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Home Activities to Improve Motor Skills

Young children learning to write benefit from experiences that support the development of fine motor skills in the hands and fingers.

Children should have strength and dexterity in their hands and fingers before being asked to manipulate a pencil on paper. Here are some fun activities children can do at home to develop these important skills (more activities can be found under the menu to the left).

Fine-Motor Activities

The following activities involve the use of manipulatives to support young children's fine motor development, and will help to build the strength and dexterity necessary to hold a pencil appropriately.

  1. Mold and roll Play-Doh® into balls—using the palms of the hands facing each other and with fingers curled slightly towards the palm.
  1. Roll Play-Doh® into tiny balls (peas) using only the fingertips.
  2. Use pegs or toothpicks to make designs in Play-Doh®.
  3. Cut Play-Doh® with a plastic knife or with a pizza or tracing wheel by holding the implement in a diagonal grasp.
  1. Tear newspaper into strips and then crumple them into balls. Use the balls of paper as stuffing for scarecrows, puppets, or other art projects.
  1. Scrunch up one (1) sheet of newspaper in one hand—great for building strength!
  1. Pick up objects using large tweezers such as those found in the Bed Bugs® game. This can be adapted by picking up Cheerios®, small cubes, small marshmallows, pennies, etc., in counting games.
  1. Shake dice by cupping the hands together, forming an empty air space between the palms.
  1. Use small-sized screwdrivers like those found in an erector set.
  2. Use lacing and sewing activities such as stringing beads, Cheerios®, macaroni, etc. Also, if available, plastic-coated string—S’getti String®—works great with cut up drinking straws.
  1. Use eye droppers to "pick up" colored water for color mixing or to make artistic designs on paper. Turn coffee filters into an art project!
  1. Roll small balls out of tissue paper, and then glue the balls onto construction paper to form pictures or designs.
  1. Attempt to turn over cards, coins, checkers, or buttons, without bringing them to the edge of the table.
  1. Make pictures using stickers or self-sticking paper (O) reinforcements.
  2. Play games with the "puppet fingers"—thumb, index, and middle fingers. At circle time, have each child's puppet fingers tell about what happened over the weekend or use puppet fingers in songs and finger plays.

Scissor Activities

When scissors are held correctly and when they fit a child's hand well, cutting activities will exercise the very same muscles which are needed to hold a pencil correctly, that is, between the thumb and index finger with the pencil resting on the middle finger. The correct scissor position is with the thumb and middle finger in the handles of the scissors, the index finger on the outside of the handle to stabilize, with fingers four and five curled into the palm.

  1. Cut up junk mail or magazine subscription cards.
  2. Make fringe on the edge of a piece of construction paper.
  3. Cut Play-Doh® with scissors.
  4. Cut straws or shredded paper.

Activities for the Development of Handwriting Skills

There are significant prerequisites for writing skills that begin in infancy and continue to emerge through the preschool years. The following activities support and promote fine motor and visual motor development:

Body Stability

The joints of the body need to be stable before the hands can be free to focus on specific skilled fine motor tasks. Activities include:

  1. Wheelbarrow walking, crab walking, and wall push-ups.
  2. Using Silly Putty® and outside play with playground equipment like monkey bars.
  3. Throwing a ball through an old tire or at a cardboard target.
  4. Dancing or marching to music.

Gross Motor Skills Games

Some of these games work best outside, but others work equally well indoors or out. Motivate major movement with games such as:

  • Hit the target: Use hula hoops or chalk to designate targets on the ground, then have kids aim bean bags or balls (even snowballs).
  • Paper plate skates: Use paper plates to glide along on a carpet. Try to imitate speed skaters, hockey players, or figure skaters.
  • Jump the brook: Lay out two jump ropes, or draw two chalk lines to represent the brook, and have kids try to jump over it. Try making it wider in some spots and narrower in others for a few levels of challenge.
  • Soccer: Instead of playing a real game, just let kids enjoy kicking the ball and aiming it toward a goal or a large cardboard box or laundry basket turned on its side. You can try an easy indoor version that uses crumpled paper instead of balls.
  • Tag or other classic games such as Follow the Leader, Mother May I, Twister, Hopscotch or Simon Says.
  • Stair climbing (put puzzle pieces at the bottom of the stairs and the puzzle board at the top of the stairs)
  • Tiptoe or heel walking (giving hand support at first)
  • Walking heel to toe

Avoid or modify games that force kids to sit still or to be eliminated from play, such as Duck Duck Goose or Musical Chairs.

Other Fine-Motor Skills

When a certain amount of body stability has developed, the hands and fingers begin to work on movements of dexterity and isolation as well as different kinds of grasps. Children will develop fine motor skills best when they work on a VERTICAL or near vertical surface as much as possible. (i.e. chalkboard, whiteboard, 3” desk binder). In particular, the wrist must be bent back in the direction of the hand.

  1. Attach a large piece of drawing paper to the wall. Have the child use a large marker and try the following exercises to develop visual motor skills: Make a letter, number, or letter part (stroke) model— one per sheet of paper. Have the child trace over your line from left to right, or from top to bottom. Have them trace over each figure at least 10 times. Then have the child draw their figure next to your model several times.
  1. Play "Connect the Dots." Again make sure the child's strokes connect the dots from left to right, and from top to bottom.
  1. Trace around stencils. The non-dominant hand should hold the stencil flat and stable against the paper, while the dominant hand pushes the pencil firmly against the edge of the stencil. The stencil must be held firmly.
  1. Attach a large piece of felt to the wall, or use a felt board. The child can use felt shapes to make pictures. Magnetic boards can be used the same way.
  1. Have the child work on a chalkboard doing the same kinds of tracing and modeling activities as suggested above.
  1. Paint at an easel. Some of the modeling activities as suggested above can be done at the easel.

Hand-Eye Coordination

This involves accuracy in placement, direction, and spatial awareness.

  1. Throw bean bags/Koosh balls into a hula-hoop placed flat on the floor. Gradually increase the distance.
  1. Play throw and catch with a ball. Start with a large ball and work toward a smaller ball. (Koosh balls are easier to catch than a tennis ball.)
  1. Practice hitting bowling pins with a ball. (You can purchase these games or make your own with soda bottles and a small ball.)
  1. Play "Hit the Balloon" with a medium-sized balloon.