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Improve Your Toddlers and Preschoolers' Fine Motor Skills

Posted on July 01 2021

As your little one’s fine motor skills improve, she can try more complex activities like playing Jenga.


Fine motor skills are essential for toddlers and preschoolers’ everyday activities, such as writing, drawing, dressing and feeding themselves. Hone their development with the following activities and useful tips.


Developmental Milestones for Toddlers and Preschoolers

Painting is a great way for children to train their fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination to create masterpieces.


Starting from a year old, toddlers can place different shapes into toys, and stack two to three cups. Additionally they can use their fingers to feed themselves, and fists to scribble with crayons. At two years old, they can draw vertical lines, stack up to six cups, use spoons and are learning to dress themselves.


By age three, most children can draw circles, horizontal lines, drink from an open cup and use cutlery. Furthermore, they can also undress themselves and remove their socks and shoes. By four years old, they can copy crosses, draw a two to four-part stick person, cut paper, and dress themselves. Of course, they may still have difficulty with buttons. At five years old, they can draw a square and people with up to 10 parts. They can hold a pencil in the tripod position, colour between lines, and wash and dry their hands thoroughly.


Tips for Enhancing their Development

Encourage your child to play with a variety of toys and activities to hone her fine motor skills.


Children can improve their fine motor skills through playing and everyday actions, such as dressing and feeding themselves and setting the table. The key to improving their skills is to introduce a wide variety of different activities, as it trains different muscles and skills. Frequently encourage them to accomplish simple tasks on their own, and resist the urge to rush them through these activities. Remember to always praise their efforts and celebrate their achievements, even if they don’t do them perfectly.


Fine Motor Skill Activities


Create with Play Dough

Make cars out of Green Toys’ organic flour play dough, using the tools provided and the race car chassis.


Some activities might include play dough like these from Green Toys, made in a food-safe facility in the USA. Your children can make exciting car designs with 100 per cent recycled plastic, and dishwasher-safe tools, such as cones, arrows and two race car chassis with the 12-piece Race Car Maker Dough Set ($38.90). Playing with the dough helps strengthen their fingers and hands and their hand-eye coordination. Younger toddlers may form worms and balls at first, and then evolve into making more intricate creations.


Drawing, Colouring and Painting

Children three and up can easily paint these pictures with a water pen - no matter how imprecise their strokes, the picture will magically appear.


Once children can clutch fat crayons or paint brushes in their pincer grasp, they can hone their drawing and colouring skills. Try mess-free portable painting kits like the Tiger Tribe Magic Painting World ($14.90), Melissa & Doug On the Go Water WOW Reveal Pads and Colour Blast No-Mess Colouring Pads, and Galt First Water Magic ($8.90 to $19.90). Toddlers and preschoolers can easily colour with the pen or paintbrush and watch as the pictures appear in and then disappear when dry. At first, children may have to use their arms to put crayons to paper, but they’ll soon learn to bend their wrists and fingers to draw and colour. Eventually, they’ll also develop basic writing skills.


For children three and up: mess free painting sticks, miniature tea sets, pottery, fairy night lights, jumbo colouring pads, race car and pirate chest wooden craft kits ($9.90 to $35.90)



Preschoolers three and up can put together this fire truck puzzle, which trains their hand-eye coordination and cognitive skills.


Puzzles engage their hand-eye coordination, so the hands, eyes, and brains cooperate to place the puzzle pieces correctly. Toddlers can start with simple puzzles like the First Play Wooden ABC-123 Chunky Puzzle ($22.90) from Melissa & Doug. This nine-piece puzzle features letters, numbers and shapes with coordinating pictures for your little ones to match. Children can also concurrently learn letters, problem solving, colours, numbers and shapes.


As their skills develop, challenge them with progressively harder puzzles such as the Building and Nesting Blocks ($19.90), or the Oribel Vertiplay series for two year olds. Older children can fix puzzles from Crocodile Creek or Janod ($13.90 to $28.90). Alternatively, Smart Games has puzzles ($16.90 to $59.90) for cognitive and fine motor skill development for children two and up.


Bath Time and Sand Play

Toddlers and preschoolers can mould various shapes out of sand or just fill and dump it out.


