11 Fabulous Fine Motor Activities
Fine motor skills are our intricate hand and finger movement skills. Our children need good fine motor skills to carry out activities of daily living, like feeding and dressing themselves, playing with toys, and using a pen, tablet or computer.
Coordination difficulties and weaknesses can make fine motor skills an area of challenge for some Autistic children. To develop good fine motor skills, our child needs good core stability (see our section on core stability) and strength in their shoulders and arms (see our section on arm strengthening). Strength further up the body provides a stable base for the hands. Our child will find it much harder to develop their fine motor skills without this strength and stability.
If our child doesn’t have good core stability, it is best to practice fine motor activities with a good seating position – thighs fully supported, feet flat on the floor and sat upright. If they struggle to stay still or need movement/vestibular input, try sitting them on a Air Cushion to help them stay upright and alert.
With good posture in place, we can start working on fine motor skills. Below we share eleven ideas to try at home.
We also have a webinar on fine motor skills for Autistic children which gives loads of other tips and tricks.
Before trying these exercises, take a minute to prepare your child – they will feel the benefit!
To wake up their muscles, squeeze their hands, tips of their fingers and their arms. You could also use a brush along their skin, or a vibrating massager. All of these will increase your child’s awareness of their body, helping them be more accurate and learn more effectively. It will also increase their enjoyment of the activity.
You may want to give their hand, wrist and arm a stretch first to allow them to have the most movement possible with which to play.
Make sure your child is successful in their game as this will motivate them to continue. As you push them to get to the next level, they should be able to manage a few of their attempts to stay motivated – even if they are not successful every time.
Remember to praise the effort made rather than the result achieved. This motivates a child to keep putting in effort and not be put off if they don’t succeed at first.
11 Fine Motor Activities to try at Home
To add an extra challenge, you can encourage your child to try some of these activities in a different position such as high kneeling, sitting astride a stability ball, on hands and knees (table top) or long sitting. Combining a deep pressure posture with a fine motor activity can help to maximise your child’s focus as they are more aware of their body and how they are moving through space.
Lots of children enjoy sorting games. Start by organising larger toys – like cars or Duplo blocks – into different coloured piles.
Move onto sorting smaller items by type, shape or colour. Try different pasta shapes, paper clips, pens and pencils, lego bricks or coins.
If this works well try even smaller items. Mixing different dried foods can work well: for example mixing rice with lentils and dried beans or chick peas. This activity can be made more engaging by dyeing the food bright colours prior to play (see our messy play to find details of how to dye different foods).
To make this task more challenging, try offering a pair of tweezers to pick the items up – or suggest they use their less dominant hand.
Once your child has sorted their small objects, you can suggest an additional activity using the items they’ve sorted. For example, they could make a necklace out of the tube pasta, or make a picture using glue and the dried food items. This will keep your child motivated to keep sorting and is another great way to work their fine motor skills.
You could make this a little more challenging by creating a Laser Quest game in a box. See our video for details of how this can work.
Drawing can be practiced with a hand/finger or with an implement.
Start drawing with their fingers/hands. This could be in sand, in shaving foam or in other messy play or on a tablet. To show them the way, you could draw a line for them to copy or follow in the path you have made.
Move on to trying drawing with implements. Large pieces of chalk or crayons need less fine motor skills than smaller implements. To begin with any grip is fine as holding the grasp as well as keeping pressure can be a great challenge in itself.
To begin with encourage any mark they can make with their hands and fingers, on the page or on a chalk board. As they get better at this, encourage them to draw lines: up and down, side to side or diagonal. The most complicated movement is curved lines or eventually a circle.
Here’s a helpful tip to help your child hold a pen: take a regular clothes peg and clip it round the end of the pen. Your child can now be helped to hold across the peg and with their index finger around the other side of the pen.
It’s also usually easier to make marks on an angled surface. You can rest or stick paper onto a lever arch file or prop a board onto something to tilt it – Ikea have inexpensive laptop supports that work really well for this.
As your child improves their mark-making, move on to thinner crayons or pens.
Music is a motivating way to improve fine motor skills, and there are lots of options depending on skill level.
Your child can use their hand to hit a keyboard or a drum as an easy way to get some cause and effect feedback without needing high levels of fine motor skill.
The next stage of difficulty is to use a hand-held implement to make music. Holding a stick to hit a drum or using a rattle or tambourine is a good way to practice grasping.
Fine motor skills can further be refined by just using the index (pointing) finger to make music, while holding the rest of the fingers in. Practice pressing a keyboard key with this finger, pressing buttons on musical toys or using the pointing finger for music games on a tablet.
