If you’ve been wanting to do fine motor activities with your toddler or preschooler but don’t want to spend a lot of money and just don’t know where to start, this is the post for you! As both a think-outside-the-box occupational therapist and money-saving mom, I’m right there with you.
Here is a list of 25 fine motor activities using ordinary household items. These activities are great because they are incredibly simple and they cater to your little one’s desire for repetition and I-can-do-it-myself. This keeps little hands and minds busy (that’s a win right there) while also encouraging the development of fine motor skills needed for the preschool years and beyond. Just be sure to supervise children when playing with small items that could be choking hazards.
Specific fine motor skills encouraged in these activities include:
- Pincer grasp: Pinching with thumb and index finger. More info and ideas about pincer grasp HERE.
- Finger isolation: Activating a single finger on command (such as the index finger for pointing and pushing). More info and ideas about finer isolation HERE.
- Thumb opposition: Coordinating the thumb with the other fingers to help with holding, squeezing, and strengthening the space between thumb and index finger (known as the “web space”). More info and ideas about thumb opposition HERE.
- Tripod grasp: Pinching with thumb and index finger while resting the object on the middle finger, much like you’d hold a pencil. More info and ideas about pencil grasp HERE, plus an e-Book written by an OT that can be instantly downloaded with activities to strengthen fine motor skills in kids ages 4-9, found HERE.
- Hand-eye coordination: Coordinating hand movements based on what the eyes are seeing. Also known as visual-motor integration. More info and ideas about hand-eye coordination HERE.
- Bilateral coordination: Coordinating the use of two hands to accomplish a task, such as stabilizing an object with one hand while working with the other. More info and ideas about bilateral coordination HERE, plus an e-Book written by an OT that can be instantly downloaded with lots of bilateral coordination activities HERE.
- Midline integration: Being able to come to and cross over the invisible line that separates the left and right sides of the body. This contributes to the development of hand dominance. If your child struggles with this, encourage midline crossing by placing desired items on the side opposite the hand they are using so they have to reach across their body. More info and ideas about midline crossing HERE.
Ready for our 25 fine motor activities using ordinary household items? Here we go!
1. Push pom poms into a plastic container. Use a water bottle with your young toddler (such as in this post HERE), use an empty container with one or several holes cut out (such as in this post HERE), or watch a video demo in this Facebook post HERE.
2. Drop marbles into a hole in the top of a plastic container. The weight and firm texture of the marbles give more sensory feedback than pom poms. Encourage an open web space between thumb and pointer by making an “O” with the fingers.
3. Place coins in the slit of a plastic container. You can use real coins or fake ones (the coins from Connect Four work well, as pictured in this Mama OT Facebook post). Smaller coins promote more refined grasp. Larger coins are less of a choking hazard. Your call. You can use almost any type of container that is clean and empty — an old container of baby food, cream cheese, margarine, salsa, Cool Whip…anything!
4. Pinch toothpicks and drop them in the holes of a spice container. Cinnamon containers are the perfect size for toothpicks! Read more about this activity HERE.
5. Cut Q-tips in half and drop them in a Tic-Tac container. Keep this stashed in your purse or diaper bag for times when you need to keep your little one occupied, like when you’re at a restaurant or doctor’s office. It’s portable, quiet, and easy to do over and over again!
6. Pinch and place buttons in slits that have been cut at varying angles in the side of a snack box. Vertically-oriented slits mimic the arm position used when practicing buttoning. Diagonally-oriented slits encourage the beginning of forearm supination (turning the forearm into a palms-up position). Horizontally-oriented slits take it a step further and mimic the “thumbs up” position needed for higher level fine motor tasks such as cutting with scissors and holding the paper with the helper hand.
7. Pour small items back and forth between containers. You can use dry rice, pasta, or even pebbles from outside. These types of solid materials provide additional auditory feedback as they go clink! clink! clink! from one container to the other.
8. Paint with sponge shapes. Cut up a kitchen sponge into whatever shapes you want, then show your child how to dip them in paint and use them as stamps. This activity was shared on the Mama OT Facebook page HERE a while back.
9. Push beads into play dough. Pretend you’re making cookies and the beads are chocolate chips, or hide the beads in the play dough and search for hidden treasure as you exercise those finger muscles! If you don’t have play dough, it’s super easy to make. My go-to recipe that ingredients from the cupboard, takes 5 minutes to make, and can be found HERE.
10. Make shapes in play dough with cookie cutters. It doesn’t matter if they match the season. It’s okay to use pumpkin shapes and snowflakes in the spring, or hearts and bunny rabbits in the summer. Flatten the dough, push down the shapes, and pinch to pull up out of the dough. So much fine motor power!
11. Smash play dough with a potato smasher. Or, you know, smash some real potatoes. Or bananas. Original post found on the Facebook page HERE.
