Our 5 best Everyday Objects you can use to help develop Fine Motor Skills

Fine motor skills are an aspect of your child’s development that begins with their earliest movements. You may observe them grasping onto your finger or sucking their own hands when they're a tiny baby. As they grow, you might notice them exploring objects with their hands or starting to hold the bottle they're drinking from. These are all the very early stages of fine motor skills in young children.

It can often feel like complex tasks such as ‘pencil grip’ and ‘writing’ are in the spotlight of fine motor development. Yet, it's key to remember those everyday movements are just as important, and the building blocks towards these later skills.

 

Why is it important to help my child develop their fine motor skills?

Your child will rely on a lot of their fine motor skills during different types of play in their early years, helping them to explore the world. They will use their skills to bang things together for noise, bring items to their mouth for taste and combine objects to make something new.

These skills will develop into early self-care abilities. They will aid in supporting themselves to get dressed, self-feed, and even begin to use the bathroom.

It is also worth remembering that your child might develop at a different rate than others. They might take longer to learn how to hold writing tools, for example. This is completely normal, and no cause for concern. They might need to have a go at experiences and activities for longer, or in different ways before they are well adjusted. [1]

Eating Breakfast

 

How can I help my child develop their fine motor skills?

You might feel like you need specialist equipment to support your child's development. This isn't the case; fine motor skills can be developed using simple, household objects and through your child’s everyday play. You may need to adapt these objects or play activities to support your child in the best way possible, but each will benefit your child in its own way.

Here are our top five everyday objects to help the development of fine motor skills.

 

Knife and Fork

Mealtimes are one of the biggest opportunities for learning experiences with your child. When your child is in the highchair, you might notice them trying to grab hold of their spoon or pick up their food with their fingers. This is helping the muscles in your child’s hands to strengthen.

When your child grows a little older, they may want to use a knife and fork by themselves to eat. You can encourage this at mealtimes, but they still may need some support when cutting up pieces of food.

Posture is another aspect that comes into play when your child is first using a knife and fork to eat. Ensure that they can reach the table that they are sitting at, and if they are struggling to reach, allow them to sit on a cushion or in a booster chair. Some children also find it easier to sit when their feet can rest on something. It may even be helpful to put their feet on a box, footstool, or a lower chair. Having a non-slip placemat under your child’s plate can support them when eating with a knife and fork. [2]

As well as developing fine motor skills, these tools can also be used in different activities. If your child enjoys playing with playdough, add child-sized cutlery into their set of playdough tools. Encourage them to have a go at using them to manipulate, cut, and create new shapes with the dough.

Boy Eating

When your child is ready, have them join in with preparing simple food. This could be using a knife to cut the fruit that they like for a snack, or even helping to cut vegetables for a dish. Not only is this a great utilisation of their developing skills, but doubles as a wonderful bonding experience for you and your child.

 

Pencils

‘Name writing’ is a big question when discussing development, especially as children approach school age. Children may want to explore using pens and pencils in the traditional means at an early age, and they should be encouraged to do so. However, having writing tools in their everyday environment allows your child to use them during their usual playtime. Here, they can be implemented into other activities that you take part in with your child.

Coloured Pencils

If they are interested in construction, for example, they may want to make a list of the tools that they need with pencil and paper on a clipboard. They could sketch out a plan of what they want to make, or label signs related to their buildings, such as open/close signs or welcome signs.

It's important to consider the width of what they are using too when they first start writing. It might be easier for children first exploring to use chunky pencils, crayons and chalk while they are still getting used to the correct grip. As your child gets used to writing, and in turn develops their pencil grip, introduce more standard-sized pencils, crayons and pens.

At this stage, your child may want to experiment with drawing and writing on different textures. They may like using chalks on the ground outdoors, crayons on pieces of cardboard, or even pressing pencils into playdough to make marks.

 

Tongs

Tongs are a useful household item that can support your child’s fine motor development and are really versatile when doing so. Multiple activities can be set up at home that involve tongs for your child to engage in.

