Announcement: Fine Motor Activities: to help develop the skills for the job of life.

Fine Motor Activities are the games / tasks we play with our little ones to encourage the development and skills of their fingers, hands and arms- their ‘fine motor skills’. Fine Motor Skills include doing ANYTHING that uses small hand and finger movements, so it is clear that it is very important for children to develop these skills. For different reasons some kids struggle with aspects of their development. Fine motor activities can be incorporated in so many ways throughout kids daily routines to give them opportunities to practise a variety of fine motor skills.

Fine motor activities may be fun games to help strengthen fingers/hands, they may be games that help children use the fingers that grasp a pencil or scissors, or they may be fine motor activities that help our kids to learn living skills like dressing themselves, learning the different fasteners or control of utensils.

A vital ingredient when using and introducing fine motor activities, like all tasks that may challenge, require concentration and effort, from our children- is patience and plenty of encouragement and praise….. these characteristics will be invaluable…. Different kids will pick up the various skills in different time frames, plenty of exposure to a variety of fun fine motor activities will enhance their learning. Skills are acquired gradually with lots of practise….

You won’t have to look far around the home to find fine motor activites and materials filled with benefits, a taste of these include -the peg container, squeezing pegs will strengthen those pencil gripping/ scissor cutting, button manipulating finger muscles. My kids love using an old paint brush dipped in water to write on the deck. Or using a stick in the sand to draw a picture. Who doesn’t love playing with water- sqeezing toys, pouring, putting lids on/off jars, water sprayers, all these can all be incorporated into this non-threatening, fun activity and skills skills skills are being enhanced. Dress-ups, cooking, craft, page turning while reading etc. 

I guess one thing that we are trying to achieve often is changing roles a little- we are teaching our little one lots of new skills and gently, slowly, they will do a little more- a little more self feeding, a little more undressing, a little more drawing and drawing things that are a little more recognisable( even if it is a stripe or a dot…). The steps are gradual, but so rewarding….

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Right or Left Handed? Some great fine motor activities to promote ‘preferred’ hand!

Most children start to have a preferred hand between 2 and 4 years. A lot by 3 years and the majority by school age. It is not unusual for children to still swap hands during activities. This may be due to tiredness or simply part of the development process.

A strategy to use to determine which hand is the ‘preferred’ or ‘dominant’ hand is to offer items in the CENTRE for your little one to choose. Items may be spoons, pencils, toys, drinks, snacks, clothing, books, scissors, sticker sheets etc. Your child will need to choose which hand they use.

It is extremely beneficial to practise lots of two-handed activities to help your child develop hand preference. Some fine motor activities that are fun and easy to practise at home include:

– catch/ throw/ bat/ bounce/ balls

– cutting out with scissors

– duplo/ lego, pull apart etc

– craft/ drawing , stickers, stamping, stencils, tracing, glue stick activities

– cooking activities/ opening containers, stirring, pouring into bowl, cracking eggs.

– make believe- washing up, pushing dolls pram, work bench

– hammering/  screw driver

– lacing cards/ threading beads

– undoing/ doing up fasteners, zippers, lids, buttons, press studs, clips on dress ups, hand bags etc.

– balloon games, hitting and catching with two hands

– ‘bubbles’

– washing car (or anything around the yard!)

– sand pit games, bucket and shovel etc.

It will become clear which hand your child  ‘prefers’ to use and it is recommended they are then encouraged to regularly use this hand for fine motor activities/ everyday activities.

Try to encourage your child to consistently use this hand – describe it as their ‘doing hand’ and the other one as their ‘helping hand’.

If your child begins an activity with one hand it is recommended they complete the activity with the same hand. Even if it means a break is required.

Activities for Pencil Grip Development – Using a Vertical Surface

In a previous article (see Pencil
Grip Development
), I mentioned I would cover some exercises that could be
used to strengthen the muscles required to develop a good pencil grip. The
exercise below is one that would fall into the first category I mentioned in
that article – it will strengthen the muscles that hold your body up, and
control the arm.

Most little ones (and adults too for that
matter) do the majority of their work on a horizontal surface – generally a
table, or the floor. A very simple way to add strengthening work into their
everyday craft activities is to have them use a vertical surface instead.

