Fine motor development became a key focus for my planned activities when my baby began using her fingers and hands to explore her environment. I involved her in practical life activities from an early age. At 6 months, I encouraged my baby to turn the pages of the books we read. At 10 months, I modelled the cleanup of toys so she would restore them to storage baskets after play. Throughout my baby's first year, I engaged her in open-ended fine motor indoor activities to build her fine motor skills.
When she entered into toddlerhood, I designed fine motor activities at home to refine her fine motor skills -- mastery of the pincer grasp (coordination of the index finger and thumb to hold an item), hand-eye coordination as well as dexterity and strength. I provided opportunities for posting (object transfer of a smaller item into a larger vessel). Around 18 months, I introduced threading activities when my toddler was ready for activities that required more concentration and motor planning.
14 Open Ended Fine Motor Indoor Activities for Toddlers!
I mainly utilised nature-based elements in my fine motor indoor activities -- recyclables like cardboard boxes, repurposed household items as well as loose parts. The beauty of loose parts is that they could be investigated, explored and manipulated in myriad ways, without adult guidance. There is no right or wrong, and open-ended activities are highly intuitive.
I classified these 14 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 could decide which idea(s) to try based on the resources you have.
1. Busy wallet
It all started with my toddler monopolising my wallet as I waited in line for payment, which resulted in 2 credit cards being misplaced. She was highly curious about the wallet and all the contents within.
I did what any Montessorian would do -- 'follow the child'. I provided a safe alternative, a busy wallet designed for her to investigate and explore.
The busy wallet proved to be a great quiet activity that held my toddler's focus for a very long time (~20 minutes). She was extremely meticulous in removing the cards from the compartments and constantly practised to put them back.
Steps to creating a busy wallet for toddlers:
- Fill an old wallet with cards that are no longer in use. Examples: Used gift cards, expired credit cards, coupons, monopoly money cards, name cards, loyalty cards.
- Tip: Tape cards to make an extendable row. This is useful for car or stroller rides when you don't want cards to be thrown all around. When taping, leave a slight margin in between cards for easy folding.
- Update contents to keep the busy wallet fresh and exciting.
For older children, this busy wallet is great for imaginary play, like shopping sprees and errands. You could take the opportunity to teach counting and money skills.
2. Looping Hair Ties
This idea originated from Read her Play At Home Mummy. What I love about this activity is that it repurposes items (kitchen towel holder and hair ties) into a fun tool for toddlers to refine a variety of hand movements -- pull, stretch, yank, transfer and loop.
The flexible hair ties provided a nice tactile sensory input when they were being stretched. My toddler learnt to stretch the hair ties to widen them, learning about spatial awareness and material science through this hands-on activity.
Older children could pretend to be operating a hair salon!
3. Pom Pom Ball Lint Roller
This idea originated from @flisatfun on Instagram. I love how this fine motor gives a new lease of life to lint rollers, which otherwise serve a very limited and non-creative purpose.
I did my setup in an IKEA FLISAT table, providing colorful pom pom balls, yarn strings and crocheted clothings in addition to a lint roller (purchased from Daiso at $1.50). In the absence of a sensory table, you could conduct the activity in shallow tubs on a play mat.
This activity is great for 'I Spy' games -- you could name colors and quantity of pom pom balls for your toddler to pick up with her lint roller. In addition, children can learn counting and practise one-to-one correspondence as they pluck pom pom balls off to restart the activity.
If they express interest in how the lint remover works, you could take the opportunity to hone their understanding of material science.
4. Straw & Pasta Threading
This activity is a challenging one as it requires substantial motor planning, spatial awareness and hand-eye coordination. Toddlers have to hold penne pasta pieces vertically, align them to the straw opening and slide the pasta pieces into the straw.
Steps to creating this straw and pasta threading activity:
- Prop a thick transparent straw (recycled from bubble tea beverages) to stand in a ball of play dough
- Provide a couple of penne pasta pieces (ideal to set this activity up when you have expired pasta)
My toddler explored the materials and intuitively fitted the pasta pieces into the straw without a demonstration!
This is an activity that could be repeated independently once children figure out to remove the straw from the play dough and then stick the straw back in. With repetition, children build mastery and maximise learning from the activity.