12. Paint with pom poms. Read more about this activity HERE.
13. Make a play dough puzzle. Use whatever shapes you have around the house. Read more about this activity HERE.
14. Squeeze chip clips onto the rim of a plastic container. Then take them off. Then put them back on again. Then take them off. And so on and so forth. You’d be surprised at how time consuming this activity can be! To really strengthen those little fingers and hands, encourage your kiddo to squeeze and pinch with their fingertips, as opposed to squeezing with their palm or the side of their thumb (as pictured below).
15. Transfer marbles or water beads between bowls. Use fingers for pinching or add in spoons, tongs, or muffin tins! Read more about this activity HERE and watch a variation of it on the Mama OT Facebook page HERE.
16. Put pipe cleaners in the holes of a colander. Another incredibly simple yet repetitive and engaging activity! Read more about this activity HERE.
17. Put Cheerios on pipe cleaners. This is a great skill for older toddlers to start practicing, and is safer for the little ones who still want to put real beads in their mouths. Shoelaces work well too if you don’t have any pipe cleaners.
18. Stack beads on dry spaghetti. It can actually be pretty tricky to put the beads on without breaking the noodles! Use Cheerios if you’re worried about your toddler or preschooler putting small beads in their mouth (or stray beads bouncing to the floor and baby sibling finding them later).
19. Drop pipe cleaners into a plastic container. Punch some holes in a plastic lid or, for beginners, simply give them pipe cleaners and an empty water bottle or parmesan cheese container to drop them in.
20. Bend a straw in half and use it as tongs for crumpled napkin bits. Especially useful when trying to entertain your kids while waiting for your food at a restaurant.
21. Drop toothpicks through a straw. I have shared a video of this one in action on the Facebook page HERE and have used it many a time while waiting for food with an antsy toddler!
22. Paint with water. Paint outside on the ground, the walls, the tricycle! All you need is an old paintbrush and a bowl, bucket, or cup of water. Shorter or thinner paintbrushes tend to promote a more mature grasp.
23. Peel fruit. Did you ever think about this as a fine motor activity? It is! Those tiny tangerines are perfect for chubby little hands. This one was shared on the Facebook page HERE as well.
24. Pour water from one container to another. This can be done inside during bath time (such as in THIS POST), outside in a baby pool, or even while playing with a water table (read more about why I love water tables HERE)!
25. Pull a scarf out of a baby wipes box. Or you can use a Kleenex box. Read more about this activity HERE.
Please be sure to supervise your child while doing any of these activities in order to ensure safety. However, do not force them to try any of these ideas just because you saw them online and thought they looked super cool! Follow your child’s lead and, if they aren’t interested in your favorite fine motor activity from this list when you present it to them, that’s fine! It may not be a good fit for their interests or developmental skill level at that time. But that doesn’t mean it won’t be a good fit at some point in the future! So pin this post and tuck it away in your brain. That way, when your little one starts to show interest in fine motor activities such as these, you’ll be ready with those old wipes containers, butter tubs, and coffee cans. Have fun!
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Linking up at Sensory Activities for Kids!
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In addition to being mama to two sweet little boys and wife to a crazy awesome husband, Christie is a Registered & Licensed Occupational Therapist (OTR/L). She holds a B.A. in Psychology with a Minor in Education from the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA...Go Bruins!), and an M.A. in Occupational Therapy from the University of Southern California (USC OT). She has experience working as a pediatric OT in early intervention (birth to 3), clinic-based, and school-based settings. Her mission with MamaOT.com is to encourage, educate, and empower those who care for children. Christie loves that she gets to PLAY when she goes to work, is hopelessly addicted to Kettle Corn, and is known for being able to turn virtually anything into a therapeutic tool or activity, from empty food containers to laundry and everything in between. Learn more about Christie and what inspired her to become an OT.
Occupational therapy (OT) is a holistic profession that helps people across the lifespan participate in the things they want and need to do through the therapeutic use of everyday activities, also known as “occupations”. Some OTs help people diagnosed with disability, injury, or disease. Others help prevent disability, injury, or disease. Because of occupational therapy, people of all ages are able to say, "I can!" no matter what their struggle. Isn't that amazing?!
. . . . .Please provide appropriate supervision to the child in your care when completing any activities from this site. You as the grown-up will need to decide what types of products/activities on this list will be safe for your child. If you’re not sure, check with your child’s occupational therapist or pediatrician. Appropriate and reasonable caution should be used when implementing any ideas or activities from this site, particularly if there is any risk of injury (e.g., falling, crashing), choking (e.g., small parts), drowning (e.g., water play), or allergic/adverse reaction (e.g., materials/ingredients). The author and blog disclaim liability for any damage, mishap, or injury that may occur from engaging in any activities or ideas from this site.