14 ways to help older kids build motor skills

By Amanda Morin

Expert reviewed by Keri Wilmot

Kids develop gross and fine motor skills at different rates. And while there are many activities to help younger kids work on fine and gross motor skills, they’re not generally aimed at older kids who struggle with these skills.

There are certain learning and thinking differences that can affect motor skills. These include , , and . Tweens and teens with these issues may still need to work on strengthening their motor skills.

Here are 14 fun activities suited for older kids to help them build gross and fine motor skills without making it seem like more work.

Activities to improve gross motor skills

1. Trampolines: Jumping on a trampoline is a great activity to improve balance. It can also be part of a sensory diet for sensory seekers. Going to an indoor trampoline park can turn practice into a social event with friends. You can also buy a mini-trampoline to use at home. (If you do, it’s important to follow safety rules, such as having a jump bar.)

2. Bowling: Aiming for targets and rolling a bowling ball is another way to work on gross motor skills. If you don’t have a bowling alley nearby, you can always set up water-bottle bowling at home, using empty plastic water bottles and a soccer ball.

3. Walking or climbing: Walking or climbing over unstable surfaces can help kids work on strengthening their trunk muscles. Consider taking a hike with your child. Or you can throw a few pillows on the floor for practice with walking on uneven surfaces.

4. Swimming: Swimming is a whole-body activity in which your child’s body has to work against the resistance of the water. It not only builds gross motor skills, it also helps with proprioceptive awareness (knowing where your body is in space).

5. Playground activities: Using “unstable” playground equipment also helps develop your child’s trunk muscles. Kids can try out things like rope ladders and wobble bridges. Plus, it gives tweens, especially, an excuse to return to the playground!

6. Riding a bike or a scooter: Some kids who struggle with gross motor skills may learn to ride a bike later than their peers do. A scooter is a little easier to master and can be a step on the way to bike riding. Once kids do get the hang of it, though, bike riding can help older kids learn to maintain balance. Plus, it gives them a way to get around independently and an activity where they can interact with their peers.

7. Dancing: Whether it’s a dance class, a dance at school, or just dancing to music at home, dancing has many benefits. Dancing helps kids develop balance, coordination, and motor sequencing skills. It can also be a great way for kids to socialize.

Activities to improve fine motor skills

8. Cooking: From chopping vegetables to kneading bread or pizza dough, cooking together can be a relaxing way to build fine motor skills. It also allows both of you to spend some time together. And if your child builds cooking skills at the same time, it’s a bonus!

9. Building: Put kids to work if they like to work with their hands. Let them help with home repairs. Working with tools like a hammer and a screwdriver allows kids to make use of the small muscles in their hands. It also improves hand-eye coordination. Completing projects successfully can help boost self-esteem.

10. Juggling: Learning to juggle may not be easy, but it’s a fun way to improve both fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination. It’s also a good activity for kids who tend to fidget. If you don’t know anyone who can teach your child, look for an instructional video on the internet to help.

11. Playing a musical instrument: Playing an instrument can help build fine motor skills, especially piano, woodwind instruments and guitar. Even if kids had trouble playing an instrument when they were younger, it’s worth trying again if they express an interest. If you can’t afford private lessons, talk to your child’s school about band or orchestra as an elective or extracurricular activity. (See a list of instruments and the motor skills they require.)

12. Practicing beauty routines: Putting on makeup and creating complex hairstyles require a surprising amount of fine motor skill. Keep in mind that just because your child is practicing how to perfect a smoky eye doesn’t mean makeup has to be worn outside of the house!

13. 3D puzzles: 3D puzzles have foam-like pieces that fit together to create models of everything from the Titanic to the Empire State Building. Until your child’s fine motor skills improve, it may be hard to place the pieces. So it might make sense to start with simpler puzzles and work up to the more complicated ones.

14. LEGO: You may think of LEGO as a toy for younger kids. But there are advanced kits with thousands of pieces that may interest your tween or teen. LEGO also has a robotic product that combines bricks with motors and sensors, so kids can build creations that can be programmed to move. Many libraries, schools, and rec centers have LEGO clubs that kids can join. That can help your child socialize and ease the expense of the hobby.

More about motor skills

Learn more about trouble with movement and coordination, and find out what to do next if you think your child may have dyspraxia (also known as developmental coordination disorder). Discover how occupational therapists work with kids who have motor skills issues. And read one dad’s observations about how people underestimate his son’s abilities because of his issues with motor skills.

About the author

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. 

Reviewed by

Reviewed by

Keri Wilmot has worked with children, teens, and young adults for more than 20 years in a wide range of pediatric settings. Her teenage son has been diagnosed with ADHD.