The Best Fine Motor Sensory Activities For Young Kids

the best fine motor sensory activities for young children fit and fun playscapes blogFine motor sensory skills involve activating and using the small muscles of the hand to perform routine tasks, like moving objects and grasping items. Have you ever picked up a pencil from a table? That's using your fine motor sensory skills to accomplish a task.

However, some individuals encounter difficulties developing their own fine motor sensory skills, leading to a disability called Developmental coordination disorder (DCD). According to an April 2007 study published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine (JRSM), roughly 6% of children aged 5-11 years have DCD to some degree. Children do not outgrow the disorder - without treatment, the disorder persists through adulthood. Interestingly enough, the body of evidence on effective treatments of DCD is thin - it's unclear how effective treatment actually is, and if it makes a difference at all.

What is clear, however, is it's never a bad thing to work on your fine motor sensory skills when you can, especially during childhood. With that in mind, we found the best fine motor sensory activities we could and gathered them into an easy-to-use list for educators, occupational therapists, adapted physical education teachers, or even parents looking to keep their children sharp.

mother and daughter drawing with pencils

1. Drawing with markers or colored pencils

Drawing with markers or colored pencils is probably the simplest activity for busy teachers looking to work a little fine motor sensory activity or two into their students' workday. Give your students colored pencils or markers (or have them share, if there aren't enough to go around), some colored paper or plain white paper, and let them go to town!

Drawing also lets kiddos flex those creative muscles, in addition to those small muscles in the hands which facilitate effective fine motor skills practice.

2. Drawing with a tablet

If your classroom has an electronic tablet or two, downloading a drawing app (or even using the default paint software) is another method of letting your kiddos work their fine motor skills. With this method, though, there's no mess to clean up!

a child playing with play dough

A tablet can be expensive up front, but may save you hundreds of dollars in supply costs down the road. If funds are a problem, you might consider creating a DonorsChoose page to ask for donations.

3. Play dough / safe-for-kids putty

Play dough is a great activity for working fine motor skills and stimulating sensory input. Play dough (or alternative made-safe-for-kids putty) allows young children to mold and create with their fingers while stimulating their creative muscles at the same time. Want to build a city or craft a dinosaur? Play-Doh® can do that!

Keep in mind that children should always be supervised when handing a putty product like play dough, even if it's promoted as non-toxic.

4. Make a sensory bin

Sensory bins are fun tools for teachers to have tucked away in the classroom. Best of all, a sensory bin can work fine motor sensory skills by stimulating several of the main senses - most specifically, touch.

a child using their balance sense to walk a log

Sensory bins are an assortment of sensory-stimulating objects (think stress balls, textured dice, plastic beads, etc.) that kids can take out and work their senses. Some sensory bins include objects that stimulate sight, smell, taste, or hearing as well, though as with anything related to food objects, you should make sure there aren't any allergy-inducing items in a sensory bin.

Little Bins For Little Hands offers a great guide on making sensory bins.

5. Balance beam

Balance beams can be great pieces of equipment for trained gymnasts and supervised kiddos, but those are extremely expensive and are likely only found in the school's gym. Don't worry though - there's a safe and totally affordable alternative!

All you've got to do is stick some tape to the floor and, presto! You've got a balance beam. At Fit and Fun Playscapes, we offer permanent options that can last for several years, if you're interested in something more aesthetic and of a higher quality than scotch tape.

a child looking at craft beads

6. Beading

Small plastic beads are probably some of the best fine motor skills exercisers (that's a word now!) you can find! They're easy to store as well, as they can be stored in a sensory bin or a desk drawer.

Small plastic beads can be used to stimulate touch (working sensory skills) OR as a fine motor skills project by making necklaces, rings, jewelry items, etc. Pushing a string through a small hole is a lot harder than it seems, and working that sort of skill really builds up hand-eye coordination in kids.

7. Yuck-E-Balls

Yuck-E-Balls are small sensory balls filled with a non-toxic gel that stimulates touch. The material (a skin-like outer layer and a gel-filled inner layer) can create fluid environments and allow the balls to be stretched and pulled without risk of breaking. Unlike other rubber balls or bean bags, Yuck-E-Balls stop where they're dropped, so there's no climbing under large pieces of furniture to retrieve them!

Yuck-E-Balls are great for tossing around to improve hand-eye coordination or working gross motor skills like catching, throwing, juggling, holding, etc. They can be purchased at most school supply retailers, or general product stores like Walmart or Target.

8. Sensory Pathways by Fit and Fun Playscapes

boy on a sensory pathway

A sensory pathway, or sensory hall, is a colorful, creative and playful way for kids to build connections in the brain that are responsible for sight, touch, sound, etc., which enable kids to complete complex, multi-stage tasks. A sensory pathway is a great way for kids to develop motor skills like balance, hand-eye coordination, and spatial awareness, and is normally made with stickers that can be stuck to any surface.

Our popular blog post titled "Sensory Pathways: What The Heck Are Those?" breaks down what a sensory pathway is and how it can be utilized effectively to improve fine motor sensory skills in children.


Difficulty With Self-Regulation And The Importance Of Sensory Motor Skills by Timothy D. Davis, Ph.D.

Timothy D. Davis, PhD., an adapted physical education professor at SUNY Cortland, put together an article discussing what exactly sensory motor skills are and how children can have difficulties with self-regulation. Reading the article in full will give parents or educators of students with developmental coordination disorder (DCD) excellent insight into what exactly their child might be experiencing and how they can help.

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