Learn 5 ways to help improve your child’s fine motor skills, thanks to our friends at Manhattan Toy Company.
The Manhattan Toy Co. Playful Dino and Playful Pony are packed with multiple play surfaces, bead runs, peg mazes and more. They teach cause and effect learning while fostering fine motor skill development and hand-eye coordination.
Five Ways to Improve Fine Motor Skills
Just as we learn to sit before walking, children also learn specific skills with their hands and arms in a developmental order to be successful with fine motor skills in daily activities. When kids miss some of these optimal stages of development, they can have difficulty later using their hands and fingers to play and complete daily tasks, and with writing and cutting skills in school. Here are five easy areas with activities to complete with kids to ensure they will develop excellent fine motor skills or improve existing skills:
1. Arm Strengthening
Arm strengthening activities are important to help build strength through the arms and hands, and one of the easiest and best ways to work on this is through crawling and putting weight through our arms. Be sure to encourage young children to crawl while playing and be sure they crawl with their palms open and flat on the floor. They can also stay in the crawl position and play with simple toys such as blocks or musical toys. Playing with toys in this position encourages kids to release one hand for play while the other remains down and is a more challenging position to help strengthen the arm.
Older kids can engage in various animal walks with parents or peers, such as bear walking (arms and legs down and straight with the bottom in the air), crab walking (knees bent with arms down and belly facing towards the sky) or wheelbarrow walking (child walking forward on arms while another person holds the child’s legs off the ground). These are great ways to strengthen the arms and core muscles and can be exciting if made into a race.
2. Hand and Finger Strengthening
Strengthening the hands and fingers is just as important as strengthening the arms. Some easy and fun ways to focus on this is by playing with your child using Play-doh, silly putty or clay. With these materials, you can simply have your child squeeze them, pinch them, pinch and pull them apart with both hands, or just build with it depending on their age and interests.
Another fun way to address hand strengthening is with water play in the bath or pool. Have children squeeze and wring water out of wash cloths or sponges and squirt water out of blow toys. You can also use those blow toys out of the bath. Have children squeeze them to blow air and race blowing pieces of paper or cotton balls across the floor or table.
3. Finger Songs and Dexterity Activities
Younger kids love it when adults interact with them, and what better way than with singing nursery rhymes? Singing nursery rhymes that have hand and finger motions with them, like ‘itsy bitsy spider’ and ‘little bunny foo foo’, are perfect to start addressing dexterity skills with kids. Through these games, kids will hopefully work to copy the hand motions while singing.
Older children are getting more interested in building with blocks and more advanced toys. Great ways to work on dexterity skills with this age group is with legos and blocks that snap together, toys that velcro together, stringing beads, and picking small items up and placing them into a container like pennies in a piggy bank.
It sounds awful, but we do not want our children to pinch other children, but rather pinch different types of toys or items to build coordination in their fingers and set the foundation for an efficient grasp when learning how to write. Some easy ways to accomplish this is by making a game out of using the following items in play: clothespins, water toys as blow toys again, tweezers and tongs to pick up small items, and even pinching bubble wrap to hear that classic pop! Use colored clothes pins and match them to colors on a piece of cardboard. Use kitchen tongs to pick up puff balls and place them into a bucket, or feed them to a hand puppet.
5. Pointing and poking
Who would have thought something so simple could be so beneficial to children? This activity is so easy and helps children learn to isolate their index finger in order to accomplish an action or even to communicate. This simple action is a building block for dexterity skills and coordination of the hands. Some simple ways to work on this with your child are by pointing to and popping bubbles blown from a wand, pushing buttons on toys or sound books, and pushing small items into small openings on containers, such as pasta noodles into smaller holes cut into a butter container.
Using some of these strategies will help children build fine motor skills in a fun way if you remember to keep it fun, imaginative, and enjoy this time spent learning and exploring with your children.
Megan Carpenter has been an occupational therapist for 7 years with 5 years of experience in pediatrics at United Cerebral Palsy of Greater Birmingham. Megan is married and is also a mother of 3 year old twin girls who constantly keep her busy but fill her life with much joy. Both of her girls experienced severe reflux as infants, and as a result, Megan has turned her professional focus to pediatric feeding, eating and swallowing. Megan can be contacted at with any questions related to OT. For articles by Megan on Twiniversity, click here.