Like most people these days, I’ve been spending all of my time at home with my children. During this time, I have had to whip up some preschool-appropriate activities for my daughter. She usually attends six hours of preschool a day, but is now home full-time with my husband and me as we do our best to manage everyone’s day with all of the cooking, cleaning, playing, and learning that needs to happen — not to mention our meager attempts to get our own work done. It’s a challenge, to say the least.
To the extent that I can, I try to involve my preschooler in my daily activities such as laundry and cooking. I also spend a lot of time running around and playing with her the way we usually would in the afternoons after school. But recently, I realized that she needed more. So I started to think of ways to create some easy, preschool-friendly exploration centers for her. My elementary school teacher brain immediately went to focusing on her fine motor skills.
Developing fine motor skills helps prepare children for using tools such as crayons, pencils, and scissors. Fine motor skills are also important for performing basic life skills like feeding oneself and buttoning a shirt. The preschool years are prime time for children to work on building up their hand muscles and hand-eye coordination.
With this in mind, I started scrounging up whatever materials I already had at home and designed a few fine motor skills centers for my daughter. Here are some of my favorite simple and engaging activities you can try with your young learner to strengthen their fine motor skills.
- Knock it Down! Grab a clean spray bottle, and fill it with water. Line up toys, such as blocks or animal figurines, at your child’s eye level. Have them spray the toys until they knock them down. You can adjust the distance between your child and the toys as needed. Note: This is a great activity to do outside or in the bathtub.
- Make a bead necklace. Using string, yarn, or a pipe cleaner, have your child create a bead or dried pasta necklace. Start with beads or pasta shapes that have wider openings before moving on to narrower ones once your child has mastered this skill.
- Clothespins on a box. Find an empty sturdy box and ask your child to place clothespins on the edges of the box. A challenge for this activity is to place pieces of cloth or small rags on a string with the clothespins, similar to an actual clothesline!
- Squeeze it! Show your child how to grab a pom-pom or cotton ball with large tweezers or pinchers. Give them a muffin tin or an empty egg crate, and ask them to sort the pom-poms by color or size and place them into the crevices accordingly.
- Putty or play dough. You could try this recipe to make homemade play dough or use a store-bought one. Encourage your child to roll the play dough with their whole hand to make worms or snakes. Show them how to form balls by circling the play dough between their palms. Depending on their age, they could even learn to cut with a plastic knife or scissors. Simply squeezing play dough or putty in their hand works wonders for fine motor skills.
- Bean art. Get a piece of sturdy paper, such as construction paper, cardstock, or cardboard. Have your child draw a simple picture (or you can draw one for them). Then, have them trace the lines in the picture using wet glue, and show them how to place the beans on the glue. The result is a neat 3-D piece of art! The act of pinching the beans with their thumb and forefinger strengthens those same muscles needed for grasping a pencil. Note: You could do this with painted dried pasta as well.
- Water transfer. Place a drop or two of food coloring in a small clear plastic cup. First, have your child practice pouring the water from one cup to another. They can even practice mixing colors. Then, give your child an eyedropper and an empty ice cube tray. Have them extract some water from the container using the eyedropper, and have them transfer it into different sections of the ice cube tray.
- Colander creation. Take out your colander, turn it upside down, and place it on a large plate or tray. Give your child some raw spaghetti or pipe cleaners and “O” shaped cereal. Model how to poke the spaghetti (or pipe cleaner) through the colander holes before threading some cereal onto each piece. See how tall you can make your cereal tower!
There are tons of terrific activities out there for preschoolers to develop their fine motor skills. These particular activities are just a few that I know and like, especially because they are relatively easy to set up and clean up, and require very few materials. Not only are they great for engaging your little one and keeping them entertained for a few precious moments, but they are also superb for kindergarten readiness. You can have peace of mind knowing that as they play, they are also strengthening their hand muscles, hand-eye coordination, and fine motor skills.
By Sarah Zegarra (M.Ed), educator and teacher leader who specialized in K-5 bilingual education By Sarah Zegarra (M.Ed), educator and teacher leader who taught K-5 bilingual education (Spanish-English). She is passionate about project-based, whole-child, culturally responsive teaching, and integrating the arts into learning.