Research indicates mastery of these fine motor skills will help your child have an easier time learning handwriting!
Your child can tie her shoe―great! He can close the snaps on his shirt―terrific! She knows how to open her lunchbox—awesome! You may wonder what these skills have to do with handwriting success. Well, studies are showing that mastery of these fine motor skills indicates your child will have an easier time of mastering handwriting. And handwriting mastery leads to more success in school, altogether!
We've watched how naturally writing can come to toddlers and preschoolers who love building with Legos, drawing and painting, coloring, creating things with playdough, and other crafts. There is no doubt, many of these activities helped the kids develop strong fine motor skills and got them ready for handwriting. It is remarkable!
Here is a list of 23 fun activities and great resources that can help tone up those fine motor skills and get your child ready for handwriting success!
Resources and Activities for Strengthening Fine Motor Skills
1. Beads. Purchase some inexpensive beads of a variety of sizes. Have your child string the larger beads onto pipe cleaners. Work up to beading some of the smaller beads onto the pipe cleaners. Eventually, have your child string beads onto a piece of yarn, string, or a shoelace. If you don’t want to use beads, use macaroni or other pasta! Make jewelry for friends and family! Who wouldn't treasure some of your toddler's first jewelry creations?
2. Food fun. Another fine motor skill for your toddler to master is using a spoon or fork, correctly. Show your child how you hold your eating utensils and then help them learn by placing their fingers in the right position.
By preschool or age 4, your child is probably holding and using a spoon or fork the correct way. Now, introduce some new food skills―using toothpicks for things like berries, grapes, or sliced bananas. This is a little challenging, since they will need to use both hands to get the toothpicks in―but they’ll love it! Have them use their spoon to scoop sugar, use their fork to "carry" a scoop of mashed potatoes, use their butter knife to slice into a cube of soft butter.
3. Stacking blocks, pegs, or cups. By preschool, or around age 4, your toddler should be able to stack blocks into a tower. Have your child practice other shapes, too—putting the blocks into a triangle or making a square "pen" to "hold" their small toys or counting bears. Use other toys to stack and build structures. This practices dexterity and hand-eye coordination.
4. Cutting. The act of cutting is a very effective way to strengthen your child’s entire hand. Use child-safe scissors and have him cut specific things― cut along a straight line, cut along a curved line, cut at an angle, cut out shapes, cut fringe into the bottom of a page. Show your child how to make paper dolls, hearts, or snowflakes!
5. Linking blocks or connector sets. By preschool, or around age 4, your child can probably build some simple structures already, so it's time to help her build something more complicated with different kinds of blocks such as Create o Flakes, magnetic blocks, Math Links, linking alphabet blocks, bristle blocks, construction straws,or Star Flex pieces.
6. Selfcare activities. By preschool, or around age 4, most children can dress themselves, except for needing some help putting on coats and jackets, or with tying shoes. Some of these fine motor activities will be learned in preschool:
using a zipper
zipping a backpack
using eating utensils
closing a snap
For extra fun practice, have your child get dressed up in nice clothes with buttons, snaps, and zips that need doing up.
Remember, some things take practice and can be frustrating to kids. Children develop at different rates and what one child is able to do at a certain age might not be realistic to expect from another child at the same age. Remember, children learn as much from their practice or mistakes as they do from their successes, so allow your child to experience both.
7. Buttons. Use buttons to outline an illustration or "color in" a color page. This is good practice for fine motor skill development as well as for color recognition.
8. Painting, Tracing, Drawing, Coloring. These are all great ways to build fine motor skills. Plus, they're fun to do!
Painting: Use a paintbrush or Q-Tip to paint a picture. Fingerpainting is also a great workout for fine motor skills,
Tracing: Ask your child to make a picture or letter by tracing over highlighted, dotted, or dashed lines. Go from TRACE to COPY to WRITE.
Drawing: Draw a variety of shapes and have your toddler copy you.
Coloring: Have your child use crayons or markers to color within the lines of a color page. This is more of a workout, since coloring within the lines takes more control than scribbling.
9. Gluing. Once your child has mastered cutting and cut out some shapes, learning to glue is another great activity for developing fine motor skills. Have her glue some of her cut-outs onto thicker construction paper. Help her outline the back side of the cut-out with a ring of glue to stick to the construction paper. Glue sequins, dried beans, bits of yarn, or google eyes to a piece of paper. Squeezing the small glue bottle is a good workout for little hands! Use tweezers or tongs if getting glue on her hands is an issue.
10. Puzzles. Puzzles are great for all sorts of learning, in general. With a puzzle, your child is practicing problem solving, manipulating objects, recognizing shapes, and enhancing their cognitive development and memory. Puzzles are also great for practicing those fine motor skills!
11. Squirt guns or squirt bottles. What kid doesn't love playing with water?! Pulling the trigger of a squirt gun is a great exercise to strengthen the index finger. Squeezing a squirt bottle strengthens the entire hand. For extra practice, have your child draw letters or shapes in the ground with the squirt bottle.
