Emotions Playdough Mats

emotions playdough mats

One fun therapy tool to address social emotional learning in children are emotions playdough mats. Kids can use the printable play dough mats as tools to develop emotional awareness. understanding feelings, naming feelings, and practicing facial expressions. All of this occurs along with the many benefits of play dough! Let’s get some emotions play dough activities into your hands!

Emotions playdough mats

Emotions Playdough Mats

Facial expressions convey feelings and emotions. This is an important social and emotional skill for preschoolers. It’s through play and practice that young children explore different emotions. Using play as a tool to support that development makes sense!

Arlin Cuncic from Very Well Mind states, “If you only listen to what a person says and ignore what their face is telling you, then you really won’t get the whole story. Often, words do not match emotions, and the face betrays what a person is actually feeling”.  You can read more about Understanding Emotions through Facial Expressions.  

Early research stated we have seven universal facial expressions, however research from 2020 states we have closer to sixteen.  Some expressions may last a long time, making them easier to read, however there are also micro expressions that are fleeting. A micro expression may be covering up a lie or concealing another emotion. The introduction of global mask wearing made reading facial expressions that much more difficult. 

Many people have difficulty reading emotions or understanding them. Today’s freebie, the Emotions Playdough Mats is a great tool to teach and talk about feelings, facial expressions, and emotions. 

Emotions play dough mats

Use Playdough mats to learn feelings

Some emotions such as anger, crying, and happiness are fairly easy to read, but what about the more difficult facial expressions such as disgust, disappointment, boredom, disinterest, or doubt?  

Younger learners often say they are bored, when really they might be overwhelmed, frustrated, anxious, tired, scared, or a host of other emotions. Using tools like the emotions playdough mats is a non threatening activity to help learners understand these complicated feelings. 

One way to support this development is by using a PDF play dough mat with a feelings theme. Toddlers, preschoolers, kindergarteners, and older children can use this strategy to practice different facial expressions while creating faces made from playdough.

People learn by doing, not just listening or watching someone else do it. The Emotions Play Dough Mats explore through play. 

Play based therapy is at the heart of occupational therapy. The great thing about this activity is that it works on multiple skills whether in the classroom or therapy clinic.

  • Playdoh is a great sensory medium – it addresses tactile, visual, olfactory, and proprioceptive input for little hands.
  • The dough can be purchased or made at home. I found this cute website for sensory dough in dozens of different styles.  If you prefer to make your own, you can find different playdough recipes here
  • Playdough is also great for strengthening the tiny hand muscles. Make your dough soft or stiff, or substitute with therapy putty for a more intense workout
  • Working with playdough is a great fine motor activity. Folding, pinching, pulling apart, flattening, molding, cutting, and rolling are great fine motor skill builders

How to Use Feelings Playdough mats

What are some other skills you can think of that can be incorporated into working on the emotions playdough mats while creating play dough faces?

  1. Print off the PDF files.
  2. Laminate them or you can slide the page into a page protector sleeve. 
  3. Use play dough to create faces on the playdough mats based on the prompts.

Use the printable pdf file over and over again to support social emotional learning with children!

There are more ways to use these resources to address fine motor, sensory motor, visual motor, and of course social emotional skills: 

  • Use play dough to create facial features. Children can explore and identify nuances of facial features that are paired with emotions. These features might include furrowed eyebrows, frown lines around the cheeks, small eyes, etc. By using the playdough face mats, kids can create these features.
  • How about social function?  Following directions, turn taking, task completion, orienting to details, neatness, multi-tasking, attending to task, and impulse control can be addressed using the playdough emotions mat
  • What about bilateral coordination?  Using two hands together to create the playdough pieces, or one hand to hold the paper while the other hand works the playdough to create facial expressions, facial features, and emotions in the dough.
  • Can you think of visual perceptual skills addressed with this activity?  Parts to whole, copying from a model, creating a representation from a picture, visual memory and recall are just a few.
  • Explore social skills- These emotion playdough mats are perfect addition to social skills interventions. Ask the child why a person may feel the way the facial expression is depicting. How can they support or help a person who feels that way? Have they ever felt that emotion or feeling? What did they do about it when they did feel that emotion? This feelings activity can go in so many different directions using a bit of follow-up questions and conversation while creating with the emotions playdough mats. Include a social skills checklist and you’ve got a strategy to support social emotional development in therapy sessions.
  • Focus on fine motor strength by creating a small face from the play dough. Can you use a toothpick or a pencil point to poke a smile or frown into a ball of play dough? This can be another fun hands strengthening activity of its own!

How can you modify these playdough emotions mats? There are so many ways to extend this social emotional learning activity!

