Child plays with play dough in high chair.

Active Play

10 Activities to Help Build Fine Motor Skills

Mar 30, 2018

I still remember the look of excitement and pride on my son’s face the first time that he zipped up his own coat. While it’s something that we adults might take for granted every day, completing such tasks is a pretty big deal for the kids who are just learning to master them.

The (not-so-simple) act of zipping up a coat requires your little one to tap into their fine motor skills. Unlike gross motor skills, such as walking and jumping, fine motor skills focus on smaller movements, working the muscles in your child’s hands, fingers and wrists. From buttoning clothing to eating with a fork or spoon, the list of daily activities that rely on fine motor skills is pretty extensive.

While fine motor development begins during infancy, you may want to focus more on strengthening those skills during the toddler and preschool stage to help your child gain some independence and prepare for the transition to school. Here are some fun (and easy!) activities that will get those fine motor skills working while your wee one plays.

What you’ll need for peeling tape:

  • a roll of washi or painter’s tape
  • a flat surface

Toddler peeling tape off high chair tray.

This activity couldn’t be easier! Simply stick tape to a flat surface such as a high chair, table or wall, and let your kiddo work to peel it off. Grasping a corner of the tape and pulling it up will strengthen your wee one’s pincer grip, which they’ll eventually use while tying their shoes and holding a pencil.

Looking for more great ways to play with tape? You’ll find 10 ideas here.

What you’ll need for playing with play dough:

Toddler playing with playdough activity.

You can’t go wrong with play dough! And the simple act of rolling, squishing and manipulating the dough in various ways can help strengthen the muscles in your little one’s fingers, hands and wrists.

What you’ll need for playing with clothespins:

  • clothespins
  • washi tape
  • craft sticks

Colourful clothespins scattered on wood surface.

Squeezing clothespins is an excellent way for little ones to work on their fine motor skills, and the best part is that they can be used in so many different ways! For this activity, all you need to do is apply strips of washi tape to clothespins and craft sticks. Then hand ‘em over, and ask your kiddo to match the clothespin to the correct stick.     

What you’ll need for stacking cereal o's:

  • play dough
  • dry pasta
  • cereal o's

Child adds cereal o's onto dry pasta poking out of playdough.

This clever activity will have your wee one working on their pincer grip along with their hand-eye coordination. To set up the activity, begin with a large lump of play dough, and stick in a few pieces of pasta (spaghetti or a similar sturdy noodle works best), broken into different heights. Pair with a container of cereal o's, and let your little one work to drop the cereal onto the pasta until each piece is full. While the cereal o's make this a toddler-friendly activity (taste-testing the materials is safe!), older kids could swap the cereal for beads or metal washers.

What you’ll need for sorting pompoms:

  • construction paper
  • scissors
  • a muffin tin
  • tongs
  • pompoms in various colours

Colourful Pom-poms and construction paper sorted in muffin tin.

Who says educational games have to be expensive? This DIY colour matching game is similar to ones you’ll find in stores, but costs almost nothing to put together. To set it up, cut circles from different colours of construction paper and place in the wells of your muffin tin. Then spread out a few handfuls of colourful pompoms in various sizes, and give your wee one a small set of tongs to pick them up. Once the pompoms have all been sorted, flip the tray over and start again!

What you’ll need for mixing colours with eye droppers:

  • an eye dropper
  • small containers of water
  • food colouring

Eye dropper in little white cups filled with food colouring.

Time for a little colour mixing lesson! For this activity, you’ll need to raid your recycling bin and gather a few empty yogurt containers, then partially fill half of them with water and a few drops of food colouring. Show your child how to squeeze an eye dropper to gather some colourful liquid and transfer to one of the empty containers. Then add a second colour, and watch the magic happen. (This one is sure to be a big hit!)

What you’ll need for spooning and scooping:

  • a plastic bin
  • filler, such oats, lentils or popcorn kernels
  • spoons and scoops
  • small containers

Popcorn kernels, spoons and scoops in a plastic bin.

Transferring items from one container to another with a scoop or spoon may seem like a pretty basic activity, but for toddlers and preschoolers, it’s a world of fun! Set your wee one up with a sensory bin filled with age-appropriate material, and a selection of scoops, spoons and containers in different sizes. This activity is a great example of open-ended play that allows your child to explore different movements, while also strengthening the skills they’ll eventually use for everyday activities like eating or pouring a cup of milk.

What you’ll need for threading beads:

  • pipe cleaners
  • beads
  • painter’s tape
  • markers

A bowl of colourful beads and a pipe cleaner with beads threaded on it.

Need 10 minutes of quiet time to prep lunch? Keep your kiddos busy with a stack of pipe cleaners and a container full of beads. Not only do these two materials combine to make fun and colourful homemade bracelets, they can also be used to teach math concepts like patterning and number recognition. If your wee one is working on counting and number recognition, attach a numbered piece of tape to the top of your pipe cleaner and ask your child to thread on the matching number of beads.

Looking for more fun ways to learn math concepts? Check this out!

What you’ll need for using a hole punch:

  • scrap paper
  • a hole punch

Whole punch and construction paper.

Get ready to make some confetti! This activity couldn’t be easier, but kids of all ages will love it just the same. Break out your stash of scrap paper, hand over a hole punch, and let the fun begin. 

What you’ll need for spinning bolts:

  • metal screws
  • metal bolts

A handful of bolts on a wooden surface.

For kids who are safely past the “taste everything” stage, this activity is a must-try. Set your child up with a container of metal screws and a container of metal bolts, and show them how to put the two together. For an extra challenge, incorporate a die that your little one can roll to see how many bolts to twist onto each screw.

Article Author Alicia McAuley
Alicia McAuley

Read more from Alicia here.

Alicia McAuley is a freelance writer, editor and all-around web nerd who never met a pop culture reference she didn't like. The former editor of a parenting website, these days she shares a home office in the suburbs with her husband, two adorable boys, and two lazy cats. You can find her cracking jokes on Twitter @aliciamcauley and pinning projects for her to-do list on Pinterest.

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