Watching Grace navigate kindergarten this year has given me a newfound appreciation for occupational therapy. It’s not just the handwriting, it’s opening a crayon box, drawing, turning pages of her math book, opening snack containers, using the restroom…the list goes on. Fine motor skills equal independence, friends. So give your little ones some opportunities to hone those outside of therapy sessions with some of our favorite fine motor toys. Two things I enjoy about many of these toys are that many can be used in independent play, and many can be used for several years. This list is organized roughly by age of first use (youngest at top).
I highly recommend this first shapes knob puzzle as any child’s first puzzle. Shapes, colors, fine motor skills: there are so many ways to learn from this. My sister-in-law created one for Grace with family photos decoupaged on the back of each piece – so clever and very motivating!
Interlocking blocks for the youngest builders, Mega Bloks help to build fine motor skills, visual motor skills, and imagination. They can also be used to work on counting, colors, and patterns.
This button art kit is a fun, mess-free to way to make art while learning colors and working on fine motor and visual motor skills. The button pieces are on the small side, so I would recommend supervision of children who still explore with their mouths.
We started introducing art supplies around the age of 2. An OT recommended Slick Stix instead of crayons because they produce more vibrant colors with less pressure applied and Pip Squeaks markers, the small size of which encourage proper writing grasp. We also love Do-a-Dot markers as a, fun, easy pre-writing art supply. They’re great for free-drawing or for completing any of hundreds of dot pages like these.
These easy-to-squeeze self-opening loop scissors are an excellent tool for small hands with low tone. They’re the perfect first pair for children just learning to cut who struggle with grasp-release motion or whose hands are too small for traditional scissors.
We chose this tabletop easel over a free-standing one because of space issues but also because being able to sit at the easel helps preserve more energy (because writing and drawing can be tiring enough). Writing on a big upright surface enhances strength and flexibility throughout the arm and hand and promotes better pencil grasp. If you’re nervous about giving your child dry erase markers (like I was) dry erase crayons are an option; the friction they create on the board also gives the hand more feedback than a marker, which can help writers with low tone. We use the magnetic white board for letter magnets and math manipulatives. This toy will definitely grow with your child for years.
One of Grace’s OT’s gifted her this magnetic hide-and-seek board, a fun puzzle alternative. Fine motor skills are honed as your child opens the doors and removes the magnetic objects inside. Like all Melissa and Doug products, this one includes useful suggestions for extension activities in the back. Of course, we also had several peg puzzles. I especially like this set for preschoolers.
In addition to building fine motor skills, lacing beads promote the important skills of bimanual (both hand) coordination and crossing the midline. I especially like the Alex brand because the dowel on the end of the string makes lacing easier. Also available as alphabet letters and farm animals.
We received Squigz as a gift, and I was surprised by how long they kept the girls’ attention. We used them on our sliding glass door, but they’ll stick to many surfaces including each other, the bathtub, and foreheads! Removing these from a surface is an excellent hand strengthening activity. Find more play ideas on The Inspired Treehouse.
We love all things food, and Melissa and Doug rarely disappoint. The cutting food sets are not as popular in our house, but we have really enjoyed the Slice and Bake Cookie set, Frozen Treats, and Pizza Party. From a fine motor standpoint, play with the latter products involves increased manipulation of the Velcro, which is great for hand-strengthening.
Wikki Stix are the lesser known cousins of Play-Doh (I totally made that up), which can be used to make art, work on shape, letter, and number formation, and more. Grace’s kindergarten OT just encouraged me to use them the help her keep her writing on the baseline and work on coloring in the lines. Keep your eyes open – I scored ours at the Target Dollar Spot a couple of years ago.
Moving from peg puzzles to jigsaw puzzles was a big step that often frustrated Grace. She loves doing puzzles but wants to do them more independently than is sometimes possible. I have found that repetition with the same puzzle helps (no surprise there). Though they are hard to find, puzzles that have the completed image printed on the background are a big help. (I have found this, this (pictured), and these on Amazon.) Without that help, having thick wooden pieces in a wooden frame like many of the Melissa and Doug jigsaw puzzles or even floor puzzles have been much more manageable for her at this point than traditional free form cardboard pieces.
Ok, ok. As a late adopter (I begrudgingly got my first smart phone in mid-2017), I realize that some of you may see this toy as obsolete in a world of tablets and apps. We don’t use learning apps, and I found the LeapFrog Mr. Pencil’s Scribble and Write to be a fantastic tool for learning shapes, numbers, capital and lowercase letters, letter sounds, and simple phonics. I love that my children can operate it themselves and often choose to play with it over other toys. Another bonus is that the screen responds to touch, so Grace can use her finger to write on it when the pencil becomes frustrating. Ten out of ten technophobes recommend.
Yes – they still make Lite Brite! Though you can no longer warm you hands by the scorching hot light bulb inside, the new version does offer some fun blinking options. It does require patience and often persistence in correctly lining up those little pegs, but the result is really fun and has been motivating for our girls. We often work on this together as a family.
What would a fine motor list be without Legos? We have yet to graduate from Duplos. But I look forward to the extra challenge of manipulating the smaller pieces once we can claim our hand-me-downs from cousins who live out-of-state.
If you’re looking for more fine motor ideas, check out my post on Our Favorite Board Games.
What are your favorite fine motor toys? Share in the comments below.
Want more gift ideas?
Check out my list of Gifts made for and by People with Down syndrome, our Our Favorite Board Games for Preschoolers and Early Elementary, Our Favorite Gross Motor Toys, and Our Favorite Products that Promote Independence.
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