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As the mom of a 2-year-old, I’m constantly on the lookout for new fine motor activities for toddlers. (Bonus points if they can keep my daughter entertained for more than ten minutes.) I’ve been amassing a list on my notepad for months now, and figured it was high time I shared my wisdom with everyone else.
Before I start, please remember that all kids are different. Even if my toddler will spend literal hours pouring water from one bowl to another, your kid might not like that sensation right now. That’s okay! Since I’ve got 50+ options to choose from, something here is bound to light your kid up.
No, I’m not suggesting you give your child an actual needle. (Although historically, little girls as young as five were making those embroidered samplers you see on Antiques Roadshow.)
Instead, take a piece of cardboard and punch out holes around the edges. Then tie a string to one hole and tape the other end so it’s straight and firm. Have them sew around the edges in different styles. Alternatively, you could get a set of lacing cards, which is the official name for this activity.
Pegboard with Elastics
These are great for strengthening tiny hands because they require kids to stretch elastics and precisely place them on pegs. As a bonus, pegboards often double as a homeschool resource for older children learning geometry and patterns.
Play-Doh and Putty
There are so many different styles of soft, moldable materials. There’s the gold standard, Play-Doh proper, old school Silly Putty, and of course you can make your own.
Then, you also have a variety of ways that these turn into fine motor activities for toddlers. You can…
- Squish them with your hands
- Slice doh with a pretend or butter knife
- Roll it into snakes
- Form into tiny balls and make dot art
This is great for a summer day. Grab a large, car-wash sized sponge and two big buckets. Let them run between the buckets, transferring water from one to the other by squeezing the sponge. It’s great for strengthening little finger muscles!
My daughter loves this one. Personally, I just give her the junk mail and let her have at it, but you can be more intentional. Ask your child to rip construction paper into strips for a paper chain, party decorations, or to line your hamster’s cage.
What kid doesn’t like making noise? Aside from the fun factor, musical instruments are great for helping your toddler’s fine motor skills.
- Wind instruments like toddler recorders require finger placement and coordination
- Percussion instruments like xylophones or drums require kids to control mallets or drumsticks
- Pianos are EXCELLENT for developing finger muscles and fine motor skills. Remember, Mozart learned to play his first instrument at three!
Pour & Scoop
There are so many different combinations of activities to teach your toddler pouring and scooping skills. You can suggest utensils like spoons, tongs, spatulas, forks, or just their hands. You also can offer them different materials to scoop, like water, rice, beans, beads, sand, and macaroni.
Pipe cleaners are great for toddlers because they have the thinness of string but the strength of wire. They’re perfect for kids not yet ready for activities like lacing cards or jewelery making. You can give your child things like colanders or foam to stab and thread the pipe cleaners through. You also can offer things like beads, wide pasta like ziti, or froot loops to thread onto the pipe cleaners.
I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s been trying to make dinner and allowed her daughter to rifle through the tupperware drawer to keep her entertained. This can be a great fine motor activity, though! Stacking is great for building dexterity and coordination, whether they’re building towers of tupperware, blocks, rocks, earasers, cups, or nesting boxes.
Little toddlers and preschoolers love to make sense of their world. Part of this is knowing how to categorize items and put things in their place.
You can do this as part of your daily living routines, like matching socks or organizing a junk drawer. Alternatively, you could give them a bowl full of mixed up materials and have them sort them. This can double as a way to learn colors, by the way. Here are some sorting-based fine motor activities for toddlers to get you started:
- Multi-colored beads
- Fruit Loops
- Trail Mix
- Pretend food
- Different kinds of dried beans (kidney, black, cannellini, etc)
If you have a good pair of kid scissors, you have one of the best tools for building a toddler’s fine motor ability. Give them a variety of materials to cut, like paper, string, straws, even cooked spaghetti.
Not only is gardening a great educational activity, but they get food out of it! Put them in charge of digging with a trowel, planting seeds, and pulling little weeds.
I’ve already mentioned that you can thread things onto pipe cleaners, but once your child has mastered that, they can move onto yarn activities. You can tie a knot at one end of the yarn to prevent items from sliding off. Alternatively, you can tape one end to a flat surface like a clipboard for easy, transportable fun, or tape the yarn to the floor or wall for extra stability. Give them some cut straws, chunky macaroni, or beads and let them go to town.
Connect the dots
This one is so easy. Just stick some stickers onto a piece of paper and have your kid use a marker, crayon, or paintbrush to draw lines between them!
