Holiday crafts for kids who struggle with motor skills

By Lexi Walters Wright

Traditional holiday crafts can be tough for kids who struggle with fine motor skills. If your child has trouble drawing, cutting, or gluing, try these fun alternatives. Some even can help build motor skills.

Glittery holiday dough

Moldable dough is great for helping your child improve hand control. With this version, anything your child makes — a snowman, tree, menorah, kinara, or ornament — will sparkle.

Gather: 2 tablespoons vegetable oil; 1 cup water; 1 cup flour; ½ cup salt; 2 teaspoons cream of tartar; your choice of food coloring; and fine, loose glitter. Heat the oil in a pot and turn off the heat. Mix in the next four ingredients; then add food coloring. Let dough cool on waxed paper and then knead in glitter.

Squirt-painted snowbanks

Pure white snow is beautiful, but it’s not as much fun as bright-colored snow. Give your child a big outdoor canvas to create one-of-a-kind holiday art.

Choose empty bottle types that your child can operate. They could be spray bottles, condiment squirters, or even sports-topped water bottles. Fill the containers with water and add 5–10 drops of food coloring. Use the specific colors of your holiday, or any other festive colors. Then let kids squirt or spray colorful designs onto snowbanks or snow-covered lawns.

Snowflake paintings

No two snowflakes are alike. The same goes for these simple snowflake paintings, which don’t have to be neat to be beautiful.

Make “icy” paint by combining ¼ cup boiling water and ¼ cup Epsom salts in a heat-safe measuring bowl until the salt is dissolved. While it cools, gather black or dark blue construction paper and paintbrushes. Have your child dip a paintbrush into the salt mixture and start making snowflake masterpieces. When they dry, the “paint” will be textured and frosty.

Classic salt dough ornaments

Kneading this dough is great for stretching fingers — and for creating a lasting keepsake.

Gather: 4 cups flour; 1 cup salt; 1½ cups water; and cookie cutters. Preheat oven to 325°F. Mix flour and salt in a large bowl. Gradually add water and stir. Finish mixing by hand and then knead until soft.

Roll out on a floured surface and cut out shapes with cookie cutters. Make a hole with the end of a pencil for ribbon or string. Place on cookie sheets and bake until hard, about one hour. Paint when cool, using your holiday colors. Or mix it up with all sorts of colors.

Handprint holiday wreath

Doing this as a family project makes it extra fun — and lets your child practice tracing and cutting. The more hands, the merrier!

Trace your child’s hand onto green construction paper 10–15 times. Let your child do the cutting — it’s OK if edges are jagged. Lay the hands in a circle, fingers pointing out, overlapping at the palms. Put a dab of glue where they meet to secure the wreath. Cut “berries” from red construction paper and let your child glue those on.

Thumbprint holiday-light cards

If your child has trouble holding a paintbrush but doesn’t mind dirty hands, this is a quick, cool craft.

Fold a piece of blank paper in half lengthwise. Using a black marker, draw a long, winding line. This will be the “cord” of your holiday lights. For the bulbs, kids can press their thumb on colored inkpads and stamp it on the paper along the cord. They can do all of one color first, then another to create a colorful strand. Then help your child write holiday greetings on the inside.

Ice cream cone Christmas trees

Traditional gingerbread houses are cute, but they’re tricky to put together and can be frustrating for kids to decorate. Instead, give your child sugar cones, a can of green frosting, and small candies to decorate the edible “trees.” (Help your child spread the frosting if need be.)

Pipe cleaner ornaments

A favorite tool of occupational therapists, pipe cleaners are easy to bend and shape. Give your child red and white pipe cleaners to twist around each other and curve into a candy cane shape. Kids can even thread plastic beads on them. To make Stars of David, twist blue and white pipe cleaners. For Kwanzaa or Hanukkah candles, wind yellow and orange or blue and silver pipe cleaners around plastic straws. Then push a yellow pipe cleaner up and out the top of each straw and twist into a flame shape.

Colorful tape wrapping paper

Give your child a large piece of solid-color wrapping paper or natural brown wrap and colorful or patterned tape rolls. (Craft stores sometimes call it washi tape.) Have your child rip or cut the tape to create designs on the paper — anything from candy cane stripes to candles with drawn-on flames to unique patterns. (Younger siblings may have an easier time using stickers to decorate their gift-wrap.)

Marshmallow snowstorm garland

Here’s an updated take on the classic cranberry and popcorn strands.

Find a needle with a large eye. Thread two arms’ lengths of string or fishing line onto it. Then have kids push the needle through white marshmallows (any size will do), spacing them however they’d like. Tie lengths of garland together. String multiple garlands in a window to look like falling snow, or use them to trim the tree or decorate doorways.

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    About the author

    About the author

    Lexi Walters Wright is the former Community Manager at Understood. As a writer and editor, she helps parents make more informed choices for their children and for themselves.

    Reviewed by

    Reviewed by

    Laura Tagliareni, PhD is a pediatric neuropsychologist in New York City and a clinical instructor at NYU Langone Medical Center.