Get your kids ready to go back to school with these fun fine motor activities that will have your child’s hands ready for writing and cutting!
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Summer is a great time to experience new things. But it’s also a great time to “sneak” in activities that will help your kids develop the fine motor skills they’ll need for the school year.
Today, my friend and fellow OT extraordinaire Kelly DeYoung MOTR/L is here to share 5 Fine Motor activities for your kids to do before going back to school that they’ll love doing!
Kelly is the mastermind behind OTPerspective, a website filled with insider OT tricks and tools to help parents with fine motor skills, sensory processing, and child development in early education.
She’s a busy mom of 4 kids, and understands the need for simple activities that use everyday household items.
Her ideas are genius and you’ll be able to easily use them with your kids too!
What Fine Motor Skills Do Kids Need for School??
This might surprise you, BUT writing is not a fine motor skill you need to have in getting your child ready for preschool or kindergarten.
Focusing on fine motor skills of in-hand manipulation and pincer grasp are KEY for getting ready for school!
These skills will help increase your child’s independence and efficiency with using school materials (turning pages, using a pencil and scissors) and self-help skills like opening containers, zippering, and buttoning.
The Pincer grasp typically develops around 9 months when babies begin to self-feed. But it takes years to strengthen those muscles.
Opening snack bags, holding a pencil, and zippering a backpack all begin with a strong pincer grasp.
Meanwhile, in-hand manipulation skills typically begin to develop between the ages 2 and 4 and master by ages 6-7.
Kids begin to develop in-hand manipulation skills by bringing one item from their finger to their palm using one hand. As the skill develops, they are able to manipulate and stabilize more than one object.
Turning pages of a book, writing with a pencil, advancing a glue stick, and cleaning up crayons on a table quickly, all use in-hand manipulation skills!
Kids Don’t Need to Know They’re Working on Fine Motor Skills
In my house, “Let’s do some fine motor activities that will get you ready for school!”, would be answered with a wailing, “Noooooooooooo”, followed by a slump to the floor.
What my kids don’t know is that they work on their fine motor skills without even knowing it!
Because I just set up all of the following fine motor activities as regular ol’ play.
And, all these activities can be done using common household items, which often intrigues kids.
5 Fine Motor Activities Before Going Back to School
These fine motor activities are great for 4 and 5 year olds going into preschool and Kindergarten. But honestly, my 6 year old likes them too, especially #4!
# 1. Pick Up As Many Items As Possible Using One Hand
My kids love this silly game. The best part is that you can really do it anywhere. Oh, and it is one of the proven skills to help increase writing legibility!
To set up, choose items that are small and plentiful and see how many your kiddo can hold in the palm of their hand without dropping any!
This skill, in-hand manipulation, develops the small muscles of the hand. Working these muscles help your kiddo to isolate parts of their hands while manipulating an object instead of using the hand as a whole.
In-hand manipulation is really important for being able to move a pencil efficiently (i.e.: write, color, or draw).
Some fun items to use for this game:
- Toothpicks, crayons, or veggie straws
- Pieces of cereal – make sure to not squeeze them too hard, or they will break!
- Lego pieces- without connecting them!
- Silverware – and then have them set the table without dropping any!
If your kiddo is having a hard time with this, try using items that have a little “give” to them… think cotton balls, marshmallows, or pompoms.
# 2. Playing Card Games
Playing card games is a great way to work on developing fine motor skills!
These fine motor skills will not only help your card game, but are also used for handwriting and managing school materials like papers, folders, and pencil cases.
Here’s some intentional ways to play with a deck of cards:
- Pick 1 card up from a pile without sliding it on the table
– Important for using school materials efficiently
- Hold multiple cards in one hand
– A great way to learn how to use “just the right amount of pressure” for writing and cutting
- Flip a card over to show the other side using 1 hand
– Helps kids turn pages in a book
- Deal cards out by holding the pile in one hand, and taking one card at a time with the other hand using your thumb and pointer or thumb, pointer finger, and middle finger
– Activates the fingers most likely to control a pencil
- Shuffle cards while not using the table to spread them out and collect them again
– Works on using the right amount of pressure
Fun Card Games to Try are:
- Go Fish
- Old Maid
- Slap Jack – Divide cards equally between players. Everyone flips one card over at the same time. When you see a “J” slap it. Who ever slaps it first wins the pile.
- Matching Suits – Take out one card for each suit and set them on a table. Go through the whole deck matching the suits until you are out of cards
# 3. Mazes
Mazes are another great way to jumpstart school readiness after a fun filled summer!
The key to mazes is finding which level is appropriate for your kiddo. Mazes come in many different sizes. Aim to find one that your kiddo can figure out the correct path, while mainly staying between the two path lines.
Doing mazes helps strengthen pencil control that is required for writing and coloring within the lines.
If you can not find skill appropriate mazes and want to do the activity, you have 3 options:
- Make your own
- Complete the maze together
- Have your kiddo go over completed mazes using a different color trying to stay on the line!
# 4. Screwdriver/ Hammer
Have a broken electronic device laying around your house? A friend’s house?
Make sure you have safety glasses and gloves – then, lay the object on a drop cloth, and have your kiddo take it apart as much as they can. You might need to jump in to loosen a screw initially, but then let them finish the job!
(You should make sure to supervise this activity as there might be sharp objects/ pieces/ corners your kiddo will have to contend with).
I suggest using kid size real tools. First, kids like to use real tools. Secondly, the tools are generally easier to use than plastic kid tools.
Using a screwdriver to loosen a screw works on:
- Finger rotation (used for moving a pencil around to write and color)
- Hand strengthening (decreases hand fatigue during writing)
- Eye-hand coordination (helps guide a pencil within writing and coloring lines)
If you don’t have a broken electronic device, don’t worry! This activity can be done with kid building sets or Erector sets too.
# 5. Water Paint With Only Water
Give your kiddo different sized paint brushes and sponges with a container of water.
Have them draw, make lines, color in, or splatter using the paint brushes on wood fences and the sidewalk. “Writing” on vertical surfaces like a wood fence is an added bonus for core strengthening!
Or use different sized sponges to clean outside toys, and make different shapes on a wood fence.
Another fun activity with sponges is to race to see how long it takes to fill up an empty container by wringing out a wet sponge. This is a great hand strengthening activity!
What if the Fine Motor Activities are Too Hard?
The key to building fine motor skills is to “meet your child where they are”.
For example, if your kiddo can only pick up 3 toothpicks before they start falling out of their hand, then that is where you start.
After they have shown you that they can pick up 3 toothpicks pretty consistently, then encourage them to try to pick up 4 toothpicks and so on.
Holding playing cards is another really challenging task for younger kids. If your kiddo is getting frustrated because they can’t hold the cards with one hand, then set the game rules to start with fewer cards (especially for Go Fish).
More Fine Motor Activities (Free Printable)
Want more fine motor activity ideas for your kids? Make sure to grab my favorite quick skill building 25 activities in the link below.
It includes 25 activities for fine motor, gross motor, core strengthening, eye-hand coordination, and attention building using household items and minimal mess!
You’ll want to have this resource right in your fingertips!
Kelly is a licensed Occupational Therapist with 15 years of experience servicing school-aged children and Early Intervention. She is the founder of www.otperspective.com and a mom to 4 children. Follow her on Facebook @otperspective and Instagram @ot_otperspective_kids