I have a confession. We failed to prepare our oldest son for handwriting success. He wasn’t interested in coloring. He wasn’t interested in cutting. He just wanted to romp and run and be a little rambunctious boy.
No doubt, those things are important! But when it came time for handwriting, he struggled. He still struggles with neatness in handwriting. In retrospect, my wife wishes she knew what she does now. She wishes she would have spent more time encouraging a multitude of activities that strengthen fine motor skills.
The difference in how naturally writing came to our artistic second-born who loves coloring, painting, playdough, and crafts is simply amazing. There is no doubt in our minds that many of these activities helped him develop fine motor skills and in turn get him ready for handwriting.
Seeing these differences, and doing the research, has given us the know-how to prepare our 3-year old twins. I put together a list of 21 things that can be done to help prepare kids for handwriting success.
Why Fine Motor Skills Are Vital
Tips Before You Get Started
When your child is 3 or 4, you might start noticing that one hand is their dominant hand: they just prefer using it to eat or color. Keep in mind a child’s dominant hand might not be firmly established until they are 6 or 7, so as you observe your child, pay attention to the hand they favor. This will help you transition into handwriting later on.
As another note for parents of boys: you might need to spend a little extra time with your boys. One large scale study done in the UK found that generally there are no differences between kindergarten-age boys and girls in the development of gross motor skills, but girls do perform better with fine motor skills. Boys may just need more time developing the skills they need, so be patient with them.
21 Activities to Develop Strong Fine-Motor Skills in Kids
1. Self help activities. By age 4 most kids are doing a decent job with getting dressed, except for needing help with tying shoes or putting on jackets and coats. These are great fine motor activities kids can learn when they are in preschool:
- using a zipper
- buttoning a snap
- tying a shoes
These things do take practice and can be frustrating to kids, so instead of pushing them, just continue to show them how and don’t get frustrated yourself.
2. Drawing, Tracing, and Painting. This is an obvious way to build fine motor skills. You can put out the crayons and markers and let your kids go to town. But it is good to help them develop some techniques.
- Have your child copy you. Draw different shapes and ask your child to copy you.
- Draw specific pictures. Challenge your child to draw a picture of something specific they can look at.
- Have your child do some tracing: have them trace over dotted or dashed lines to make a picture. Tracing requires a strong and controlled grip, so its great for developing fine motor skills.
- Painting. Have your child do some painting with a paintbrush or a Q-Tip, or, of course, fingerpainting. What child doesn’t love getting paint all over themselves?
- Color in the lines. Have them practice coloring in the lines, which takes more control than just scribbling the whole page!
3. Cutting. Cutting is a very effective way to strengthen a child’s hand. Find some child safe scissors and have them cut specific objects: cut along a straight line, cut along a curved line, cutting out shapes. Just remember, learning to cut is a long process.
Make it fun by showing your child how to make paper dolls or snowflakes!
4. Gluing. Once you’ve cut out shapes, gluing is another great activity for developing fine motor skills.
- Use construction paper or colored paper and have your child make fun designs.
- You can also use glue for thicker objects, like gluing dried beans to paper and making the outline of a shape or an animal.
5. Wikki Stix. Wikki Stix are made of yarn covered in wax, so they both bend and stick to stuff. You can get some printable shapes, laminate them (this laminator is a must-have for every mom) and then give your child Wikki Stix to bend stick to the laminated pages. This is a great way to exercise the pincher fingers.
This post has more fun ideas on how to use Wikki Stix for early learning.
6. Stacking blocks. By the age of 4 your child should have the ability to stack up a tower of blocks, but you can have your child practice all kinds of other shapes like building something with four walls or putting them in a circle or making a pyramid. This practices hand-eye coordination and dexterity.
7. Linking blocks or connector sets. Let your kids play with Megablocks or Duplos. By age 4 they can probably build some simple stuff already, so consider helping them build something more complicated or buy different kinds of blocks like magnetic blocks, bristle blocks, Tinker Toys, construction straws (one of our little boys favorites), or Unifix cubes.
8. Puzzles. Puzzles are great for cognitive development in general because children are manipulating objects, practicing problem solving, learning to recognize shapes, and enhancing their memory. Of course, it’s also great fine motor play!
9. Fun with food. The action of using a spoon or fork correctly is a great fine motor skill. When eating meals, show your child how you hold you utensil and then place their fingers in the right position.
By age 4 your kids are likely holding the utensil the right way, but you can introduce new food skills. For instance, let them butter their own bread with a butter knife, or use toothpicks for things like marshmallows, grapes, or berries. Kids will have to use both hands and coordinate their fingers to get the toothpicks in. They’ll love eating their finished product.
10. Playing with dough. You could use PlayDough or Theraputty. Theraputty is a strong silly-putty-like material that a lot of Occupational Therapists use. Theraputty comes in different strengths: each color of Theraputty has more or less resistance when you squeeze it.
