What are Fine Motor Skills and How Do They Develop?
Fine motor skills involve the use of the smaller muscles of the hands, fingers, and forearms in various activities like using pencils, cutting with scissors, building with lego or duplo blocks, and buttoning a shirt. Babies as young as 8 weeks of age begin demonstrating fine motor skills as they grasp and bat objects. At around 10 months of age, babies can grasp objects between their thumb and index finger. One and two year olds become even more dextrous–often manipulating objects, building and stacking. And in the preschool years, children learn to zip, tie, button, cut, and write.
Why are Fine Motor Skills Important?
Research actually shows that fine motor skills are a huge predictor of academic success. Grissmer, Grimm, Ayer, Murrah, and Steele (2010), found early fine motor skills in kindergarten were a predictor for reading and math achievement during elementary school. Children with more pronounced motor skills at a young age are usually better able to interact with their environments and experience new things, which in turn leads to academic gains. From a practical standpoint, children with strong fine motor skills are more likely to be successful in school-related tasks like writing, coloring, and cutting. And they’re more likely to be confident in their ability to be successful.
Fine Motor Developmental Milestones
How can you tell if your students are on track? I’ve compiled a helpful list of developmental milestones that I’d love to share with you. You’ll be able to download a printable copy of these developmental milestones at the end of this post. I like to keep them in my lesson plan notebook as a handy reference tool!
Five Favorite Fine Motor Activities for Preschool Students
Now that you understand what fine motor skills are and why they’re important, I want to share 5 practical fine motor activities that are perfect for preschoolers and kindergartners. You probably already have many of these supplies in your classroom. And if not, I’ve included some Amazon (affiliate) links to guide you in stocking your preschool or kindergarten classroom for fine motor fun.
1. Clay or Playdough Activities
Basic playdough is perfect for younger children or those with weaker hands. I’ve found that homemade play-doh tends be much softer and more pliable. Add in essential oils or food coloring to dress up your basic playdough’s color and scent. You can grab my FAVORITE homemade play-doh recipe by clicking the image below.
Provide children with a variety of tools for rolling, cutting, shaping, and molding the playdough. In fact, playdough scissors are the perfect first pair of scissors for young children to practice the motion of cutting before they move on to “real” scissors and paper. I love to provide Alphabet playdough stampers as well to build in some literacy fun. Or, encourage students to make the letters of the alphabet using the playdough. Laminate some alphabet mats for durability, and students can use them again and again to practice forming each letter.
For children who are bit more developed in their fine motor skills, consider using modeling clay instead because it’s more difficult to manipulate and will build greater strength.
Here are some of my favorite playdough tools for the preschool classroom.
- These extruder tools require children to push and squeeze the play-doh through a series of shaped tubes. These are great for developing hand strength, plus they’re fun!
- My students LOVE using these cutters. There’s just something about slicing and dicing that motivates little ones!
- These Melissa and Doug toolkits combine all of my favorite Play-doh tools in one convenient package. I especially love the scissors. They’re perfect for developing cutting skills in preschoolers.
- Help children develop forearm strength as they have fun making patterns in dough using these wooden rolling pins.
Laminate these FREE task cards and add them to your playdough kit for students to be inspired as they work. They won’t even realize they’re developing hand and finger strength that they’ll use to cut, write, and draw down the road! They’ll just think they’re playing! 😉 Click the picture to download the FREE cards.
2. Cutting and Stringing Activities with Plastic Straws
Did you know that plain old plastic drinking straws could be used for a slew of fine motor activities? And there are so many colorful and fun straws out there now. I love these straws in particular. After all, who doesn’t love a rainbow of colors? 🙂 One of my favorite fine motor straw activities involves pasta–another favorite of mine! Give students uncooked ziti noodles and full length plastic straws. Have them slide the ziti noodles onto the straws. This is a great way for preschoolers to practice hand-eye coordination and improve their dexterity.
Another favorite is the old classic straw necklace. Cut the straws into 1-2 inch lengths and provide a colorful array of straw pieces. Give students yarn with the end taped so the straws can be threaded onto the yarn. Have students design a colorful straw necklace. Students will especially love wearing these throughout the day after they create them. For sturdier lacing pieces that you can reuse, invest in some lacing yarn.
Finally, straws make for fun cutting practice. Give students a straw and instruct them to cut it into a certain number of pieces. To add some math standards, have students arrange their straw pieces in order from shortest to longest. Or for added challenge, you can ask older students to try to cut the pieces the same size. That will require them to estimate and measure. Fine motor math at its finest! Then, add all the cut straw pieces to your sensory bin for a fun filler item.
3. Hole Punch Activities
One of the best tools for building hand strength is a hole punch. The constant squeezing motion of using a hole puncher is like weigh-lifting for little hands! You can use a traditional hole puncher, or you can purchase decorative punchers that are typically used for scrapbooking. Preschoolers LOVE these decorative punches. Challenge them to make a pattern using the punches. Or bring out certain punches seasonally so they always have something new to look forward to and the novelty won’t wear off!
I also print seasonal punch cards on Astrobrights paper (not the cardstock–that would be too tough to punch!) and let students punch them. Let me just tell you that these kiddos LOVE using a hole punch! Try it out. You’ll be amazed!
4. Activities Using Lego or Duplo Blocks
Duplo blocks, or jumbo building bricks, are the greatest invention for preschoolers. Some littles are able to manipulate standard Legos, but many of them just can’t grip such tiny blocks. Enter Duplo blocks! These jumbo bricks are sized just right for little hands. You can include task cards to give students ideas of what to build. Or let students use their imagination and create whatever their heart desires. Add additional props like little animals or people, and you’ll find that students really use their imagination to build habitats, houses, cars, and more with these amazing bricks.
My pre-k babies love using these Building Brick Alphabet Cards to build the letters of the alphabet using Duplo blocks. You can find the cards here.
5. Activities Using Tweezers and Colored Pom Poms
Finally, one more fine motor favorite for preschoolers is using tweezers to pick up colorful pom poms. I love these tweezers from Learning Resouces in particular. They’re the perfect size for little hands to pick up pom poms. The activities pictured above are from my Fine Motor Fun packets. Students have a bowl full of various colored rainbow pom poms and then use tweezers to pick them up and transfer them. Build in math by having students sort pom poms by color, count the pom poms, or arrange them to make a pattern.
You can find pom poms in a range of colors and sizes. There are even glittery pom poms! #bestillmyheart <3 You can never have too many pom poms in a preschool classroom because they can be used for counting activities, crafts, manipulatives, and more. So invest in some jumbo tweezers and up your pom pom game!
Looking for a fine motor toolkit you can pull from month after month for predictable yet engaging seasonal fine motor activities? Check out this year-long bundle that’s ON SALE!
I hope these fine motor activities and ideas inspired you. You can grab your FREE Fine Motor Milestones Checklist by signing up below.