Play Dough Activity for Fine Motor Skills

playdough activities for fine motor skills

Looking for a play dough activity (or many) that develop and strengthen fine motor skills? Here, you’ll find playdough activities for fine motor skills, and specifically play dough occupational therapy ideas to strengthen the hands, improve eye-hand coordination, and address underlying skills that kids so very need? You’ll find a lot of fine motor activities here on The OT Toolbox…today we’re sharing fine motor activities with play dough. Whether it’s homemade play dough or store bought, play dough is a great way to build motor skills needed for precision tasks like pencil grasp, scissor skills, precision in buttoning, zippering, or tying shoes? Fine motor play is a great way to build the skills kids need.

playdough activities for fine motor skills

occupational therapy fine motor skills

In occupational therapy, fine motor skills are a huge area of consideration. OTs often address fine motor skills and the impact on play, self-care, and other functional skills. A play dough activity is one way to make strengthening fine motor skills fun!

Here are ways to use a fun play dough activity to strengthen small motor skills…let’s use play dough to work those hands!

Speaking of occupational therapy and fine motor skills, using other commonly found materials (play dough being one, there are other items that work little muscles of the hand in OT sessions…playing cards, craft pom poms, beads, and paper clips are some ideas.

Catch up on the latest tools on The OT Toolbox.

  • These activities and paper clip activities are an easy way to address a variety of fine motor needs on the go.
Use play dough to improve fine motor skills with these fine motor activities using play dough.

Fine Motor Activities with Play DOugh

Here’s the thing: play dough is an easy and effective means for building fine motor skills for preschoolers. The soft and squishy dough provides a tactile sensory challenge with proprioceptive sensory feedback. The bonus is the strengthening of the arches of the hands and precision of grasp.

Fine motor activities like playing with playdough build many fine motor skill areas:

  • Precision- Precision occurs with development of grasp when child to use the pads of the index finger, middle finger, and thumb to manipulate objects with opposition.  
  • Hand strength
  • Open thumb web space
  • Separation of the sides of the hand
  • Finger isolation

Here are all of the intricacies of fine motor skills. Read about the definitions of fine motor skills and how each skill area is needed for tasks like pencil grasp, buttons, and other fine motor tasks.

Playing with play dough builds other skills as well:

Build fine motor skills using play dough to improve coordination, dexterity, and grasp.

playdough activities for fine motor skills

We’ve covered all of the various ways play dough supports fine motor development. Now, let’s discover how to use play dough for fine motor skills.

Let’s get to those playdough activities for fine motor skills! A tub of play dough has so many options for building fine motor strength and dexterity.

  • Roll balls of dough between the thumb and pointer/middle fingers.
  • Make a rainbow with rolls of different colors of play dough.
  • Use a play dough mat like this ice cream play dough mat and others on this site.
  • Make play dough snakes and cut with scissors
  • Roll a long rope of play dough and roll it into a cinnamon bun
  • Hide beads and have a race to find them
  • Create an obstacle course for the fingers with hurdles and jumps
  • Spread the play dough out into a pizza. Use scissors to cut it into slices
  • Make a small world with hills and mountains for small animal figures
  • Make a maze for a ping pong ball. Blow the ball through the maze with a straw
  • Make a small keyboard using balls of dough. Press on the play dough balls with one finger 
  • Make a play dough pie. Pinch the crust, create play dough berries.
  • Form letters using the play dough
  • Mix water into the play dough for a squishy, messy dough
  • Build structures using popsicle sticks and play dough. Add details with feathers scraps of paper, etc
  • Make play dough emoji faces 
  • Roll play dough into a sheet. Cut it with scissors.
  • Cut with cookie cutters
  • Press google eyes into play dough
  • Press buttons into playdough
  • Push pegs into play dough
  • Press straws into play dough to make circles
  • Press kitchen utensils into play dough
  • Press feathers into playdough
  • Nature sculptures- add leaves, pine cones, acorns, etc.
  • Make play dough muffins with muffin tin
  • Press rocks into play dough
  • Use candles or pipe cleaners and craft sticks to create playdough birthday cakes
  • Press craft sticks into play dough to make a STEM building set

Several of the play dough activities above mentioned using scissors. Here is a resource on types of scissors to start with to address various fine motor needs.

Printable Fine Motor Play Dough Activity

One way to support fine motor skills with play dough is using a printable play dough mat. We have many play dough mats here on the site. These are also available in our Membership Club as well as in our fine motor kits.

What would you add to this list of fine motor activities using play dough?

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:

Colleen Beck, OTR/L is an occupational therapist with 20+ years experience, graduating from the University of Pittsburgh in 2000. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. As the creator, author, and owner of the website and its social media channels, Colleen strives to empower those serving kids of all levels and needs. Want to collaborate? Send an email to contact@theottoolbox.com.

Ultimate Guide to PLAY DOUGH MATS

Play dough mats

After reading below about the benefits of playing with play dough mats, go grab some of them for FREE. When using these fun play dough mats, you will start helping children work on important developmental skills. In addition to all the fun children will have while using these mats (which is a win), they will be developing the necessary fine motor hand skills needed for everyday functional tasks such as; fastener manipulation, classroom tool use, grasp patterns, and overall dexterity/manipulation used in multiple fine motor tasks. Be sure to check out our resource on playdough activities for fine motor skills to support this area.

Play dough mats

The benefits of using play dough mats

Play dough is an AWESOME tool in itself! 

With all of the attractive colors, and the sensory feel of it, playdough can be very enticing to children. With a little preparation and care, play dough mats can be almost mess-free! If pieces fall off, just tap with another blob of dough, and it blends back in with little need for clean-up. (Just avoid the carpet!) While engaging with these super fun play dough mats, children can stay occupied for a lengthy time in either independent play, or cooperative play with a partner.  

You can easily use play dough mats during an OT session, as part of a home program, or as a fine motor station in the classroom. Each mat provides a theme to compliment any learning or skill building you might be looking for. After you read about all of the benefits, you’ll want to get all of these mats and start right away, but first let’s look at those specific skills they help develop. 

Play dough can easily be made or purchased, and used with play dough mats to focus on developing so many skills.

