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Fine Motor Activities for Toddlers

Aug 18th, 2021 | by Samantha Cooper, MS, OTR/L

Samantha Cooper, MS, OTR/L

August 18th, 2021

In the area of gross motor development, we know that often times, rolling leads to crawling, and crawling leads to walking. We start with foundational skills and work through a developmental progression. But what is the progression for fine motor development

We often think about fine motor skills as the skills required to manipulate a pencil for legible handwriting or to manage clothing fasteners. Considering that handwriting and independent dressing skills are not yet developmentally appropriate for your toddler or preschooler, it is through many naturally occurring play activities that you can help support the developmental progression of the fine motor skills. Later, these fine motor skills will be required for independence in many school-based and self-help tasks. Behold our list of fine motor activities for toddlers! 

Fine Motor Activities for Toddlers and Preschoolers

Listed below are activities for parents or caretakers to try with their toddler at home to help the developmental progression of fine motor skills.

1. Peeling and Placing Stickers

Place stickers on your child’s hands or clothing and have them peel them off. For an added challenge, take a piece of paper and draw open circles to give your child targets in which to place the stickers. The grasp required to peel a sticker works toward the pincer grasp required for manipulating a button. The visual motor coordination required for placing the sticker within a target works toward the visual motor coordination required for inserting the button within a hole.  

2. Stringing Cheerios

Start by using something that holds its shape (e.g. a pipe cleaner or piece of uncooked spaghetti) and string Cheerios across. To progress this activity, use a string. The use of two hands for completing two different tasks simultaneously and the visual motor coordination required for inserting the lace through the hole are precursor skills for attaching the pin of a zipper and pulling the slider up the chain. 

3. Ripping or Crumpling Paper

Create a mosaic craft by ripping paper into small pieces. This bimanual activity works on strengthening the small muscles of the hand and promotes bimanual use of a tripod grasp, similar to what is required to unsnap the snaps of a jacket.  

4. Placing Coins in a Piggy Bank

Picking up the coins encourages use of a pincer grasp and orienting them to the slot of the bank requires visual motor coordination, similarly to buttoning. Increase the challenge by first sorting and stacking the coins, which would require a precision grasp around the edges of the coin and visual perceptual skills to identify matches based on size. This is similar to identifying and placing the top of the toothpaste tube or water bottle. 

5. Squeezing Clothespins or Chip Clips 

One idea for clothespin play is using preferred board book and having your child attach the clothespin to the book to create “legs” for the characters and have the book stand up. Another idea is to attach the clothespins to your child’s clothing and have them try to locate and remove them. Increase the challenge by doing this without the use of a mirror, addressing body awareness that supports independent dressing. The opening and closing of the hand as you squeeze and release the clothespins is a precursor for the motion and strength required for opening and closing a scissor. Bonus points if your child uses his thumb on one side of the clothespin and index and middle finger on the other side of the clothespin. With this finger placement, you’re working towards a mature pencil grasp.  

As self-directed and hands-on play, the list above is perfect if you’re looking for montessori fine motor activities. You could even incorporate these fine motor activities for preschoolers at home. We hope you have fun trying these fine motor activities with your 1, 2, or 3 year olds!

Find More Therapist-Approved Activities for Toddlers in the NAPA Blog!

About the Author 

Samantha Cooper is a pediatric occupational therapist at NAPA Center Los Angeles. When not engaging her clients through play, Samantha can be found balancing her love for ice-cream with spin or barre classes or trying to cuddle her dog, Cassidy, who would much rather have her personal space.  

About NAPA Center

At NAPA Center, we take an individualized approach to pediatric therapy because we understand that each child is unique with very specific needs. We embrace differences with an understanding that individualized programs work better. For this reason, no two therapeutic programs are alike. If your child needs our services, we will work closely with you to select the best therapies for them, creating a customized program specific to your child’s needs and your family’s goals. Let your child’s journey begin today by contacting us to learn more.

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TAGS: Blogs, OT