The benefits of encouraging children to participate in fine motor skills activities are widely known and, at this point, founded on all-but-empirical evidence. This study sponsored by the University of Virginia School of Education should provide all the evidence a questionable parent or teacher would need. And just by scanning the list of activities listed below, you will see that it is incredibly easy and affordable to get your child involved in all kinds of fine motor activities.
Many of these have additional benefits, as well, such as preparing your child for common school activities such as using scissors safely and writing with a pencil. You can get other complete project ideas from this art school for kids online course.
Clothespins are a fine motor skills staple because they require not only dexterity, but significant finger strength to overcome the resistance of the spring. This set-up is very simple and, potentially, free of charge.
You need some thick string or yarn, clothespins and some miniature clothes. If you wondering where you can get miniature clothes, the answer would be from barbies, dolls, actions figures, or you can make your own out of felt or other inexpensive or no longer usable fabrics. Just string up a “clothesline” between two sturdy objects and you’re ready to go. Don’t make the line too long or put it in a place where it becomes a hazard.
Obviously you don’t want to attempt a 3D reconstruction of the Taj Mahal with a two-year old, but simple puzzles are perfect for motor skills. These include the kind that aren’t really puzzles at all; the ones that are wooden and depict a scene, such as a farm, and have large pieces with handles are fairly ideal. But simple jig-saw puzzles with a dozen or so over-sized pieces require a little more finesse.
If you’re anxious to get increase the amount of time your kids spend outside, check out this blog post on 5 fun outdoor activities for kids.
Scissors And . . . Play-Doh?
Scissors are just one of those things that toddlers find impossible to use. But as your child approaches the two-year mark, you can definitely introduce them to the art of scissors with play dough. This free article addresses other fine motor skills activities, including other play dough games.
Oddly enough, play dough is an ideal substance for new scissors users. There are several reasons for this. For starters, most kids already know how to use play dough; how to roll it into balls, make snakes, etc. This will make them feel more comfortable using a “sharp” device. Plus, you can adjust size and thickness to your choosing, and unlike paper, you can reuse it over and over again (and you don’t have to deal with paper scraps).
As for the awesome semantics of play-dough-motor-skills, check this out: not only is play dough unique in that it is equally easy (or hard, depending on how you look at it) for left and right handed children (if you’re left handed and you’ve ever cut long strips of paper, you know how frustrating this can be), but it also provides better resistance feedback than paper. Paper breaks suddenly, whereas play dough makes for slower and more predictable cuts. It also forces kids to use bilateral coordination (in other words, using two hands but with each hand doing a separate task).
Sorting is often over-looked because it is so fundamental, but it’s a great way for children to practice picking up different sized and shaped objects, often with thumb and forefinger. The idea of sorting, of course, is to begin with a mixed bunch of objects and have them sorted by color, shape, size, texture, etc. You can use anything from beads to marbles to types of pasta. You’ll probably be surprised at how much fun they have doing this simple task.
Drawing (With Limits)
Just scribbling is useful, as it helps children learn how to wield a pencil, but better alternatives are drawing books that feature color-by-numbers, drawing within the lines and dot-to-dot connection. These are ideal for the obvious reasons that require a higher level of attention and detail. I also recommend this beginner’s course on learning to draw cute characters.
Painting is also a wonderful option, with fingers or with brushes (although again, the brushes will require a steadier hand, which is to say they will challenge the motor skills to a further degree).
I realize that musical instruments aren’t realistic for extremely young children, but options do exist for them and it’s important to encourage fine motor skills throughout childhood. Having your children or students match keys on a piano or strings on a stringed instrument is a fun way to get motor skills involved (not the mention the numerous benefits of music).
Sports are the epitome of motor skills. Almost nothing tests, pushes and develops fine motor skills like sports. Plus, with an activity like croquet, you can get some additional time out doors. If you want to keep developing motor skills into middle childhood, it’s never too early (or late) to get into yoga; this course on getting started with kids yoga can help you do just that.
Croquet kits for kids can be found at just about any sporting goods store (or Toys R Us). Just having a child try to make connection between club and ball will activate parts of the brain that don’t often see use elsewhere.
