Small movements, guys. That’s basically what it is. And its development was something that, as a preschool teacher, I regularly observed and watched for. Sometimes children blew my mind with the precision of their cutting skills. Their cutting was almost as good as my cutting – maybe that’s not saying much…

Other times, I would sit shaking my head in disbelief as I watched children of four unable to close scissors with one hand or have such limited control that the scribbles they had attempted were almost invisible.

I would then sit with the parents of the latter and explain that their child was in serious need of occupational therapy and needed a lot of exposure to fine motor tasks.


At this point, most parents may have been unsure of where to begin. And, many would probably tap “fine motor activities” into a Google search to find the answer and would find a multitude of ideas. Well, for what it’s worth, I’m going to add my thoughts and publish them into the black hole of online answers.



It’s as simple as getting your children to help you hang up the washing. (And, bonus, you have helpers.) If you’re not into that idea, grab an ice-cream tub or a suitable container like that, fill it with pegs and get your kids to peg them around the edge. Make them a washing line for their dolls’ clothes. Cut a strip of card and get them to peg onto that. Get those small muscles working!


Don’t do it for them! Teach them how to button up or unbutton their own clothing. This is a tricky skill to master and takes really controlled fine motor movements. Zips are also good.


I did not think that this was a skill…I mean how hard can it be to tear? Kids tear stuff all the time!! But, apparently it is a skill. I was horrified when I specifically gave children the exercise of tearing up paper, that it bent and crumpled in their hands but, alas, no rips. Give your children paper to tear. It may surprise you to find that they need a lesson!


No, they are not too young to cut!! Yes, unsupervised! But if you are supervising, they will be fine! So many children at the age of 4(!!!) have not held a pair of scissors because, “I’m too scared he’ll cut my curtains. He’s too young. They’re too sharp.” It is such an important skill for a multitude of reasons! Sit down with them, invest in a pair of training scissors if you must, and teach your child to cut! You can start snipping play dough and then move onto paper. Play dough is forgiving and much easier to cut.

Play dough

Another thing that blew my mind was how hard some children found it to roll play dough into a snake. They did not have the strength to push the play dough as they rolled. This is a brilliant activity to strengthen those hand muscles.

Finger Food

This is something you can do as soon as your baby is able to handle more than pureed food. Spill some raisins, peas, Cheerios, Rice Crispies, you name it, out onto a table and get that pincer grasp developing.


I’ve found that this is something you seldom need to teach a child. Give them a whole lot of (empty) containers with lids – screw tops, push-on, etc. You can even mix them up and use it as a matching game.


Again, this is much easier to do than you think. Find a shoelace, a piece of wire or a piece of string with a piece of sticky tape at one end, and give them Cheerios, beads, or any toys with holes to thread. No need to buy anything expensive! And you have an activity idea to entertain a bored child while you prepare supper!

Tongs and Tweezers

Start off with tongs and give your child a bowlful of pompoms, toys, balls or anything of the sort to grab with tongs and transfer to another container. This will develop their hand movements. Be sure to encourage the use of only one hand. Once this skill is established, move onto tweezers and refine the movements of the fingers. You can use anything from smaller pompoms, beads, buttons – you name it!

Squirt Bottles

This is a fun game and something that could provide hours of fun. It uses a similar motion to cutting. You can give the kids water in a squirt bottle to spray the plants, garage doors, and the driveway. Alternatively, fill it with watered down paint and roll out some newsprint outside on the grass and let them go wild!

Painting and Drawing

Giving your child opportunities to paint and draw from a young age with any medium will hone their fine motor skills. I could tell right away which children had been exposed to these activities immediately. A general tell-tale sign was the way they held the apparatus. If they held it in their fist (appropriate at toddler level) then they still hadn’t developed the necessary fine motor skills. If they then used arm movements to draw, their fine motor skills were far off. If they held with a fist and only moved their wrist, then there was work to be done. A good grip meant good, controlled finger movements.

Finger Painting

This is great fun and can be beneficial for children with weak fine motor skills or for children with more established skills. It’s mistake and frustration free. If you spread a large piece of paper out, it can double up as gross motor development as well. Let them have fun!

Spice bottle and Toothpicks

I am borrowing this idea from a friend. Grab an empty spice bottle and some toothpicks and let your kids put the sticks into the bottle through the holes. (Then teach them to take the lid off so they can pour them out – it will teach them a skill and save you effort of constantly opening the bottle!)

Pipe Cleaners and Colanders

Another stolen idea! Turn your colander upside down and put pipe cleaners or spaghetti through the holes. Or even thread them through opposites sides of the colander.


Yet another brilliant fine motor task. It’s not easy to master and requires both hands and fingers working – pulling, tugging, tying with a pincer grasp. Save yourself the effort and do your kid a favour! Teach them to tie their shoelaces from a young age!


If you’ve been overseas or you’re a collector of 1c and 2c pieces, you’ll have a money box like me somewhere in the house collecting dust. Haul it out, tip out the coins and let your child exercise that pincer grasp by picking up the money off the floor. Then, get your child to post them back through the slit. (A similar exercise can be done using a tin with a plastic lid, such as Milo, cocoa or Pringles. Slice a slit in the lid and give your kiddies pieces of card to put inside.)


This is a good excuse to eat some yummy baked treats afterwards. Kneading, rolling and crumbling recipes are great to get those fingers and hands exercising some skill. Scones, shortbread and some biscuit recipes require rubbing butter with dry ingredients to create a breadcrumb effect. Other options are kneading bread dough, pizza dough and tortilla dough. Then you get to enjoy the fruit of their labour afterwards!

Manipulative Toys

In this department, the options are endless. As shown above, you don’t need to go out and buy anything. But should you choose to buy your child a Christmas or birthday gift, spend it on something that will enhance their development. Any toys that you can put together and pull apart are great. Here are just a few – Lego, Duplo, blocks, Pick Up Sticks, pop beads, etc. You just need to type “Manipulative toys” into a Google search and it will do the work for you!

So there you have it! 18 great ideas to work those small muscles! Have fun!


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