Our fine motor skills are critical to daily functioning and facilitate everyday activities like brushing your teeth, opening doors, writing/typing, and getting dressed – the list is endless. These skills are learned and developed throughout the earliest years of life as fine motor skills progress and milestones are achieved.
Like all developmental milestones, our little ones will develop their fine motor skills at their own rate. For example, one baby may learn to shake a rattle at three months, while a baby of the same age might not shake a rattle until a month later. This is normal. However, there are plenty of ways a parent or caregiver can encourage fine motor skill development, including incorporating it into play with easily obtained everyday items – no expensive toys necessary!
In today’s post, we’re talking about fine motor skill development in children and how to use inexpensive everyday items around the house for simple play activities that encourage the learning and growth of these skills.
What Are Fine Motor Skills in Child Development?
Fine motor skills involve the coordinated movement of the smaller muscle groups in your child’s hands, fingers, and wrists. The development of these skills is important because using the smaller muscles in the hands allows children to perform self-care tasks without assistance, like brushing their teeth, eating, writing, and getting dressed.
When Do Fine Motor Skills Develop?
Babies and toddlers develop these critical skills at their own pace – with some children developing them earlier than others. Children generally begin to acquire these skills as early as one or two months old and continue to learn more skills through preschool and early elementary school.
Developing Fine Motor Skills Using Kitchen Tools
Infants, toddlers, and children learn and develop these skills through observation and practice; however, you can also incorporate fun activities into their routines to encourage further development. And the best part? You can use tools already in your house or easily found at the Dollar Store.
In the following few sections, we will explore various items you can use for fine motor skills development activities. We’ll explain how manipulating them through activities can help your child develop the critical fine motor skills needed for independence, like gripping/grasping, holding, and moving things from one hand to another. All of these items, as mentioned, are easily available everyday tools. Let’s begin with kitchen items.
Tongs come in all sizes and are perfect for sorting and moving activities or as dramatic play scenarios. Tongs are perfect for practicing gripping, squeezing, and holding.
Paper cups can be used as glorified stacking blocks, for sorting activities (with tongs!), or filled with rice or dry beans to create “shakers” – to name a few. Paper cups can help with many fine motor skills, especially gripping and holding.
Spoons & Spatulas
Spoons and spatulas are excellent tools to hone gripping skills. Spoons and spatulas can be used to scoop and spread almost anything, like sand or dried beans/rice. Spatulas are also useful for practicing flipping items, such as memory cards.
Turkey basters are fun to squeeze! Kids can develop their gripping and squeezing skills with a turkey baster at a water table or race cotton balls across the floor using water squeezed out of the baster.
Sponges are super versatile. Use them in a pretend kitchen to practice holding and wiping, or you can cut them into smaller pieces to use as stacking blocks or paint applicators.
Ice Cube Tray
Ice cube trays are the perfect sorters. Kids can use their fingers to pick up items and place them in the tray, or you can incorporate the tongs or turkey baster to make things a little more challenging.
You can use paper plates for stacking and sorting activities of all kinds. They’re also great tools to practice cutting with scissors.
Like ice cube trays, these are great for sorting activities. They’re also great organizers for other items used in fine motor skill development play.
Straws are great, inexpensive tools that encourage little fingers to grip and hold. They are also perfect for cutting practice. If ready, have your child cut the straws into little pieces and flex their finger dexterity by stringing the pieces together to make a necklace or bracelet.
Fine Motor Skills Activities Using Organizational Items
These organizational items are probably already in your house and are great tools for developing children’s fine motor skills through play.
Similar to divided trays, divided boxes can be used for sorting and crafting activities. They are also perfect for kids’ first “collection” of items, like pebbles or buttons.
Small containers are super versatile. They can be stacked, filled, emptied, flipped, and rolled. If you use containers with lids, little fingers can practice opening and closing them.
You can create fun dollar store crafts for kids while practicing fine motor skill development with plastic, strainer-style containers found at Dollar Tree. The squares are just large enough for little fingers to weave ribbons throughout the grids to make pretty baskets.
Fine Motor Skills Development Using Art & Craft Supplies
Dollar store activities for kids that work on fine motor skill development are easy to brainstorm, and the arts and crafts section is full of fun tools to incorporate.
Dollar store paint trays are so versatile! You can use them to hold paints for fingerpainting, sorting small items by color or shape, or counting games.
