Kids develop motor skills at different rates. But when young kids struggle with fine motor skills, they can have trouble with key tasks like grasping utensils (like pencils), moving objects with their fingertips, and using tools like scissors. They may also have difficulty learning to tie shoes. If your child’s fine motor skills need a little extra help, try these fun activities.
1. Play-dough and putty
Play-dough and putty are often used as part of the heavy work component of a sensory diet. They can also help improve a child’s fine motor skills. Encourage your child to squeeze, stretch, pinch and roll “snakes” or “worms” with the play clay. You can even have your child try to cut the play-dough with scissors. (Learn how to make three types of sensory-friendly slime, including putty slime.)
Different types of painting can help strengthen your child’s hand-eye coordination and manual dexterity. Finger painting gives kids an opportunity to use their hands — and to get messy. Painting with a brush helps kids learn to hold a brush and gain greater control using it as a tool. (Paint-by-number kits are great for brush painting.) To add a little sensory play to the mix, you can even try scratch-and-sniff painting.
3. Playing with sponges
A new, clean sponge, some water and two bowls are all you need for another activity to build fine motor skills. Fill a bowl with water and leave the other empty. Your child can soak the sponge in the water and then squeeze out the sponge into the other bowl. It’s a simple game that can strengthen hands and forearms. If you cut off a cube of the sponge and have a small chalkboard and some chalk, you can also do a “Wet-Dry-Try” multisensory handwriting activity.
4. Rice races
Divide a handful of uncooked rice into two plastic bowls and have an empty bowl handy. Give your child small plastic tweezers and grab a pair for yourself. Then, have a race to see who can be the first to transfer their rice into the empty bowl using the tweezers. If your child is struggling because the grains of rice are too small, you may want to begin with O-shaped cereal or pony beads.
5. Water play
Fill a cup about a quarter full of water. Give your child an empty cup and an eyedropper or a clean medicine syringe. Have your child try to transfer the water from one cup to the other by drawing the water into the dropper or syringe and then dropping or squirting it into the empty cup. You could also give your child more cups, add food coloring to the water, and make this a color-mixing experiment.
6. Gardening and planting
Digging and gardening may seem like activities more suited to building gross motor skills, but there are parts of it that require smaller muscle control, too. For instance, transferring seedlings into a garden requires hand-eye coordination skills to safely carry the smaller plant to the new hole. Your child will also need to be able to grasp a trowel to dig and to use a pincer grasp when picking up seeds to plant.
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About the author
Amanda Morin is the author of “The Everything Parent’s Guide to Special Education” and the former director of thought leadership at Understood. As an expert and writer, she helped build Understood from its earliest days.
Keri Wilmot is an occupational therapist who works with children of varying ages and abilities in all areas of pediatrics.