Many Benefits of play dough mats:

  • Hand and finger strengthening skills – squeeze, press, poke, and pinch the play dough while manipulating. Hand strength is a skill needed for most functional tasks. This helps build intrinsic hand musculature, and improves fine motor endurance.
  • Grasp skills – Tools such as plastic knives, scissors, cookie cutters, pizza cutters, and rolling pins, provide the opportunity to work on varied grasp patterns.
  • Bilateral integration skills – use both hands together in a coordinated manner to manipulate the play dough, therefore building bilateral coordination. They adjust the dough’s size, shape, and weight as needed for mat play. Bilateral coordination skills are needed for functional tasks like writing, dressing, cooking, and essentially all functional participation.
  • Manual dexterity skills – manipulate the putty to shape and pinch the dough to match the theme the of each mat. This gives them the opportunity to develop precise finger movements and thumb opposition.
  • Self-regulation skills – When children squeeze, press, poke, pinch and roll out the dough, they get deep proprioceptive input, which can be soothing and calming to a child. 
  • Eye-hand coordination skills – While creating and placing the shapes on the play dough mats to match the theme, learners are coordinating their hand and eye movements, working on important visual motor coordination skills. Eye hand coordination skills can impact functional participation.
  • Gross motor skills – Engaging with play dough works the larger muscles of the upper extremity (shoulder and arm) in order to push, pull, press, and roll the dough. Don’t forget, development occurs proximally to distally, so those larger muscles need engagement!
  • Creativity and play skills – Learners use their play dough creativity and imagination to add their own details to the mats, with their own play dough creations.  They can add small beads, sequins, buttons, or pegs in addition to their playdough shapes. 
  • Social skills – If mats are used with a partner, children will have the opportunity for cooperative and collaborative play They will be learning self-control and communication, coupled with pretend play, as they work to build items together on a single mat, or by trading mats and sharing details. These would make a great tool for social skill groups!
  • Visual perceptual skills – Play dough mats work on visual figure ground skills, as learners visually scan the boards to locate the circles for play dough ball size, location, and placement. Visual discrimination skills are needed to identify any size differences in the circles, and make the play dough balls larger or smaller as indicated. 
  • Olfactory skills – Adding a little scent, such as an essential oil to the play dough will provide children some olfactory input, making the experience more multi-sensory. 
  • Tactile skills – The addition of a little glitter, rice, or sand to the play dough, will provide children further tactile input. For some learners with tactile aversion, working with playdough may be difficult at first.

Play dough does not need to be store bought. Go to our link here for some of the Best Dough Recipes.

how to use play dough mats

How to Use Play Dough Mats

Using play dough mats is pretty self explanatory. Kids love using the fun and engaging play activities and often times don’t realize they are developing skills at the same time. These steps will help with using your play dough mats in therapy, the classroom for a fine motor brain break, or in the home for a play activity:

1. You’ll need to print off the play dough mat that works for your needs. You can find different printable playdough mats for different themes.

2. Laminate the page, or slide it into a page protector sheet.

2. Select play dough, either home made or store bought. Select play dough consistency and resistance based on the individual’s needs.

3. Consider how to adapt the activity based on the needs of the individual. Some considerations include thinking about fine motor skills, bilateral coordination needs, visual motor needs, or sensory needs.

4. Position play dough mats and play dough to meet the needs and areas of development for the individual.

5. Work on opening and closing the play dough container if this is an area of concern (it’s a great functional activity!)

how to use play dough mats for occupational therapy

Adapting Play Dough Mats

Play dough mats can be used in occupational therapy to develop skills and work on goal areas through play. They can also be used to support needs and integrate adaptations in play for practice.

Play dough mats are a fun way to play and build skills at home, too. They can be used in the classroom for a brain break, a sensory break, or a tool to build fine motor skills with a classroom theme.

How can you adapt playdough mats for specific skill adaptations in OT sessions? There are so many ways…

Motor Skill Needs- For individuals struggling with motor skills, you can tape the page protector sheet to the table surface. Another idea is to use sticky tack on the back of the page protector. This can secure the play dough mat to the table and limit it’s movement during play.

Another motor skill strategy is to use a play dough mat with larger areas or smaller areas for the play dough. This can require more or less small motor movements, and can offer more or less opportunities for precision work.

Bilateral coordination needs- Encourage bilateral coordination by asking the user to hold the play dough mat on the table. This is a great way to encourage paper positioning during writing tasks, too.

Sensory needs- Play dough consistency will provide a varied tactile experience such as, sticky, slippery, firm, and partially dry. Much like different grades of thera-putty, different play dough recipes can be used to build fine motor skills or offer more or less heavy work through the hands.

Some play dough to meet tactile preferences and tactile challenges include:

Some play dough to meet tactile preferences and tactile challenges include:

Regulation needs- Building on the sensory aspect, you can offer movement-based heavy work through the hands and upper body by offering less resistant play dough (more of a silky and fluid feel to the play dough consistency) or you can offer more heavy work using a heavier grade to the resistance.

Visual needs- For users with visual processing needs, there are ways to adapt the play dough mats. Try outlining the areas where play dough is placed for a darker visual cue by using a dark marker. You can then slide the sheet into a sheet protector and play from there.

Core strength/Stability/Visual Gaze- For some, maintaining an upright posture is difficult. You can easily position play dough mats on a slant board, easel, or vertical surface using sticky tack, tape, magnets, etc. This positioning strategy can be used to either support positioning and visual gaze needs to to challenge these areas to reach a “just right” level in therapy sessions.

Free Printable Play Dough Mats

Each of the free play dough mats below can be printed off and used over and over again. A few tips for using play dough mats in therapy or in the home or classroom:

Space Play Dough Mat | gives learners the opportunity to strengthen their hands while developing essential skills that are needed for pencil writing, as well as the dexterity and precision skills that are needed for many daily, fine motor tasks. The simple thing about this outer space mat, is that it works on a specific set of muscles in the hand. 

Astronaut Play Dough Mat | can be used as part of space theme, or a solo activity. Ask your learner to pull off a small piece of play dough and roll it between the fingers and thumb of one hand. It’s important to use just that one hand as it’s part of the challenge! Doing this hand activity will help build hand strength, dexterity, coordination, and endurance of the smaller muscles of the hand and fingers. 