This is extremely simple to put into
practice – either through the use of an easel, or by sticking a sheet of paper
onto a wall or window.

Obviously, this can then be used for any
number of activities – use paints, markers, crayons, stamps, stickers etc –
anything that your little one enjoys will be just as much, or more, fun on a
vertical surface – sometimes the novelty value will even add to the kid’s

“Painting” a fence or a wall is another
good way to get kids working on a vertical surface. Give your little one a
bucket of water, a paintbrush, and point them at the surface they can work on,
and watch as they create a water masterpiece (obviously, this is best done

Working on a vertical surface will assist
in a couple of ways. It will help to strengthen the shoulder muscles, which
play a large part in controlling the whole arm movements that are common in an
early pencil grip. As a result of the hand position required to work on a
vertical surface, it also encourages strength in the hand and wrist.

As with any exercise programs, repetition is the
key to success, so make sure the activities are exciting and fun for the kids,
and you will see the strength and skill develop as a part of their everyday

Pencil Grip Development

Children develop their pencil grip at
different times, though it generally does follow a pattern. 

Generally your little one
will firstly grip their pencil with a “fisted grip” (see image 1 below). During this stage children
use whole arm movements to draw, most of the movement comes from the shoulder.

Image 1 – Fisted Grip

As kid’s shoulders, arms and hands become
stronger they begin to grip their pencil in the palm of their hand with palm
facing down. There is now more elbow movement when drawing.


Image 2 – Palm Down

 The next way a child holds their pencil is
called an ‘immature 5 finger grasp’, (it is quite normal for a four year old to
hold a pencil this way). There is more wrist movement used for colouring and
generally the fingers grip the pencil very tightly. 

Most children 5-7 years, grip a pencil with
a mature three finger grip. As your child’s hand and fingers become stronger,
independent finger movements will be used when drawing.

Image 3 – three finger grip

Kids will swap their
grip around as their muscles tire. 

Fine motor activities to encourage the development of a good pencil grip are largely strengthening exercizes, and most fall into the following 2 categories:

1. Activities to strengthen the muscles that hold your body up, and control the arm


2. Activities to strengthen the muscles that control drawing movements, and those that grip the pencil.

My next few articles will cover some fine motor activities that focus on strengthening these muscles, which you can use to assist your little one with their pencil grip development.

Fine Motor Activities- Tips on how to teach kids to get dressed/ undressed!!

      Skills in the areas of
patience, sense of humor and bags full of ways to distract little people are

      Role modeling the task, praising effort,
talking about the steps of the activity all benefit the learning process.

      Don’t choose to challenge your
little one when either of you are tired!!!!

      Pulling off loose fitting
clothes/ PJ’s is a good starting point, shorts, skirts, summer PJ’s (might
mean you have a regular little nudey- because of course they learn to undress so
much quicker than they learn to dress!!!)

     Summer clothes with elastic waists and no
fasteners are easiest to learn

    Like a lot of new tasks for children- give yourself a long
time frame to achieve the goal and expect up’s and downs. Our 2 year old loves
to put on her own underware, however gets upset if she can’t figure out the way
it goes on- each and everytime we lay the underware on the carpet so she can sit and
poke her legs through and pull it up her legs.(We say ‘tag at the bottom’. Always the same routine!!!

–     Life is busy, but making some time to practice the task daily will make it
more meaningful and more likely achievable.

–     It is so useful if your little one can help put on their shoes, or even just
take them off !

–    Slowly the skills will improve and T-shirts can be laid face down flat on
the floor and your child can be shown how to pull this over their head. More
difficult to take off but lots of kids manage at quite a young age themselves.

– Undoing press studs and undoing Velcro straps are a couple of the first
fasteners that can be introduced for your child, plus zippers and eventually
buttons and laces down the track.

– The skills practiced doing all these tasks described are fine motor
skills- skills using the small movements and muscles of the hand and life
skills – skills that will be required for ever!!

Fine Motor Activities- Teaching Kids to Write their Names

Your child is starting to be ready to form a letter
when they can draw a stripe vertically, horizontally and a circle and cross.