Counting and one-to-one correspondence could also be learnt in the process, along with opposite concepts like 'full' and 'empty' as children experiment with emptying as well as filling the straw to its limit.
5. Pasta Threading
Pasta threading is good practice for bead threading and a great activity for building bilateral use of hands. Bilateral hand use encourages both sides of the brain to communicate, share information and coordinate effectively.
The stiffness of pipe cleaners allows toddlers to grasp easily in the hand while the other hand aligns the pasta hole to the pipe cleaner, which makes this activity easier than threading beads onto a bendable string.
Steps for setting up this pasta threading activity:
- Place a few pipe cleaners (also known as chenille stems) on the right of an empty tray. An activity tray is ideal to show that the loose items belong together.
- Place a couple of uncooked penne pasta pieces (preferably expired) on the left. Using left materials to fit into the right items -- a left to right movement -- is indirect preparation for learning to read.
At first, I gave my toddler time to explore the items organically and she did so singularly. When she looked up to me to connect, I conducted a silent demonstration to show her how the materials could be used together, threading the pasta into the pipe cleaners. The silence is important as it allows my toddler to focus on my slow and deliberate hand movements without being distracted by verbal instructions.
After some time, my toddler discovered that she could make pasta necklaces!
This activity is great for learning to count and one-to-one correspondence. Visually children can understand better as they see numbers add up in length.
6. Reversible Water Doodle Board
The tactile sensorial experience of painting with a water brush on cloth can be novel and enjoyable for young children.
I used a Chinese Calligraphy brush stroke cloth to construct this reusable and mess-free doodle board. When the water on the brush stroke cloth dries up, the scribbles fade and eventually disappear completely. The disappearing act is intriguing to watch.
This doodle board provides opportunities for motor planning and hand-eye coordination, as there are more steps involved compared to other mediums like drawing on magnetic boards, chalk drawing on concrete or finger-painting on paper.
I slotted half the cloth into a photo frame to make a portable doodle board for travels. I taped the other half to the underside of my toddler's IKEA FLISAT table lid. She could independently flip the table lid around to initiate this painting activity.
Apart from a water brush, you could also provide cookie cutters, shape toys and rubber stamps for stamping on the doodle board.
7. Jewelry Tree Decoration
This decoration activity provides an outlet for creative expression. My toddler enjoyed choosing items to loop and stack onto the branches of the jewelry tree. Fine motor skills were put to a test as she had to take aim, position and align the items all around the jewelry tree.
These are the items I provided for looping and stacking on the jewelry tree:
- Toilet paper (TP) rolls cut into thin strips
- Hair ties
- Curtain rings (Idea from Imagination Tree
For additional fun and learning, here are creative ideas to try:
- Time challenge (Fit as many items on the jewelry tree stand as possible within 20 seconds)
- Color sorting (Use colored washi tape on the branches and paint the paper rolls with matching colors)
- Seasonal change play (e.g. Bald tree for winter, tree with blossoming flowers for spring, Evergreen tree for summer, Tree shedding brown leaves for fall)
8. Flash Card Posting
This activity is inspired by Play At Home Mummy's pom pom posting cup activity.
I designed the posting box with a window for my toddler to observe how cards pass through the slit and drop into the box. This reinforces cause and effect learning.
Steps to creating a flash card posting box:
- Find a small children's shoebox and ensure it has a working flap so children could independently open the box
- Cut a window on the side of shoebox and tape a clear plastic sheet over it
- Make a slit on the top of shoebox for flash cards to fit through
This posting box is great for an interactive flash card lesson. You could name a color, number or letter for children to pick out the matching flash card and post into the box.
Older children could engage in 'letter delivery' pretend play by decorating the box to resemble a mailbox.
9. Stacking Dices
Stacking items is a developmental milestone and the number of cubes a toddler can stack varies with age. It is an activity that brings myriad learning benefits such as cognitive development, self-correction and inculcates determination and concentration.
When my toddler entered into a sensitive period for stacking, I engaged her in stacking activities with our Melissa & Doug wooden blocks like speed stacking (stack x blocks in a minute), volume stacking (compete to see who has a taller tower) and imaginative stacking (construct a house, train etc by stacking cubes).
