Category : Fine Motor

Fine Motor

Hands-On Learning Games: Help Your Child Improve His Handwriting

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Have you noticed, or been told by your child's teacher, that he has trouble writing? If so, there are many different hands-on learning games you can do with your child that can help improve his handwriting ability.

Technically termed graphomotor weakness, handwriting problems are not necessarily related to general fine motor issues. Your child might be able to easily button up his shirt, or even be a talented cartoonist, and yet still be unable to write clearly and neatly. Graphomotor weakness also has nothing to do with a child’s intelligence.

Unfortunately, however, children are often quite self-conscious about their handwriting. Often they are told to simply “try harder” when writing. Sometimes this works-for a while-then usually the child goes back to chicken scratch. As one child explained, “sometimes I feel that my hand and my mind are completely disconnected. In my head I can see how the letters are supposed to look, but my hand refuses to listen when I tell it what to do!”

Children who suffer from graphomotor problems are generally easy to spot. Some hold their pen or pencil too close or too far away from the tip. Others grip their pen so tightly they sometimes develop cramped finger muscles, or hook their hand as if they would really be writing with the other hand.

If you or your child’ teacher notice any of these behaviors, you will of course need to seek the services of an occupational therapist. However, there are several activities you can do at home that can speed up your child’s progress in therapy.

One type of activity is common in Montessori schools. Referred to as practical life activities, these are activities that help a child learn to master his environment. Polishing silver, sorting different colored jewelry beads, sewing, or cutting celery sticks and then spreading them with peanut butter are several examples of practical life activities.

Maria Montessori, the founder of the Montessori movement, based her theories on watching children. She then created materials based on her observations, and tested and refined them even further in the classroom.

One of the principles that she noticed is that many skills can first be learned indirectly. Doing this allows a child to work on a skill without even realizing what they are doing; they simply absorb the principles of a particular body of knowledge while absorbed in a pleasurable activity.

With handwriting, Montessori schools give children numerous opportunities to exercise the muscles and practice the movements required for writing before they even pick up a pencil.

Children also absorb the proper method of writing individual letters through the use of  sandpaper letters. These are letters made of sandpaper and glued on a painted piece of wood. The child closes his eyes, and traces the letter with their index and pointer fingers. Then they practice “writing” the letter   in a small tray filled with colored sand or salt.

So by the time a Montessori child actually begins to write, she will have had numerous opportunities to practice her handwriting through practical life activities, the sandpaper letters, and other materials in the environment.

Even if your child is not in a Montessori school, you can still easily create the same types of activities in your home, using inexpensive and easy to find materials.  Take a look at for numerous ideas. You can either buy items from them, or make your own. Keep in mind this important points when presenting these to your child:

  1. Montessori broke everything down into small steps. If you plan on teaching your child to sew, make sure you show her all the steps involved.
  2. Be serious about the results you expect. If you are teaching your child to polish silver, make sure you show her what it looks like when it is really polished. Sometimes we allow children to do things because they enjoy it, but we don't really spend the time to teach them how to do it properly.
  3. Let the child do it. You already know how to do the task. Don't take away your child's sense of joy and accomplishment by trying to "help" them.
  4. Have a set place to keep the materials, so that the child can access them when she wants. Change materials weekly, to keep up interest. Your child will be happy to play on their own.

  5. Here are some links to some Montessori sites with specific lesson plans and ideas:

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Fine Motor

Hands-on Learning Games:Improve Your Child’s Fine Motor Coordination

When my foster daughter came to us, she had a lot of trouble holding a crayon, coloring in the lines, and drawing with a pen or a pencil. I used a bunch of techniques to teach her about drawing, but this (and some other hands-on learning games) was really great for strengthening those finger muscles.

Not only did she have fun, but I had all of her siblings demanding a turn also! It was cute to see her 2 year old brother and 3 year old sister so intent on their work.

They stuck to it even though it was clearly hard for them; probably because it gave them a legitimate reason to play with water. I didn't mind so much, because the mess is minimal (wait until they start washing out their own dishes- then you'll have a better idea of what I mean!)

Even though she ended up having to share this game as soon as we took it out of the kitchen closet, I still began seeing improvement in the first few weeks, and within about two months she was generally able to color in the lines most of the time.

You could extend this game and make it even more interesting by using different colors of water, and letting your child seeing what happens when they mix two of them. We haven't gotten to it yet, but we'll get to it sometime!


-child-sized food tray

-2 or 3 pipettes or eyedroppers (you can find this at the pharmacy, or a well-stocked toy store in the science section)

-food coloring

- 2 very small containers such as egg cups, children’s tea cups, or tea light holders

How to Prepare the Game:

1)     Place both containers on the tray.