You might find a lot of other kids’ sports toys in the same section of store that sells croquet: bowling for kids, mini putt-putt courses, kid-friendly soccer, golf and basketball, etc.
The Building Blocks Of Motor Skills
Building blocks are a personal favorite for motor skills. They give kids the freedom to work creatively, to build something and, best of all, to knock it down when it’s all over. Standard sets of wooden building blocks, such as this one featuring 200 colored pieces, are unbreakable and will literally last for generations.
You can challenge your kids to build something specific or let their creativity run free.
Stringing Beads And Noodle Necklaces
Stringing beads (or noodles) onto string is like the scissors activity in that it really challenges bilateral coordination. The possibilities here are endless; you can use pipe cleaners with beads to mold shapes (such as hanging decorations), you can use food coloring to make pasta noodles a variety of colors (and then use the pieces to make colorful necklaces, bracelets, etc.), you can make holiday or birthday decorations, dog collars (make sure they’re safe for the dog, of course), or anything else funky or practical.
It’s almost as if kitchen utensils were designed with kids in mind. Some items might seem useless for motor skills, such as a colander, until you strain thin spaghetti into them. Toddlers will love playing with edible food and lacing the slippery spaghetti in and out of the colander’s holes.
Kids also love stacking tupperware containers, putting on and taking off lids, telescoping measuring cups, squeezing turkey basters (they can practice with water), sticking things in whisks . . . the list is nearly infinite. And don’t forget that kids love to help cook. You can start teaching them the basics of cooking and healthy eating with this class on happy vegetarian kids and cooking healthy food.
Bean gluing is one of those things that is simply hilarious to watch (in the best way possible). The activity is very simple and, whereas play dough and magnets provide resistance, bean gluing requires an extremely fine and delicate touch.
You will use dried beans, obviously, and construction paper. While you can, by all means, let your children squeeze glue (preferably Elmer’s) into their own designs, it will probably be more satisfying if you make the designs for them and then allow them to position the beads on the lines of glue. In this way, they will see the glue drawing take shape and you won’t have to worry about a glue-ocalypse. The beans will “float” on the glue, making them very sensitive to the touch and, therefore, excellent practice for little fingers.
A personal favorite of mine is making monster faces. You can buy about a hundred different colors of dried beans and, with minimal instruction, help kids use one color for the eyes, another for the mouth, etc. The organic texture and color of the beans makes for a very cool aesthetic.
If you aren’t familiar with peg boards, they look like this. One glance at the picture and you’ll see why they’re an ideal motor skills activity. You can help your toddlers spell their names with the pegs, and then you use rubber bands to form the body of the shapes outlined by the pegs.
If magnets weren’t a natural phenomenon, they would be a masterpiece of fine motor skills design. The combination of small, high-resistance pieces makes them perfect for kids. You can find dozens of magnet games on Amazon, but toddlers inherent interest in just about anything make seemingly magical magnets an easy pastime. Still, a good way to combine activities is to have your kids glue pom-poms onto circles cut out of magnet sheets, and then they can decorate the refrigerator or the oven with their own designs.
Scratch/etch art is another wonderful activity for helping prepare kids for writing with a pencil. With scratch art, you just let your kids go at it; due to the nature of it, there aren’t really any designed activities.
If your kid is a drawer (as in, the artist, not the piece of furniture), you might get a kick out of this course that teaches how to draw cartoon characters.
I didn’t include these under kitchen utensils because most people don’t have beginner chopsticks, which are more or less toys, laying around. They are basically long, spring loaded tongs, but they really force kids to learn the “pincer grip.” A fun way to encourage them to use them is by using them as real chopsticks: to eat. They can pick apart muffins, grab crackers, and even pick up peas if they’re chopstick prodigies.
If you’re short on time, or if you just want to prepare yourself for days when you’re short on time, you can buy all kinds of games and pre-made motor skills activities from Kaplan. An additional benefit of having one or two of these lying around is that once you teach your kids how to play, they can use them virtually on their own with minimal supervision.
And if you have somehow managed to exhaust this list of motor activities, or just want to get some more ideas, check out this five-star course on developing motor skills and coordination for kids ages 0-6.