The Benefits of Creative Play - Turning OFF the screen- Part 2: Developing Fine Motor Skills

There are many great and fun activities that can be done with your toddler and preschooler that will also help develop those fine muscles and coordination in the arms, hands and fingers!  These developmental skills are important for kids to use and work on when they are younger to help with harder skills such as cutting and handwriting when they are older.  Other skills addressed with these fine motor activities are visual-motor skills and eye-hand coordination which are necessary to cut along a line or hit a baseball ! There is never just one area that is addressed, these activities always involve other important skills your child needs to use, improve and experiment with!  Don't be afraid to get down and dirty with your kids - they love to see mom and dad get involved!

Fine Motor Box - The first thing you need is a fine motor box or kitchen drawer to keep your supplies.  I have always  used  a bottom drawer, in the kitchen, where my kids have easy access.  Things that are good to have on hand are:  

construction or card stock paper -  lots of colors!
scissors -  snipping with scissors can be practiced as young as 2 years old ( with supervision)!
glue - I like the squeeze glue because you can work on twisting the cap (finger strength and grasp) and squeezing the glue ( hand strength ).
crayons - many have asked about wide crayons.  As an occupational therapist I prefer the regular width for these little hands.  The first thing I usually do with new crayons is BREAK THEM - yes I know for some of you this is painful, but it really is a great way for your little ones to practice using the right grip with their fingers and thumb instead of a fist.  They will have fun breaking them in half with you which also works on strength!
odds & ends - This could include wiggly eyes, cotton balls, brads, glitter, buttons, shaving cream etc.
playdoh - I have made playdoh for years!  I will share with you the recipe that I have always used! It is safe if they eat it and comes out of carpet easily!  This is a great way for your toddler to work on hand and finger strength as well as the arches in their hands.  Kids never seem to outgrow this and I always have fun as well! 
After you have a fine motor box or drawer stocked up you can establish a certain time each day when you will sit down with your kids and do a fine motor activity together!
There are so many things you can do and sometimes it gets overwhelming to think about!  Here are a few of our favorite things to do that address fine motor skills to help you get started.  These can be modified to fit different age groups. Make them easier or harder and even combine a few for more of a challenge! 

Arm strength activities:   Fine motor skills are more difficult if your arm and core strength is lacking.  Good activities to get those muscles ready for fine motor work are:
                       *wheelbarrow races - get the whole family involved!  Grab someones feet and have them walk on their hands to the finish line! 
                      *  scooterboard belly races - use your arms to scoot across the floor!
                      *  Balloon baseball, volleyball -  swing a bat to hit the balloon and run the bases or hit the balloon over a line or net on the floor - so fun to play in teams and keep the balloon from touching the ground.  These balloon games also work on eye-hand coordination!
                      * Pass/play catch with balls of different sizes and weights
Wrist extension activities:   Wrist extension is necessary to allow for more precise hand movements.  Here are some ideas to get you started. 
                        * drawing/painting on an easel, chalkboard or other vertical surface.  I have used newsprint paper that comes in a roll and covered a wall to color a mural.  There is also chalkboard paint you can buy to paint the lower half of your child's bedroom or playroom wall! 
                      * playing with magnetic letters on the refrigerator
                      * draw shapes and letters with shaving cream on an upright mirror
                     *  help wash windows - kids love to feel needed and helpful!
Hand and finger strength activities:
      *  Playdoh  and playdoh toys.  I have a favorite homemade recipe that my kids always like to help make!  It comes out of carpet and lasts when stored in a ziplock bag.  Push, pull, poke, push popsicle sticks in and take them out! Roll, squeeze, make snakes, letters and shapes!  Cut playdoh snakes with a knife or scissors.
                    *Pull apart fruit pieces or cut fruit pieces with knife
                    *  Explore and experiment with different types of lids, containers - use a tweezers to pick up cotton balls and put them inside!
                    * Play with tops - work on spinning for advanced finger dexterity and control
                    * Clothes pins - make a "clothes line" and have your preschooler hang up their artwork using a clothespin!
                    * use tweezers to pick up items such as cotton balls, pom poms, little playdoh balls, and make your own game out of it!
                   * dressing skills with different fasteners - zip, tie, button and snap!  If you like to sew cut an old t-shirt in half down the the front and put in a zipper, buttons and/or snaps to make a paint shirt where these fasteners can be practiced daily. You can make a shirt for each fastener!
                   *rip small strips of construction paper and glue them onto a simple coloring picture
  Squeezing the glue is a great hand strengthening activity also!
                  *  put paper, scissors, glue, buttons, colors, etc.  out on the kitchen table and see the creativity come out!

Dexterity and manipulation activities:   
                 * puzzles - inset and interlocking - for the inset puzzles with handles I have put velcro on the bottom to work some strengthening into the activity!  Put the pieces on one end of the room and the puzzle board on the other end and race to see who can put the puzzle together the fastest! You can use scooterboards, crab walk, or wheelbarrow walk.
                 * string beads onto pipe cleaners or aquarium tubing - I like to use the foam beads they are smaller and less frustrating for little hands!
                 * legos and duplos
                 *  shaving cream play - We use Barbisol shaving cream and the kids love it!! Squirt a pile on the table and make shapes, letters, snowmen, etc.  using the index finger to draw and create!  Easy clean up from table and clothes!
                 * Lacing activities - Lace 2 brown paper bag hearts together and fill with cotton!  Such a cute Valentines Day gift for Grandma! 
                 * Experiment with different writing utensils - sidewalk or regular chalk, markers, colored pencils, pens, etc.
                 *  Use small travel spray bottles to have a water fight - good way to isolate that index finger and strengthen as well!
               * playing card games such as Memory, UNO,  and Go Fish

Have fun every day with new and different ways to keep your kids learning and growing WITH you!  We will be posting on more ideas and activities to keep your day screen free!