Bath time is great to teach children skills like washing and drying themselves, and for water-themed pretend play and bath toys. For example, they can use the Green Toys Tugboat ($21.90) to scoop and pour out water, and watch it float across the bathtub. These introduce concepts of volume, more, less, full, empty, sinking and floating. Squeeze toys, like the Munchkin Squirtin Barnyard Friends ($29.90) also work your little one’s motor skills.


Similarly, sand play helps fine motor skill and sensory development. Create your own sand texture with eight cups of flour to one cup of baby oil ($18.45), adding more oil or flour as needed. Using the B.Toys Medium Bucket Set ($39.90), toddlers and preschoolers can mould whatever they want - or simply repeatedly dump out the sand off the monster truck. With the sifter, rake and shovel, they can dig for hidden treasure.


Inflatable Pools to Confine Mess: Ocean Play and Under the Palm Trees ($29.90 to $39.90)

Other Sand Play Options: B. Toys Large Bucket Set, Water Wheel, Sand Truck and Water/Sand, and Green Toys Tide Pool Bath Set ($32.90 to $55.90)


Stacking And Building Blocks

Babies as young as six months can start building towers with stacking cups like these from Mushie to train their fine motor skills.


Toddlers can start building towers with Mushie Stacking Cups ($23.90), suitable for six month olds up to three years old. While training their motor skills, they also learn language and about Denmark. Other stackers include Sophie La Giraffe Stacking Flowers and Green Toys Stacker ($19.90 to $21.90). As they become more proficient, they can fit blocks into the correct shapes with the Smart Games Brain Train ($49.90) in various challenges before moving the train around the track.


Aspiring builders can work on their own aeroplanes and dump trucks, using the tools to screw in the nuts and bolts on the B. Toys Build-A-Ma-Jigs Aeroplane. Kids can also take the dump truck or roadster (both $59.90) apart and put it back together with the power drill and three interchangeable bits.


Activity Books

Little ones can practice writing alphabets with this fun activity book.


Start your toddlers off with interactive books like the Jellycat Tails series ($32.90), guessing which animals the tails belong to. Other options include those with flaps, such as the Little World Jungle Journey ($12.90) and the Lift the Flap books ($10.50 to $24.90). Preschoolers can try Usborne 365 Things to Make and Do ($30.90), which contains different activities like flag chains, fabric collages and gift tags, all with detailed instructions and illustrations. Sticker books and writing practice activity books ($9.90 to $29.80) can also help them hone their motor and language skills.


Aside from these activity books, help build reading and speaking skills by singing songs, reading books and talking with your little ones. As children constantly see the act of reading, and have access to books they can use on their own, will help foster independence in handling books.


Threading and Dressing

Motivate your child to practice threading with cute charm bracelets that she can wear upon completion.


Another way to train children’s hand-eye coordination and manual dexterity is by teaching them how to thread, and dress themselves. For example, Galt’s Cotton Reels, First Lacing Pictures and Fun Buttons ($17.90 to $19.90) is great for three to five year olds to practice threading and stacking. This helps them tie shoelaces and do up their own buttons and zips on their clothes.


When your children begin to dress themselves, the results may be interesting - with mismatched outfits or clothes worn inside out. Praise them for their efforts and gently suggest corrections where appropriate. Use stickers or draw arrows on the inside of shoes so they can identify the correct sides.


Eating and Drinking

Let children explore - and play - with their food to improve their dexterity, while they wear bibs to minimise the mess.


Children playing, exploring and picking up their food helps them develop fine motor skills not only in their hands, but also in their tongues and lips. This helps them eat well and with speech and language.


From nine months onwards, they can use a pincer grip to feed themselves, scoop with a spoon, and eventually use a fork correctly by age four. Initially, food in long thick strips may be easier for them to grasp, and then progress to smaller bite sized pieces as their coordination improves. While children learn, be prepared for mess, so put bibs on them and cover the floor with a protective sheet. Model drinking with an open cup so your little ones can follow you, and give them a little at a time.


Relevant Reads: Learn by Playing and Smart Toys for Cognitive Development

Credits: Ketut Subiyanto, Monstera, PNW Production, Green Toys Vietnam, O Sótão da Rita,baboong2, Angela Jiae Han, The Milky Books, Mia Kaur, Maria Karina


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