Fine motor skills refer to the coordination between small muscles of the hands and fingers, with the eyes. It is important to provide children with plenty of opportunities to build and refine their fine motor skills from young, be it through helping out around the house (practical life activities) or invitations to play (planned activities). Carrots Are Orange and The Montessori Notebook have useful guides on introducing practical life fine motor activities in a Montessori home.
Importance of Fine Motor Skills
Honing dexterity, strength and coordination in fingers and hands enables children to progress to advanced tasks like writing and fastening of clothing with ease at a later age. Dr Montessori believed that "the hand is the instrument of the mind". With fine motor development, children master their environment. They become more confident at performing everyday tasks as well as trying new things to broaden their horizons.
Open-ended Fine Motor Indoor Activities
In my baby's first year, I wanted to provide her with opportunities to develop rudimentary fine motor skills in matching and sorting, hammering and transfer, and thus set up these 13 open-ended fine motor indoor activities.
Mostly I utilised nature-based elements in the activities -- recyclables like cardboard boxes, repurposed household items as well as loose parts. The beauty of using loose parts is that they can be manipulated in multiple ways, and are open-ended items that can be used without instructions or directions.
What I love about these open-ended activities is that babies can investigate and explore the materials freely and manipulate them into play in myriad ways. There is no right or wrong, and these open-ended activities are highly intuitive.
I have classified these 13 open-ended fine motor indoor activities into 'low-prep' and 'crafting required', the latter category requiring time and effort to be invested compared to the former. You can decide which idea(s) to try based on the resources you have.
1. Wet Wipe Pull & Fill Toy
Babies are expert experimenters. It's their natural instinct to pull at objects to see what happens. Babies learn about cause-and-effect as they test theories and figure out how outcomes might differ with each attempt.
With this in mind, I filled an empty wet wipe container with socks for my baby to pull out on repeat. When she reached the developmental age to fit items into objects, I also noticed her trying to stuff the socks back into the wet wipe container.
Steps to creating a wet wipe pull and fill toy:
- Save one of your wet wipe packs and air the interior of the box so that it's dry.
- Gather small to medium-sized pieces of fabric around the house -- socks, burp cloths, bibs, kitchen rugs. (Tip: Try to use fabrics of different sizes, colours and textures for a more varied sensorial experience).
- Switch up the fabrics in the container often to keep the toy interesting and fresh.
I love the simplicity and environment-friendliness of this activity (no wet wipe is wasted in the process of play!)
2. Lego Brick Tunnel Drop
My husband plays badminton so we have long cylindrical shuttlecock tubes at home. I repurposed them into 'tunnels' for babies to slide and drop items through.
Substitutes for shuttlecock tubes:
- Kitchen paper towel roll and small cotton balls
- Toilet paper (TP) roll and pasta pieces
My baby enjoyed the repetitiveness of this activity and was really focused on putting lego bricks through the 'tunnel'. It is a great way to learn about cause & effect, spatial awareness (relationships of objects with one another), refine motor skills as well as build hand-eye coordination.
Steps to creating this lego brick 'tunnel' drop activity:
- Remove shuttlecocks from the tube and caps from both ends of the tube
- Provide baby with lego bricks or any other toys small enough to fit through the tube (Tip: Extend play by taping the tube to the wall with painter's tape if your baby is able to stand with support)
- Kickstart the activity by demonstrating how lego bricks can be dropped into the tube. Point out to baby where they slide out from and use the opportunity to explain about gravity.
For older children, this presents an opportunity to learn more science:
- Material science: Encourage child to drop different toys into the tube and observe the difference in sounds made when they fall out. Also place different materials under the tube to 'catch' the dropped lego brick - cloth (which softens the sound), metallic tray (that amplifies the sound) etc.
- Sound: Place the tube to your child's ear and whisper into the tube to teach behaviour of sound in an enclosed space.
With some imagination, the shuttlecock tube can be transformed into a telescope or loud-hailer! Pretend play builds abstract thinking and creativity.
3. Q tip filling game
Follow your baby's developmental cues. When you observe them placing objects into containers, you could introduce simple posting activities to further this interest.
The combination of Q-tips and recycled beverage cups makes for a fun cup filling game.
I found that holes in beverage cups present just the right level of challenge for babies to fit Q-tips through. Lots of concentration and focus is required for this fine motor activity.
The filled cup makes a nice rattling sound with the Q tips. You may see your baby shake it like a musical instrument just as mine did!
4. Kitchen Whisk Fine Motor Activity
This idea of repurposing kitchen whisks into fine motor toys for babies originated from Hello, Wonderful. As recommended, I used a child-friendly whisk i.e. the flexible silicon type so it could be pried open easily as opposed to the hard, metallic whisks.
The modification I made -- I tried this activity with ribbons instead of pom pom balls. I weaved ribbons around the whisk for my baby to untangle, providing extra challenge and opportunities for problem-solving.
The use of ribbons allows the difficulty level of this activity to be tailored to the developmental needs of the child. A more complicated weave would be challenging and stimulating for older children.
I also switched ribbons out for expired pasta to extend my baby's interest in the activity. Beside the pasta-filled whisk, I placed an empty container for my baby to attempt object transfer.
Because ribbons and small pasta pieces pose suffocation and choking risk, supervision is required.
5. Ribbon Untying Rescue Mission
When my baby frequently crawled to the shoe rack and displayed an interest in undoing my shoelaces, I realised that she might be in a sensitive period for refinement and coordination of hand movements. Sensitive periods refer to periods when a child’s interests are focused on developing a specific skill and her mind is primed for honing the skill set. Therefore, I created this ribbon untying rescue mission activity to give my baby hands-on practice in untangling.