2)     Fill one of them about 2/3 full of colored water.

3)     Place a pipette or eyedropper on the tray. Provide a small cloth for spills.

How to Play the Game:

1)     Show your child how to use the pipette or eyedropper.

2)      Let them practice transferring the colored water from one container to the other.

3)     When your child finishes filling one containers, show her how to turn the tray so that the full container is now on the LEFT side (this helps prepare her for the left-to-right progression of writing).

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Fine Motor

Hands-on Learning Games: Helping the Child Who Has Trouble Cutting With Scissors


It’s not uncommon for children all the way up to first grade to have trouble cutting with scissors. Usually the child has trouble with her fine motor skills: the acts of grasping the scissors, holding and manipulating the paper, and opening and closing the scissors, are actually more difficult than most parents (and teachers) realize.

This exercise is useful in helping your child master the practical skills of how to cut paper; however if your child also has trouble buttoning his clothing, manipulating food or writing implements, or other fine motor issues, then you should do additional fine motor hands-on learning games with them.


-Scissors. These should be comfortable for your child to use; try out several different pairs. It’s preferable to use regular scissors vs. “training scissors.” This will avoid your child having to learn how to cut twice-once with the training scissors and once with the regular ones.

-Small squares of 4”× 4”heavy paper. Your child will enjoy especially enjoy cutting if you use colored paper.

How to Play the Game:

There are ten different cutting patterns. Start from the first one, even if you think it’s too easy for your child; if it is, he will finish it quickly and move onto the next one.

Once your child is fully able to cut out one pattern (100% of the time) he may go on to the next pattern. Stick to this routine even if your child wants to just “try out” a more complicated pattern; it is the excitement of trying out something new that will help motivate him to complete the present pattern.

You can practice cutting with your child once a day; you should see significant improvement in a few weeks.

cutting pages 2

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Fine Motor

Hands-on Learning Games: 6 Fun Games to Help Improve Your Child’s Fine Motor Coordination

The end of school is in sight, and while your children are itching to put away their school books and head to the pool or the park, you're hoping to sneak in a little bit of learning during summer break.

Getting your children to cooperate may seem like an impossible task - unless you try these fun hands -on learning games that will have even your older kids giving it a try:

1) Sugar cube transfer

A simple pair of kitchen tongs, two cups, and sugar cups, are all you need for this game. Your child uses the kitchen tongs to transfer the sugar cubes from one cup to the other. If your child can't resist eating the sugar cubes, you can use small Legos instead. You can also make this game harder by using tweezers instead of tongs.

2) Nail cutting

Kids love this game because it turns what is often a mildly uncomfortable experience into a chance to show off their cutting skills. Trace your child's hands on a plain piece of paper, making sure to draw in the nails and the nailbeds.

If you're using a computer you can get fancy and color in the nails, or you can just make several copies of each hand and print that out. Cut out the hands (you can cut out several pages at one time).

Next, give your child a pair of nail scissors or nail cutters, and show her how to use them. Provide a plastic plate for her to cut over, and show her how to dispose of her "nails" in the garbage.

3. Sorting rice

This one is not just fun, but practical as well. Buy a bag of rice, and pour some onto a plate. Show your child how to recognize the rice that is discolored (more than is usual for for rice), and provide a container for her to put it in. Let her put the "clean" rice in a separate bowl.

4. Polishing money

Children especially enjoy watching a dull copper penny transform into a shiny, new coin. Prepare a solution of 3 tablespoons of vinegar or lemon juice in a cup, and add 2 tablespoons of salt.

Have your child place the penny inside, swirl the cup with the penny inside around gently. Let your child take out the penny, and dry it off carefully with a soft cloth. Although it's not technically polishing, kids still enjoy carefully wiping the pennies clean.

5. Bead sorting

This is a good use for all of the beads you may have lying around from an old jewelry making set. If you don't already have one, you can easily buy one at the dollar store.

Mix up all the beads, and let your child use the container they come in to sort them. There are all sorts of ways to sort the beads-by color, by shape, and even by the size of the hole inside.

6. Smearing plasticine

Plasticine is quite different from play dough. It is harder, and less pliable when cool, but when it's warmed up from playing it can be easily manipulated.

First warm up the plasticine by rolling it into a ball, and kneading it for a minute or two. You'll see and feel the difference when it softens up. Then, give your child a piece of paper with a shape drawn on it, and place a glob of plasticine on top.

Show your child how to smear the plasticine on his paper by starting from the middle of the glob and smearing it outwards. It will take some work, but it's great for helping strengthen those finger muscles. Your child can experiment by adding different colors onto the original, creating tie-die like swirls and patterns.

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