Play Dough City | complements any geography lesson as children fill in the circles of the city sky, while helping them to build their fine motor skills and endurance, which are needed for tasks like writing/coloring, pencil control for forming letters, functional pencil grasp, manipulation of clothing fasteners, opening/closing containers, and so much more. This cute mat can be used along with any other city activities including books, travel, and anything about city life.

Ice Cream Play Dough Mat | create small balls of play dough that fit on ice cream images, while working on hand strength and other motoric skills needed for pencil grasp, endurance for coloring, accuracy with scissors, and dexterity for manipulation of buttons, zippers, and coins. This mat can be a great take home mat for use over the summer break. Be sure to include instructions on what you want the child to do!

Toy Theme Play Dough Mat | helps children use their fingertip and thumb to roll a small ball of play dough, placing and pressing the dough onto the circles on the mat. They need just a small piece of dough to make the ball small enough to fit into the circles. This is a great activity for developing and defining the arches of the hand, strengthening the intrinsic musculature, and boosting visual perceptual skills too! This toy theme mat builds on the fundamental “job” that kids have, which is play! Use this themed mat during down time, or a rainy day, to add a little productive playtime.

Play Dough Bird Mat | gives kiddos a hand workout, while they create small balls of dough rolled with their fingers, to match the circle sizes on the mat. There are various sizes to challenge the child’s precision and dexterity. Children can count the birds and match the colors of the birds too.  Another way to use this mat is to write numbers or letters in the circles in random order and then have the child scan the mat to challenge their visual perceptual skills.

Roll and Write Play Dough Mat Bundle | all about helping kids warm-up their hands prior to handwriting. It makes handwriting more fun when using one of these 7 themed play dough mats. Children warm-up using dough, then work on letter formation, words, and sentences. 

These printable play dough mats include a themed play dough area plus a writing area. Use the play dough as a fine motor warm up and then move to the handwriting aspect.

Numbers 1-20 Sky/Ground Play Mats | helps children to work on 1-20 number formation, provides sensory input, encourages motor planning, and spatial relations. 

A-Z Sky/Ground Play Mats | work on upper case and lower case A-Z letter formation, provides sensory input, encourages motor planning, and spatial relations. 

Intrinsic Muscle Strengthening Play Dough Mat– This simple play dough mat limits the visual background and offers different sizes of circles. Users can create small balls of play dough to build intrinsic hand strength.

All of the free play dough mats are available in our Member’s Club. There, you can just click and download the play dough mats!

Want to add this resource to your therapy toolbox so you can help kids thrive? Enter your email into the form below to access this printable tool.

This resource is just one of the many tools available in The OT Toolbox Member’s Club. Each month, members get instant access to downloadable activities, handouts, worksheets, and printable tools to support development. Members can log into their dashboard and access all of our free downloads in one place. Plus, you’ll find exclusive materials and premium level materials.

Level 1 members gain instant access to all of the downloads available on the site, without enter your email each time PLUS exclusive new resources each month.

Level 2 members get access to all of our downloads, exclusive new resources each month, PLUS additional, premium content each month: therapy kits, screening tools, games, therapy packets, and much more. AND, level 2 members get ad-free content across the entire OT Toolbox website.

Join the Member’s Club today!

A final note on play dough mats:

Do you want to use any of the play dough mats multiple times? Simply laminate them, or place in a sheet protector so children can use them repeatedly, any time they want. Play dough mats are a fun and engaging way for young children to work on problem-solving, pretend play, pre-academic skills, and other developmental functions. They don’t even know they are doing it, as they are having so much FUN!

Regina Allen

Regina Parsons-Allen is a school-based certified occupational therapy assistant. She has a pediatrics practice area of emphasis from the NBCOT. She graduated from the OTA program at Caldwell Community College and Technical Institute in Hudson, North Carolina with an A.A.S degree in occupational therapy assistant. She has been practicing occupational therapy in the same school district for 20 years. She loves her children, husband, OT, working with children and teaching Sunday school. She is passionate about engaging, empowering, and enabling children to reach their maximum potential in ALL of their occupations as well assuring them that God loves them!

Note: Only use play dough with the appropriate aged children. take sensible precautions with small or differently abled children, as play dough and small manipulatives can be a choking hazard. Adult supervision should be provided. 

Pasta Threading Activity

pasta threading activity

This pasta threading activity is a fine motor task that supports development of many skills. If you are looking for toddler activities, preschool activities, or ideas for older kids to develop motor control and coordination, pasta threading is the way to go!

Pasta threading is a fun fine motor activity for toddlers and preschoolers.

Pasta Threading

First, you might be wondering what is “pasta threading”? If you have Pinterest, you may have seen activities where kids thread pasta onto straws placed into play dough. This is one form of pasta threading.

Another way to thread pasta as a fine motor activity is to simply create a pasta necklace by threading the pasta onto string or yarn. This is a classic craft that helps develop many skill areas.

By threading pasta, kids develop skills in areas such as:

  • Fine motor skills
  • Hand- Eye coordination
  • Creativity
  • Wrist stability and extension (needed for precision in the fingertips)
  • Attention and Concentration
  • Feeling of success and achievement when completed

We’ve covered other threading activities in the past, including this gross motor threading activity. Working from a larger aspect like using whole-body movements is a great precursor to the more refined fine motor work needed for threading pasta noodles.

Pasta Threading Activity

Similar to stringing beads as a therapy tool, threading pasta can be graded in many aspects to support the individual needs of the user.

  1. Modify the material– You can stringing pasta onto cord, thick yarn, straws, or even lightweight string.
  2. Modify the pasta size– Use a larger noodle or a smaller noodle. You can target in-hand manipulation skills, pincer grasp, and arch development by using different sizes of noodle.
  3. Modify the positioning– Ask users to thread onto a free lying piece of string. Or place straws or skewers into playdough to change the positioning and shoulder involvement.

Depending on the needs of the individual, you can adapt or modify these materials. Use a thicker straw or a smaller straw cut into pieces. Position the straws on angles or all in one direction.

There are so many ways to change this single activity to support a variety of needs and skill levels.

