown above), Rattles, O-Balls, and the Spin Rattle Teether Toy (shown below).
These toys easily allow your infant to grasp and chew at the same time, working on their fine motor skills (grasping) and hand eye coordination (bringing it to his mouth), as well as satisfying their oral sensory (teething) needs. As they get later in this developmental range (5-6 months), they should start understanding that their actions will make the objects move or make noise.
Also, this grasping rattle and teether that makes it easy for baby to stick their little fingers in to grab.
Here is a wide range of toys that are perfect for newborns up to 6 months old.
2. Place Toys Close By
Your baby’s reaching and grasping won’t be entirely precise at this point, so make sure you’re offering them the ability to get to the objects they want easily and without frustration. Make sure the toys can be easily seen and reachable so they don’t have to lean too far or get too frustrated in order to get them.
3. Teach Them Cause-and-Effect
Babies at this age are now starting to learn about cause-and-effect. That is, one of my actions will cause something else to happen. It’s great to play with your baby and watch as they make this discovery, in awe of what their bodies can do.
This is a great activity from Laughing Kids Learn, Try tying a balloon to their wrist or ankle or putting hand/feet rattles on them. At first, they’ll see them move or make noise by accident. However, as they continue to move, they’ll realize that they’re actually in charge of the sound or music.
4. Have Them Bring Toys in Front of Their Face
Your baby will now be using both of their hands together to bring them to the center of their body (midline). This helps them see the object better by having it in front of their face. Lay them in different positions to allow them to have an object in their line of sight.
5. Use Different Textures to Stimulate Senses
When picking toys and objects, use ones with a variety of sensory differences, include textures (hard, soft, fuzzy, plush, smooth, rough), auditory feedback (crinkle, musical, squeaky), visual (bright, contrasting colors, large shapes).
For example, these little crinkle books could keep my daughter occupied all day long. When they start to grasp around 3 months, they’ll love hearing and feeling the crinkle sound and turning the pages. This soft plush toy combines bright colors, textures, and music to stimulate the senses. It has the crinkle texture, musical sounds, as well as dangling parts to chew on and manipulate. It’s really an all-in-one toy and great for developing fine motor skills in your baby!
6. When In Doubt – Tummy Time!
Tummy time is such an important activity that will play a significant role in your baby’s fine motor development, as well as gross motor an strengthening.
Between 3 and 6 months, your baby can now use their arms and hands to push their head and shoulders off the ground. This helps to strengthen all of the muscles in their arms in order to use their hands more functionally. The deep sensory stimulation from this position allows them to become more aware of their hands and arms attached to their body.
Prop your baby up on a Boppy or pillow to have a much easier time getting their hands free to play with toys. Try laying them across a Boppy with the pillow underneath their stomach (as shown above). This will allow them to push their head and shoulders up and reach with their hands.
A tummy time water mat is a fun sensory experience that they can touch, see, and feel, but you. can also make your own! Inside a Ziplock bag, simply put some water, dried beans or rice, glitter, food coloring, or literally any little items that you can find around the house. Tape it down to the floor with painter’s tape for our own DIY water/sensory mat!
7. Sit Them Up
Get your baby sitting upright so they can start seeing the world from a different perspective. Instead of always laying on their backs, between 3 and 6 months they have a little more head control and can maintain upright positions.
Your baby may nos start being able to sit up by themselves, using their hands as a support, closer to the 6-month mark. For the younger infant who still cannot support themselves, you can use baby gear to keep them seated.
Try the following positions for sitting them up:
- With your knees raised, holding them against your thighs on an incline
- Sitting them propped up against a Boppy or corner couch cushion (above)
- Seated in a Fisher-Price Sit-Me-Up (below)
- Sitting behind them, holding at their trunk, waist, hips, or thighs. (below)
The Sit-me-up is best for younger babies (2-4 months) because it gives them a lot of support for sitting. However, this device won’t help to improve their trunk strength or really help them learn to sit up on their own as quickly.
Your own hands are the best support for baby because you can place them on different parts of thier body. Placing your hands higher on their waist and trunk gives them more help and doesn’t work on their balance as much. Bringing your hands down further to their hips and legs, as they need less and less support, will challenge and strengthen their trunk muscles.
8. Put Them in Different Positions
Rachel from CanDo Kiddo suggests making stations for your baby to vary positions. Since you don’t want them laying on their back or a swing all day long, set up areas of your house where they can actively be in a new position. As stated before, side lying, tummy time, and sitting up are all different positions that can bring your baby’s attention to their hands and environment in different ways.
For example, one blanket can be for sidling play where your baby is on his side. Place some toys or images on the ground right in front of his view that he may try to reach for. Mirrors are also great for tummy time so get one in front of your tummy time mat. For belly up (or lying on back) play, be sure to keep an activity gym with hanging objects up above. Baby’s will love swatting and reaching for them.
I hope you enjoyed learning about these fine motor skills for your 3 to 6 month old baby. You can play with your baby in so many different ways, so continue to be creative and have fun!
Check out this Fine Motor Checklist to stay up-to-date on your baby’s development and milestones.