There are a number of easy and inexpensive ways to help your child develop and build fine motor skills. Many developmental toys and programs aim to improve fine motor skills. These can be expensive though, as well as overwhelming, and many parents are worried that they are not giving their little ones the stimulation they need.
Let’s start at the beginning. What are fine motor skills? The term refers to the use of the small muscles in your child’s hands and arms to complete everyday tasks, such as dressing, playing, eating, various self-care tasks and certain school tasks such as pencil control, cutting with scissors and writing. These are skills ALL humans need.
You don’t need to be a trained therapist or to spend a fortune. Below are some ideas using things you will mostly have in the house to help your child develop fine motor skills. Be sure to also check out or free Printable Holiday Activity Book for loads of ideas and tips on keeping kids busy while boosting development and creativity.
Messy play is highly recommended. All you need is an easel, some finger paint, some thick paper and a space for your child to get messy. You can develop fine motor skills in different ways by letting them pain with their fingers, with brushes or with sponges and stencils.
2. Pincer grasp development:
These are activities that encourage the use of the thumb and forefinger, and development starts around the age of 9 months already. Develop your child’s pincer grasp with activities like picking up small items (individually) like beans or coins. Be sure to watch them for choking, as many small toddlers still put objects in their mouths. Let a smaller baby practice by putting Rice Crispies on the ground, or by hunting small ants (once again under supervision!).
Also encourage them to play with toys that use dials, switches and knobs.
A lovely fun activity is one where they could squeeze the water out of wet sponges or wash cloths. You could also use let them squeeze water out of bath toys or play with a medicine dropper.
4. Drawing, cutting and colouring:
Draw and cut out paper dolls or any characters that interest your child. Then allow your child to decorate and colour them in. To strengthen hand muscles and help with scissor skills, save boxes like cereal boxes and let them cut patterns from the sides. This offers harder work than just cutting a normal paper, and useful for fine motor skills in older toddlers.
5. Tearing and pasting
Tear paper into strips and then into small squares. Then paste the pieces onto a page or a blown-up balloon to create interesting collages
6. Kitchen activities
Let your child peel their own fruit like bananas and oranges. Allow them to help you to mash potatoes, knead dough for bread or pizza or roll out dough with a rolling pin for biscuits. Also allow them to use a fork and knife at every meal and be patient with them. Eventually they will figure it out.
7. Play dough.
You can buy play dough or make your own. Encourage your child to squeeze and stretch and shape and roll and pound the play dough to strengthen their hand muscles and build fine motor skills.
Let them string beads, or even string uncooked macaroni. This makes an excellent gift for any grandmother or auntie as well.
A large magnet and a bunch of keys can keep a little one busy for hours, and forces them to move their hands in all directions. Be extremely careful of magnets with smaller children. If two magnets are swallowed they will stick to each other from different positions in the gut and this can cause serious medical complications.
So this last one is not exactly inexpensive, but it remains one of the best ways to build fine motor skills and to encourage creativity. Luckily you don’t need the most expensive sets, nor do you need huge quantities. The basic building sets are actually best, and with a moderate amount of legos they can do a lot. Check out Facebook marketplace as many parents are willing to sell Lego sets secondhand as their children outgrows it.
Let your child guide you and lead the way, but don’t be alarmed if the fine motor skill development progresses slower than you would like. These skills are usually learned over a period of time with a lot of practice.