I’m a huge proponent of teaching fine motor skills through daily activities. With velcro, all you need to do is give your kid their shoes to take on and off. I’m not sure about your toddler, but mine loves dressing herself. Over, and over, and over. Why not let them build their skills along the way?
Of course, you could just get a sheet of velcro dots and let them practice that way.
This activity helps with your child’s pincer grip and is pretty self-explanatory. Pro-tip: be prepared to find stickers all over your house.
For the same reason as the pegboards, just giving your kids the opportunity to play with rubber bands is great for developing fine motor skills. You can show them how to take them on and off a cylinder like a bottle or jar. You also can have them practice tying a doll’s hair in pigtails. Finally, rubber bands are great for fastening the bag of goldfish closed, and I’m sure your toddler can be motivated to use a rubber band if they get goldfish at the end.
Clothespins to build fine motor skills in toddlers
If you search on Pinterest, you’ll find TONS of fine motor activities for toddlers that use clothespins. They can be used for…
- Color, letter, or number matching activities.
- Hanging things like artwork on tiny clotheslines
- Attaching multiple pieces of paper or fabric together
- Clipping chip bags closed
This one might require more effort than the rest of the activities I’m listing. I say this because sometimes I struggle to use one! strong little hand muscles!) They now make “reduced effort hole punchers,” which might be better for toddlers, though I haven’t tried them myself.
Regardless, you can give your child a hole puncher to cut holes in paper, thin cardboard, even plastics like chip bags.
Do you have a pet? Does your family trek dirt all over the house? Does your toddler enjoy smushing cheerios to smithereens? (Hey, that probably counts as a fine motor activity in itself.) If you said yes to any of the above, your house probably could use some lint rolling (I know mine can!) Give your kid a lint roller, point them to the couch, and offer an oreo for every sheet they use up.
My daughter LOVES playing with magnets. Not only can you get magnets in fun, educational shapes, but some of the stronger ones require a lot of strength to play with. Experiment by giving them different strengths of magnets, or have them run around the house finding out what is and isn’t magnetic.
If you want a great travel activity for road trips, give them some magnets on cookie sheets!
Even your great, great, great-grandpa knew marbles were good for kids’ fine motor skill development. That’s why we can find civilizations as old as the Greeks, Romans, and Egyptians playing with marbles as children.
You can teach them to play traditional marble games or have them stack plastic tubes to make marble runs. If your child wants to become youtube famous, you could also let them create elaborate marble runs at the beach, in their backyard with snow, or using playdoh!
Eyedroppers & Squirt Bottles
This is another activity that quickly builds pincer grasps! There’s also a ton of ways to use eyedroppers.
- Your child can practice mixing colors by offering small bowls or cups of single colored water and combining them into one large bowl.
- You can have them add different colors onto a spinning art stand to make splatter art
- Finally, eyedroppers are important tools in a homeschooler’s science kit
This activity probably shouldn’t be done with actual wood, hammer, and nails, but you know your child best. Other alternatives include using a child’s hammer to pound pegs into foam or pre-poked cardboard.
I don’t really have to explain the allure, importance, or rational behind this one do I? Kids of all ages are gaga for legos. You can get sets in decreasing shape size the older your child gets to increase the challenge. For instance, a two-year-old will be plenty challenged by megablocks, a preschooler by duplos, and older children by proper legos. Don’t forget to check places like facebook marketplace, craigslist, and yard sales for these, though! They last forever and parents are always getting rid of them when kids age out.
Daily dressing tasks (aka, the best fine motor skills for toddlers)
These final tasks are a personal favorite. Since we moms have zero time to ourselves as it is, we can gain a few minutes here or there by teaching our toddlers to dress themselves. And if you add the increased bonus of this being a fine motor activity for toddlers, it’s a huge win. Here are some options:
- buttoning buttons
- zipping zippers
- fastening clasps (like on overalls)
- Velcroing shoes
There you have it, my exhaustive list of as many different fine motor activities for toddlers I could think of.
The beauty of this list, however, is that it’s only a jumping off point. Maybe you have materials in your home I’ve never heard of. Maybe your family has a traditional weaving loom that’s not practical for me to suggest to everyone, but your child can learn to thread using that.
Take these lists of skills (threading, pouring, pinching, etc) and run with it!
For more reading on this topic:
- Homeschooling Preschool: 5 Tips to Get You Started
- 20 FUN Preschool STEM Activities
- Stories for Kids: 12 AMAZING Authors for Preschool & Kindergarten
Hillary is a former teacher who went rogue and became a freelance writer. When not offering support and advice to homeschooling families, she tends to her own garden, family, and cat. You can connect with her on her website, homegrownhillary.com.