Busy hands, busy brains
Keeping your preschooler’s fingers busy stimulates brain development as well as fine motor skills. And strong finger and hand muscles are a good foundation for school skills like holding a pencil and cutting with scissors.
No fancy flashing lights or battery-operated toys are needed. These 10 simple but fun activities use everyday household items. They’ll keep your preschooler happily occupied while engaging his hands and fingers.
Some of these activities use small objects, so consider your child’s age and temperament before letting her play with anything that could be a choking risk!
Hide and seek
Playing with a bowl full of dried rice, lentils, or beans might sound a bit messy. But don’t let potential spills scare you off. This type of hands-on learning promotes tactile differentiation and spatial awareness.
Hide some small toys in a bowl of dried beans or rice – whatever you have on hand – and tell your child to scoop and dig through the container to seek out the hidden treasure. If it does get messy, so much the better: Encourage him to use his thumb and index finger to help you clean up afterward.
Stretching a rubber band from one point to another is great practice for the pincer grasp, when a small object is held by the thumb and index finger.
You can make a rubber band board by pounding nails into a piece of wood that’s 10 inches wide and 2 inches thick. Hammer a nail in every inch and half, with 3/4 inch of each nail sticking up from the board. Be sure to sand the edges of the board so they’re smooth.
Using different colors and sizes of rubber bands, kids can create their own designs, and even form letters or numbers.
Your child can also stretch rubber bands between her own fingers or around a container or book.
Play with your pasta
Picking up small items using the thumb and index finger – not just grasping with the palm – is key to developing the muscles of the hands and fingers.
Challenge your child to push different types of dry pasta through the small opening of a bottle. Encourage him to hold the bottle with his opposite hand to get the pasta in. This type of movement develops his bilateral coordination (the ability to use both sides of the body at the same time).
Squeeze, hold, release, repeat. Kids love squirting water and mixing colors with eyedroppers so much that they don’t even notice they’re training their muscles.
Fill small containers with water and add a few drops of food coloring or a fizzy bath tablet. Let kids go to town, mixing the colored water to discover what new colors they can make.
It’s also fun to squirt colorful designs onto a coffee filter or paper towel.
Trying to make dinner while your preschooler begs for attention is no fun for anyone. Next time, pull out a roll of aluminum foil, rip off several sheets, and show your child how to crumple, roll, and mold the foil to make figures, animals, or simple balls.
There are several benefits to sorting. Picking up objects works the thumb and forefinger, and separating things into piles develops math skills such as matching, sorting, and classifying. Kids can decide how they want to sort: by color, size, shape, or type.
Set up a tray with different containers – a muffin pan would work well, too. Fill a bowl with marbles, bottle caps, beads, bells, nuts and bolts, coins, or other small gizmos you find around the house. Then have your child sort away. The older the child, the more objects you can give him to sort. Bigger kids might enjoy the extra challenge of sorting against the clock.
Note: Use larger objects if your child is younger than 2 1/2 to reduce the risk of choking.
A colander, plus shoelaces, beading cords, or pipe cleaners, are all you need for this activity. Demonstrate how to “sew up” the colander. The simple act of pulling the cord through the holes develops eye-hand coordination, bilateral coordination, and the pincer grasp.
Kids can layer colors, creating an intricate webbed design.
Small fingers push against a little resistance when opening a clothespin, and that opposition develops the hand muscles.
String up a clothesline, give your child a few clothespins, and give her the task of hanging her own clothes, doll clothes, or artwork. Or tell your child the clothespins are her robot hands or dinosaur claws, and she can use them to grab things and move them from one place to another.
Playing with tongs is a good way to build fine motor skills, but chopsticks can be even more challenging. Fold up the paper wrapping from a pair of chopsticks (or use a small piece of cardboard or cardstock). Using a rubber band, secure it between the non-eating end of the sticks.
Have your child use his thumb and forefinger (a younger child may need to use his middle finger as well) to squeeze the chopsticks to pick up objects like cotton swabs, foam peanuts, and pom-poms and sort them into containers.
With a little practice, your child may soon be ready to eat with chopsticks, too.
It’s time to move up from stacking those large, colorful rings to the more challenging task of stacking O-shaped cereal. A few seconds of simple set-up and you’ve got yourself an activity that builds muscles and brains.
You’ll need a piece of foam (it could be any shape, maybe a piece that came with a package in the mail) and some toothpicks or skewers. Push several (or a lot) of toothpicks into the foam and give your child a bowl of cereal. Have her stack the cereal on each “post.”