It's amazing what a baby can learn to do with her chubby little fingers and hands. Babies typically can move objects from one hand to another at about 5 months and play patty-cake at about 9 months. The "pincer grasp" -- the movement of the thumb and forefinger to pick up a small object -- usually kicks in at around 11 months to 1 year. By about 13 months, a baby can stack two blocks, and by 14 months, scribble his first masterpiece with a crayon.
Again, the parameters for these milestones can vary widely. According to the University of Missouri-Columbia report, 90 percent of babies begin to play patty-cake between 7 and 15 months; stack two building blocks between 10 and 19 months; and scribble with crayons between 10 and 21 months.
The first sign of a fine motor delay is often the absence of that pincer grasp. A child who is older than 1 year and still using his fingers to "rake" small objects toward him may have a problem that requires treatment. Many times, however, fine motor delays are picked up by preschool teachers, who notice if a child isn't able to manipulate crayons or has trouble using a cup.
But experts caution that a little one's awkwardness with preschool implements may not signal a true fine motor problem. Instead, they may just indicate that he hasn't spent time acquiring strength and dexterity in his fingers. "A kid who only wants to run around the playground may be less skilled with crayons because he hasn't had as much practice as one who loves making crafts," Freedman says.
Connie Gross, a Long Valley, New Jersey, mom, confirms that practice can make perfect. "When my twins were around 3, they would often tell me they needed help with skills such as brushing their teeth. I encouraged them to do it themselves. Soon enough, they were doing it on their own."
Sometimes, though, fine motor delays are caused by a treatable disorder, such as low muscle tone in the fingers. Occupational therapy, which helps a child build finger strength through tasks like puzzles, is often helpful.