Demonstrate /role model stripes or circles or dots,
these are all the ‘parts’ that make up letters, use big pieces of paper

Try not to worry about time frame. Our approach with our 3 year old was that
we wanted  to achieve this ‘skill’ of writing name- by school (you will likely find it actually
happened heaps faster- but try not to put too much pressure on the task!)

Some kids love to trace over dots or try to draw a line
between parallel lines we have made for them, some kids- like our daughter
responded well to “up, down,up down” for the letter ‘M’, you can make stencils
with letter shapes cut out of cardboard, you can cut out the letters from
magazines and talk about them….

Choose one letter to start practising and complete the
others for your child, praising any effort on their behalf, such as putting a
dot on an i

         Initially don’t worry if they don’t place the letters anywhere
near each other etc, or if one is as big as a house and another tiny – all
these details can be improved upon over time

As we write our child’s name we say the sound of the

You can practice on the beach, writing with fingers, in
the paddock in the dirt with a stick, you can make the letters with play dough
snakes and trace over with finger. On a foggy window, on the shopping list, on
cards for Nan’s and Pop’s, using a paint brush dipped in water on the pavers, even
one letter or one stripe is a great achievement initially. Anything you can think of to write on…..

Having a name card with the letters all written in a
large clear style, (that is used in kindergarten,) is invaluable for tracing and
referring too- especially as some kids have lots of letters to learn.

Letters with angled lines in them are the most
difficult for kids to learn and I use dots as cues ie for a capital K draw a
stick then a dot in the middle of this line and two dots for the line to be
drawn out too

Practice, repetition, praise and patience- all great
ingredients!!!! …

Fine Motor Activities– When and how to start with scissors!!

Sometime after 2 years with supervision kids can start
to use scissors

There are many styles on the market, I really love
“bounce backs” which make the opening action really easy for kids learning.

To start- role model some cutting for your child to
gain their interest. Maybe snipping a ‘fringe’ into some paper or snipping strips
of a colourful piece of paper for a collage for your little one.

Help position your child’s fingers in the scissors (thumb
in the top hole and next three fingers in the bottom hole) and if they can tolerate the hands on help, snip a 1cm wide piece of paper, to demonstrate the cutting action. Prompt with-  “open,
close, open, close”

It is a similar action to a water sprayer and using
tongs- two activities that could be used to practice for scissors skills.

Hopefully, with close supervision, your little one
won’t pinch or snip their fingers.

          Many kids tend to tip their hand upside down
when cutting, talking about having ‘thumb on top’ or try putting a sticker on the
thumb nail, as a reminder -may also be useful

Old greeting cards can be cut into 1cm strips and these
are great fine motor activity for “first cutting activities” -you will need to be very patient and
hold the paper for you child for some time.

Snipping away at junk mail can be very rewarding for
little ones- our 2 Year old gets a lot of satisfaction from snipping madly at
the junk mail and mixing it up with some tearing and glueing and generally
having piles of paper around her!

As the scissors action improves, cutting across 3cm strips
of card or paper can be introduced requiring more than one snip.

To help kids cut around, or cut things out-  drawing a
heavy line as a guide can be very helpful.

Once children can manage to cut along say a 10cm line
they are ready to start practicing, curves and shapes with.  


–       Holding the paper while cutting is another skill that will have to be practised and learnt in time.

Practice, practice, practice!!!!!

Fine Motor Activities- Playdough, Clay or Theraputty

Why? To develop hand and finger strength.

Materials needed: Playdough, Clay or Theraputty and any number of playdough props- (with a bit of creativity the props aren’t necessary if you can’t access them!)  You can use cutters, rollers, scissors, squeezing syringe type toys, small objects to hide in playdough (marbles, beads, coins), blunt toothpicks, anything you can use to decorate your creations, a nail to draw on your works of art etc


* Kids love making playdough and mixing it is a really good fine motor activity in itself.

