Parents and teachers have been known to go to wild extremes to give their children an advantage, but sometimes a strong set of fundamentals is simply the best preparation we can offer them. Encouraging children to practice fine motor skills, such as those required to make necklaces out of dried pasta, is a way to help them develop other cognitive processes that are beneficial across the academic spectrum, as evidenced by this study sponsored by the University of Virginia Center for the Advanced Study of Teaching and Learning.
Fortunately, there are endless possibilities when it comes to easy activities for fine motor skills, and I list ten of the best below. You can also use this amazing motor skills course to learn other ways to improve coordination.
Homemade Bird Feeder
Beading is an all-time classic, and you can get all kinds of ideas from this beading crafts for kids tutorial. Anything from lettered beads (so that they can spell their names) to candy bracelets will make for a fun afternoon; you can even use yarn and dried pasta as a low-cost alternative. Here is a quick and easy beading project for making homemade bird feeders:
- Start with a bag of Cheerios and some pipe cleaners.
- Twist one end of the pipe cleaners to make an “L” shape. This will prevent the Cheerios from falling off.
- Now let the kids go wild and string Cheerios onto as many pipe cleaners as they wish. If they’re a little older, they might even get creative by joining pipe cleaners together and making complex shapes and designs.
- For simple pipe cleaners, twist the two ends together to make a circle; for the others, just make sure you can tie a string to it.
- Finally, attach strings or yard to the finished products and them from your porch, from tree branches, wherever. That’s it!
Drawing Between The Lines
Drawing is wonderful because it exercises the imagination, too. But random squiggles aren’t as effective as (slightly) more disciplined drawing. Try to use coloring books that use dot-to-dot outlining, drawing within the lines, stencils, or even coloring by numbers. Anything that places a fun restriction on doodling is going to improve motor skills.
Play Dough 2.0
The toughness of play dough forces children to grab, squeeze, push, pinch and pull. This helps strengthen muscles, especially the larger arm muscles, which is vital to improving the finer muscles used for motor skills. You can take play dough to another level by hiding small objects inside, such as marbles, buttons, beads, or any other kid-safe materials you have lying around. You can also buy things like plastic eyes, bendy straws and other materials to build play dough creatures.
Fun is the key, as it will make the process of learning motor skills seamless. You can get advice on child happiness with this happiest-toddler-on-the-block training course for children 8 months to 5 years.
This activity incorporates a number of fine motor skills. While any pliable material can be woven, the following directions offer an affordable, easy and beautiful technique:
- Cut a few paper grocery bags along the creases; discard the bottoms and use the four sides.
- Let your children paint the panels as they wish, but encourage patterns, as these are most conducive to developing motor skills.
- Let the panels dry. For best results, iron them smooth between two pieces of paper.
- For each child, set aside one panel and have them cut the remaining panels into one-inch wide strips.
- Take the panels you set aside and cut them into roughly 11″ by 18″ rectangles. Fold in half lengthwise. Starting one inch from either edge, cut one-inch-wide strips from the crease towards the unfolded edge. Stop one inch from the end of the paper, as you do not want to separate the strips from the panel.
- Now all you have to do is unfold the paper and weave in the long strips created in step 4. The possibilities for patterns are endless!
This may sound ridiculous at first, but kids enter a kind of motor-skills trance once they get started sorting. This is also very easy to set up. All you need is a variety of similar objects: different coins, different colored or sized buttons, marbles, nuts, pastas, cereals, etc. Edibles are a great way to reward kids once the project is over. You can get more ideas, and professional direction, with this art school for kids training course (and you might even learn something yourself).
Building, which requires balancing and careful placement, is one of the best and most traditional activities for motor skills. You don’t have to buy a new Lego set every time, either. Blocks are great for building, and you can always use an old Jenga game if you don’t own any. Cardboard boxes and plastic containers, such as those from cereals, granola bars, Tupperware, etc., add a little more scale to the activity. Plus, there’s nothing like the fun of knocking down these awesome creations.
You can fine tune the skills of a child’s mind, too, with this free tutorial on meditation for young kids.
Painting . . . With Pudding
The dexterity required to wield a paintbrush makes painting an even finer skill than drawing. You can make this process more fun by painting with pudding. This is incredibly easy, too. All you need is a single pack of Jell-O vanilla pudding and a set of food coloring. Make the pudding, then divvy up the pudding into four or five different containers. Then add food coloring. Kids will have a blast using pipe cleaners to paint on whatever surface you deem fit. The quality of the painting is irrelevant. As long as they’re having fun and painting, it’s a win-win for fine motor skills. And no harm done with they stick their fingers in their mouths.
Cutting And Collaging
All you need for this ridiculously fun activity is colored cardboard paper, child-safe scissors, glue sticks and some big photographs of your children. Don’t use quality photos, of course; you can print out pictures on your printer on regular printer paper. Now they get to cut their pictures into odd shapes and pieces and then reposition the pieces on the cardboard paper to make their faces look hilarious. No rules, all fun.
For kids that are a little older, you can give them a huge head start with this computer programming for kids video tutorial that teaches them how to read, write and count code, or even this course that teaches and encourages young children the basics of entrepreneurship.