Use silk flowers and a styrofoam block to create a magic garden, practice color sorting, or cut the petals off for art projects, like gluing them onto paper plates. You can use the leftover stems for other craft activities – nothing goes to waste.
Dowels For Paintbrushes
Wooden dowels can be cut down to size and used to make homemade paintbrushes with sponge tips or feather dusters. Busy little fingers will get a workout creating these fun, crafty items.
Buttons, Beads, Etc.
Colorful buttons or beads are perfect for sorting, counting, and filling activities using the containers we’ve already mentioned, i.e., cups or divided trays.
Similar to buttons and beads, glass gems are great for sorting, counting, and filling. In fact, you can use them together (glass gems, beads, and buttons) to talk about different shapes and colors. Glass gems are also perfect for “pushing” into playdough to make patterns.
Office Supplies That Can Help with Fine Motor Skills Development
Office supplies aren’t just for adults. Following are ways to use common office supplies in activities to encourage fine motor skill development.
Erasers On Pencils
Colored eraser heads from the Dollar Store can be used to push and pull as little fingers take the erasers on and off pencils. They can also be used for sorting activities in combination with ice or divided trays.
Remember the game Doctor? The trick was to use little tweezers to pluck items out of holes without touching the sides. It was pretty difficult to do – even for adults! Modern kids’ tweezers from the dollar store have enlarged grips that help kids learn “pincher” finger placement and practice squeezing.
Masking tape isn’t just for taping, as it turns out. Kids can roll it up into a ball to practice pushing and rolling. Masking tape can also be used to create roads, grids, or runways in imaginary play. Unwinding the tape and placing it on surfaces can help hone fine little finger muscles.
Cleaning Supplies for Developing Fine Motor Skills
These everyday cleaning items become fun tools for fine motor skill development by encouraging hand strength and gripping abilities.
Give your little one a spray bottle and let them “clean “with you by spraying items around the house. They can try pulling the spray level with different fingers.
Broom & Dustpan
You can find mini brooms and dustpan sets in bright colors at the Dollar Store. Kids can use them to practice sweeping things from the floor or table into the dustpan or as a tool in counting games. For example, scatter some small, lightweight items, like beans or dry pasta. Encourage them to count as they sweep if they’re ready.
Pushing and pulling a plunger on a smooth surface is satisfying and fun for kids. They are learning to grip, push, and pull while strengthening their hands. Plungers are also perfect for drawing circles to paint or cut out.
Additional Interesting Supplies
These items don’t fall into one of the specific categories we’ve already mentioned, but they can all be found at the Dollar Store or in your house.
Hair bands on their own are fun to manipulate by stretching and wrapping them around various items, like popsicle sticks. You can also incorporate a straw and pass a hair band back and forth.
You can find colorful and inexpensive massager tools at the Dollar Store that are perfect for playdough play or painting.
Shower curtains are waterproof and very durable. We recommend using them as mats during development play activities to keep messes contained and easier to clean up.
You can use hair gel to make a fun sensory bag! Simply squeeze a fair amount into a plastic bag – colorful gel options are best for this activity. You can add buttons or sparkles to make it more interesting. Once the bag is sealed, fold masking or duct tape around all four edges to protect against tears and leaks. This sensory bag is perfect for babies and toddlers to hold and squeeze under your watchful eye.
Balloons are great tools for developing fine motor skills like gripping and pulling. They’re cheap and easy – and popping them can be fun too! Children can bat them around the room or push them with their homemade dowel paintbrush.
Dry rice grains are super versatile and can be used for filling, sorting, pouring, counting, and more. Grab some cups or tray dividers and a handful of rice – and let the fun begin!
Developing fine motor skills is an essential part of early childhood education, and these fine motor activities using Dollar Store or household items will help your kids strengthen their little hands and fingers in preparation for bigger milestones – like learning how to use writing tools or scissors. Although all children develop at different rates, you know your child best. If you are concerned that your child is not hitting the fine motor skill development milestones for their age group, talk to your pediatrician about consulting with a specialist, like a pediatric occupational therapist.
KidsCare Home Health is a pediatric home health agency serving children with special needs across the country. We believe that caring, compassionate, and professional care serves families best. Our therapists work with children one-on-one within the home to provide focused therapy that also involves parents and caregivers.
Contact KidsCare Home Health today for more information on our pediatric occupational, speech, or physical home therapy services.