Does your child like to bang on pots and pans? Can he spend hours pouring water from bucket to bucket? Is he always clapping his hands and wiggling his fingers? If so, he's enhancing his fine motor skills, according to child-development specialists. You probably thought he was just playing.

The term "motor skills" refers to the movements your baby makes with her arms and legs, but motor, in this case, doesn't refer to the speed at which your child moves (although it can certainly seem like he has a motor inside him). Motor actually refers to motion and the amount of control your baby has over his muscles. He gains fine (that is, smaller) muscle control in his hands and finger by grabbing for objects and not letting go. When he first holds his head up, he's acquiring neck control.


Practice Makes Perfect

When pediatricians and child-development specialists talk about enhancing motor skills, they really mean practicing. Just like baseball player Derek Jeter had to practice catching and singer Mariah Carey had to practice her scales, your baby has to practice moving. The more he moves, the more control he'll have over his movements.


Babies who spend too much time in a stroller, crib, or playpen lose out on opportunities to improve their crawling, grabbing, and reaching skills, says child psychologist Elissa Gross, Ph.D. Just like adults need exercise to keep their bodies in shape, babies need all types of movement to encourage growth and development.

Parents focus a lot on the ability to walk, but there are all types of ways in which babies move that help them grow into active, healthy children. For example, pushing and pulling toys are great for young children even if they only roll them back and forth without standing up. Likewise, playing in water (with you watching, of course), lets them experience new sensations. They can pour water from buckets and move toys through the water all in a sensation of weightlessness.


Banging, Holding, Clapping

Babies also love banging, so give them some wooden spoons and bowls, and let them bang away (Tupperware is also great for this). It may seem like they don't know what they're doing (certainly most of them can't keep a beat), but the rhythm and the noise will give them a sense of satisfaction (cause and effect) as well as encourage them to play more, which is really just practice for their muscles.


Let your baby practice holding all sorts of items: eyeglass cases, plush toys, boxes. Give them anything safe that they want to explore. It will be like finger exercises to a pianist just a way for their muscles to respond positively to different stimuli and experiences. Let him tear paper, chew on durable toys, or try to stack blocks or insert objects into containers as much as he safely can at a young age. He isn't trying to be destructive; he's just trying to explore the new abilities his fingers have.

Likewise, clap, wiggle your fingers, do the movements to songs like Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star, and play with your baby's feet and toes, to help him get the idea that you like when he moves and explores the abilities of his body. If you smile and laugh while he attempts to dance or crawl or roll, then he'll do it more and more because seeing you smile will make him happy.