Threading, clipping, and matching: help preschoolers practice fine motor skills

When little ones want to haul out the jewelry box, the crafting supplies, the puzzles, or the stickers, it’s about more than just play. Manipulating small objects builds important skills that underlie early academic success.

Stringing things together and moving things around builds important pathways and connections. The University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education, in describing their own Minds in Motion study, references “research showing that visuomotor and visuospatial skills, together with executive function, are complex cognitive skills and underlie a range of academic skills including mathematics.”

An About Health page by Ann Logsdon on learning disabilities breaks it down further: “Executive functioning is a term psychologists use to describe the many tasks our brains perform that are necessary to think, act, and solve problems. Executive functioning includes tasks that help us learn new information, remember and retrieve information we've learned in the past, and use this information to solve problems of everyday life.” Visuomotor refers to the brain’s coordination of visual perception and movement.

Many activities that simply feel like great fun are also excellent workouts for the developing brain. According to the University of Washington, “At birth, almost all the neurons that the brain will ever have are present. However, the brain continues to grow for a few years after birth. By the age of 2 years old, the brain is about 80% of the adult size.”

Several years ago the PreKinders website offered some great ideas for improving fine motor skills, describing such skills as “the foundation children need before they learn handwriting, in order to have proper pencil grasp and control of a writing instrument.” Their suggestions include working with colorful bathtub shapes that have suction cups, clipping lettered clothespins to matching letters on a box edge, grasping and twisting metal nuts onto bolts (using fingers, hands, and wrists all at once!), sewing/lacing cards made with poster board and a 3-hole puncher, stringing beads and cut straws, gluing beans, sorting seeds, and more.

Similarly, The Imagination Tree offers “40 Fine Motor Skills Activities.” The site says, “One of the most important ways we can help our children while playing with them at home or in a childcare/ classroom setting is through setting up simple activities that help to develop fine motor skills. Young children need to be able to hold and use scissors and pencils appropriately before using them in a classroom context.”

Their ideas include threading beads onto pipe cleaners, poking straws into holes, creating inexpensive threaded and slotted toys for babies and toddlers, making a pasta necklace, and producing a “sensory writing tray” using homemade fairy dust made of food coloring and table salt. The mom-fairy whispers which letters, shapes, and such, she’d like to see in the dust!

Preschool Practice Scissors Skills Workbook is a different way to strengthen fine motor skills, and it also exercises important basics such as story order, counting, matching, and beginning sounds. Preschoolers cut out the images in the back of the book and stick them on the corresponding pages. The book has 68 colorful reward stickers, too.

Another super tool for giving little eyes and hands big exercise is Alphabet Stickers Workbook. Kids will first trace, then write Q, then place the stickers that show the Q sound, like “quarter” and “queen.” This helps with recognizing and printing letters, identifying beginning sounds, matching pictures to words, and reviewing alphabetical order, which develops an important foundation for reading.

It’s easy: build brain power one bead, pasta shell, or sticker at time!