From what your baby should be doing by one year old to what a child should be able to do independently by four years old, we’re covering it all.

Child Health, News | one year ago

Your Go-To Guide on Toddlers’ Motor Skills Development by Age

From what your baby should be doing by one year old to what a child should be able to do independently by four years old, we’re covering it all.

Editor's note: Please keep in mind that every child is different, and these are milestones are general suggestions.

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.

Dr. Josh Martin, a pediatrician at Atrium Health Levine Children's Charlotte Pediatrics in SouthPark, is sharing how to keep your toddler’s motor skills development on track.

 “It's not about how many toys you have – it's about what kind of toys you have,” Martin says. “Parents should focus on buying toys that have multiple uses. 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 mastering fine motor skills, but don’t forget about gross motor skills, like running, which are just as important.

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

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

One Year Old

Within the first year of life, a baby learns everything from who’s mommy to how to pick up a toy to sitting, crawling and maybe even walking. Wow, what a year!

A 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)

Martin says don’t worry if your one-year-old hasn’t taken a step yet, but if he or she hasn’t tried rolling, crawling or cruising, you should talk to your pediatrician.

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

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

Three months doesn’t seem like long, but in baby years, it’s an entirety. Toddlers learn so much from 12 to 15 months.

A 15-month-old should be able to:

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

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

Tap into their rapidly expanding mind’s creativity by allowing them to scribble with pencils, markers and crayons. 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

Another three months have flown by. Now what? It’s time for perfecting fine motor skills.

An 18-month-old should be able to:

  • Walk up steps
  • Run
  • Scribble

Help your 18-month-old develop fine motor skills by playing with blocks. Martin says at this age they 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.

Martin also says 18-month-olds should be able to remove articles of clothing, especially shoes, which most children this age cannot wait to take off. 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

Your toddler is now truly a person of their own – with likes, dislikes and demands. Watch out for that personality as they learn how to push buttons to get what they want!

A two-year-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 play ball! 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 two-year-old should be able to build a tower of four cubes stacked on top of each other.

Three Years Old

Three years down, a lifetime to go! This age is all about teaching and mastering independence.

A three-year-old should be able to:

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

Encourage your three-year-old to wash their own hands and brush their own teeth with your help and supervision to make sure it’s done right and safely. Let your little one’s imagination run wild with arts and crafts. Try providing paper and crayons to see what they’ll invent on their own. Your little one should be an efficient scribbler by this point.

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

Four Years Old

Your toddler is growing up! And to prepare for school, there’s a lot they’ll perfect this year.

A four-year-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. By age four, they should be able to draw a person with three parts, including a head, body and limbs.

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

You’re Doing Great

The best advice for parents is to be involved, ask questions and get ready to play. Good parenting starts with caring and showing up. And remember: playing with your child is the perfect way to hone their motor skills while providing fun bonding time for you both.

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

It’s worth repeating that every child develops at their own pace, and these milestones are just guidelines for tracking your child’s progress.

If you have specific questions about your child’s development or motor skills, contact your pediatrician. You can find a pediatrician here