To complete this fine motor activity, you need only a few materials:

  • plastic straw or straight spaghetti
  • tubular pasta
  • play dough

Be sure to incorporate the play dough into the activity so that the user has ownership in setting up the activity. There are also the added fine motor benefits of play dough as well.

How to thread pasta

To set up this fine motor activity, follow these steps:

  • flatten out play dough on to table
  • stick the straw/spaghetti into the play dough
  • thread the pasta onto the straw

Pasta threading is a great fine motor activity that supports so many areas, and can easily be set up at home.

Looking for more ways to develop fine motor skills and visual motor skills?

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:

Spring Worksheets for Fine Motor Skills and Handwriting

Spring worksheets

How would you like some free Spring worksheets? Today, I have a fun freebie that I’m excited to get into the hands of little ones…our popular fine motor skills handwriting worksheets! These fine motor precision worksheets are actually Spring themed worksheets, BUT they can definitely be used year-round to work on handwriting and fine motor precision. You can get your hands on these printable Spring exercises and help little ones develop stronger hands!

Spring worksheets to help kids with fine motor skills, handwriting, and letter formation.

Spring Worksheets

These free Spring worksheets for fine motor and handwriting skills are one of our popular printables for precision and dexterity (and handwriting). Here’s why: These Spring worksheets are a powerhouse in building fine motor skills. Kids can use play dough to build the fine motor strength they need to hold and write with a pencil, color, and complete fine motor activities all with more dexterity, precision, and endurance!

We have so many themed fine motor worksheets like this one in our OT Toolbox Member’s Club. You can log in, click the ones you need and print them right away, without entering your email address for each printable.

These printable worksheets are great for using in school based occupational therapy sessions, because you can cover a variety of OT goal areas:

  • Fine motor skills
  • Eye-hand coordination
  • Handwriting
  • Letter formation
  • Letter spacing
  • Letter size
  • Coloring

Spring Worksheets for Fine Motor Skills

Here’s how these Spring printable pages work: Kids can first roll a die (Great for in-hand manipulation, arch development, and separation of the sides of the hand!)

Then, they can use play dough to create that same number of balls of play dough. Be sure to ask kids to use just the fingertips for this part of the activiyt. Using the fingertips to roll balls of play dough is a powerful strengthening activity.

Using the finger tips and thumb of one hand at a time to roll a play dough ball is an intrinsic muscle workout that builds the muscles of the thenar eminence, hypothenar eminence, the interossei, and the lumbricals. All of these muscle groups make up the intrinsic hand muscles which are those located within the hands.  

We talked about this more in a post on building intrinsic hand strength using play dough.

Read about more fine motor activities using play dough here.

Spring worksheets for Handwriting

After working out the hands and getting them warmed-up for writing, the page asks kids to then write on the lines. I’ve left the writing portion open-ended so that kids can write words, letters, numbers, or sentences, based on their level, skills, and age.

The Spring themed worksheets come with a flower style and a fun snail activity page. But, each printable sheet is available in three different writing lines styles:

  • Double ruled lines
  • Single ruled lines
  • Double ruled lines with a highlighted bottom space

Print off these worksheets, slide them into a page protector sheet and start building those fine motor skills!

Free Spring Worksheet Set

Want to add this set of worksheets to your therapy toolbox? Enter your email address into the form below to access. NOTE- Due to changes in security levels, users have reported trouble accessing free resources when using a school district or organization email address. Consider using a personal email address.

FREE Spring Worksheets for Fine Motor and Handwriting

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    For more play dough activities and fine motor worksheets, grab the Spring Fine Motor Kit:

    Spring Fine Motor Kit

    Score Fine Motor Tools and resources and help kids build the skills they need to thrive!

    Developing hand strength, dexterity, dexterity, precision skills, and eye-hand coordination skills that kids need for holding and writing with a pencil, coloring, and manipulating small objects in every day task doesn’t need to be difficult. The Spring Fine Motor Kit includes 100 pages of fine motor activities, worksheets, crafts, and more:

    Spring fine motor kit set of printable fine motor skills worksheets for kids.
    • Lacing cards
    • Sensory bin cards
    • Hole punch activities
    • Pencil control worksheets
    • Play dough mats
    • Write the Room cards
    • Modified paper
    • Sticker activities
    • MUCH MORE

    Click here to add this resource set to your therapy toolbox.

    Spring Fine Motor Kit
    Spring Fine Motor Kit: TONS of resources and tools to build stronger hands.

    Grab your copy of the Spring Fine Motor Kit and build coordination, strength, and endurance in fun and creative activities. Click here to add this resource set to your therapy toolbox.

    Want to add this resource to your therapy toolbox so you can help kids thrive? Enter your email into the form below to access this printable tool.

    This resource is just one of the many tools available in The OT Toolbox Member’s Club. Each month, members get instant access to downloadable activities, handouts, worksheets, and printable tools to support development. Members can log into their dashboard and access all of our free downloads in one place. Plus, you’ll find exclusive materials and premium level materials.

    Level 1 members gain instant access to all of the downloads available on the site, without enter your email each time PLUS exclusive new resources each month.

    Level 2 members get access to all of our downloads, exclusive new resources each month, PLUS additional, premium content each month: therapy kits, screening tools, games, therapy packets, and much more. AND, level 2 members get ad-free content across the entire OT Toolbox website.

    Join the Member’s Club today!

    Colleen Beck, OTR/L is an occupational therapist with 20+ years experience, graduating from the University of Pittsburgh in 2000. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. As the creator, author, and owner of the website and its social media channels, Colleen strives to empower those serving kids of all levels and needs. Want to collaborate? Send an email to contact@theottoolbox.com.

    Play Dough Recipe Without Cream of Tartar

    playdough without cream of tartar

    If you’ve been following this site over the years, you’ve seen many of our play dough recipes, one of them being this play dough recipe without cream of tartar. This easy play dough recipe is one that kids can help to make, and to use in occupational therapy interventions. Read more on how play dough benefits child development, and making the play dough is half of the fun!

    Use this homemade play dough without cream of tartar to work on fine motor skills, executive function, cognitive development, and more.