For starters, a child could use a pair of tongs to pick up and sort objects. You could place a pile of objects on a table or a floor, with two containers. You could encourage your child to sort the objects into the containers by a chosen property. This could be big or small, by colour, or by type. Because of the open-ended aspect of this activity, you could choose anything that your child is interested in. This could be toy cars, animals, or even blocks. If your child loves playing in the bath, this activity could even be adapted into a bath time activity.

As well as this, your child could use tongs to help at mealtimes. They could have a go at using tongs to serve themselves or others different foods, such as spaghetti, salad, or pieces of bread. As they get more confident using tongs, they may want to have a go at using other similar equipment to help at mealtimes, such as serving spoons.

 

Water Play

Water play provides opportunities for different types of learning and can capture the imagination of children of any age. It's easily adaptable to every child's interest and you can implement toys and activities at bath times, outdoors or even in the washing up bowl.

Water seiving

It is important to add resources to the water that encourages the use of small finger movements. Pipettes, for example, are great for getting individual fingers moving, developing handgrip. Spray bottles also work, as the spray trigger encourages children to practice a squeezing motion. This develops strength in their hands and enables them to have a go at applying pressure in different ways for different results. Why not mix in a little food colouring to different spray bottles and hang up an old sheet for your child to “paint” with their coloured water? The possibilities are endless.

Another water play tool that encourages your child to squeeze with their hands is a sponge. Sponges of different sizes allow for your child to have a go at soaking up water and squeezing it back out. They could even have a go at using sponges in household tasks, such as helping clean surfaces when cooking together.

washing

Also, sponges and water play could be a great basis for role-play activities. If you have an outdoor space, you could put some washing up liquid in the water and play car wash – only your child’s toy bike or scooter could be the ‘car’!

Lastly, painting rollers and brushes. Using a bucket of water and a painting tool, your child could ‘paint’ outdoor buildings and equipment. This could be fences or walls in the garden, play equipment or even the shed or Wendy house. What's special about this activity combines both fine and gross motor movements. Holding onto the tools to make small movements with their hands (Fine) and using their full bodies to stretch, move, and reach up high (Gross).

 

Pom-Poms

Pom-poms are another resources that are super versatile for children who are developing their fine motor skills. They can be found in a variety of sizes, colours, and textures, making them a great resource for open-ended play.

Many activities can be established using pom-poms that suit children of a variety of levels of development, age, and interests. A sorting game utilising different coloured pom-poms, for example. You can also involve the use of tongs, creating a way to practice both fine motor skills and decision making.

Unique to this list, pom-poms are a great collage material. If your child enjoys cutting, sticking, and making their own arrangements, pom-poms make a great addition to the craft box. They can double up as a creative play item too, for whatever your child interprets them to be. Perhaps a reindeer's nose on a Christmas card? A craft caterpillar’s head! Or even a marshmallow floating on top of a hot chocolate.

Keeping with the craft theme, pom-poms can also be used as a painting tool. Your child could dip different sized and textured pom-poms into the paint to make their own pictures. They could use different motions, such as dabbing or dragging to experiment with different effects. Painting with Pom-Poms is also an activity that focuses on children’s grip and is a nice alternative to paintbrushes.

Aside from crafts, pom-poms can be used for tunnel games. Tunnels can easily be made by sticking cardboard tubes, such as toilet roll or kitchen roll tubes to a piece of cardboard. Involve your child in the process of making the tunnels, choosing where they may lead to, and the path that they could take. Use pom-poms to push and roll through the tube tunnels, or even race them to see who can reach the end first!

 

References

 

[1] NHS Northumbria (Children's Occupational Therapy). (2021). Fine motor skills. Available: https://www.northumbria.nhs.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/Fine-motor-skills-pack.pdf.

 

[2] NHS Wales Occupational Therapy. (2021). Using a knife and fork. Available: https://bcuhb.nhs.wales/services/a-z-of-services/services/occupational-therapy/childrens-occupational-therapy/childrens-occupational-therapy-documents/using-a-knife-and-fork/.