What are fine motor skills?
Fine motor skills are the ability of the small muscles in the fingers and hands to coordinate with the eyes. Some examples of fine motor skills in infants and toddlers are grasping a rattle, banging two toys together, using a spoon, and scribbling. Fine motor skills develop proximal (close to the core) to distal (furthest from the core). Core strength, shoulder strength, and postural stability are foundational skills for fine motor. At Boston Ability Center, we use play-based activities to encourage children to improve their grasp and visual-motor skills. You can also do these activities at home! Here are some examples of fine motor activities to try at home with your toddler and infant.
Rescue the animals:
Activities that involve tape are great for working on finger strengthening and bilateral coordination (using both hands together). This activity can look different, but an easy way to incorporate masking or painter's tape into an activity is by taping small animals or toys to a baking pan or into a muffin tin. Your little one will have to pull off the tape and unwrap the animals using both hands together! The difficulty of this activity can be increased by taping the small animals to a vertical surface so that your kiddo has to reach above their head and work on shoulder strengthening. Activities on a vertical surface are great for building proximal stability (shoulder and core stability) and directly translates to the development of fine motor skills! Sticky notes can also be used for little ones that are learning to stand, cruise, and walk!
Fun with sponges:
Another fun way to build strength in the little muscles of the hands is by transferring liquid with sponges. Using two containers (one with water and one that is empty), help your little one fill up a sponge and then squeeze it into the other container. You can add food dye to help motivate and explore what colors look like mixed together. This is an easy activity to incorporate into bath time, too!
Even though the package says 3+, Playdoh is an age-appropriate activity for kiddos at any age with supervision. Playdoh is a sensory activity that also helps to strengthen the small muscles in the hand. You can practice poking, rolling, pulling, and squishing the Playdoh! You can hide toys in the playdoh for your kiddo to find or put popsicle sticks in it for them to stick in and pull out. The possibilities are endless!
Stringing beads is an important bilateral activity which means both hands have to work together and work with the eyes. Since beads can be dangerous with our kiddos under three, you can use common household objects like toilet paper rolls and pasta! Try using a shoelace and starting with something easier to string like a toilet paper roll (you can cut it into “slices”) once your little one has mastered that you can move to something a little more challenging. There are lots of pasta options with holes to try (penne, wheel, rigatoni). Pasta jewelry is totally in style right now!
Stirring, pouring, measuring are all skills that toddlers can do with a little help. Cooking and baking with your toddler can help motivate picky eaters, build fine motor and bilateral skills, and work on following 1-2 step directions. Kids also love it! Make sure to avoid any hot surfaces. To prepare, you can pre-measure ingredients to avoid a bigger mess. Don’t be afraid to get messy during this activity! Early exposure to messy play helps with tactile regulation and helps avoid food texture aversions.
If you would like to learn more about fine motor skills or would like to speak to an occupational therapist, contact us or check out the early childhood therapy services provided at the Boston Ability Center!