12. Playing with dough. Kids love playing with dough and almost any way they choose to manipulate the dough will give their fine motor skills a workout. Use PlayDough, or a product that many Occupational Therapists use―Theraputty. Theraputty is a material like silly-putty and comes in different strengths. If the toxicity or ingredients of any of the doughs concerns you, you can find recipes for homemade dough on the internet.
Squeezing dough Builds up finger strength.
Rolling dough Using both hands to roll the dough helps develop coordination and is good for exercising the wrist and hand muscles.
Make a game! Use shells, marbles, or small toys to hide in the dough for your toddler to find. They can keep the prizes!
Get creative! Your child might already know how to use the dough to make simple objects―snakes, balls, or patties. Encourage them to make more complex shapes such as a box, animal, monster, or house.
Make art! Make art or fun structures then stick things into the dough to decorate it. Use materials such as pipe cleaners, plastic google eyes, plastic jewels, straws, beads, feathers, rocks, shells, or buttons. Another idea is to use rubber stamps to stamp a design onto a dough patty.
13. Stickers. Who doesn't love stickers? Give little pincer fingers a workout by having them remove the sticker off its backing and sticking it onto something.
14. Computers and technology. Using a keyboard and mouse helps develop good hand-eye coordination. Some children prefer using a roller ball mouse. There are some great touchscreen apps that can also help develop good hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills. Or open a Paint program and show your child how to draw using the mouse. Tic-tac-toe or Minesweeper are also good, easy programs for kids to practice their fine motor skills.
15. Lacing boards, cards, toys. Here's an easy way to make a lacing card for your child to work on her threading skills. Trace and cut out cardboard animals or shapes, make holes all around the cut out edges, using a hole puncher. Have your child lace a piece of yarn up and down through the holes until the entire edge is laced. You can also lace beads, blocks, buttons, and much more!
16. Sorting. Sorting is a great activity for developing color recognition, shape identification, sensory awareness of textures, and fine motor skills development. Sort rocks, shells, toys, counting bears, hearts, shamrocks, marbles, Math Links, or buttons. Kids love this activity! It allows them to practice the pincer grip―using their thumb and index finger―to grasp small objects before sorting.
17. Pinch, pinch. Have your child use tweezers, tongs, or clothes pins to pick up small objects and move them into bowls or cups. Choose things that are easier to pick up, at first, such as small balls, pieces of fabric, or cotton balls. Once they have mastered picking up larger objects, then move to smaller objects such as picking up raisins, beads, or dried beans with the tweezers. This is a great workout for the pincer fingers!
18. Sponges and eye droppers. Fill one bowl or cup with water, and leave a second bowl or cup empty. Have your child soak a sponge in the first bowl, and then ring it out carefully into the second bowl. Show him how to transfer the water back and forth between bowls. Kids also love transferring water beads back and forth.
For more pincer finger practice, let your child use an eye dropper and have him move the water back and forth. Use bubbles, Kool Aid, or food dye for extra fun!
19. Nuts and bolts. Purchase some inexpensive nuts and bolts from the hardware store, or find a toddler set for your child. Get nuts and bolts sets of a variety of sizes so your child can match those that fit together. Their pincer fingers will get a great workout screwing the nut onto the right bolt! Move on to building cars and other toys with a Nuts and Bolts Toolkit!
20. Musical instruments. Playing with a musical instrument can provide a fine workout for little fingers. Research has found that kids with training on instrumental music outperform other children on vocabulary, fine motor skills, and nonverbal reasoning. The piano, violin, and recorder are good instruments to begin with at a young age since they provide a foundation for further musical study.
21. Alphabet blocks. Alphabet blocks or alphabet tiles are also great for initial letter recognition before handwriting. Depending on your child's age and skill level, you can write out words on a piece of paper and have him duplicate the words with the blocks. Not only does this activity build fine motor skills, it also improves concentration and hand-eye coordination, and encourages language development. Also great are alphabet lacing blocks!
22. Good curriculum. Find or support a good handwriting curriculum for your child. Your preschool or kindergarten curriculum should emphasize letter sounds and letter formation. You want to put those fine motor skills to good use!
23. Encourage writing. Finally, keep a variety of writing materials available to your toddler at all times. This includes markers, pencils, pens, and crayons, as well as coloring books, paper, and journals. Easels, with both dry erase markers and chalk, are often a low-cost purchase that encourages children to draw and write. These writing tools will not only encourage writing, but will be an open invitation to work on your child's fine motor skills.
When your child is 3 or 4, you may start to notice that he prefers using one hand more than the other for eating, coloring, or playing. This is his dominant hand, although this might not be firmly set until he is 6 or 7, so watch the hand he favors as he develops, as it may change! This will help you to aide him as he starts to learn handwriting, down the road.
Parents of young boys might need to spend extra time with your boys. A UK study found that generally there are no differences between 5 to 6 year old boys and girls in gross motor skill development. However, girls perform better with fine motor skills. Boys may need a little more time developing the fine motor skills they need.
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