I picked out ribbons of differing colour, texture and length and tied them to the rungs of my baby's Pikler triangle. You could also tie the ribbons on low door handles, knobs and table legs, making it a 'seek and untie' challenge around the house.
To extend my baby's interest in this ribbon untying rescue mission, I tied up her loveys with the ribbons. I made the ribbon bows single knot so that it presented the right level of challenge for my baby and wasn't too hard to get off for her to lose interest. The pulling and tugging made it a good fine motor exercise.
Gross motor skills were also involved because my baby had to pull up to stand and maneuver her body to access the ribbons.
6. Tape Pull Activity
This idea originated from Mama Papa Bubba. and is perfect for babies working on their pincer grasp (coordination of the index finger and thumb to hold an item).
I used washi masking tape for the activity because its colorful design appeals to babies and it doesn't leave any sticky residue on fingers. This is important as my baby was still in the oral exploratory stage and actively mouthing objects.
I set up the activity on the window near my baby's play area. This didn't take up real estate and was a convenient spot for my baby to return to the activity at another time of the day.
I also placed an empty container for my baby to do object transfer.
7. Pluckable Flower Sensory Garden
My baby enjoys picking daisies and exploring their petals. For stay-home days, I made her reusable DIY pluckable flowers that allow her to perform petal plucking on repeat.
Steps to creating these DIY pluckable flowers:
- Make small slits on one end of a halved toilet paper (TP) roll
- Hold the slits backwards and stick velcro dot stickers (rough hook side) onto the slits
- Cut flower petals from felt fabric and stick them onto the velcro dot stickers (felt adheres naturally to the rough hook side of velcro)
You could enhance the sensorial experience by adding 'soil' to the pluckable flowers. I used expired ground flaxseed for the 'soil'. Inexpensive alternatives could be black beans or blended graham crackers. I also crafted a bee and butterfly with felt fabric, googly eyes, pom pom balls and popsicle sticks to complete the garden setting.
8. DIY Tugging Box
This idea originated from Laughing Kids Learn. I love that this box toy is quiet and uses nature-based elements (cardboard) and repurposed items (ribbons), unlike store-bought activity cubes which are mostly plastic and loud and noisy.
I added a keychain to one of the ribbons to produce a rattling sound when tugged. My baby particularly liked that ribbon, and it was a great way for cause and effect learning. This box toy also made for a fun tug-of-war bonding session between caregiver and child.
Because ribbons or accessories that gets pulled off could present suffocation or choking risks, supervision is required.
9. Egg Carton Filling
This is a great activity for babies to do object filling and transfer. It makes for early math learning of one-to-one correspondence as you count aloud while your baby adds items into the egg carton.
Substitutes for an egg carton could be a muffin tray or ice cube tray.
This activity also provides opportunities for sorting and matching. Older children might like the challenge of matching same-colored lego bricks to the adjacent row.
10. Wooden Peg Posting
This wooden peg posting activity is great for hand-eye coordination, fine motor development and learning of object permanence. Babies hone problem-solving skills too as they figure out how to open the egg carton to retrieve the dropped pegs.
A toy hammer can be included for babies to engage in safe hammering.
11. Lemon Picking
Inspired by @7daysofplay, I created this weather-proof lemon fruit orchard activity for my baby to pick lemons indoors.
Steps to making the different components of this lemon picking activity:
- Lemon Tree: Fashion a tree out of cardboard and construction paper. Secure it against the wall to withstand baby's pulling.
- Squishy Lemons: Use a funnel to fill yellow balloons with water. This idea is also from 7daysofplay.
- Netted Bag of Lemons: I recycled netted bags used to hold avocadoes. Added that for sensorial exploration.
- Basket: For object transfer. Also to simulate a u-pick experience.
- (Optional for pretend play) Toys like a wooden knife, cups and beaker to simulate a picnic with lemonade.
The tugging and yanking (from picking the lemons) as well as squeezing and clenching the lemons made this a fun fine motor activity. The activity also helps with fruit recognition (pair this activity with a book on fruits) and abstract thinking.
12. Hammer Play
This idea originated from @wecraftandplay's colourful hammer play activity.
Modification I made -- I used IKEA BEVARA sealing clips which when pushed or hammered through holes of the cardboard box provided tactile resistance.
This hammering and posting activity not only helps with fine motor development and hand-eye coordination, it enables learning of object permanence and spatial awareness (relationship of objects with one another).
For older children, this activity can provide more learning benefits:
- Learning Colours. Colour around the holes with a permanent marker and encourage your child to match the colours.
- Learning Numbers. Number the holes with a permanent marker and stick numbers onto the sealing clip. Encourage your child to match the numbers.
- Honing Reflexes via a 20 Seconds Challenge. Use a stopwatch or hour glass. Challenge your child to hammer or post all the clips into the box before time runs out.
13. Wooden Peg Book Pull
I pegged a thin paperback book shut with wooden pegs and invited my baby to get the wooden pegs off. While babies are too young and need to develop their pincer grasp further to pry wooden pegs open, they have the dexterity and strength able to pull them off. Tugging of wooden pegs provides a tactile, sensorial experience.
This activity offers room for trial and error learning because babies have to get ALL the wooden pegs off to open the book fully. Reading the book to them after this activity rounds up this activity nicely, reinforcing cause and effect learning since the 'reward' of removing the pegs was reading a favorite book.
I hope your baby enjoys these fine motor indoor activities!
To follow our learning through play ideas, check out @miraculove_sg (Instagram), save our pins or join A Toddler Activity A Day Facebook Group.
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Hi! I am Yunnie. I am the newly minted mama to a little baby girl and a mum friend to everyone on this special (and many times scary) journey of motherhood. Also a graduated bride with a penchant for weddings.