We spoke with an Atrium Health Levine Children’s pediatrician to discuss what children should be doing based on their age.

Child Health | 7 months ago

A Guide to Toddler’s Motor Skills Development by Age

We spoke with an Atrium Health Levine Children’s pediatrician to discuss what children should be doing based on their age.

If you are wondering how to keep your kiddo engaged physically or have concerns about knowing if your little one is falling behind in their development, you’re not alone.

Many parents are in the same boat. We reached out to Dr. Josh Martin, a pediatrician at Atrium Health Levine Children's Charlotte Pediatric Clinic - SouthPark, to find out how to keep our toddlers’ motor skills engaged..

 “It's not about how many toys you have. It's about what kind of toys you have,” Dr. Martin says. Parents should focus on buying toys that have multiple uses. A plastic car is just a car. My favorite toy from when I was younger was a set of wooden blocks that I used to build all sorts of forts and towers. I actually still have it.”  

Blocks, playdough, and other toys are great for building fine motor skills, but don’t let gross motor skills like running go by the wayside either.

From running outdoors to kicking a ball and beyond, you can find activities that are full of fun and development for your child.

Here’s our quick guide, by age, of what your toddler should be working on:

One year old

Should be able to:

  • Pull up and stand alone
  • Bang two toys together 
  • Put a block into a cup
  • Grasp food with a thumb and forefinger (known as the pincer grasp)

Dr. Martin said don’t worry if your one-year-old hasn’t taken a step yet, but if he or she hasn’t tried moving at all (i.e. rolling, crawling or cruising), you should talk to your pediatrician.

Many one-year-olds can also wave and point as well.

At home, you can encourage fine motor skills by serving your one-year-old finger foods and allowing them to play with blocks, playdough, sand and other sensory objects.

15 months old

Should be able to:

  • Walk forward and backward
  • Bend down and pick up a toy, then stand back up unassisted
  • Wave “bye”

“A 15-month-old is probably the smartest creature on earth,” Dr. Martin says. But they often decide everything they used to like (vegetables, sleeping through the night) is now not going to work for them.

Tap into their rapidly expanding mind’s creativity by giving them pencils, markers, and crayons to begin scribbling with. You can also give your child a spoon or fork to begin eating with at this age — but be ready for a mess.

18 months old

Should be able to:

  • Walk up steps
  • Run
  • Scribble

Help your 18-month-old develop fine motor skills by playing with blocks. Dr. Martin says at this age she should be able to stack two cubes on top of one another. Kids this age are also fond of imitating their parents when they do household chores, so don’t be afraid to let your little one “help” with the cooking and cleaning.

Dr. Martin also said 18-month-olds should be able to remove articles of clothing (especially shoes, which many of them hate!). Having them assist you in getting themselves ready each morning is a great way to hone their fine motor skills as well.

Two years old

Should be able to:

  • Jump
  • Throw a ball overhand
  • Build a tower of four cubes

If you have a two-year-old, it’s time to break out the playground balls of all weights and sizes. Kids of this age should be able to throw a ball overhand and likely will have established either right- or left-hand dominance.

Continue playing with blocks — your 2-year-old should be able to build a tower of four cubes stacked on top of each other.

Three years old

Should be able to:

  • Balance on one foot
  • Jump forward
  • Draw a vertical line

Encourage your 3-year-old to wash their own hands and brush their own teeth (with your help and supervision to make sure it’s done right, of course). Provide plenty of paper, crayons and markers because your little one should be a fairly efficient scribbler by this point.

You can also practice gross motor skills like jumping and kicking a ball outdoors.

Four years old

Should be able to:

  • Balance on one foot for two seconds
  • Copy a cross and a circle
  • Draw a person with three parts

As your child gets older, they should have good control of their fine motor skills and you can examine these by having them draw. By age four, they should be able to draw a person with three parts (i.e. head, body and legs).

Don’t worry if your four-year-old can’t draw a triangle — Dr. Martin says the skills to copy that particular shape won’t come along until age 6. You can also fine-tune fine motor skills by having your 4-year-old cut along a straight line or cut out a specific shape you’ve drawn for them.

Keep in mind that every child is different and these milestones are general suggestions. If you think your child may not be up to speed on his or her motor skills, reach out to your pediatrician.

When should you worry? 

Some “red flags” to watch out for include a child who has trouble feeding themself or using eating utensils by age four, or any child who seems to be extremely clumsy compared to their age-related peers.

Providing activities to help fine-tune your child’s gross and fine motor skills will help them grow and develop the way they should, even in the absence of playgrounds, parks and childcare centers.

“Throwing and kicking a ball, running, jumping, balancing and catching are all easily practiced in the back yard or the park,” Dr. Martin says. “Fine motor control and object manipulation can be encouraged through the use of playdough, sandbox time, scribbling or drawing, using scissors to cut shapes or even pretending to cook and clean along with parents.”

The bottom line for parents is to be ready to play. Playing with your child is the perfect way to hone their motor skills while providing fun bonding time for you both.

If you have specific questions about your child’s development or motor skills, contact your pediatrician. If you need a pediatrician, visit online to explore providers near you and other services offered at Levine Children’s.

This article was originally published on South Charlotte Macaroni Kid. Be sure to check out their blog for more health topics featuring Atrium Health experts as well as kid-friendly events, guides, and more.