It is a well known and research-supported fact that development of fine motor skills in babies and toddlers is directly linked to many important and complex brain functions such as, for instance, language skills. This is why it is so important to monitor how those skills are maturing and whenever possible help the child along by playing games and doing activities that help to develop them.
Here are some of the activities you can do to improve and develop fine motor skills by simply playing with your baby or toddler.
Games with dry beans, peas, lentils and other large grains
Many parents are reluctant to let their babies and toddlers play with small objects because everything tends to end up in the mouth. But playing with small objects is essential for developing flexibility and strength of those little fingers. If you supervise your child while they are playing with small objects (and generally that simply means that you are playing alongside your baby or toddler) you will always be able to catch the object before it lands in the mouth.
When buying beans and lentils pick the multicoloured variety to make it more interesting. Things you can do:
* Place all the beans in one large container (you can use a large cooking pot). Get your baby or toddler to fill up other smaller, different size containers and plastic bottles with beans using their hands or a spoon.
* mix some other small objects (like large beads or marbles) with the beans and then get your baby or toddler to find the objects among the beans, take them out and put them into a separate container.
* play the cooking game: pretend that you are making soup, porridge or anything your baby likes to eat. Get them to stir the “food”, pretend to taste it, then put some on plastic plates and have a pretend dinner with dolls and stuffed toys.
This is such an easy game to make and it can be lots of fun. All you need is an average size sack, even a small pillow case will do the trick. Now fill up the sack with anything interesting you can find around the house. The objects should be preferably small and should vary greatly in shape and texture. And of course, you have to make sure that all objects are safe to touch, nothing sharp or easily breakable.
Here are some of the objects that you can put in the sack:
* reel of thread
* cotton wool ball
* building blocks
* toy car
* small plush toy
* rubber ball
…and anything else you might find around the house. The more objects are in the sack, the more interesting the game will become.
The first and the easiest stage of the game is to sit with your baby on the floor, get them to reach inside the bag and take out one of the objects. Let the baby hold and play with the object for a while. If it is a round, hard object like a marble try rolling it between your baby’s hands. If it something soft, like cotton wool, stroke the baby’s hand with it. While you are examining the object with your baby ask questions like “How does it feel?”, “Is it smooth?”, “Does it feel soft?”, etc.
The next stage of the game can be played with children who are a little older and are beginning to talk. Again, get the child to reach for the object in the bag but before they take it out they have to guess what the object is. After they take it out ask some questions about the properties of the object (e.g. What shape is it? What colour is it? What do we use it for? How do we use it? etc.).
Here is where you can exercise fingers and hands as well as your imagination.
The famous Itsy-Bitsy Spider is a wonderful game for exercising little fingers. There are also many others like Open, Shut Them, This little piggy, and so on.
You can also make up your own games
Pretend that the index and middle fingers are a little person, draw a road on a piece of paper and try to get your toddler to walk with their fingers along the road. Show them how the person can “dance” and “jump” and try to get them to repeat it with their own fingers. You can even put some music on to make it more fun.
Finger painting is another easy and fun activity you can do to exercise little fingers, you can buy finger paints in any educational toy shop.
Play-doh is an enjoyable and educational activity for all ages. Play-doh is very versatile and most importantly, so much fun! There are so many things you can do with play-doh but here are some activities that will help strengthen and exercise those little hands while playing:
* Pick only 2 or 3 colours (preferably primary colours) when playing so that you can learn and play at the same time
* Pretend that play-doh is bread and get your baby to pinch little pieces of it to feed stuffed animals
* Mix some large beads and buttons into the play-doh and get your baby or toddler to pick out the objects
* Show them how to roll play-doh between their hands or on the desk
* Spread play-doh on a piece of paper using fingers
To button and unbutton a shirt is a skill that is not easy to master! Let your child try to button and unbutton their own shirts or dresses that have buttons. It’s a good exercise even if they get frustrated at first and you have to complete the task for them.
You can also make a play rug with lots of buttons of different size and shape. This is what you need to do if you want to make one:
Cut out a fun shape out of some thick material like felt and sew on some buttons of different shapes and sizes. Now cut out smaller shapes (use your imagination and maybe a stencil) and make one buttonhole in each shape. If you are using buttons of different sizes make sure that the buttonholes fit the buttons, otherwise the toddler will get very frustrated. For the smaller shapes you might want to pick out material which is a little less thick so that it is easier for the toddler to handle.
Take a small sand bucket and some multi-coloured clothes pegs and get your child to try and decorate the edges of the bucket with the clothes pegs. Learning how to manipulate clothes pegs is a great exercise.
This is a creative mosaic game which consists of small multi-coloured pegs and a pegboard – it can be purchased at some educational toy shops or even on-line stores (try Googling it). It is intended for creation of different mosaic pictures, usually displayed on the box, by inserting the little pegs into the holes of the pegboard. Whereas this is a great activity for older kids, babies and toddlers would not have the skills yet to grasp the small peg using a pincer grip (ability to hold objects between the index finger and the thumb). Some toddlers would have already mastered that skill but pushing the pegs into the board is still quite difficult. What they might enjoy doing instead is pushing the pegs out by turning the board over and pressing on them from the inside. The pegs can also be used to play other games, similar to those described in the Playing with beans section. Remember, any games where your baby or toddler is grasping, manipulating and holding small objects will be very beneficial for developing fine motor skills.
You can buy these games in educational toy shops or you can make one yourself. The ones you can buy in the shop are usually made out of wood, they come in different shapes and sizes but the idea is always to pull a lace through the holes, kind of like sewing. If you wish to make one yourself it is really easy. All you need is a thick piece of cardboard and a single-hole puncher. Cut out a fun and interesting shape from a piece of cardboard (e.g., a teddy bear, a big flower, a star, etc.). You can make an activity of colouring in the shape together with your toddler or even gluing some bright paper cut-outs to it to make it look more interesting. After you finish and the glue or the paint dries punch the holes in various places of the cardboard shape, do not try to space it out evenly, make it random. Now all you need is a long shoe lace.
This is a great exercise which will help develop fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination and even concentration. It requires lots of patience and skills from the child but the parent has to be patient too. Try and resist that initial urge to help if the child is finding the task difficult at first. Kids can feel helpless and less in control if their efforts are always interrupted and the task is completed by the parent. If they cannot do it at first come back to the task next time, they will get it eventually. The idea is in trying. Necklaces can be made out of different materials and they can even be edible. The best thing to do is to decide in advance who the necklace is for (grandma, toy giraffe, a friend), this will give the child a sense of purpose in what they do and make the whole exercise much more meaningful.
What you will need:
* a very long shoe lace
* large multi-coloured beads
* pasta shapes with wholes in them
* round-shaped cereal like cheerios
There are many other activities you can do to develop strength and dexterity in those little hands but whatever you do, remember that baby and toddler learning should always be fun and never a chore.