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Toddlers & Painting for Fine Motor Development

by Sara Ipatenco, studioD

Fine motor skills are those that allow your toddler to feed himself, color with crayons and otherwise use his hands in his day-to-day existence. Developing fine motor skills is essential during the toddler years because it helps your child build the skill set he'll need to be successful in school. Painting is an entertaining activity for most toddlers, and while your child is busy creating a masterpiece, he's also building his fine motor skills.

Fine Motor Skill Development

Fine motor skills are those that require small muscle movements and precision. For example, when your toddler scribbles with a crayon, builds a block tower or uses a spoon to eat, he's using his fine motor skills. Developing fine motor skills during the toddler years is essential because it paves the way for more grown up activities such as writing, drawing and cutting with scissors. Working on fine motor skills also helps your toddler develop hand-eye coordination, which is essential for learning new tasks as he gets older, according to Christy Isbell, child development expert and author of "Mighty Fine Motor Fun: Fine Motor Activites for Young Children."


Painting is an effective way to build fine motor skills because it requires your toddler to use a pincher grasp to hold the paintbrush. It also encourages him to move his hand, wrist and arm to create an image on the paper. Dipping the paintbrush into the paint also increases fine motor skills. In fact, giving your child a piece of paper, paints and paintbrush is more effective than offering a coloring book and crayons because your child must use his muscles to create, according to Isbell. When he colors, he's simply filling in someone else has already drawn, but when he paints, he's relying on hand-eye coordination to make something on his own. Lay a piece of blank white paper in front of your child and set out two or three colors of washable paints. Provide a variety of paintbrushes in several sizes and then sit back and let him paint.

Alternate Painting Activities

Your child doesn't need to use a paintbrush to build his fine motor skills. Do a variety of creative paint activities with him to prevent boredom while also boosting a variety of fine motor skills. Lay a piece of white paper in the lid of a box and squirt a few drops of paint on different areas of the paper. Place a marble in one corner of the box and show your toddler how to roll the marble through the paint, which leaves behind a track on the paper. This builds muscle tone in the wrists and shoulders, according to Jodene Smith, author of "Activities for Fine Motor Skills Development." Give your child large rubber stamps and let him dip them into paint and press them onto paper or show him how to dip the wheels of small cars into paint and drive them on paper. These activities are enjoyable for your toddler, but they also build a variety of muscles necessary for fine motor skills.

Tips and Considerations

Dress your child in old clothes or use a paint smock so he doesn't ruin his best clothes. Lay newspaper or an old sheet under your child's painting area to reduce the mess and make cleanup easier. Always use washable paint. It's easier to get the stains out of clothes and furniture. If your toddler can't hold a paintbrush or create a picture by the age of about 2, make an appointment with his pediatrician. If your child has a fine motor skill delay, his doctor will help you develop an intervention plan to help get him back on track.


About the Author

Sara Ipatenco has taught writing, health and nutrition. She started writing in 2007 and has been published in Teaching Tolerance magazine. Ipatenco holds a bachelor's degree and a master's degree in education, both from the University of Denver.

Photo Credits

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