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10 Awesome Ways to Encourage Fine Motor Skills in Toddlers

Chelsey Devauld January 17, 2018

I think every parent goes through similar stages of growth and “Omg, I think my kid is supposed to KNOW this by now.”  I know this because I’m a mom and I’ve been there. 

I literally thought, my now 8 year old, was never going to learn to zip his coat.  Never.  He was doomed to enter adulthood in hoodies and jackets with snaps.  And then one day, he was like “Mom, I GOT this” as he pushed my hand away. And you know what? He did!

Now there are a tonne of new growth phases and learning curves.  One ends and you are like “Yes, I rock, I mean my kid rocks…” and you have no idea that there are about half a dozen more phases already started. It begins almost immediately at birth. Researchers say one of a newborns first instincts or reflexes is a Mouthing reflex.  If you touch the babies cheek she will turn towards the touch with an open mouth.  Or that amazingly wonderful reflex if you put your finger in the palm of their hand and they grasp it like there’s no tomorrow.  Remember how good that felt?

I would like to hone in on Motor skills. There are Gross Motor Skills and there Fine Motor Skills. Simply, gross is another word for large-scale, the opposite of fine detail. Major milestones for babies include learning to roll over or sitting up and these would be Gross Motor Skills.

Now Fine Motor Skills are the skills that do focus on smaller movements that require more coordination. Think, picking up toys with finger, putting toys in the mouth, grasping crayons, putting items into a container etc…  These are the skills I wanted to help with. And here are some ideas for toddlers!

10 Awesome Ways to Encourage Fine Motor Skills in Toddlers

1. Take it to the bath tub!

Kids love splashing and pouring in the tub, so throw in plastic cups of all sizes, measuring cups, bowls, and that Tupperware that you can’t find the lid for!  Show them how exciting it is to transfer water from one container to the next.

2. Sorting

If you’ve got anything that is a group of colours, a piece of paper and coordinating markers, you’ve got an awesome activity! I HIGHLY recommend you keep some of these awesome soft craft balls or pom poms on hand.  Every kid I know simply loves them. Hot Wheels work great too! Draw parking spots instead of circles. And of course, Lego. Because Lego is fairly small please watch those little ones. They can end up in their mouth in two seconds flat.

3. Playdough

One of the best ways to encourage Fine Motor Skills is for kids to use their hands. As long as they’re not eating it, playdough can be a wonderful way to show kids how to make balls by rolling the dough between two hands. They can keep they’re hand flat and roll to dough on the table to make “snakes!”  And don’t forget cookie cutters! Wilton has this awesome set that includes the alphabet, numbers, shapes, and animals. Even by peeling and getting the dough out of the cutters takes Fine Motor skills.

Need a good recipe for making it at home? I love this one from web.kidsactivitiesblog.com.  And I’ve tried a few!  This one is the best.

4. Finger Tracing

Pointing and tracing with a finger is an excellent exercise for Fine Motor Skills. Here is one of the best ways to keep kids pre-occupied at the table, with a little learning on the side! I created a line of personalized placemats for kids for several reasons and they serve multiple purposes.  For one, kids learn the letters of the their name. Then they can finger trace a squiggly line down to a food that corresponds with the same letter.  And they are created using a super thick 10mm laminate that will withstand many spills and wipes. Check them out at my online store here!

5. Finger Painting and Colouring

Before babies can pick up a crayon, finger painting can be a great option for practicing Fine Motor Skills. It will be pretty messy so you will need to stay close by or else you could have some pretty awesome paint splatter on your walls. The skill here is the pointing of the finger and focussed motions with their finger. I love these paints by Crayola as they are non-toxic and will wash out of clothes (and walls!).  When your child is old enough, you can then move on to the pincer grip and holding crayons. If your child is having difficulty with the pincer grip, this website has some great tips and tools!

6. Stringing Beads

This skill is goes a long ways for Fine Motor because it’s involves your child moving each finger, hand, arm independently of each other.  To start, you will need to get some supplies or do some prep. You can use either paper towel or toilet paper rolls cut into 2″ lengths, or a pool noodle cut into 2″ chunks. And you will also need some thick string. When kids get older, you can use string or pipe cleaners and smaller beads.

7. Building Blocks or Lego

Someone gave my son this set of Melissa & Doug building block set when he was about two and it remained in our playroom long after many toy purges.  In fact, he’s eight now and will still get it out and build with it. There is nothing like a simple set of building blocks!  Such a great activity for Fine Motor Skills because it take a lot of concentration to not only grasp that little block, but to balance it on another one. Keep it simple to start and just practice with two blocks at a time. Before long you will be start seeing castles and fortresses.  Doing Lego together is also an excellent way to spend quality time together.

8. Rolling Balls on the Floor

This is a combination of Gross Motor Skills and Fine Motor Skills and kids can’t get enough. It’s also a great little activity to do on a rainy day!  Sitting on the floor facing your child, you will open your legs to make a V while your child does the same so you touch feet (or close). You can use any toy ball to push and roll the ball back and forth.  Great for gripping and catching.

9. Ripping Paper and Cutting Paper

Think for a moment about how many muscles and the coordination it takes to hold a piece of paper with two hands and rip it. So this might be messy and a bit wasteful, but perhaps use that mail you were going to shred anyways! When they graduate to using scissors, you can grow from starting out with straight lines, to zig zags, to curvy lines, to shapes. The possibilities are endless. And in the winter, do paper snowflakes.

10. Pointing & Using Technology

I realize there is a lot of controversy and opinions out there as to when or how to introduce technology to your child. However, there are also a lot of great apps out there created for very specific educational and learning purposes.

1. Preschool Arcarde
2. Bugs and Buttons
3. Dexteria Jr.

 1. Preschool Arcade

  • Ages 4+
  • “Fully animated, with dozens of great sounds for little ones to enjoy. Teaches alphabet recognition for all the letters of the alphabet both capital and lower case, enforces basic number recognition and counting skills (from 1-10), cognitive matching learning methods, fine motor skills, and much more.”

2. Bugs and Buttons

  • Ages 3 and up
  • “Join a beautiful world filled with adventure in Bugs and Buttons while exploring 18 mini-games and activities that make learning fun. Count colorful buttons, recycle with marching ants or dainty ladybugs, recognize letters, solve bug mazes, and more! Kids, parents and even bugs will want keep playing over and over again!Each game is designed to be quickly self-learned and adaptive play patterns offer kids fun challenges without frustration. Randomized gaming and levels that increase in difficulty enhance replay value from the first time a child plays through mastery of the activities.”

3. Dexteria Jr.- Fine Motor Skills Development

  • Ages 4+
  • “From the makers of award-winning Dexteria, Dexteria Jr. is a set of hand and finger exercises to develop fine motor skills and handwriting readiness. The activities are specially designed for kids age 2-6. New characters, sprite animations, music, and sound effects all add up to a fun and engaging experience for toddlers and preschool-aged children. Dexteria Jr.’s unique hand and finger activities take full advantage of the iPad’s multi-touch interface to help build strength, control, and dexterity. “

There you have it! If you have any further ideas or helpful tips, I’d love to keep this conversation going. Please comment below and tell me what has worked for you and your child.

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