    Homemade Play Dough without cream of tartar

    Homemade play dough is a childhood staple. When kids are part of the playdough making process, they are active in the kitchen and can incorporate many executive functioning tasks as well as other skill-building.

    But most homemade play dough recipes include cream of tartar as an ingredient. However, purchasing this ingredient is just expensive, and there really aren’t many common uses for cream of tartar except in the playdough recipes.

    So, we decided to do some experimentation and come up with a play dough recipe that omits cream of tartar.

    Our recipe uses a common ingredent that is inexpensive, but also can be used in other kitchen recipes. So, when you purchase this ingredient, you can use it for other recipes as well, making the purchase a good buying decision.

    So? What is our substitute for cream of tartar in homemade playdough?

    Lemon juice!

    Lemon juice makes a great substitute for cream of tartar in homemade play dough recipes because it’s an easy to find ingredient in most stores and you can use it in so many other recipes. Plus, the lemon juice adds pliability to the play dough just like cream of tartar does.

    why is play dough good for child development

    Over the years, we’ve used many ingredients to make play dough as a sensory tool. These are all wonderful ways to incorporate various sensory input through sensory play.

    One of our most popular playdough recipes is our crayon play dough recipe. But other homemade dough recipes you’ll love include:

    All of these various doughs offer sensory experiences through play, using different scents and textures. We’ve strived to create sensory tools through easily accessible and inexpensive materials, mainly using ingredients that are on hand in the kitchen.

    When sensory and fine motor play is easily accessible, kids develop skills!

    And, playdough is a great tool for developing math skills, too.

    Making homemade play dough is a great occupational therapy activity for the clinic, school-based session, or a home recommendation to carryover skills in a family time activity.

    Play dough and hand strength

    Play dough is a fantastic easy and inexpensive tool to work on hand strength and pinch strength. We previously covered over 30 ways to improve fine motor skills with play dough.

    These are great ways to use playdough can be used as a warm up activity or to incorporate palm strengthening exercises into therapy through play.

    Another aspect of homemade playdough and fine motor skills includes the mixing and kneading aspects. Pouring, scooping, stirring, and kneading are all very functional tasks that

    Whether you are developing fine motor skills, addressing cognitive skills like direction following, or incorporating sensory play into occupational therapy interventions, a simple homemade play dough is the way to go. Play dough has many benefits and there are many ways to use a simple dough recipe into therapy.

    Playing with playdough improves fine motor skills such as:

    • Pinch strength
    • Eye-hand coordination
    • Intrinsic muscle strengthening
    • Separation of the sides of the hand
    • Pincer grasp
    • Opposition
    • Tripod grasp
    • Wrist extension
    • Bilateral coordination

    All of this occurs through play!

    Try these fine motor activities using play dough:

    1. This homemade play dough recipe is great for easy play dough activities like our play dough snakes.
    2. Match colored paper clips with play dough. This is a great pincer grasp, tripod grasp, and separation of the sides of the hand activity.
    3. Improve thumb opposition and address a thumb wrap pencil grasp using play dough and beads in this thumb IP joint activity.
    4. Explore all of the fine motor play dough activities.
    ice cream play dough mat

    Grab our free play dough mats available here on the website (or log into your Member’s Club dashboard to grab these in an instant download).

    play dough and cognitive development

    Play dough can be a great cognitive skill tool, too.

    Play dough is a multi-step task. It involves following a recipe, following directions, planning, prioritization, impulse control, working memory, and other executive functioning skills.

    Play dough is a great way to develop executive functioning skills while cooking.

    Kids can work on safety skills while working in the kitchen to prepare this recipe. There is the heat of the play dough after cooking, and stove safety to consider.

    Some users would benefit from using a stove to make the playdough and others may benefit by using an electric skillet in place of the stove.

    So, let’s get to the recipe making with our play dough recipe (without cream of tartar)!

    Playdough without cream of tartar

    To make this playdough without cream of tartar, first gather your ingredients, cooking items, and get started.

    You’ll need just a few ingredients:

    • 3 cups flour
    • 1 and 1/2 cup salt
    • 3 and 1/4 cup water
    • 3 Tbsp oil
    • 3 Tbsp lemon juice
    • food coloring

    How to make playdough without cream of tartar:

    Mix the flour and salt in a bowl, using a fork to stir. Add the water, oil, and lemon juice and stir until the dough pulls together. Move the wet playdough lump to a sauce pan and cook over low heat for 3-4 minutes until the dough forms. 

    Plop the dough onto a clean surface and knead for a few minutes. 

    Separate into portions and add food coloring.  Knead the dough to mix the food coloring. If you are making just one color of play dough, you can add the food coloring to the dough before cooking.

    Many times, we want a variety of play dough colors, though, so mixing the food coloring in after the dough has been cooked is one way to get several colors of play dough.

    Remember that the dough will be very hot to the touch after cooking. Use a dishtowel to mix the baggie so the color is absorbed throughout the dough.

    Keep in covered containers/sealed plastic bags.  Dough does not need to be refrigerated.  

    Playdough with cream of tartar

    If you do have a jar of cream of tartar, use this play dough recipe:

    • 3 cups flour
    • 1 and 1/2 cup salt
    • 3 and 1/4 cup water
    • 3 Tbsp oil
    • 2 Tbsp cream of tartar
    • food coloring

    The same cooking process listed above can be used to make this dough recipe, using cream of tartar instead of lemon juice.

    How to get Vivid Colors in Homemade PlayDough

    Want the secret to really bold and vivid colors?  Use (Amazon affiliate link) Wilton’s gel food coloring.  I have a bunch of these that I use for my cookies, and Big Sister had fun picking out the colors she wanted to mix up.  

      A lot of times, you can find these color sets on clearance (plus add coupons) for a Great discount!

    Little Guy had SO MUCH FUN playing with little straw pieces in the red play dough.   What a great

    Fine Motor Activity for a three year old

    This easy safe play dough recipe is great for toddlers and preschoolers, but also younger if closely watching young children.

    We used the play dough recipe above, and some cut straw pieces to create a toddler-friendly play dough activity that builds fine motor skills.

    Cut the straws into pieces. You can get preschoolers involved with this part of the activity for a scissor skills task.

     Then, show your toddler how to poke the straws into the play dough.

