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An Age-by-Age Guide to Fine-Motor Skills

While much attention is paid when a young child masters gross-motor skills, like walking, mastery of fine-motor skills like picking up a small object is often less noticed. But there are clues parents can tune in to. If a child is having a problem, he may show frustration, have tantrums, or refuse to do difficult fine-motor tasks, says Lindsey Biel, an occupational therapist in New York City. A school-age child may notice other kids doing things he finds too hard and feel defeated.

If your child is frustrated, talk to him about the activities that give him trouble. Then ask the teacher how he's doing compared to other children in the class. If your worries persist, consult your pediatrician to rule out medical causes, and schedule an evaluation with the school's occupational therapist or an early intervention agency if your child is under 3. (For one in your state, contact the National Information Center for Children and Youth With Disabilities at 800-695-0285 or www.NICHCY.org/index.html.)

Below, you'll find several fine-motor milestones to watch for. These are general guidelines, says Biel. Some children will progress a little earlier and some a little later.

4 months

-- grasp an object voluntarily

9 months

-- bang toys together

1 year

-- try to imitate scribbles on paper (but may not actually mark the paper)

2 years

-- build a tower of four to six blocks, make circles and vertical lines by copying you

3 1/2 years

-- hold a pencil with an adult-like grasp, fasten front snaps and large buttons

4 years

-- put on socks and shoes, take off clothes

5 years

-- draw triangles and squares by copying you, trace letters and numbers