  • Definitely think about laminating these to make them easier to use, more eco friendly, and less messy
  • Cut out facial expressions from magazines to glue to the blank faces. Now you have added cutting and pasting to your task!
  • Have your learners draw facial expressions instead of using playdough. Voila! A visual motor task has been born
  • Create a smart board activity so learners can draw on the board, drag pieces, or work together
  • Take pictures of their artwork and create a collage to keep
  • Make this part of a larger lesson plan by adding gross motor, social, sensory, and other fine motor games
  • Pre-cut pieces of facial expression for beginning learners to identify and glue
  • Advanced learners can talk about the emotions, research them, write stories or situations about each face, and role play
  • Use fine motor add-ons to improve dexterity and eye-hand coordination. Think: craft pom poms, sequins, googly eyes, pipe cleaners, etc. Use the materials to add to the various emotions on the free playdough mats.
  • Emotions Monster I Spy page is a great resource to add to your lesson plan
  • The Emotions Frog Slide Deck is another great tool
  • Incorporate these social emotional learning worksheets for more fine motor work while exploring feelings with kids.
  • The OT Toolbox also has a spring themed slide deck to add to your “toolbox”

While there are definitely people who can’t read facial expressions or body language, there are others who are too attuned to these. The Highly Sensitive Person is often hypersensitive to the emotions and facial expressions of others. They feel and notice much more than typical people. The HSP might be shy or cautious because they feel and see too much.

They may avoid eye contact because of the amount of information transmitted through the face. If you are highly sensitive you might find daily occurrences to be “too much”.  

Too loud, bright, busy, chaotic, messy, overwhelming, smelly, sticky, and on and on.  The irony of wearing masks, is that they have been great for those who are highly sensitive to facial expressions. 

Whether your learners are highly sensitive, just learning about emotions, or having difficulty reading non verbal communication, the emotions playdough mat is a creative way to add fun into your treatment plan while working on important skill acquisition.

Free printable emotions playdough mats

Would you like a free printable playdough mats of your own to work on SEL with kids? Get a PDF version of these playdough mats to print off and use with your therapy caseload or in your classroom (or home)!

Enter your email address into the form below to access this printable resource. Or The OT Toolbox Member’s Club members can access this inside the membership on our social emotional toolbox. 

FREE Emotions Playdough Mats

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    Working on addressing feelings, emotions, acceptance, and empathy in kids? Use the hands-on activities selected to support these concepts in skills using popular children’s books as a theme. Grab Exploring Books Through Play: 50 Activities Based on Books About Friendship, Acceptance and Empathy today!

    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.

    Benefits of play dough

    Occupational therapists always has a container of play dough in their therapy bag…there are just so many benefits of play dough. Squish, squeeze, pinch, flatten, roll, cut, stamp, and mold and other fine motor playdough activities are just a few of the ways children can engage with play dough. It’s a classic modeling compound that is timeless, holds popularity, as well as longevity in childhood development. We know that the primary job, or occupation, of children is play and playdough offers a tool for play while building skills. Because of that fact, one of the main benefits of play dough is it helps to develop skills while providing hours of satisfying fun for children of any age.

    Benefits of play dough
    Just some of the benefits of playing with playdough

    Benefits of Play Dough

    Learners of all ages and stages can reap the benefits of play dough. As an adult, don’t you still enjoy the squishing, squeezing, and molding fun using play dough?

    Play dough can target many areas of skill development. Tons of inspirational ideas can be found online. There are many creative individuals online who share awesome ideas for play dough fun. As therapists, you can take those fun ideas and add your Occupational Therapy (OT) eye to build the skills a child needs for their specific development.

    Play dough is a tactile gem, and occupational therapy practitioners know this!  There are so many benefits of play dough. Playing with this dough regularly is great, as it is a toy with no right or wrong way to play, is safe, and appeals to many people with various learning styles and needs. Children can make their own play dough making it even more fun!  

    The benefits of playing with play dough include:

    • Fine motor skill development
    • Tactile sensory challenges
    • Bilateral coordination
    • Sensory development
    • Self regulation tool
    • Creative development
    • Eye-hand coordination development
    • Gross motor development
    • Social skill development
    • Life skill development
    • Learning skill development
    • Rapport-building tool

    We’ll cover how to use play dough as a tool to support development in all of these areas in greater detail below.

    As a side note, did you know that playdough was originally created as a wallpaper cleaner? This “mistake” turned out to be one of the most desirable and iconic playthings around…and kids gain all of the benefits of playing with playdough!

    How to Develop Skills with Play Dough

    So, when you pop open a tub of colorful play dough, you probably aren’t thinking about the benefits of playing with playdough…but your pediatric occupational therapist probably is!

