If there’s one thing occupational therapy providers want parents and educators to know, it’s about the importance of fine motor activities for preschoolers. The toddler and preschool years are a time for play and through fine motor skills activities, young children can develop the essential motor skills needed for child development. In this blog post, you’ll find fine motor skills for preschool. You’ll also want to check out indoor gross motor activities for preschoolers for ideas to support the fine motor development in the preschool years.
Fine motor activities for preschoolers
Fine motor skills lay the foundation to writing and is a skill often focused on during the preschool years. These fine motor milestones are not only for pre-writing, but they are necessary for children to develop independence including picking up tiny objects, wrist rotation and motor planning skills, all used for self care purposes.
We need fine motor skills to eat, get dressed, complete tasks with both hands and so much more. This blog includes what fine motor tasks children need to know before they start preschool and some fun sensory based fine motor activities you can do anytime!
The best part about working with preschoolers, is that I can use a variety of different mediums to teach new skills. Sensory-rich fine motor activities are always a hit, keeping children engaged in their play for long periods of time. Not only does fine motor development affect children’s academic levels, but speed of task performance is impacted as well.
We talk about these skills (listed below) in our resource on pre-writing skills that develop handwriting. While the areas covered in that blog post refer to the fine motor skills necessary for handwriting, the same skill areas impact functional performance in many areas (self-care, play, clothing fasteners, etc.)
Speed of fine motor work, manual dexterity, and accuracy of motor movements are combination of several factors including:
- Motor planning
- Hand-eye coordination
- Graded grasp and release
- Crossing midline
- Body awareness
- Bilateral coordination
- Visual motor skills
- Sensory processing (including proprioceptive input and tactile defensiveness)
Sensory-Motor Skills- Closely integrated into each of these areas (and mentioned above) the underlying area of sensory-motor contributions should be considered. The pyramid of learning explains how the developmental base that enables refinement in higher levels of development is the sensory system.
We know that the areas are all closely related areas and act as pre-requisites for fine motor development. These aspects should be considered as well:
- Gross motor development
- Reflexes– A child’s ability to automatically react to environmental events. When reflexes are retained, function may be impacted.
- Initial core control and core body strength
- Vestibular input
- Bilateral arm and hand use
- Imitation of movements
- Ability to learn novel motor movements
- Preschool behaviors
Fine motor skills in the preschool range are very much play-based and function-based. Young children strive to “do it myself” and attempt fine motor tasks that they see others complete: buttons, seat belt buckles, zippers, etc.
When these tasks are a challenge, a child’s self esteem can suffer, play options can become limited and the child may not want to try the functional tasks on their own. This can impact independence development such as self-care, school tasks, self-feeding, etc.
The best way for children to master fine motor skills is to give them ample opportunities to practice.
According to our kindergarten activities page, fine motor skills that children should master by the time they start Kindergarten are related to fine motor skills:
- Show hand dominance
- Draw vertical and horizontal lines and a cross
- Copy vertical lines, horizontal lines, a cross, circle, and square
- Color in a picture
- Cut with scissors (start here with types of scissors to use in preschool)
- Draw a human figure with features
- Stack blocks
- Copy simple block forms
- Donn and doff a coat or jacket
- Put on and take off socks and shoes
- Manage a spoon and fork
- Manage food containers for lunches
- Begin to show independence with clothing fasteners like buttons and zippers
- Put on and take off a backpack
- Manage Lego, beads, tongs, stickers and other small items
- Complete crafts with instruction
Development of fine motor skills in preschool play support these skills in kindergarten.
All of these skills require developed tone in the hands, increased stability in the thumbs and fingers, developed and defined arches of the hands, improved precision with in-hand manipulation and improved endurance in hand strengthening activities.
Improved hand strength is the foundation to be able to complete the needed skills. “Hand strength is impacted by various components. When it comes to hand strength, there is a lot to uncover. Many aspects of motor skills impact strength and endurance in the hands. Some of those areas include these concepts:
- Intrinsic hand strength
- Thumb strength and stability
- Motor control
- Separation of the sides of the hand
- In-hand manipulation
- Wrist stability
- Wrist extension
- Finger strength
- Range of motion of the arm: upper arm, forearm, wrist, fingers, and thumb
- Hand muscle tone
Including sensory components in every day fine motor activities is a great way to encourage young children to practice all of the skills.
One key component that should be discussed is the impact that wrist range of motion has on fine motor dexterity and strength. We cover this more in our blog post on wrist extension, but you should know that the ability to move the wrist into an extended position ensures a flexed wrist isn’t used.
To better understand these areas, you’ll want to check out our developmental checklist resource for therapists or parents. It’s a valuable tool for pediatric occupational therapy practitioners working in the preschool setting. Also be sure to check out occupational therapy in preschools for more information.
Favorite Fine Motor Activities for Preschool
In addition to doing the activities listed above, here are my favorite fine motor activities for preschool that develop fine motor skills.
Sensory bags– Even if you have a child that doesn’t like to get their fingers messy, sensory bags will be a hit! Mix some shaving cream and food coloring together then fill up a plastic sandwich baggie.
After taping the top closed, allow children to “write” on the bag! They can use their fingers, a marker with it’s cap on or another drawing object to draw on the bag.
If you are practicing letters, place some ABC cards near the bag and allow children to imitate letters or shapes. If you have younger children. This sensory paint bag for writing is one example.