    He played with this one for a long time…hiding the straw bits in the dough, poking circles, bending the bendable part of the straw… So much fun!   

    Playdough Play Mats

    Use this easy playdough recipe (without cream of tartar) with our playdough mats to add play dough as a handwriting warm-up and then incorporate handwriting skills!

    Colleen Beck, OTR/L is an occupational therapist with 20+ years experience, graduating from the University of Pittsburgh in 2000. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. As the creator, author, and owner of the website and its social media channels, Colleen strives to empower those serving kids of all levels and needs. Want to collaborate? Send an email to contact@theottoolbox.com.

    Winter Fine Motor Activities

    winter fine motor activities

    Looking for winter fine motor activities that boost the skills kids need? These fine motor ideas develop the skills that kids need for tasks like handwriting, pencil grasp, cutting with scissors, managing clothing fasteners, and more. You’ll find winter activities that boost hand strength, grasp, precision and endurance in the hands…all through play! We’ve even got a winter fine motor kit, loaded with resources, activities, crafts, and no-prep materials designed to help kids develop fine motor skills. So scroll on! 


    First, stop by our fine motor skills library for tons of ideas to work on the motor skills kids need.


    It has been fun sharing winter activities this week! If you missed any of the posts, be sure to check them out below. We’ve talked about indoor recess ideas for winter, brain break ideas, and activities to address bilateral coordination skills, and even mindfulness! You will have ideas for a season of development!


    Check out the Winter Activities on the site this week: 


    Monday- Indoor Recess Ideas

    Tuesday- 
    Winter Brain Break Ideas

    Wednesday- 
    Winter Bilateral Coordination Activities

    Thursday-
    Winter Mindfulness Activities

    Friday- 
    Winter Fine Motor Activities (TONS of  Free Printables!)


    Now on to today’s topic, fine motor activities!

    These winter fine motor activities can help kids develop the hand strength and fine motor skills needed for every day tasks, all with a winter theme.

    Winter Fine Motor Activities

    Winter is a great time to work on fine motor skills. It’s so functional! You can help kids by getting those hands moving so they have the finger dexterity, pinch strength, and finger isolation to put on a pair of gloves. You can address gross hand grasp, arch development, and bilateral coordination skills so kids can pull on a pair of boots. You can work on precision, separation of the sides of the hand, eye-hand coordination, and in-hand manipulation skills so kids can zipper and button winter coats. All of these are functional winter tasks!

    We used those same hole reinforcer stickers to make a fine motor snowman craft that boosts skills like tip to tip precision, separation of the sides of the hand, and arch strength. 

    Many winter fine motor activities can be adjusted to meet the needs of the individual. For example, these snow globe letter puzzle cards can address fine motor skills to color and manipulate the cards. The winter-themed activity can be modified to meet the needs of the individual: using less or more cards, incorporating fine or gross motor input, and positioning the cards in different planes or surfaces to work on various levels of fine motor control. It’s just one more way to make therapy skills like fine motor dexterity fun with a winter theme!

    Similarly, this snow globe deep breathing exercise can be modified to address fine motor skills. Ask users to point and trace the breathing lines to integrate finger isolation, separation of the sides of the hand, and eye-hand coordination. Then, they can “draw” the same shape on their palm using their finger to point as they breathe. It’s a bilateral coordination and fine motor task that addresses self-regulation, too.

    This winter clothing worksheet is focused on tracing numbers. But, this hands-on activity can address many fine motor skills, too. Ask kids to color the pictures. then, they can cut out each number strip to work on scissor skills. Then, ask them to write the winter clothing word. Finally, they can write the number to work on number formation skills. But what if you asked them to then roll the same number of play dough balls for each number? What a great way to work on hand strength. If you asked the child to place the correct number of mini erasers or coins on the table or in a slotted top, they can incorporate in-hand manipulation skills, too.

    This beaded snowflake craft from Early Learning Ideas encourages bilateral coordination, separation of the sides of the hand, precision, in-hand manipulation, and a tripod grasp…with pretty results!


    Use paper hole reinforcers to improve precision and dexterity by forming letters and names like Fun-a-Day did. 


    If you’re looking for another craft idea, then this clothespin snowman craft uses a clothespin clip to really work the muscles of the hand. Move that snowman around and clip him onto bags, coats, and books! 


    If you’re looking for a fine motor activity for kindergarten kids, then this sight word tic tac toe game is the ticket! Kids can make the game pieces, and move them around to play a game of tic tac toe while strengthening skills like tip to tip grasp, arch development, separation of the sides of the hand, and finger isolation.


    For more craft ideas that boost fine motor skills, check out all of these winter bird crafts. You’ll find ideas for strengthening the hands and other fine motor skills while making cute bird crafts, bird feeders, and other activities. 


    If working on scissor skills is a priority, a paper snowflake is the way to go this winter. But what if you took the paper snowflake up a notch by cutting cupcake liners? This cupcake liner paper snowflake activity boosts hand strength with a pretty result!


    Working on pencil grasp? You don’t need a pencil! Make this snowflake stamp art and promote the fine motor skills that are needed for a functional grasp: separation of the sides of the hand, arch development, and an open thumb web space for example. This creative winter painting idea has a sensory component, too.

    Winter Fine Motor Worksheets

    Worksheets can get a bad rap. But, for the occupational therapy professional that thinks outside of the box, it is possible to use a printable tool to address hands-on skills like in-hand manipulation, separation of the sides of the hand, and more than just handwriting or scissor skills. The Penguin Therapy Kit, the Snowman Therapy Kit, and the Winter Fine Motor Kit all include resources that address so many fine motor areas:

    • dexterity
    • hand strength
    • in-hand manipulation
    • separation of the sides of the hand
    • finger isolation
    • arch development
    • finger opposition
    • pinch and grip strength
    • bilateral coordination
    • wrist stability
    • and more!

    Print off the pages that you need and you’ll never run out of fresh fine motor activities this winter!

    To end out the Winter Week here on The OT Toolbox, I wanted to create a fine motor worksheets that are a true resource during the winter months. These fine motor worksheets that cover a variety of different fine motor abilities:  

    These reproducible activity pages include: pencil control strips, scissor skills strips, simple and complex cutting shapes, lacing cards, toothpick precision art, crumble hand strengthening crafts, memory cards, coloring activities, and so much more.

