Arts and Crafts

Create bean mosaics using dried beans, glue, and card stock. Have students cut a shape from the card stock (the firmer paper provides greater resistance, strengthening the muscles used in cutting). Double-check scissor grip: The thumb should be in the upper loop. Then have students decorate their designs with glue and beans of various sizes. An assortment of large and small beans exercises young fingers.

Make sweet sculptures out of marshmallows, sugar cubes, or gumdrops. Students love playing with food, and working with the tiny materials encourages a delicate touch. Students can use toothpicks to connect marshmallows and gumdrops to create buildings, animals, and shapes. Glue can be used for sugar cube creations-or challenge students to see who can build the biggest tower before it topples over!

Try soap carving. Give each student a block of a soft soap. Wooden craft sticks that are cut on a diagonal make great whittling tools; plastic knives work as well. Straight cuts are easier for small fingers, so encourage students to try a simple shape, such as a triangle. Or let them exercise their imaginations: Race cars and boats are perennially popular among preschool boys.

Have students wrap presents. The next time you're sending home a gift for mom or dad, set out scissors, tape, and wrapping paper (or reuse student artwork). Provide assistance as each student wraps his or her own gift. Emphasize the process over the final product. Students won't produce perfect packages, but they'll develop fine motor control as they cut paper and tear tape.


Set out small cars the next time you break out the play dough. Shaping play dough is a time-honored way of building hand strength, but the addition of small cars stimulates imagination while encouraging finger control. Students will make roads out of play dough and drive their cars along the roads-and the play dough will provide an added level of resistance.

Add a clothesline and clothespins to the dress-up area to encourage pretend play. (If you have a home area, put clothespins there as well.) Look for spring-loaded, pinch-open clothespins. The springs create resistance; opening the clothespins develops students' pincer grasps and develops strength.

Create a building station, complete with hammer, nails, wood, nuts, bolts, and a tape measure. Drill holes into various pieces of wood first, and be sure to have appropriately sized nuts and bolts on hand. Students will build fine motor skills as they pick up and position nails, thread nuts, and screw on bolts.

Stock your room with games that encourage fine motor development. Anything with dice or small pieces is great; card games are good too. Some classics include Boggle, Perfection, Skip-Bo, tiddlywinks, and jacks.

Outdoor Activities

Invent with sidewalk chalk. Take chalk, brushes, and water with you the next time you head outside for recess. Drawing on pavement, particularly with stubby chalk, challenges young hands and may encourage proper grip. (If the chalk stubs are about an inch to two inches in length, students will naturally hold them with the proper grip.) Encourage students to use the brush and water to erase their work-or to "paint" designs on the side of the school. Children develop fine motor skills best when they work in a vertical position.

Play with squirt bottles, such as small, empty ketchup bottles. Bring the bottles, some Ping-Pong balls, and at least two bowls outside on a nice day. Place a ball in each bowl and challenge the students to "float" the ball out of the bowl. Have them squirt water into the bowls until the ball falls out. The repetitive squeezing motion strengthens fingers and improves coordination. Alternatively, students can use squirt toys to keep balloons up in the air.

Go on a fossil dig. Bury "fossils," or small manipulatives or toys, out in the sandbox. Then challenge students to dig through the sand to find them. Sifting through the sand is a technique occupational therapists use to help children develop sensory awareness.

Curriculum Fun

Have students use tongs or tweezers for counting and sorting activities. Manipulating the tongs or tweezers will improve students' dexterity while they work on basic math skills.

Try sand writing. Spread clean sand on some old baking sheets and encourage students to trace newly learned letters in the sand. They can also model letters and numbers out of clay.

Put worksheets into plastic protectors. Let students complete the worksheets using erasable markers, and then encourage them to go back and erase their work. Their fingers will get twice the workout-and you can reuse the worksheets over and over again.

Paint a class mural to summarize a recent field trip or unit study. Students will love to share their knowledge, and the upright position facilitates the development of the small muscles of the hand.