I also wanted to get creative -- tying in other forms of learning with stacking. Therefore, I made large stacking dices using recycled milk cartons and sought to reinforce animal, body part and number recognition through stacking. I illustrated the following on the DIY dices:
- Sheep of 6 different colors — I encouraged my toddler to throw the die and name the color of the sheep. I would also sing the 'Ba Ba Black Sheep' nursery rhyme, swapping out the word 'Black' for the color on the die.
- Body parts — I encouraged my toddler to throw the die and point to the corresponding body part. This is great for learning of the body anatomy.
- Numbers — I encouraged my toddler to explore felt dots I velcro-ed onto the die. As she stuck the felt dots back, I counted aloud. This is a great activity for one-to-one correspondence.
10. Toilet Paper (TP) Roll Threading
TP roll threading makes a great threading activity for beginners before they progress to beading which require more dexterity, motor planning, hand-eye coordination as well as bilateral hand use.
I provided 2 materials as the 'thread' - plastic tubing from my breast pump and a shoelace. Threading with the plastic tubing was definitely easier because it held its own shape and could be flexed easily to fit TP rolls.
This activity provided just the right level of challenge for a threading beginner.
Ideas for extended learning:
- Link this activity to bookish play e.g. illustrate 'The Very Hungry Caterpillar' on the TP rolls for children to thread together, puzzle-style
- Write numbers on the TP rolls to string from 1 to 10 to teach numerical sequence
11. Apple Tree Cap Twist
This idea was inspired by @creativeplayathome's twisty caps activity. I used red bottle caps as pretend apples for my crafted tree.
To increase the tactile experience, I transformed a wet wipe lid into a bird's nest (crafted using paper bag handles and brown cellophane paper from Ritz cracker wrappers).
Through trial and error, I realised that keeping the bottle caps loose (1-2 rounds of turning) was the ideal level of difficulty that did not discourage and kept my toddler trying to twist them off.
Problem-solving skills came into play as my toddler had to learn to twist the cap continually in the same direction (instead of alternating beetween clockwise and anti-clockwise) to get the caps off.
The intensive twisting, tugging and pulling made for a great fine motor activity.
12. TP Roll Ball Run
This idea originated from Little Bins for Little Hands.
My execution was simple by securing TP rolls to the window and pom pom balls with painter's tape. I took care to tape the TP rolls at my toddler's height so she could put in the balls and watch the ball run with ease. This is a great activity for children to learn science (motion, speed, direction) through observation.
This activity could be extended into:
- Color learning: Paint TP rolls and encourage toddler to drop pom pom balls of corresponding colors.
- Number learning: For older children, specify the quantity of balls for children to drop in or number the tubes.
- Timed challenge: Let children brainstorm the shortest route for the ball.
13. Magnetic fishing game
This idea is inspired by Happy Tot Shelf's pool noodle fishing game.
I used magnetic attraction in my setup -- attaching binder clips to my toddler's sea creature bathing toys and taping a small fridge magnet onto a recycled straw to serve as the fishing rod.
For the sea creatures to get 'hooked', my toddler had to hover the fishing rod over them until the fishing rod magnet was aligned to the binder clips. After that, she had to separate the sea creatures from the fishing rod and and place them back into the fishing tub to repeat the activity.
Older children might find it interesting to learn about magnetism through this activity.
14. Paper Plate Threading
This activity is different from regular threading because it offers an early introduction to sewing. It calls for dexterity and problem-solving as a myriad of hand manuvers are required to thread the shoelace into multiple holes.
My toddler learnt to rotate the paper plate with one hand and fit the shoelace into adjacent holes with the other.
Steps to setting up this paper plate threading activity:
- Punch holes along the perimeter of a paper plate
- Provide a shoelace (preferably with a narrow tip) for threading into the holes
- To extend interest (or if this shoelace combination appears too challenging), you could provide additional items that fit the holes e.g. Q-tips. Alternatively, thread the shoelace all the way through the paper plate and invite your toddler to detangle
For more play ideas, follow @miraculove_sg (Instagram), save our pins or join A Montessori-inspired Toddler Activity A Day Facebook Group.
I hope your toddler enjoys these 14 open-ended fine motor indoor activities!
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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.