Inside: Want to boost fine motor skills for toddlers? It’s really not as complicated as you’d think. In fact, building your child’s fine motor skills can become a simple part of your everyday life. This guide will help you get started on the right track with fine motor skills. Plus, I’ll give you ten easy, low-stress fine motor activities for toddlers!
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Do you remember your baby’s perfectly chubby hands? I remember the first time he grabbed my finger. I remember my surprise at the strength of his grip!
Now those little hands are getting slimmer and growing stronger! Rattles and bottles turn into crayons and scissors.
As your toddler grows, it’s time to give him opportunities to strengthen those little hands even more. This guide is your road map to fine motor skills for toddlers!
Fine motor skills are any ability that requires the use of the small muscles in the hands, wrists and forearms. Even the feet and toes use fine motor movements!
As toddlers grow past the reflex stages found in infancy, they need plenty of opportunity to develop those fine motor muscles!
Why are fine motor skills important?
You might have heard the buzzword “fine motor skills” before. Or maybe it popped up on a Pinterest search. But have you ever wondered why fine motor skills are so important?
It seems obvious at first, but in reality, encouraging fine motor skills for our toddlers is now more important than ever!
You see, as our kids become more dependent on tablets and technology for play, they’re using less and less of those fine and gross motor muscles. We may need to be more intentional about encouraging fine motor development!
The impact of this reaches far beyond whether your child can color inside the lines or not. Research has found that motor skills are highly related to other domains, specifically within the first three years.
This means that your child’s fine motor skills ability affects his social and cognitive experiences as well.
In short, fine motor activities for toddlers and the visual-spatial ability that come with them help your child understand the way the world works.
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How can I help my toddler with fine motor skills?
Here’s the good news… Developing fine motor skills at home is really easier than you think! You don’t need complicated worksheets, honest.
In fact, I want you to remember that fine motor practice should really look like play. You’re probably already doing a great job encouraging fine motor play in your daily routine!
Helping your child engage in real, hands-on play is the best way to develop fine motor skills.
As you expose your toddler to fine motor activities, keep it engaging and fun. Kids learn so much more during play!
What should you look for in a fine motor activity? I like to think of these three questions to help guide the activities that we do in our home.
- Is the activity child-led and inspired by play? Play-based learning is the most effective type of learning for toddlers and young kids!
- Does the activity challenge my toddler to use muscles in the wrists, hands, fingers, feet or toes? Building these small muscles is key to building fine motor skills.
- Does the activity encourage the connection between fine motor muscles and the eyes? The goal of fine motor skills is to help my child manipulate objects with purpose and intention.
Want to get started with play-based learning? Enroll for free in this fun and helpful email course! You’ll learn the stress free way to inspire learning through play with your little one.
What activities help fine motor skills?
- Make art, draw, and paint.
- Engage in pretend play.
- Play with playdough.
- Read picture books.
- Cut and paste.
- Practice life skills.
- Lace and thread.
- Stack and build blocks.
- Solve puzzles and sort shapes.
- Teach finger plays and nursery rhymes.
I know first-hand how tedious it can be to try to make a toddler sit down to do a worksheet or color. That’s why I created a collection of Early Learning Bible Curriculum packs! Each pack teaches a central concept from God’s word, like loving others, God’s creation, or being thankful. Plus you’ll engage in real, hands-on play activities to go with the lesson! Your child will build fine motor, pre-reading, early math skills, and more. And the best part is that it feels like play! Click here to check out these printable curriculum packs.
10 Easy Fine Motor Activities for Toddlers
#1: Make Art
We love this pom pom painting art project for toddlers, and it’s fantastic for fine motor practice. As your toddler pinches the clothespins he’s developing the pincer grasp necessary for pre-writing skills. Dipping and painting with the pom poms also strengthens palm and finger muscles.
Make art materials like crayons, markers, and paint readily available as well. My kids love these paint markers, and I love that they help develop fine motor skills without all the mess!
#2: Play Pretend
Imaginary play sets the stage for amazing fine motor development! Sip tea, pretend to bake a cake, or spread imaginary peanut butter on a sandwich. All of these actions develop the eye-hand coordination that’s necessary for fine motor skills.
Amazing imaginary play is fueled by open-ended toys! We love these toys that encourage pretend play and fine motor skills:
- play kitchen food and tools
- toy woodworking and carpentry tool bench
- toy animals and figurines
#3: Play with Play-dough
Bring back the classics! The process of rolling, squeezing, and manipulating play-dough is a fantastic way to building the muscles needed for fine motor development.
I love setting my kids up at the kitchen table with play-dough while I cook dinner or wash up the dishes. They love creating little worlds, making “cookies,” or building castles.