    Play Dough Roll Mats- We’ve shared some free play dough mats before. They are perfect for developing fine motor skills and hand strength needed for tasks like coloring with endurance, manipulating small items, and holding a pencil. Kids can roll small balls of play dough with just their fingertips to strengthen the intrinsic muscles. The Winter Fine Motor Kit contains 6 winter play dough mats that can be used all winter long!  

    Pinch and Grip Strength Activities- Includes: glue skills page, tong/tweezer activities, lacing cards, finger puppets, 1-10 counting clip cards, 10 toothpick art pages, find & color page, 5 crumble art pages. TARGET SKILLS: Precision, pinch and grip hand strength, tripod grasp, arch development, bilateral coordination, open thumb web-space.

    Pencil Control Worksheets- Connect the arctic animals or winter items and stay on the pencil path lines while mastering pencil control. Some of the lines are small and are a great way to strengthen the hands, too.  

    Arctic Animal Cutting Strips and Scissor Skills Sheets- Work on scissor skills to cut along lines to reach the arctic animal friends or snowflakes, snowmen, and mittens. This is a great way to strengthen the motor and visual skills needed for cutting with scissors.   Also included are 7 scissor skills strips with graded precision designed for data collection and accuracy development, 2 color & cut memory cards, 4 pages simple cutting shapes in small/med/large sizes, 3 pages complex cutting shapes in small/med/large sizes, 2 small and 2 large cutting skills puzzles. These worksheets help kids develop graded scissor skill accuracy and precision, visual perceptual skills, eye-hand coordination, crossing midline, bilateral coordination.

    Handwriting Sensory Bin Materials- You and the kiddos will love these A-Z uppercase and lowercase tracing cards with directional arrows, 1-10 tracing cards with directional arrows, 1-10 counting cards. Using the sensory bin materials can develop tactile handwriting, letter and number formation, finger isolation, crossing midline, sensory challenges.

    “I Spy” Modified Paper- Includes: Color and find objects in two themes: winter items and arctic animals; 3 styles of modified paper for each theme: single rule bold lines, double rule bold lines, highlighted double rule. Use these pages to develop handwriting, pencil control, line and spatial awareness, legibility, visual perceptual skills, visual memory.

    Fine Motor Handwriting Sheets- Try the 4 Find/Color/Copy pages in different styles of modified paper, rainbow writing pages in 3 styles of modified paper. These handwriting worksheets use the winter theme to help with handwriting, visual perception, pencil control, visual memory, visual attention, precision, pencil control, functional handwriting.

    Write the Room Activities- Using a winter theme, these Write the Toom cards includes: 5 lowercase copy cards, 5 uppercase copy cards, 5 lowercase tracing cards, 5 uppercase copy cards, 6 cursive writing copy cards, 2 styles of writing pages. TARGET SKILLS: Letter formation, pencil control, visual motor skills, visual attention, visual memory, line placement, functional handwriting at all levels and stages.

    Get the Winter Fine Motor Kit Here.

    winter fine motor kit

     

     

    These fine motor winter activities will keep the kids active and moving all winter long.

    Colleen Beck, OTR/L is an occupational therapist with 20+ years experience, graduating from the University of Pittsburgh in 2000. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. As the creator, author, and owner of the website and its social media channels, Colleen strives to empower those serving kids of all levels and needs. Want to collaborate? Send an email to contact@theottoolbox.com.

    Play Dough City

    city play dough mat for kids

    This fine motor play dough mat is a fun one. It’s a play dough city mat that allows kids to work on hand strength and fine motor skills using a city themed play dough mat. Playdough mats like this one can be used along with other city activities like books, travel, or discovering information about geography and our world. We’ve talked before about using play dough for fine motor skills development and this city play dough mat is a great way to do that!

    This City Play Dough Mat is a supplement that can help with more skills than just adding to a city learning theme, all in a fun play dough activity! This free play dough mat boosts fine motor skills specifically hand strength, and the intrinsic muscles of the hands. Print off this city playdough mat and start playing and learning WHILE boosting those skills that kids need!

    Kids can use this play dough city theme fine motor activity to increase hand strength for fine motor skills like handwriting and pencil grasp all with play dough activities kids love!

    City Play Dough Mat

    I love adding hands-on components to learning themes. It adds a special twist that really helps with recall when motor components are added. This city play dough mat is a great accompaniment to any community or geography theme.

    Kids can fill in the circles in the city skyline while building the fine motor skills they need for tasks such as endurance with writing or coloring, pencil control when forming letters, functional pencil grasp, management of buttons/zippers/other clothing fasteners, opening and closing of food containers, and so many other fine motor tasks!

    For the child who struggles with fine motor skills or has a fine motor delay, this city play dough mat can be a fun way to build those skills.

    In fact, there are so many fine motor skills needed in school and in home learning environments whether it occurs in the classroom, virtual learning, or the homeschool dining room. Building fine motor skills can make an impactful difference in learning and functional tasks!

    How to increase hand strength with a play dough mat

    Play dough mats are a big hit with kids. They can come in any theme, making them fun for specific interests. This astronaut play dough mat is one of our favorites. The thing is, though that just the act of playing with play dough on a play dough mat is a really power tool in strengthening little hands!  

    In fact, there are so many ways to use a play dough mat to strengthen the skills kids need for fine motor tasks.   One of the ways we have been focusing on here on The OT Toolbox with our recent play dough mat series is working the intrinsic muscles of the hands by rolling small balls of play dough in various sizes.

    Using the finger tips and thumb of one hand at a time to roll a play dough ball is an intrinsic muscle workout that builds the muscles of the thenar eminence, hypothenar eminence, the interossei, and the lumbricals. All of these muscle groups make up the intrinsic hand muscles which are those located within the hands.  

    The intrinsic muscles are those responsible for nice, defined arches of the hands, the ability to separate the two sides of the hand, and to have nice, bulky muscle tone in the mass that makes up the base of the thumb and the side of the pinkie finger. These muscle groups help with dexterity, endurance, coordination, and controlled manipulation of small items and all things fine motor!  

