Occupational therapists work with fine motor development as a cornerstone of treatment.  With the current trend toward STEM education, it makes sense to blend the two into fine motor STEM activities and treatment in order to be more efficient and effective.

Fine motor STEM activities

What is STEM?

STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics.  According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, STEM occupations are growing at 24%, while other occupations are growing at 4%.  Children in the United States score lower on science and math than students in other countries. 

The push for STEM curriculum helps bridge the gap between genders and races, that are sometimes found in science and math fields.  Students with special needs also lag in these academic areas. Research shows there are not enough students pursuing science, technology, engineering, or mathematic degrees, as compared to the available jobs.

According to the National Science Foundation, “In the 21st century, scientific and technological innovations have become increasingly important as we face the benefits and challenges of both globalization and a knowledge-based economy. To succeed in this new information-based and highly technological society, students need to develop their capabilities in STEM to levels much beyond what was considered acceptable in the past.”

Why Fine Motor and STEM?

Science, technology, electronics and mathematics do not just involve cognitive ability. Fine motor skills are needed for STEM careers that involve typing, building, writing, solving equations, experimenting, research, surgery, as well as everyday function. 

STEM fine motor activities are going to be much more important to build these important skills. As technology gets more scientific and advanced, so too will the need for precise fine motor skills.  Surgeries are much more advanced than 100 years ago.  Engineers are working on tiny circuits and micro computers.

I saw a BMW prototype last week that morphs from a car to a plane that can soar over traffic!  Imagine the dexterity it takes to build that kind of machine!

When should I start working on STEM fine motor activities?  

Caregivers start addressing fine motor skills in babyhood. Encouraging a passion for science and technology can start at the same time.

Selecting a few fine motor toys for young learners that address fine motor skills while developing STEM education. 

For example, check out this super cute (Amazon affiliate link) Frog Balancing Game that can be modified for many different levels of learners. This one game involves:

  • math – counting, sorting, adding, number recognition
  • science -measuring weight, comparison
  • fine motor skills – pick up and manipulate the small objects, hold the cards
  • visual motor skills – read the cards and process the information

How do I make this transition to fine motor STEM?

Change is hard. Especially for seasoned therapists who have used a certain system for a long time, or feel that what they are doing works.  The good news is, you have already been doing STEM fine motor activities with your learners. 

Check out this link on Amazon (affiliate link) to toys/activities that address STEM fine motor activities and skills.

On The OT Toolbox, we share tons of fine motor activity ideas to incorporate STEM into fine motor treatment. Occupational therapists do not usually correlate these activities with STEM, but they fit into both categories.  

Remember pegboard Geo Boards?  This classic game builds fine motor strength, following directions, coordination, motor planning, visual motor skills, visual perception, frustration tolerance, and executive function.  It ALSO addresses math using measurement, shape recognition and patterns; science learning about rubber bands and tension; and engineering to create patterns from a picture.

Fine motor STEM and Lego  

Legos are another classic toy. Use activity analysis to break this game down into its fine motor components, as well as incorporating math, engineering, or technology. 

There is more to LEGO bricks than being able to follow a diagram to make a Harry Potter Hogwarts Castle (love this by the way!).  Speaking of the Hogwarts castle, there was definitely math, engineering, AND fine motor skills needed to build that superstructure. 

Learners can also make graphs of their LEGO, use them for adding/subtracting, use engineering to create items with moving parts, and that is just the beginning. 

By thinking outside the box, learners with special needs can find their special ability using Legos also.

classic toys for STEM fine motor activities

The lists of (Amazon affiliate link) classic toys occupational therapists incorporate into treatment plans is endless.  Take another look at these classics to see how they fit into science, technology, engineering or math.  

  • Peg boards
  • Lacing cards
  • Magnets
  • Measuring tape
  • Swings
  • Pop the Pig, Connect 4, Trouble, Candy Land
  • Lincoln Logs, Connex, Erector Set
  • Baking
  • Slime

Fine motor and STEM activities do not have to include experiments, games, and hands-on activities.  Worksheets serve the purpose of addressing both categories very well. 

The OT Toolbox has great fine motor kits for each season that incorporate math and science along with addressing those needed fine motor skills. 

More ideas from the OT Toolbox

As a seasoned therapist myself, I may dig my heels in at the idea of changing the way I do treatment, or learning a new method. I give a heavy sigh of relief knowing I have been doing STEM all along. I just didn’t call it that. 

Even though occupational therapists are providing the right activities to work on goal achievement, they may be running into students with lack of motivation, refusal, and general dislike of many of the treatment ideas asked of them. 

Teachers and therapists need to help bridge this gap early on, and find a way to teach all learners a respect for STEM and fine motor education.

You are doing a great job incorporating what you already know, into something new!

Victoria Wood

Victoria Wood, OTR/L has been providing Occupational Therapy treatment in pediatrics for more than 25 years. She has practiced in hospital settings (inpatient, outpatient, NICU, PICU), school systems, and outpatient clinics in several states. She has treated hundreds of children with various sensory processing dysfunction in the areas of behavior, gross/fine motor skills, social skills and self-care. Ms. Wood has also been a featured speaker at seminars, webinars, and school staff development training. She is the author of Seeing your Home and Community with Sensory Eyes.

Use these Fine Motor Kits for hands-on activity kits to develop fine motor skills, strength, dexterity, and manipulation. Kids LOVE these fine motor kits for the motivating activities. Therapists love them because it’s fresh, fun ways to work on pinch, grip, manipulation skills, and much more. Try some of these themed therapy kits:

Fine motor STEM activities