Fine Motor + Language = High-Impact Early Learning X 26 Activities!

Fine Motor Coordination and Strength Activities with Built-In Language Opportunities By Karen Nemeth from

Try these language-filled activities to build fine motor strength and coordination for an extraordinary return to school this year. Real items are great conversation starters, especially for children who are dual or multilingual language learners. Use them to support home language as well as new language at home and at school. Enhance a sense of belonging when you invite families to provide familiar items from home. All of these factors work together to build on each child’s strengths and help them catch up and move up to succeed in school.

Meaningful manipulative
Use it for:Talk about:
Squeeze bottles filled with water, paint, or condimentsFilling, shaking, aiming, and squeezingColor and design made by child
Potato masherMash play dough, fruit for salad, or cooked, cooled potatoesHow it works, why it helps us in cooking, the impressions it makes
Garlic pressSqueeze play dough through the tiny holes to make string, hair, pretend spaghettiWays to use the strings of dough
Plastic knivesCut playdough, clay, styrofoamPretending to cut food, make shapes
Cookie cuttersCut shapes of play dough, bread, cheese, vegetables or trace shapes for artworkShapes and ways to use them
Icing bags with different decorating tipsFill with soft dough for play or cheese spread, ice cream, whipped potatoes, and practice squeezing while writing or drawingThe process of filling and designing with this tool, and the different shapes and effects you can make
Safe knives and serving tongsLet children cut and serve their own food at mealsSafety, actions, and the different types of foods
Pass food, implements, materials around the tablePractice reaching across the midline by passing food and cutlery around the table during meals, or passing markers, magnets, or other supplies around for group activitiesCareful and respectful ways to pass things around and discussing the items being passed
Cooking and bakingUs skills like careful pouring, measuring, stirring, moldingIngredients, tastes, smells, appearance, texture, numbers, proportions, changes with mixing and heating, serving
Spoon racesUse spoons to carefully carry raw egg or something heavier like potato, rock, or lump of clay to race to finish line without droppingBalance, speed, weight, size, competing, winning, cooperating and helping teammates
Heavy nuts and boltsSort the sizes that go together and practice screwing the nuts on and off the boltsWays to use nuts and bolts, finding them around the environment, how to look for matching features
Make cardboard puzzlesChildren cut cereal or food containers or glue favorite pictures onto cardboard, then cut apart and use as puzzlesPracticing the skills, and the pictures themselves. Use pictures that represent favorite books, activities, or familiar sights
Large paper clipped or taped to fence or wall outdoorsFor vertical painting/drawing movementsLarge and small arm movements and the topics of the child’s art
Collaborative art projectsWorking together on one surface encourages children to reach across the midline to use art skills and tools.The art, the media, the techniques, colors, textures, and about working together
Dip string in glue and rap around empty cans or balloonsWorking with the narrow string or yarn requires fine motor coordination. When it dries, it’s a useful item such as pencil jar or battery candle holder.The process as it takes shape over time and ideas for the use of the item that is produced.
Paint 3-dimensional objectsPainting on beads, blocks, cars, rocks, cups, clay creations, and more. Holding the object and controlling the paint make a combined challenge.Plans for the object being painted, what is easy or difficult in this activity, the paint itself, and the outcome of the work.
Cardboard packing boxesFor vertical painting and creating imaginative structuresCreating, designing, and decorating
Garden suppliesPlant seeds, pull weeds, dig dirt, move rocks to make boundaries, carry and pour waterThe environment, how plants grow, how we take care of plants and how we use them
Variety of clays and molding materialsUse different levels of strength and skill to manipulate harder and softer clay, play dough, floam, putty, and molding sandTexture, color, and what are they making. Harder clays build more hand strength than play dough.
Lots of dolls and clothes to dress them – not just baby dollsPutting on clothing or gear such as fishing gear or sports uniforms on small toys requires dexterityThe dolls, clothing, accessories, and their various purposes
Zippers, buttons, and snapsChallenging closures on children’s clothing as well as doll clothes and toys take more time but they offer valuable fine motor practice.Learning independent self-care, helping friends dress, and dressing/undressing dolls
Bottles with screw on capsSort the bottles, match caps to bottles, practice screwing on and offWhat the bottles are used for
Paper, fabric, or clothingPractice careful folding – even learn origami togetherWhy we fold clothes and paper, how to fold evenly, and how to use folding for art creations and practical uses
Assorted musical instrumentsMake, borrow, or buy culturally relevant instruments that use a variety of hand/arm movements and strengths.Tones, techniques, and rhythms, and about how instruments are made and their roles in different cultures
Finger play songsChoose finger plays that challenge children and sing them in home languagesThe gestures and what they mean.
Variety of containers with different closuresCollect containers with snap lids, latches, key locks such as fishing or tool box, purse, plastic tubs, film canisters, spice and sauce bottles, zip lock bags, hooks and eyes.The ways the different closures work, what the container is used for, and what you would keep in it.

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