The toddler years can be super hard. If your children are anything like mine, then the chances are they are super busy and in to everything! The fine motor activities I do with mine are always short, sweet and super easy to set up. Read on to discover some simple ways to help develop fine motor skills…
Before reading further, please note that all of these activities are to be done under strict supervision as some materials featured would be considered a choking hazard.. The intention of the activities are the help your little one develop fine motor skills – they are not ‘busy tasks’ that will occupy your child whilst you get on with other things, sorry.
I’m a big believer in stage not age, therefore these activities are generally suitable for children aged between 1 and 2. For reference, E is now 17 months old and all of these activities have been photographed over the last few months, so we’re talking ages 14-17 months.
1. Post-It Pull
Place post-it notes at random heights on the wall. Your baby shouldn’t need any invitation to pull them down.
Modify: draw pictures e.g. animals of colors to work on some vocabulary.
2. Stick Drop
Use craft sticks or sucker sticks and invite your little one to ‘post’ them into a coffee cup. These takes a lot of concentration and focus.
Modify: start of simple by posting craft sticks into an open-necked plastic bottle, eventually graduate to smaller sized holes.
3. Ribbon Pull
Use a sharp knife to stab hole into a cardboard box that has one side removed(somewhat therapeutic!) then thread ribbon through – tie a thick double knot in each end so the ribbon wont slip through. Your taby can then problem solve
Modify: this activity can actually be done from a much younger age. E was around 8 months old when this photograph was taken. Initially they will likely only be able to pull the ribbon one way, then overtime, figure out how to turn the box around and pull from the other side.
4. Cheerio Push
Children aged 1+ are known for their busy nature and curious minds. As soon as they begin to move, the world is theirs for the taking. If you haven’t completely baby proofed yet, now is the time! But for all of the busyness, they can also focus on tasks that occupy their hands and minds – posting activities are a particular favorite at this age.
It is best to start with chunky objects that are easy for tiny hands to grasp, but once dexterity has developed, along with the pincer grip, you can move on to smaller objects. This is where the cheerios come in!
Now I am a huge fan of loose parts BUT many objects can be considered a choking hazard, particularly if your taby still has the tendency to put everything in their mouths. Food pouch lids and pompoms seem to be incredibly popular across Instagram, but I would always caution against using these items especially with the under twos.
Cheerios are a good solution: they are small enough to be a challenge but they won’t cause huge issues if a few are taste tested!
We did this activity with E at aged 15 months after he had tried and mastered many other posting style activities. I would really recommend starting with large items first like jar lids, then try objects of increasingly smaller size – craft sticks are also a good option.
The smaller the object and hole, the harder it will be. It is all about finding the correct level of challenge for your own child. If your taby can do an activity immediately with no problems, it is probably too easy but if it’s too hard, they may cry in frustration. You need to find a balance between these two levels for optimal challenge.
Stab holes into an upturned egg carton, then invite your toddler to push cheerios through. Simply turn the empty egg carton upside down, then poke a hole in each section. Present the carton, along with a handful of cheerios, to your taby. I personally feel like this activity works best in a contained environment, so we used the high chair!
- Hand-eye coordination – putting the cheerios into the hole
- Problem solving – finding out what happened to the cheerios
- Pincer Grip – using the thumb and forefinger to grip the cheerio
- Perseverance – providing a more challenging version of a previous activity.
- Precursor to numeracy skills – including counting and 1:1 correspondence.
5. Washi Tape Peel
This is as simple as it gets really! Stick some washi tape onto a flat surface and your taby will likely do the rest!
Modify: keep part of the tape up to make it easier or make it more challenging by putting craft sticks under that need ‘rescuing.’
6. Scarf Pull
This is a great fine motor activity! Place a mini silk scarf or two into a whisk (or oball) for your taby to pull out.
Modify: you can put smaller objects such as pompoms in, but you do need to be extremely cautious as they are a choking hazard. At 18 months, i’ve just started introducing the pompom version but I watch him like a hawk!
7. Dot Sticker Peel
his is basically a more fiddly version of the washi tape peel! The dot stickers are harder to get off so it requires more perseverance. As they peel a sticker off, talk about the shape or color.
Modify: As understanding grows, try asking questions instead – e.g. can you find a circle that is yellow?
8. Colander Thread/ Pull
Thread pipe cleaners through a colander and invite your little one to ‘pull’ them out. Pro tip: snip the sharp ends off first.
Modify: This also works the opposite way as a threading activity for children with more advanced fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination.
9. Ring Stack
As fine motor activities go, this is pretty easy. Use either a traditional ring stacking tower or a paper tower holder and invite your toddler to stack the rings on – we used the grapat rings here, but wooden rings can also be bought cheaply from places like Amazon.
Modify – use smaller objects e.g. food pouch lids on dry spaghetti as your taby grows more confident. Again, be aware that food pouch lids would cause a choking hazard so do not attempt with a child that still mouths everything!
10. Animal Sound Peel
This was suggested by one of my followers after I shared my dot sticker peel over on Instagram – thanks @em_brooke_d! As your taby / toddler peels the sticker off share the animal and sound it make. This was a great activity for us as we’ve just been on a farm stay.
Modify: try smaller stickers for children with more developed motor skills.
11. DIY Guitar
This is so easy peasy! Simply wrap some elastic bands around a deep loaf tin (or anything similar you may have to hand)
12. Shape Rescue
This is very similar to the DIY guitar but with the addition of shapes to rescue. As your child pulls out a shape, describe it by name and color.
Modify: add more elastic bands, including length-ways for extra challenge.
13. Paint Squish Bags
This is a good way to keep all of the mess contained. Simply put some paints into a ziplock sandwich bag so that your toddler can explore colors. You can also opt to draw pictures on the front e.g. the sun is yellow…etc.
Modify: try color mixing as an early introduction to color theory.
14. Post Box
>We have done so many variations on posting, from an actual ‘Royal Mail’ style postbox to simpler ring posting as shown above.
Modify: the color slots were drawn on for extra challenge, so it acts as a good sorting activity too.
15. Juice Painting
Toddlers can be messy: fact. They can also put all the things in their mouths. Try water painting or juice painting. I’m always on the hunt for taste safe paint option, especially when it comes to E (16 months) so when we had a bunch of sour raspberries on our hands, we decided to utilize them for painting.
This activity is really simple to set up. We just popped the raspberries into the pestle and mortar, then Z (3.8 years) had fun grounding them down to juice. Alternatively, you could try a bowl and fork to ‘mash’ the raspberries or if the raspberries you have at home are in better condition, try stewing them first then keep the juice back as paint – so many options!
After the raspberries had been sufficiently beaten to a pulp, Z added some water to dilute the color. She experimented with shades, noticing how the red coloring got lighter with more water.
Both of my youngest children used paint brushes to explore the raspberry paint. I’m always rather proud of E’s grasp of the brush – he loves to join in and emulate his older sister, but there is also great benefits to using this as finger paint too!
The raspberry paint could be used from 12 months of age as finger paints – this is because some babies can develop allergic reactions to berries, so it is not advisable to use for babies under 1. I wouldn’t start introducing the paintbrushes until your child is closer to 18 months due to the need for a developed pincer grip.