15+ Fine Motor Activities for Toddlers & Preschoolers (2024)

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We’ve all heard about motor skills development for our children. When our babies are younger, we typically think about the development of gross motor skills. Those are the big milestones everyone asks about – rolling over, head control, crawling, walking, jumping, and so on. Basically, things that involve the whole body or large muscle groups. But what aboutfine motor skills?

Fine motor skills involve the smaller muscle groups of the fingers, hands, and forearms. Think of that pincer grip milestone you started seeing when your baby started to reach for toys. As your baby grows, you’ll see them continue to develop fine motor skills as they learn to hold things, move things, and stack things.

I like to think of gross motor skills as the “going” skills and fine motor skills as the “doing” skills.

I’ve been working a lot with Little and his fine motor skills these days and so today I thought it would be helpful to share a little bit about exactly what fine motor skills are, why it’s important to be proactive in developing them with your children, and 15 fine motor activities for toddlers that you can easily start to do in your home.

Why You Should be Intentional to Encourage Fine Motor Skills

As I mentioned, fine motor skills are the coordinated use of small muscle groups in the hands, fingers, and forearms. Fine motor skills help children explore the world around them more easily – to pick up and manipulate objects independently.

For babies – this means transferring toys from one hand to the other, moving food from the plate to their mouth, stacking blocks, or using one of my favorite baby toys – the classic shape sorter.

For toddlers and preschoolers, fine motor activities include learning to hold a pencil correctly, use scissors, and tracing or drawing. They also involve personal care activities such as brushing teeth or getting dressed.

Developing strong fine motor skills in early childhood will help set your kids up for success academically and personally as they gain the tools and confidence to complete daily tasks.

So then, how can you encourage the development of fine motor skills for your children? Luckily, there are a TON of ways that you can easily work these into everyday, fun activities. Below are some of the fine motor activities we’ve been working on around here lately.

Stacking Blocks

This is something they can start from an early age – we love the wooden ABC Blocks,but you can also use Mega Blocks or something similar. For younger kids, I think it’s important that the pieces all be similar sizes so it’s less frustrating. Challenge your kids to see how high they can stack the blocks then have fun knocking them over again!

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Sorting Pom Poms

Another super simple activity. Grab a bag of pom poms from your local craft store – or Amazon, dump them out and let your little ones sort them. I recommend getting different sizes of pom poms so you can sort them by color and/or by size for some variety. Your child can use his or her pincer grip motion to pick up the pom poms as they sort them by color or size. We just use old, washed out yogurt cups for our sorting cups, but you could also just make separate piles.

Another idea is to use plastic tongs with older kids to pick up the pom poms. We bought our tongs at the Dollar Tree and Little enjoys playing with them!

Let them Turn the Pages in the Books

An activity that requires basically no-prep – let your kids turn the pages in books as you read. They likely do it themselves when they play with books, but allow them to do it when you read together too. Bonus – you can follow along as you read with your finger to the words to help with the pre-literacy skill of reading left to right. (Might even encourage sight word recognition, too!)

Stickers & Sticker Books

The act of peeling stickers off of a page and re-sticking them is another great fine motor activity and kids tend to really love it. We have recently been picking up sticker books from our local Dollar Tree and using stickers to make fun crafts here at home. We also recently pulled out this reusable sticker book by Melissa and Doug, which I really like since Little can move the stickers around and they are harder to tear when you pull them off the page. It’s a really good quiet play activity.

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Grab a box of crayons and some paper and let your kids create. Or markers. Or pens and pencils. Just let them get creative. This will help strengthen those muscles they’ll need to learn to correctly hold a pencil and write.

Painting

Similar to drawing. We do finger painting and painting with paint brushes here and I always let Little choose which he wants to do when he asks to paint. One thing that I always try to do to be ready to paint quickly is save old egg cartons to use for paint containers. We also have a painting smock that we keep with our painting supplies so we can protect Little’s clothes and have a painting station set up in about 5 minutes.

