Toys to Promote Fine Motor Skills in Children of All Ages

Whether you are shopping for a baby, a preschooler, or a pre-teen this season, there are an array of toys to work on kids’ dexterity, upper extremity coordination, and fine motor development.  Certain activities that your children take part in during the day may be working their hand-eye coordination and visual-motor skills without you even realizing it.

Between puzzles, arts and crafts, and board games, below are some recommendations for things to look for when shopping for your growing explorer.

Games that promote fine motor skills:

Puzzles/Board Games:

Puzzles are a great way to promote cognitive enhancement and fine motor development during each stage of a child’s growth. For younger kids, puzzles don’t just come with larger pieces. There are many puzzles with handles or pegs on each piece so they can work on pinch, grasp, or grip.  Some classic toys for babies, such as ring stacking and shape sorting games, are great for learning how pieces fit together and for working on visual-motor integration and visual perceptual skills. Though it might not look like a typical puzzle, Mr. Potato Head is also a game that encourages fine motor skills.

Skills boards are puzzles that promote fine motor and self-care tasks involving buttons, zippers, Velcro, and laces.  Memory games with flip-up/down pieces, such as Flip-to-Win Travel Games, will address finger dexterity.  For older children, board games with small pieces (such as Battle Ship, Hi-Ho Cherry-O, and Lite Brite) will work on various grasps. Games such as Operation and Don’t Spill the Beans work on challenging grasp techniques such as using tweezers and chopsticks.

Arts and Crafts:

Without a doubt, children’s craft projects often involve grasping and visual motor integration skills, with fulfilling results. From finger painting with babies to origami with teens, simple projects can work on fine motor skills.  Set up an easel, chalkboard, or even a wall mirror for your toddler, and she will spend hours working on holding a marker and making shapes and circles. Some popular craft projects include friendship bracelets, rainbow loom, weaving loom, jewelry making kits with beads, and WikkiStix.  A lot of these are low-budget, low-time commitment, minimum-mess, and maximum-reward projects. They will work on weaving, braiding, pinching, string and small object manipulation, and finger dexterity.

Building Games:

Along the lines of rewarding games, nothing will excite a young mind more than to build something straight out of the toy box. Lego, K’Nex, Kaleidogears, and Lincoln Logs are a great start. These games focus on putting pieces/shapes together to make a whole.  Kids can use templates and instructions or just little imaginations!  They will keep children busy for hours, and teach them important ways pulleys, wheels, and gears work. If you are looking for something trendy, a new brand called Goldie Blox puts the spotlight on engineering type toys for girls.  Look for any games that put tool boxes in little hands, and kids will work on multiple ways of grasping to build projects using kid-friendly screwdrivers, hammers, and drills.  Through these tightening/loosening motions, they will work on not just finger dexterity, but more complex upper extremity coordination involving forearm and wrist movements.

Handwriting Skills:

If you run out of ideas for long car rides, good old-fashioned coloring and activity books contain mazes and pictures that will work on grip strength, ability to stay within the lines, and other aspects of fine motor control.  Simple mess-free art tools such as Scratch Art and Spirographs create great expressive images with very little material. Writing Slopes (Slant boards) are another great tool to assist with fine motor development of handwriting skills.  Studies have shown that they have significantly improved students’ written work, while correcting poor posture.

Click here for a list of apps that develop fine motor skills!