11 Fun Fine Motor Activities
Fine motor skills – which involve the coordination of the small muscles in the hands and fingers with the eyes – are essential to undertake a number of daily living activities. For example, our children need fine motor skills to feed themselves, play with toys and communicate their needs by using their hands or pointing.
To develop fine motor skills it is important for our child to have good core stability (see our section on core stability) and strength in their shoulders and arms (see our section on arm strengthening for ideas). Without strength further up the body, our child’s hand will not have a stable base to work from, and it will be much harder for them to develop those fine motor skills.
If our child doesn’t have good core stability, it is best to practice these activities with a good seating position – thighs fully supported, feet flat on the floor and sat upright. If they use a specialised seating system, they should sit in this with all their harnesses and straps done up to give them the best chance of success. If our child sits on a regular chair but struggles to stay still, a Move ‘n’ Sit cushion or wobble cushion may help them stay upright n their seat.
Below we share eleven fun activities to help develop fine motor skills at home.
Before trying these exercises, take a minute to prepare your child – they will feel the benefit!
If they have any tightness or increased tone in their upper limbs, stretch out their fingers, hands, elbows and shoulders before the activity so they have as much movement as possible to play.
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.
Find the level for your child in each activity. 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
Start with big toys or objects – soft toys are good as your child may be able to grasp these more easily than hard objects.
Help them to open their hand to get a good amount of toy into their hand to grasp. If they hold their hand in a tight fist, bend their wrist forward towards the palm side as this will release their muscles and open their hand. Also try rapidly stroking the back of their hand towards the fingertips to help stimulate their hand to open and let go.
If they need help to keep the grasp, use your hand over their hand to help them so they get the feeling of what you are doing. You can also bend their wrist back to help them make a fist. Encourage them to drop the toy into a container to sort it – again helping them by bending their wrist down if they are really struggling.
Alternatives include having a photo of the object to one side and ask them to match the right object to the photo instead of sorting.
Move onto smaller items such as play cars or plastic animals, different pasta shapes, paper clips, pens and pencils or coins. Sort these by colour or by object. It may be that sorting means pushing the item off their tray into a container or just moving it to 1 side. If they can use their fingers each time rather than pushing with their hand in a fist then even better. The key with this activity is to try to encourage lots of grasp and release.
If they manage these, try sorting smaller items such as Smarties, mixed dried foods such as rice mixed with lentils and dried chick peas. You could die these with food colouring before to make this more engaging (see our section on messy play to find details of how to die different foods). To add further difficulty to this, try giving them a pair of tweezers for this task – or make them use their less dominant hand.
Once they have sorted the objects, try to find another activity they can use their different piles for – e.g. making a necklace out of the tube pasta or making a drawing using glue and the dried foods. This will keep your child motivated to keep sorting and is another 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.
9. Playing with dice for turn taking games (we love Orchard Toys for fun board games) can be a great way to share this skill with family and friends. There are large dice available online or you could re-purpose a building block if this is easier for your child.
Music is a motivating way to improve fine motor skills, and there are lots of options depending on skill level.
Your child can just use their hand to hit a keyboard or a drum as an easy way to get some cause and effect without needing high levels of fine motor skill.
Move on to using an implement in their hand. A stick to hit the drum or a rattle/ tambourine in their hands can work well to practice grasping.
Next try to be a little more refined in the fine motor skills and hold their fingers to keep just the pointing finger free. Practice pressing a keyboard key with this finger, pressing buttons on musical toys or using the pointing finger for games on a tablet. This video demonstrates how to use a sock to isolate the pointing finger.
If you don’t have any instruments at home you can make your own using objects in the home. A wooden spoon and upside down saucepan can become a drum and drumstick, a plastic bottle with some rice in it becomes a shaker. This blog offers some other easy ways to make musical instruments from everyday objects.
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.
Thanks for the picture @brightcolourfulkids
Progress to smaller toys into a smaller container. You could combine this with a matching game-putting the red objects into the red container etc.
Shape sorter games are fantastic for working fine motor skills. Put the shape half into it’s hole and your child can push it in the rest of the way. 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.
Hand over hand works well here again to help with the last bit of turning their hand or to help them release the object.
Simple marble runs or car runs can are often motivating and fun – friends and siblings can share and take turns with this. Consider using cardboard tubes with cars (there are lots of home-made marble run ideas on Pinterest that could work well.)
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/ crayon etc: 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 if this looks comfortable for them:
It’s also usually easier for them to make marks on an angled surface- you can use 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, move on to thinner crayons or pens.
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. Put stickers under the pieces so they turn the piece to look at the sticker. Or use stickers in the hole to encourage them to pick up the puzzle piece.
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 empty cans. This works well as a 2 handed activity. They will also get a lovey stretch of their arms as they reach higher in the stack.
As they get more accurate, try smaller stacking items such as chunky Lego or blocks.
Another great thing with this game is that they then get to knock it all down.
If you have some sticky velcro- try adding dabs to blocks to help them stick.
Magnetic building and design sets are available online- you can use the lid of a biscuit tin to create shapes and scenes – a child with limited grasp and release skills can often push pieces around.
If you don’t have play-dough there are plenty of different ways to make dough at home. See our videos for how to make the dough and how to play with it if you have less fine motor skills.
Make the dough with your child for an extra opportunity to strengthen hands and fingers.
Kneading the dough, rolling it with a rolling pin, squashing dough balls, squeezing it through their fingers, pushing items into the dough – with a full hand or with a pointing finger are all great ways to work your child’s fine motor and hand skills. This video gives ideas of how to strengthen fingers and work fine motor skills.
Using scissors is a great way to strengthen hands. You can start by cutting dough as this teaches the right way to cut. Make a snake out of dough and ask then to cut it into pieces.
Move on to cutting straight lines on card and/ or paper.
As their skills develop you can be inventive with your cutting and draw interesting shapes for them to cut. These activities should be supervised at all times.
See our video for a great demonstration of making chain Minecraft men with just straight line cutting.
Start with pipe cleaner and a colander. Your child could make lines across to make a bridge for their cars. Or keep to the side of the colander and just go freestyle and make some lovely patterns.
You could also stick 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) to thread paper. Use a hole punch to make holes along the edge of a piece of card. Or they could make necklaces with 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 1 inch strips. Cut a different piece of paper into 1 inch slits but leave an inch uncut at the end so the paper is still attached at the top. Your child can then slip 1 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.
Move onto shapes. This video shows how to make cool patterns on a paper plate but you could use any cardboard you have (old cereal boxes etc) instead. You could even write out your child’s name.
Here is a lovely video which shows how to make a simple Pom Pom. This is a lovely exercise to use repetitive use of your child’s hands to strengthen and improve their endurance.
Knitting is a great progression to weaving and brilliant for developing those more advanced fine motor skills. Finger knitting is straight forward and a good way to start and you only need some wool to try it. This video gives a lovely demonstration.
Knitting with knitting needles is an even more advanced fine motor skill. This video demonstrates nicely how to do this. You will need knitting needles and wool.