More Simple Play-dough Activities:
- Make play-dough robots with paperclips.
- Make dino footprints and fossils.
- Create a play-dough ice cream shop.
- Make pretty flowers with buttons and play-dough.
#4: Read Picture Books
We usually don’t think of storytime as a time to build fine motor skills. But reading picture books with your child is a wonderful way to develop the ability to point with the pointer finger.
Take time on each page to help your child find and point to familiar objects. “I see the cow. You can point to the cow!”
Reading books together also gives your child the chance to practice turning pages. With young toddlers, the thick pages of board books or fabric books will help them develop the coordination to turn pages without damaging the book.
A Few of Our Favorite Read Aloud Books:
- In the Tall, Tall Grass by Denise Fleming
- Little Blue Truck by Alice Shertle
- Busy, Busy Town by Richard Scarry
#5: Cut and Paste
Learning to use scissors is definitely a more advanced fine motor skill. Your child will have to coordinate both pushing and pulling muscles to practice cutting.
You can always get into more structured cut and paste play later on, but for starters I do this with my kids:
- Provide two or three sheets of colorful thick construction paper.
- Help your child place his fingers properly on the scissor handle. Say “Thumbs up!” to encourage the correct hand position.
- Let your child cut it all into strips and tiny pieces with safety scissors! No rules, no goal. Just getting those hand muscles used to the proper movement!
- Take another big piece of paper and let your child glue all the pieces in a big collage. All done!
#6: Practice Life Skills
Fine motor practice is so easy to work into life skills! Teach your child how to button and zip clothing. Let them fiddle with the buckles on the high chair.
Lunchtime is also a wonderful time to practice fine motor skills. As your toddler learns to properly use a spoon, bowl, and cup, he’s honing those small motor movements that become more smooth over time. More fine motor practice means less post-meal clean up for you!
#7: Lace and Thread
Lacing is often an overlooked fine motor activity, but it’s a great skill to learn! For toddlers, it’s best to start simple. Just hole punch around the edge of a paper plate. Then give your child a shoelace and show him how to lace through the holes. The hard plastic bit on the end of the shoelace is great for little hands to grab hold of.
More Genius Lacing Toys:
- Melissa and Doug Lace and Trace Animals
- Eric Carle Animal Lacing Cards
- Jumbo Lacing Beads
#8: Stack and Build with Blocks
Is there anything more natural to a child than building with blocks? Sometimes it’s the simplest activities that have the biggest impact.
When toddlers play blocks, they’re using fine motor skills, eye-hand coordination, and imagination. And they’re also learning about physics, gravity, and geometry!
Toddlers usually know exactly what to do with blocks, but if your child is lacking motivation, try these ideas:
- Put a piece of painter’s tape halfway up the wall, and challenge your child to build a tower tall enough to reach the tape.
- Mix it up and combine traditional blocks with random household objects for a new building challenge.
#9: Solve Puzzles and Sort Shapes
Working with puzzles is a great way to build your toddler’s fine motor skills. As your child solves the puzzle he manipulates the pieces to fit. His hands turn, twist, flip, and push until the puzzle is complete.
Start with big floor puzzles, then add more challenge as the puzzle pieces get smaller and more detailed.
Traditional shape sorters provide the same challenge and opportunity to develop fine motor skills. Your child manipulates the shapes until they fit in the opening. It’s so simple, yet this object manipulation is a foundational skill!
#10: Teach Fingerplays and Nursery Rhymes
This has to be one of my favorite ways to practice fine motor skills! Nursery rhymes are classics for good reason. In addition to promoting fine motor ability, reciting rhymes with your toddler encourages language and social development as well.
We probably all start out with “Itsy Bitsy Spider,” but there are tons of finger play and nursery rhymes that will help develop fine motor skills in your toddler.
Can you believe there are so many fun ways to teach your toddler fine motor skills? I think the most important thing to remember is to keep it fun, light, and low-key. For toddlers, learning looks like play!
You’ll be amazed at how they grow and develop with these simple activities.
What about you? What are your favorite ways to encourage fine motor skills for toddlers? What are your go-to activities to keep fine motor play fun?
Share with us in the comments below!
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Love these simple ideas! I never thought about reading time as being an opportunity to work on fine-motor skills, but you are right…it totally is!
I’ve just discovered that my little guy loves using kitchen tongs to move and sort things (and pick up bugs outside). That has been a great tool for working on fine-motor skills for us.
I love this Kelsey! You’re totally right, there are opportunities for fine motor play everywhere. I think my our sons would be friends, he’s totally into bugs as well!