Peg Puzzles

Puzzles are a great learning tool. For smaller hands, we like big wooden shapes and as Little began to master those, we started using peg puzzles. Grabbing the smaller pegs on the top of each piece is a great way to encourage the development of fine motor skills for toddlers and preschoolers.

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Play Dough

Another classic. Working with play dough is an excellent way to strengthen the small muscles in the hands and fingers. We originally bought a starter set from Amazon for less than $10 that included several basic toys and stencils the we use with the play dough. Since then though, we’ve been making our own play dough at home using this recipe from Living Well Mom. It is super easy and I like that we can make it whenever we want since we have all the ingredients already in the pantry.

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Clothes Pins

Teach your kids how to use clothes pins. Pin them in a pattern, use them in matching games, or allow kids to pin up their art work on a string. You can also use clothes pins instead of tongs for pom pom activities is you’d like.

Lacing Cards

Lacing is another great fine motor activity for preschoolers. We picked up a set of lacing cards from the Dolllar Tree (can you tell I’m a fan? But seriously, if you are interested in this kind of stuff, you need to check out their school supply section – and then try not to buy one of everything.) But, we also have some at home that I made from a piece of foam and a hole puncher. You can even make your own out of thin cardboard (think cereal boxes) and shoe strings. Have your kids string the shoe string through each hole in the card until they make their way around the whole thing.

Macaroni Necklaces

Who doesn’t want to have a macaroni necklace added to your jewelry collection? Choose larger pasta noodles – such as penne for smaller hands and macaroni elbows once they get the hang of it and practice threading a string through the noodles to make some sweet homemade jewelry. Your little ones will feel so proud to wear their creations and to see you wearing them as well.

Put Pipe Cleaners in a Jar

We started this with Little when he was about 1 year old. Allow your child to put pipe cleaners in a strainer or make your own container (this is what we did to we had an easy way to store the pipe cleaners) but punching holes in the top of an old oatmeal container. Navigating the pipe cleaners to and through the small holes is another easy way to encourage fine motor skill development. You can even take it a step further and color around each hole and have your child match the pipe cleaner to the correct color hole.

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Threading Beads onto Pipe Cleaners

Threading beads onto pipe cleaners is another fine motor activity that you can do at home. It’s a little simpler than macaroni necklaces since the pipe cleaners are more sturdy. Once they’ve threaded the beads on, you can help your child make bracelets or other shapes with the pipe cleaners.

Squeeze out a Sponge

Squeezing water out of a sponge is another fun way to practice fine motor skills. Similar to play dough, this is about building those small muscle groups and your child works to squeeze all the water out. Set up a fun car wash station with toy cars or animals and let your child practice washing the toys and squeezing out the water.

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You can also use this as a way to learn about absorption by having little ones move water from one bucket to another using only the sponge.

Playing with Rice (or sand)

We use rice over here because we always have a ton of it on hand, but you can also use play sand. Just put some in a shallow tray or container and let your little ones use their fingers to “draw” shapes.

Twist Tops (open & close)

If your kids are anything like mine, they love to get into things and figure out how things open and close. If you have empty plastic jars, let them practice opening and closing the twist tops (think an empty peanut butter jar or an empty milk container or water bottle – make sure to only let them do this under supervision with smaller caps that they could get into their mouths.)

Using Scissors

And finally – scissors. We are still working to learn scissors over here and I think this one is a little more advanced. It requires not only strong fine motor skills, but also that your child’s hands be big enough to hold the scissors in the first place. The play dough starter kit I mentioned comes with some plastic scissors that I think are a great way to safely expose your children to scissors and begin showing how they work even if they are too small to use them yet.

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Final Thoughts

There really are so many ways to encourage the development of fine motor skills with your children. It’s something that doesn’t require tons of prep or lots of supplies. Hopefully this list will give you some ideas that you can use to brainstorm in your own home. What supplies or toys do you already have that you can be intentional with when it comes to encouraging fine motor play?

And if you’re wondering about milestones, this is a great Fine Motor Checklist from birth to 8 years old that I recently came across and bookmarked for my own reference!

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15+ Fine Motor Activities for Toddlers & Preschoolers (2024)
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