    Free Play Dough Mat

    Grab a copy of this free playdough mat by entering your email in the form below.

    You will receive the printable play dough mat in your email where you can print it and use it over and over again in your therapy toolbox.

    Want to check out the other play dough mats we’ve shared recently? They are all designed to promote strengthening of the intrinsics and hand strength in kids.

    Free Astronaut Play Dough Mat

    Free Space Play Dough Mat

    Free Ice Cream Play Dough Mat

    Free Bird Theme Play Dough Mat

    Be sure to grab the city play dough mat and use it for increasing hand strength in fun ways!

    Grab this FREE printable City Themed play dough mat to help kids strengthen the intrinsic muscles of the hands!

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      Use this city theme play dough mat to work on hand strength and increasing the hand strength needed for fine motor skills.

      Colleen Beck, OTR/L is an occupational therapist with 20+ years experience, graduating from the University of Pittsburgh in 2000. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. As the creator, author, and owner of the website and its social media channels, Colleen strives to empower those serving kids of all levels and needs. Want to collaborate? Send an email to contact@theottoolbox.com.

      Space Play Dough Mat

      space play dough mat

      If you are working on building intrinsic hand strength and the fine motor skills kids need to improve tasks such as maintaining a pencil grasp or coloring with endurance, than this space play dough mat is perfect for you.

      Kids can use play dough mats to strengthen their hands and develop essential skills needed for writing with a pencil, dexterity in fine motor tasks, and precision in fine motor coordination tasks. This free play dough mat has a space theme and you can print off the printable play dough mat and add it to your therapy toolbox.

      This space play dough mat is just one tool to use when looking for playdough activities for fine motor skills.

      Kids love play dough mats like this space worksheet. When they roll play dough to fit in the spaces on the printable sheets, they don’t always realize they are working on intrinsic hand strength or hand strengthening in general. Even better, this outer space play dough mat is a free printable playdough mat that will go perfectly with a space theme!

      This outer space play dough mat can be used to help kids increase their intrinsic hand strength and fine motor skills, using a space theme and a fun play dough activity that boosts the hand strengthening that kids need!


      Space Play Dough Mat

      Working on intrinsic hand strength is a task that doesn’t need to be difficult…with a simple play dough activity like this one, building hand strength is easy!   

      We’ve shared a few play dough strengthening activities before. There is a reason why: Kids NEED more hand strength. It’s evident in the increased pencil grasp issues that teachers, parents, and therapists are seeing every day!   

      Looking for more strengthening activities using play dough? Try this flower play dough activity.   


      Intrinsic Muscle Strengthening Activity

      The thing about this outer space play dough mat is that it works on a specific set of muscles in the hand. The intrinsic muscles are those within the hand that enable dexterity and endurance in fine motor tasks. They are the ones that allow the arches of the hand to be used in fine motor tasks like manipulating objects with in the hand.

      They are the muscles of the hand that contribute to separation of the sides of the hand and create the thenar and hypothenar eminences.    Specific exercises can strengthen these muscles and one of the biggest ones is rolling small balls of play dough with just the fingertips of the hand.   

      That’s why we’ve created a series of free play dough mats that encourage small balls of play dough of various sizes.   

      Space Activity

      Print off this free play dough mat and add it to your toolbox for a fun fine motor activity that kids will love.   

      You can enter your email into the form below and watch your email to find the printable outer space playdough mat.    After printing, you may want to cover it with a plastic or laminated surface that allows you to use the playdough mat over and over again. Some of our favorite tricks for this include: (Amazon affiliate links are included below.)

      Grab your free printable outer space play dough mat here and start working on that intrinsic hand strength!  

      Print off this free outer space play dough mat to help kids increase their hand strength and the intrinsic hand strength needed for fine motor tasks, all with a space theme!

      More play dough activities you will love:

      Play Dough Farm Activity | Play Dough Activity Color Match  | Play Dough Cupcakes      

      More Free Play Dough Mats  

      Here are more free play dough mats that you can print off and use to work on hand strength endurance, and fine motor skills:

      Free Ice Cream Play Dough Mat

      Free Bird Play Dough Mat

      Free Toys Play Dough Mat

      Free Astronaut Play Dough Mat

      Free City Skyline Play Dough Mat

      More Space Activities

      Pair this free outer space play dough mat with hands-on fine motor activities or virtual therapy activities for a themed therapy experience. Try these space activities that build skills:

      Free Space Play Dough Mat

      Want to add this space play dough mat to your therapy toolbox? Enter your email address into the form below to access.

      FREE printable Outer Space themed play dough mat to help kids strengthen the intrinsic muscles of the hands!

        We won’t send you spam. Unsubscribe at any time.

        Know a kiddo that loves all things space, astronauts, and planets? The Outer Space Fine Motor Kit is your chance to develop fine motor strength, dexterity, and coordination skills.

        Addressing hand strength, endurance, and precision is out of this world fun! The Outer Space Fine Motor Kit includes:

        • Fine Motor Mazes
        • Fine Motor Ten Frames for motor activities
        • 1-20 Star Counting Cards
        • Bead Copying Strips
        • Space Alien Directed Drawing Sheets

        This fine motor kit includes 24 pages of printable resources. Included in this printable pack are:

        1. Two pages of color coded bead copying strips
        2. Two pages of blank bead copying strips
        3. Four pages of “draw and write” directed drawing activities with a space theme (Includes 3 styles of handwriting lines: highlighted lines, single rule, and double rule)
        4. Nine pages of fine motor mazes
        5. 1-20 Outer Space Counting Cards
        6. Four pages of fine motor ten frames activities

        These printable activities extend to work on a variety of other functional areas, too: handwriting skills, numbers, math, adding, subtracting, one-to-one correspondence, scissor skills, coloring, and more.

        Click HERE to grab the Outer Space Fine Motor Mini-Kit.

        Outer Space Fine Motor Kit

        Colleen Beck, OTR/L is an occupational therapist with 20+ years experience, graduating from the University of Pittsburgh in 2000. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. As the creator, author, and owner of the website and its social media channels, Colleen strives to empower those serving kids of all levels and needs. Want to collaborate? Send an email to contact@theottoolbox.com.