* Encourage squashing, poking, rolling, squeezing, pinching (whole hand/ individual fingers)

* Roll small balls and then pinch between thumb and index finger

* Roll out snakes with two hands, cut up with knife and fork or scissors

* Roll out long snakes and form shapes, circle, triangle, square etc and numbers and letters

* Make faces, a big flat circle and then roll balls for eyes, cut up spikey pieces for hair …

* Make a pizza, break apart pieces for pretend toppings, mushrooms, cheese, olives whatever you like and cut up with plastic knife

* A big fat sausage of playdough can be pinched along its back and transformed into a crocodile

* Roll out playdough and use cutters to create biscuits or whatever you can imagine

* Hide the coins in a ball of playdough and see how many can be found in a time frame

* Pretend play, tea party, cooking, food for a pet dragon….

* Who can make the scariest monster? poke eye holes (at least 3!), pinch spikey hair, make a big long tongue and sharp teeth….

* See how many balls you can roll and sit on top of each other!

* Remember lots of praise, fun and laughs

* Packing up can be fun squashing all the creations into a big ball.

Benefits: This fine motor activity can encourage and improve the strength of pencil holding muscles-  the thumb and index fingers in particular and the middle finger. It may help to improve muscle tone (low tone fingers may tire more easily and can appear floppier). It can be a two-handed activity and can be used to practice some life skills i.e. cutting up with plastic knife and fork or scissors. The activity can help with dexterity skills and in-hand coordination. It can be lots of fun and so used as a reward for your little one who has worked so hard practicing their fine motor skills.




Fine Motor Activity- Using Tongs or Tweezers

Why? To work on those pencil gripping and scissor holding muscles in fingers and hands

Materials needed: Tongs- large or small, or tweezers (i.e. from children’s doctors kit), items to sort, such as coloured tiny pom poms, small pastic animals, lego pieces, cubed salad pieces, balls of play dough, tic tacs, sultanas – anything that can be picked up with tongs.


* Have fun- don’t play if your little one is really resisting, maybe incorporate tongs during mealtime to serve some foods/ morning tea/ some treats- be creative

* Lots of praise and encouragement ‘great work’ ‘what a good try’ ‘you are so clever’

* Model activity for child

* Sort items into colour groups/ sizes

* Share treats out evenly between the family members

* Have a race with mum or dad to get a certain number of tic tacs into container

* Pick up item with tongs and run and place in container- then repeat the activity, make a relay game out of it

* As skills improve use the tweezers which will require more precision and skilled control

Benefits: This fine motor activity is a great prewriting and prescissors activity. Your little one is using the same muscle groups as they would be if writing or cutting. The activity works on eye-hand coordination, in hand manipulation and grip strength. Can be lots of fun!!

Fine Motor Activities Warm Up

It is beneficial to do some “warming up”  before you start practicing and enjoying your fine motor activities. This helps the big muscles in the body get ready for play and action!

The postural muscles (muscles of the body that hold it in a natural position) with the other larger muscles (including shoulder muscles) when warmed up or ‘switched on’, create a stable base of core muscles and support to help the muscles of the fingers and hands work more efficiently.

Try a variety of gross motor activities (activities using large muscles of the body) such as:

* Animal walks- bear walk, crab walk, donkey kicks

* Wheelbarrows

* Hitting balloon into the air

* Using a cardboard roll, hold with two hands at chest height and bunt balloon

* Ball skills, start with a larger sized ball, throw and catch, bounce pass, bouncing

* Wall pushups, face wall in standing, legs positioned about 25-35cm away from wall, hands on wall and do standing push ups. For something different add a clap between each push up.

* Exercise ball games (maybe mini sized one), rolling, lying over, using hands to walk off ball, picking up with two hands and throwing.

* Play on monkey bars and ladders 

* Sandpit or garden play- push childs wheelbarrow, dig, rake, carry buckets of sand.

* Bat and ball games, T-Ball, cricket, tennis …

* Wash the car, cubby or kids own bike, involving squeezing out the sponge

* Building activities, hammering, sawing, carrying wood and tool box

A lot of the activities mentioned involve “weight-bearing” through arms, to encourage these muscles to wake up and form a sturdy foundation for doing fine motor activities. Children tend to enjoy lots of the activities used in warm up and are then ready to focus on the fine motor activities presented to them.