    Fine motor skill development

    Play dough helps build multiple fine motor skills, while promoting play, as it instantly provides multi-sensory hands-on interaction. Children who are tactile seekers love to engage with play dough, and instantly begin squishing, squeezing, and molding it. 

    If you are looking for ideas for therapeutic sessions, try these fun fine motor play dough activities to encourage fine motor skill development and hand strengthening throughout the year. 

    If learners seem tired of routine fine motor and visual motor activities, adding these super fun play dough game boards and cards to your OT Toolbox will keep kids engaged, while building their skills.

    Fine Motor Skills Developed through playing with Play Dough

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

    If more strength and dexterity is needed, traditional thera-putty can be swapped for play dough.

    Specific skill areas can be developed using play dough including:

    Bilateral coordination

    Another one of the benefits of play dough is building bilateral coordination. Bilateral coordination can be both sides of the body doing the same thing, working together, like squishing the play dough.

    It can also be one hand holding the dough, while the other hand uses a tool. The addition of playdough tools can enhance skills and play.

    Rolling a play dough snake is particularly effective for developing bilateral coordination skills. In many functional tasks, both hands do symmetrical task (buttoning a shirt, pulling up pants, jumping rope, etc. When rolling a lump of play dough with the hands together, one needs to use the same amount of pressure or force with both hands, and move the playdough together at the same time. Otherwise, the play dough snake is lopsided, or thin on one end and not the other.

    There are many commercially available play dough tools, but there are also tools that can be found in the home!  Kitchen tools safe for children to use, are some of the best tools for bilateral hand skills. Start with simple flatware such as butter knives, forks, and spoons. Next, look through your utensil drawers.

    Do you have a spatula, pizza wheel, cookie cutters, garlic press, rolling pin, scissors, potato masher, skewers, or a muffin pan? These are perfect for play dough playtime! Experiment and see what your learners like to use. Build those bilateral coordination skills, while also building early life skills, with the use of kitchen tools. It’s a win for childhood development. 

    sensory development

    Using play dough can be great for the sensory seeker who loves texture. Those who seek out heavy work through the hands can benefit from

    While touching sticky or messy textures is difficult for the individual experiencing tactile defensiveness. For those who avoid textures, play dough can support development and tactile challenges with a sensory medium that is consistently the same texture each and every time. It is not as easy for the avoider who does not like to get messy. Sensory touch can be very limiting in some, so this is a good starting point to address defensiveness.

    Traditional play dough is not as sticky as slime or other putties, making it a great tool for some individuals.

    To use play dough to support tactile defensiveness, try these tips:

    • Add gloves for play with the learner with extreme avoidance, until they can tolerate touching the play dough.
    • Add different textures such as salt, glitter, beads, rice, to add more tactile input for your sensory seeker.
    • Be considerate of the smell of play dough. Some love it, while others can not tolerate this familiar smell.
    • Add your own scent in home made dough for olfactory input.

    What other kinds of sensory input can you think of using play dough?

    Provides calming and quiet time

    Play dough can be used as a relaxing medium that provides calm and quiet time for children who are feeling anxious or stressed and need a break away from the noise and the action. 

    This happens by the feedback of the dough as a resistive material, which offers heavy work through the hands, fingers, and arches of the hands. This feedback of proprioceptive input can be a coping strategy used in a sensory diet or as a self-regulation tool.

    Play dough manipulation also provides tactile sensory awareness and proprioceptive input, which can serve to be therapeutic by giving deep pressure to the hands, fingers, and arms in a calming manner. 

    If making your own play dough, add a little calming essential oil, and you’ve given it another desirable element for calm play, and time away. Another great benefit of play dough! 

    One especially calming play dough recipe is our crayon play dough, and playing with the dough when warm is very calming.

    As an added benefit, playdough mats support emotional regulation. These emotions playdough mats can be used in combination with other self regulation strategies to offer heavy work through the hands while building emotional intelligence in kids.

    Boosts creativity and imagination

    Working with play dough helps unlock the creative juices of a learner. Since there is no right or wrong, their creativity is unleashed and ready to go, using whatever materials are around and available. We covered using play dough imagination activities in greater detail on a previous blog post.

    Pretend play activities like pressing flowers and rocks into play dough is a pretend play activity while building underlying areas of sensory and motor development.

    If you have a few kiddos who seem to struggle with creativity, or imaginative play while at the play dough table, The OT Toolbox has you covered with these great play dough mats to facilitate engagement and boost creativity for kids.

    Take a look at these play dough mats, and get your FREE copies in the links below:

    Play dough Develops eye-hand coordination

    Play dough is the perfect tool for kids to work on important eye-hand connection skills. Learners utilize hand-eye coordination to poke, cut, smash, and pinch the play dough.