If the toxicity or ingredients of dough are a concern to you, you can get a recipe for do-it-yourself gluten-free, non-toxic dough.
- Rolling dough with both hands is good for coordination as well as exercising the hand and wrist muscles.
- Squeezing dough is also great for building up strength of the fingers.
- Challenge your child to get creative. Your kids might already be playing with dough and making simple objects like: balls, snakes, or cookies. Challenge them to make other shapes to get more creative, things like a bird nest or a box.
- Make a game! Find objects like coins or shells or very small toys and hide them in the dough for your kids to find. Let them keep the prizes as a reward. This is something kids can do with other kids too: one kid hides the prize, another kid finds it.
- Make abstract art. Stick things on the dought to make abstract art or strange creatures. You can use all kinds of stuff for this like plastic googley eyes, straws, feathers, sticks, shells, buttons, glass pebbles, wooden letters or numbers, match sticks, pipe cleaners. Whatever you want.
You may want to consider adding this set of 88 printable fun pages to your collection.
- 26 Wikki Stix Mats
- 26 Play Dough Mats
- 26 Color-Your-Own Alphabet Cards
- 10 Tracing Pages
11. Computers. Using a mouse and keyboard helps to develop eye-hand coordination. With touchscreen technology, there are some great apps that can help develop this coordination and some fine motor skills.
Keep in mind, however, not to overdo it when it comes to technology. There’s only so much a screen can do, so rely mostly on real objects.
12. Sorting. Sorting activities are great for recognizing shapes, colors, textures, and development of fine motor skills. Your child can sort candy, pebbles, or buttons. Many kids love doing this and it enables them to practice a pincer grip: using their thumb and index finger to get small objects.
13. Beads. You can purchase very low-cost beads of different sizes. Have your kids string the beads on pipecleaners. As your child gets comfortable with the larger beads, move to the smaller ones. This will really train your child’s fingers.
Eventually move your child away from pipe cleaners to a shoelace or a string of yarn. This is harder because your child has to have a steadier non-dominant hand. If you don’t want to buy beads, you can use macaroni or rigatoni noodles. Make it fun by having your child make necklaces for their friends.
14. Anything that pinches. Get some clothespins or tongs or tweezers: something where you child has to use his pincher fingers. Have them pick up small objects and put them into bowls or cups. Make sure you choose stuff to start that is easier to pick up, like cotton balls or pieces of fabric. Then move to smaller stuff, like picking up dry beans with tweezers.
A great way to teach kids about the pincer fingers is to draw three dots on a clothespin: two on one side, one on the other. It shows them where to put their fingers and thumb.
15. Nuts and bolts. Grab some cheap nuts and bolts from the hardware store. Purchase sets of different sizes so your child can match which ones fit together. The action of screwing the nut on is great practice of their pincer fingers.
16. Lacing boards, toys, or cards. You can also very easily make (or buy) sewing and lacing cards: just trace and cut out cardboard shapes or animals and then use a hole puncher to make a bunch of holds around the edges. Then have your child use yarn to go up and down through the holes until the entire edge is laced.
17. Sponges and Eye Droppers. Set up two bowls, one filled with water and the other bowl empty. Give your child a sponge and have him soak it in the first bowl and then ring it out into the other bowl. He can transfer water back and forth between bowls.
For more practice of the pincer fingers, give your child an eye dropper and have them move the water back and forth. Make this really fun and use bubbles or food dye!
18. Squirt bottles or squirt guns. This is a no-fail fun option. The action of pulling the trigger is great to strengthen the index finger. For an extra educational bent, have them write letters or shapes on the ground or a fence.
19. Stickers. I don’t know any little kid that doesn’t like stickers. The action of taking stickers off their backing and placing them on something else is great practice with pincer fingers.
20. Musical instruments. Playing around with an instrument can be great practice for the fingers. Researchers have found that children with instrumental music training outperform other children on fine motor skills, as well as on vocabulary and nonverbal reasoning.
For kids under 6, the piano, the recorder, and the violin are nice instruments because they provide a good foundation for further musical study later on. Just keep in mind that small hands come with limitations.
21. Find a good handwriting curriculum for your preschooler or Kindergartener. Find something that will put those fine motor skills to good use. Find something that will teach them letter formation and letter sounds. Ideally, you want to save time during your homeschool day, so find a curriculum that is integrative with other subjects.
Try our curriculum for 4-6 year olds who need to learn their letters called Write Through the Bible, Jr. It is designed to help busy parents integrate several subjects into one:
- Fine motor coordination
- Letter sounds
- Letter formation
- Bible memory
- Biblical study
Each day includes instructions for the parent, Bible memory review, handwriting practice, and a fun activity sheet to continue to strengthen fine-motor skills.