Here’s an easy way to reuse a common household item and turn it into a toddler fine motor activity!
All you need is a plastic food container and some pom poms. Pom poms can be found in the craft aisle of almost any store (such as grocery stores, Target, Wal-Mart, Michael’s), including the dollar store. I used a Cool Whip container, but you could also use something like a coffee can or large yogurt container, just as long as it has a plastic lid.
Cut holes in the top of the container that are just barely smaller than the pom poms so that they rest on the holes when placed and must be pushed down in order to fall into the container. This allows your little one to practice putting them on the target and then encourages them to use their pointer finger or pincer grasp (thumb and pointer) as they push down. The ability to isolate the pointer finger and to use a pincer grasp during fine motor play are both important skills to help prepare kids for a good pencil grasp!
Your toddler will have the chance to practice playing with the container at midline (the invisible line that goes down the center of the body), and you can also encourage him to cross over the midline (right hand reaching over to the left side of the body and vice versa) in order to retrieve the pom poms before he puts them in. This ability to work at and cross midline is an important pre-requisite to efficient reading and writing skills, as well as overall motor coordination.
Once your little one pushes all the pom poms in, he can then practice coordinating both hands together (bilateral coordination) as he works to open the container. His helper hand (the non-dominant hand) will stabilize the container while the worker hand (the dominant hand) will pinch and pull in an effort to open the top. You may even see some of this bilateral action as he pushes the pom poms down into the holes at the start, as pictured above. Can you figure out which hand is my son’s dominant hand based on the photo?
Watch the video below to see a quick demo of this activity:
This toddler fine motor activity is surprisingly simple and you may be surprised at how long your little one is willing to stick with it!
You can add a sensory and strengthening component to this activity by helping your toddler roll up play dough balls and push them through the holes instead of (or in addition to) using pom poms. Or you could up the ante even more and encourage him to pick up the play dough balls by poking them with a toothpick (using a nice tripod grasp, of course!) and then sliding them off with the helper hand as he pushes them into the holes. We actually haven’t tried either of these variations yet…perhaps we’ll have to try one or both of them this week!
I hope your little one has fun trying out this activity!
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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.