Sensory bags and sensory bins build the small hand muscles through fine motor exploration and are motivating for kids.
Play dough shapes– There are many benefits to play dough, making it a valuable tool for any preschool classroom.
If you haven’t brought out the play dough yet, grab the bin and start molding! Play dough is a wonderful activity that supports fine motor development and hand strength by pushing, pulling and patting play dough.
Using the rolling pin or play dough scissors and play dough cutters, children are able to incorporate wrist rotation and develop hand strength. If you don’t have any play dough, here is a list of great homemade play dough recipe.
Extend the activity and challenge preschoolers to make a play dough snake.
Another idea is to hide small objects like rocks, beads, or coins in the play dough. Challenge kids to find and rescue the objects. When they find the hidden bead (or other small item), they should squirrel the object away in the palm of their hand using just the fingers of their one hand. This task challenges in-hand manipulation skills and is a power exercise for the small muscles of the hand.
Sensory writing trays– Sensory writing trays are not just for writing, but they do offer fine motor benefits that are powerful assets to fine motor development.
This super fun table activity brings the sandbox indoors! Add four cups of sand to a tray and some letter or shape cards to the table.
You can even make colored sand to make the activity more fun. Encourage preschoolers to copy the letters in their sand with either their fingers, a writing utensil or a toy.
Some materials you can use include:
- Dry beans
Spray bottle painting– Spray bottles are a great activity to work on hand strength and separation of the sides of the hand. Fill a spray bottle with water and use it to:
- Water plants
- Spray paper with water
- Spray a chalkboard with water
- Spray paper with watered down paint
This super fun activity involves a little bit of water and some artistic visions. Place some butcher paper on the fence and fill up some spray bottles with tempora paint and some water. Squeeze those spray bottles towards the paper and see the new mural come to life!
This activity can also be done with individual pieces of paper on an easel. This hand strengthening activity should be done only outdoors, as the spray is known to splatter!
Sound freeze drawing– Using paint, crayons, markers or chalk, tell your child to sit down in front of a piece of paper and draw only when they hear music! The only rule is that they need to keep the drawing inside the paper! Turn on some music and encourage your child to draw until the music stops! After 30 seconds, hit the pause button, and see if your child can “freeze” in place (including their drawing utensil!) Turn the music back on and repeat for as long as you like! This motor planning activity is a lot of fun!
Fine Motor toys for preschoolers
Fine motor skills for preschoolers are developed through play. Use these simple fine motor toys and activities to build strong hands:
- Build with blocks
- Playdough and slime
- Lacing cards
- Coloring with crayons
- Snap cubes
- Drawing with chalk on a chalkboard
- Trucks and cars
- Pretend toys (castles, airplane toys, mini figure toys, etc.)
- Puppets- finger puppets are a great fine motor toy for preschoolers
- Arts and crafts activities
- Finger painting
- Threading beads toys
- Playing with stickers
- Floor play
Preschool Fine Motor Activity Materials
Gather the items listed below to create a toolbox of fine motor materials. Having these items on hand can mean fun fine motor activities happen at a moment’s notice.
- Pipe cleaners
- Thread or yarn and beads
- Ice cube tray
- Pipettes or eye droppers
- Straws cut into small pieces to lace or press into play dough
- Paper clips
- Alphabet beads or letter magnets
- Egg carton and golf tees
- Rubber bands
- Squeeze bottle
- Paper plates and a hole punch to make homemade lacing cards
- Dotstickers or any sticker
- Golf pencils
Add these fine motor activities to your therapy tool box:
One way to work on fine motor skills is to use one material for a variety of skill areas. We’ve put together some resources to just that! Try these specific tools to work on fine motor skill development in kids:
- Fine motor development with clothespins
- Fine Motor Activities with Play Dough
- Fine Motor Activities with Paper Clips
- Fine Motor Activities with Craft Pom Poms or Cotton Balls
- Fine Motor Activities with Playing Cards
- Fine Motor Activities with Beads
- Fine Motor Activities with Chalk
Additional resources that offer input, fine motor practice, and strengthening of the small muscles of the hands include:
- Boost child development with rhyming games
- Scissor Skills development
- Grasp development
- Developmental progression of pre-writing lines
- Development of Play
- Development of Eye-Hand Coordination
- Development of bilateral coordination and how this skill impacts feeding
- Executive Functioning Skill development
- Visual Motor Integration Developmental Milestones
- Foster Development with Block Play
- Development of Oral Motor Skills
- Rainbow Activities for Child Development
Fine Motor Snack Ideas for Preschool
There are fine motor activity snacks for preschool, too. While these items are intended for snacking, you can have the preschoolers get involved with making their snack and sneak in some fine motor practice.
Allowing young children to be involved in cooking activities for kids and making their own snacks is a fun way to build strong hand muscles and self-confidence at the same time.
When coming up with snack ideas that kids can help to make in the preschool classroom, you want to consider food items that promote a pincer grasp.
These items might include:
- Mini marshmallows
- Raisins or dry cranberries
- Mini pretzels
- Fruit loop crafts that can be eaten are fun too.
Practicing fine motor skills doesn’t have to be boring! Add in some sensory components and your kids will have a wonderful time mastering fine motor skills at all developmental levels. As children learn to copy images, draw with a purpose, cut with scissors and rotate their wrists to complete activities, they will be able to participate in a variety of activities, including being more independent as they reach Kindergarten.