If you don’t have any instruments at home you can use every day object such as a wooden spoon and upside down saucepan, a plastic bottle with some rice in it as a rattle or silver foil/ fire blanket to scrunch. For other ideas, this blog post has some great ideas for making musical instruments from everyday objects in the home.
Playing with stickers is a great way to practice fine motor skills.
Peeling stickers off their backing uses as much (if not more!) skill as sticking them down
You can sticking easier by peeling most of the sticker off its back. Your child can use their fingers to take the rest off and then stick to a piece of paper or part of their body.
Try using stickers to ‘colour in’ a shape – or draw a shape with the stickers. You could always give stickers as a reward for great effort or behaviour – they won’t even know they are still working!
Start with putting soft toys or rolling large balls into an open container. Use brightly coloured containers such as bright pink stain remover tub, or items with metal bases to give “noisy” feedback e.g. hot choc tub or Pringles tube. Tissue boxes also work well.
Progress to smaller toys into a smaller container. You could combine this with a matching game, like putting the red objects into the red container.
Shape sorter games are fantastic for working fine motor skills. If you don’t have a shape sorter, cut a circular hole in the lid of a plastic pot and post small objects.
As your child gets more accurate, cut smaller circles or slits and post smaller objects such as coins, pebbles or buttons. You could cut different sizes of slits for different sizes of objects so they have to work out sizes as they post.
Use marble runs and car runs to motivate and interact with other people using posting skills. There are lots of ideas for home-made marble runs on Pinterest.
Start with pipe cleaner and a colander. Your child could make lines across the top of the colander to make a bridge for their cars. Or keep to the side of the colander and just go freestyle and make some lovely patterns.
Try putting a piece of uncooked spaghetti in some play-dough or blue tack on the table so it is sticking right up. Your child could then thread tube pasta onto the spaghetti.
As their skills improve, use laces (with the taped end). Use a hole punch to make holes along the edge of a piece of card to thread through. Or try making necklaces with the laces and tube pasta.
As they improve, use string, or ribbon or even some thread on a needle for threading games. They could add colour to a basket by adding ribbon through the holes, have fun re-lacing the shoes in your house or cut some straws into small tubes to lace into a necklace.
- Start with simple paper weaving. Cut some coloured paper into one inch strips. Cut a different piece of paper into one inch slits but leave an inch uncut at the end so the paper is still attached at the top. Your child can then slip one loose strip over and under the main paper. Start nearest to the end which is still in one piece. The next piece goes over and under (the opposite from the first strip).
- You could try this with smaller strips of paper to make it more difficult.
- Move on to weaving knitting wool. This video shows how you can weave just using a piece of cardboard.
Puzzles are lovely for making children match up shapes and work their fine motor skills. Some children will try to use force instead of turning the puzzle piece to make it fit, so start with easy puzzles where they can be more successful to teach them about turning the puzzle piece (or turning the board if they can’t turn their hand as well).
Puzzles with pegs on them are often the best place to start if children don’t have full fine motor control.
Move onto regular flat puzzles as skills improve.
Use smaller pieces as skills improve.
If you don’t have puzzles at home, find a pretty page from a magazine and cut it into a few pieces. Your child can piece the pieces back together.
Building towers requires a steady hand and precision in placement of the next block.
Start with bigger objects to stack, such as cushions and pillows, books or toilet rolls. This works well as a two handed activity.
As they get more accurate, try smaller stacking such as coins, lego, or blocks. They can build all sorts of scenes and structures with building toys and piecing the pieces together is great for their fine motor skills.
If they get really good, try to challenge them to find things to stack – use flat pebbles, cars, or soft toys.
Another great thing with this game is that they get to knock it all down at the end.
If you don’t have play-dough there are plenty of different ways to make dough at home. See our video for how to make dough and how to play with it if you have limited fine motor skills.
Make the dough with your child for an extra opportunity to strengthen hands and fingers.
3. Kneading the dough, rolling it with a rolling pin, squashing dough balls, squeezing it through fingers, pushing items into the dough are all great ways to work your child’s fine motor and hand skills. They can use a full hand or a pointing finger.
4. You can also put different objects into dough for them to find and play with. Cars or plastic animals work well, or you can tailor it to a special interest.
5. Hiding marbles in your play-dough will work their manipulation skills brilliantly.
See this ‘Our Home‘ video for more.
Advanced Fine Motor Skills
If your child has mastered great fine motor skills how about showing them these tricks to try to take it to another level.
This video demonstrates and shows you how to do some brilliant tricks – many using some more advanced fine motor skills.
This video shows you how to manipulate a coin along your knuckles – a good party trick to show their friends.