    Eye-hand connection is developed when using cookie cutters to cut playdough, and add accessories to decorate. Using stampers or objects to press into the dough to make images or scenes, can further build eye-hand coordination.

    If you want a fun way to encourage play dough engagement, it can be fun to add a weekly or monthly theme to therapy sessions way to facilitate hand actions, for play dough manipulation, including tool use. Just use play dough in each session and switch out the manipulatives, cookie cutters, or items to hide in the play dough.

    • Get out a set of Mr. Potato Head pieces and work on pressing these into the dough to make a funny character.

    Gross motor skill development

    Play dough can be used for gross motor development also. Include playdough in an obstacle course as a stop between obstacles, or gross motor exercises. 

    Try this:  walk the balance beam, then create a play dough stick figure, do a bear walk, next create a play dough bear face, roll in the tunnel, then roll a ball of play dough flat with a rolling pin, etc.

    Use the same idea for exercise programming: complete an exercise, complete a play dough activity, and so on.

    the benefits of play dough as a Multi-level tool

    Play dough can be used as a foundation when using materials included in (Amazon affiliate link) play trays, and other themed activities.

    There are many cool play dough tray ideas and inspiration for other themed activities that will make your play dough table the coolest table in the school building.

    Examples of play trays

    In addition to the above play dough tray ideas, there are several play dough kit ideas online ideal for the traveling therapist who needs to move throughout several buildings or homes. These kits are the perfect engagement tool, easily transported wherever you end up seeing a child for therapy. 

    Playdough Kits

    play dough builds life skills

    Engaging with play dough can help to build important life skills as children follow simple recipes to make their own play dough, and use kitchen tools for engagement. They are measuring, mixing, and creating, while developing knowledge of tool use and hand skills in the kitchen.

    When kids use play dough tools like plastic knives, play dough scissors, and other sculpting tools, they are strengthening the skills needed to hold a fork and spoon, developmental progression of grasping utensils, and particularly the skill of cutting food with a knife.

    Play dough recipes can be adapted from a very simple dough recipe to add in different ingredients and materials to create recipes on a spectrum of abilities and cooking tasks.

    Simple play dough recipe- This play dough recipe without cream of tarter is probably the simplest version which still challenges life skills.

    Advanced play dough recipe- Did you know you can use crayons to make play dough? Pick a color or shade, or mix them a few to create a new shade.  This crayon play dough recipe does require an adult to perform the stovetop part of the recipe. An older, or more advanced learner could do it with supervision. 

    On that spectrum of play dough recipes with varying difficulty are many of the best play dough recipes for therapy that we have here on the website.

    Social skill development

    Interacting with play dough provides social emotional learning and social skill development opportunities between children in a small group or child and adult. 

    When using play dough as a tool, children participate together by talking, sharing, and co-building. 

    When using play dough with no right or wrong way to play, play it is the perfect tool for social interaction without competition. 

    Learning tool

    One of the many benefits of play dough, is learning.  It can be a multi-level teaching tool for areas including math, literacy, and handwriting. 

    Use playdough as a creative way to practice math skills and concepts, or use it to mold and shape letters to work on handwriting.

    This is especially beneficial for kids who struggle with letter formation, and have weak fine motor skills. You can use play dough as part of a literacy routine, by creating scenes, acting out stories, stamping out sight words, representing new vocabulary terms, or using push pins to form words.

    Rapport building tool

    Play dough can help therapists/teachers/caregivers build rapport with new learners on their caseload or classroom during back-to-school rapport building periods or when meeting a new therapy client.

    Simply present it and play. It is really that easy. 

    Use a kit, tray, or a few cookie cutters, and you’ve got an instant engagement tool that allows for conversation and creation, while building that important therapeutic relationship.  

    Now, go have some amazing playtime with this classic toy. You know you want to!

    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!

    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 fine motor 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!  We know that in itself, there are so many benefits of play dough in building skills in kids.

    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. As an added benefit, these emotions play dough mats support the social learning and identifying emotions names to help with emotional self regulation.
    • 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

      We respect your privacy. Unsubscribe at anytime.

      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 (Be sure to check out these hibernation activities, too. They make a great calm down space!)

      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.

      Print off this mitten printable for fine motor skill work while developing other areas like eye-hand coordination, motor planning, precision, and more.

      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.

      Another fine motor worksheet is our Also be sure to grab our new winter crossword puzzle. The printable can be used to support pencil control by circling words and individual letters. Or, use the end of a pencil as a stamp to stamp out the letters of the winter words for more fine motor fun.

      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.

      Some of our favorite winter worksheets include:

      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.