Improve Your Toddler’s Fine Motor Skills with These 7 Fun Activities

Fine motor skills are small actions that require a lot of control. But they take time to master, especially for toddlers. Thankfully, these at-home activities make developing fine motor skills a cinch.

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Therapeutic putty play

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Some examples of fine motor skills in toddlers include grasping and pinching objects with their fingers. Parents can help their children to improve hand strength with the use of resistance putty, which can be purchased online. Eva Pacchetti-D'Amaro, occupational therapist at Every Person Develops in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, recommends this technique: "Hide coins or beads in the putty for your child to find," she said. (Use larger objects for children under three years old.) Then, "instruct your child to place coins in a piggy bank or string beads onto a string to make jewelry," she adds. Parents can also make putty circles for their child to open. This skill is especially helpful when the parent helps their child isolate their thumb, pointer, and middle fingers to open the circles and encourages the child to switch between left and right hands, says Pacchetti-D'Amaro.

Bear and crab walking

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"Core muscle strength, upper body stability, visual-spatial skills, and gross coordination are foundations necessary for children to master fine motor skill development," says Pacchetti-D'Amaro. In order to develop these skills, toddlers can perform a wide variety of exercises to master fine motor skills and to engage their brain for learning. One exercise that can easily be done at home involves homemade bowling pins created from empty soda bottles. Parents can paint the bottles bright colors and fill them with rice to add weight. Set them up in a random bath in a large space and have your child bear walk on all fours or crab walk from pin to pin. Once they reach a pin, they can kick it or hit it to knock it over.

Hole punching fun

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Using a hole punch to create a picture or design will improve both hand strength and visual skills, according to Pancchetti-D-Amaro. Here's to do: With a marker, draw the shape or design of your child's choosing on a piece of paper. Instruct them to use the hole punch to create the border of your drawing. An older child can use yarn or a pipe cleaner to lace in and out of the punched holes. This activity is perfect for a rainy day as well as these other indoor activities for toddlers.

Make jewelry

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"Beading builds the small muscles in one's hands by having to stabilize the yarn or string and then place each bead on the string," says Liz Matheis, PhD, of Psychological and Educational Counseling in Parsippany, New Jersey. Stock up on large, wooden beads and colorful yarn and twine for this fun activity that requires both concentration and steady hands. "The great thing with beading is you can help your child make a necklace or bracelet as a gift for someone else" says Dr. Matheis. "It's very motivating for a little one to see that her jewelry is appreciated." Here are other kid crafts that make perfect presents.

A colorful challenge

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Although she admits this activity may seem a bit mean, Dr. Matheis suggests breaking your child's crayons. Don't worry, it's for a good reason: "A smaller crayon activates and engages more muscles in your child's hand." Most of the time, kids won't even care anyway.

Make "spaghetti and meatballs"

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Toddlers love Play-Doh, so why not use this popular activity to strengthen the muscles in their hands? Dr. Matheis suggests encouraging your toddler to make "spaghetti and meatballs" since it requires rolling and forming.

Play cat's cradle

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Toddlers who are struggling with their fine motor skills don't have adequately developed muscles in their hands and wrists, according to understood.org. While it may take time to teach your child, yarn games like cat's cradle will provide endless entertainment throughout their childhood. Additionally, yarn games improve fine motor skills for toddlers because they require the use of small hand muscles as well as hand-eye coordination.

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