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3 Fine Motor Skills Activities For Preschool Children

Benefits of Fine Motor Skills

Fully developed fine motor skills are the building blocks for pre-literacy and pre-writing because cognitive development evolves from the emergence and development of small motor skills. How does this happen? As children use as many of their five senses as possible while learning and experimenting with their world, they are building multiple neural pathways in the brain.

Preschool class activities

Did you know cutting with scissors works the same muscle group as those needed to hold a pencil? As children use kid-friendly scissors to cut out images and then glue them to a poster, they use their fine motor skills to focus the eyes and coordinate the work of their hands and eyes.

These improved visual skills and enhanced hand-eye coordination lead to better tracing, printing and eventually handwriting skills because the hands and fingers are strong and capable of grasping a pencil.

Here are three fine motor skills activities for preschool children that you can use in your home or classroom environment to strength and fine-tune any child’s small motor skills.

1. Creating With Modeling Clay

Whether you make your own modeling clay or buy it pre-made, it’s hard to find a more kid-friendly tool for developing small motor skills. Kids love to break off chunks of modeling clay and roll it between their palms to make snake-like ropes or tiny balls.

Modeling clay caterpillar

To help your kids get the most benefit from playing with modeling clay, considering adding some of the following items to their play center:

  1. Kid-safe scissors, plastic pizza cutters or plastic knives to cut the dough into pieces.
  2. Plastic forks or toothpicks to rake the dough or draw designs. Encourage your kids to make modeling dough “peanut butter cookies” and use the tines of the fork to mark the tops.
  3. Small tongs to pick up pieces of dough and place them in groups or sets.
  4. Rolling pins to roll out the dough.
  5. Cookie cutters to cut out dough shapes.
  6. Plastic dishes or plastic pretend play utensils so kids can pretend to cook and bake with their dough shapes.

2. Cookie Cutter Art & Pre-Literacy Projects

You can use the same cookie cutters in an art center to give your kids’ hands and fingers a good work-out. They can use the cookie cutters as stencils by laying a cookie cutter on a sheet of paper and then using a pencil to trace around the outside or inside of the shape or both. Next, have them use kid-safe scissors to cut out the shapes, and then glue them to a clean sheet of paper. Finish up by letting them decorate their pictures however they choose.

To encourage pre-literacy skills, ask them to tell you about their picture and write down their answers in big block letters. As you write down their words, they make the connection between the spoken and the written word. When you are finished, read the words to them, pointing to each word as you say it. Next, encourage them to take their fingers and trace over the words.

Variation: Give them several magazines with lots of pictures. Let them tear out or cut out whichever pictures or words they like, and then use the pictures to create a poster. Encourage them to make up a story about their picture and follow the same instructions as above.

3. Sensory Tubs and Trays

While modeling dough is a perennial favorite with preschoolers, so are sensory tubs and trays. The best part about using these to develop fine motor skills is you probably have everything you need already at hand so you don’t have to worry about buying them. Sensory tubs and trays are simple to make and easy to clean up, and you can use them any time you need to keep a preschooler busy for a few minutes.

Sensory tray with pastas

Here’s what you need:

  • Shallow pan or several cookie sheets
  • Various grains like oats, cornmeal, rice or millet
  • Pasta in various shapes or colors
  • Pudding

Choose one of the grains, pastas or pudding as your sensory material. Put it into a pan or spread some onto a baking sheet. Encourage children to use their fingers to draw or trace in the sensory material or provide them with measuring cups and plastic spoons so they can measuring and pour. As they play, ask them open-ended questions like these:

  1. How does the pasta sound when you pour it out of the measuring cup onto the pan?
  2. What does that sound remind you of?
  3. Which is bigger – the orange pasta or the yellow pasta?
  4. Which smells better – the oatmeal or the pasta?

Sensory Tray with oatmeal

As you can see the image above, we used cinnamon sticks to trace designs in the oatmeal.

If you use a shallow baking pan and pour in oatmeal (or another grain), you can hide small objects like toy cars or plastic figurines and then let the kids use their fingers to find them.

Note: You can also use sand to make your sensory trays but the downside of sand is you probably don’t want your child to eat it, and preschoolers are notorious for putting non-food objects in their mouths. While eating a little sand probably won’t cause any serious damage to your child’s health, it’s probably better to avoid the possibility by offering them a safer alternative like grains, pasta or pudding.

Now that you have some ideas of the possibilities, let your creativity go wild. Here’s a three more ideas to get you started:

  1. Next time you are shopping for cereal, why not buy some circle-shaped cereal and thin licorice strips. Let your child string the cereal onto the licorice strips to make a necklace and strengthen their fine motor skills. Later on, they can eat their necklaces as a mid-morning snack.
  2. Take nature walk with your child and look for pinecones, acorns and nuts, or small twigs and branches. Picking these objects up will develop their fine motor skills but there are other ways to use them as well. When you get home, use the pinecones and other objects as paintbrushes. Using water-based tempera paints, dip the objects into the paint and then use them to draw or press out a pattern on paper.
  3. Offer your kids a selection of craft sticks and toothpicks, glue and cardstock in various colors. Encourage them to use the craft sticks and toothpicks to make creative designs. Glue the designs to the cardstock and let dry.

Gross motor development and fine motor skills activities for preschool children are easy to incorporate into your family’s daily routine. Keep your eyes open for opportunities to let the kids help with simple tasks like cutting out coupons or even using plastic knives to cut up small pieces of fruit for snack or meals. In addition to improving their small motor skills, they will be learning how to be helpful family members.

Caterpillar image by Alex Bruda under royalty free license via SXC

Sensory tray images by Donna J. Cosmato, copyright 2013, all rights reserved

Preschool class activities by Anissat under royalty free license via SXC

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