Different Ways to Develop Fine Motor Skills

Adjust your everyday routine to efficiently improve fine motor skills in your classroom.

By Erin Bailey

Two kids at a desk

My mother, who started school during World War II, has the most beautiful handwriting. Her loops and swirls are as classical as a fancy computer font. Like many children of that era, she remembers playing with buttons, kneading bread dough, and cutting paper dolls from scraps of wrapping paper which are all fantastic for developing fine motor skills and might be the reason for her graceful handwriting. In the classroom, I rarely see handwriting that is as pleasing to read.

Coordinating the muscles of the hands and wrist is important for a variety of reasons, including personal care, playing musical instruments, and legible handwriting. For those who believe that handwriting is an outmoded form of communication, consider a study from the University of Washington. “Researchers are finding that writing by hand is more than just a way to communicate. The practice helps with learning letters and shapes, can improve idea composition and expression, and may aid fine motor-skill development.”1

In any case, young children need activities that will promote the development of these muscles. Luckily, a little imagination is all that’s needed to build them into your current routines in unexpected ways.

Count Up More Minutes

  • In primary classrooms, children spend a lot of time learning to count. Next time they practice one-to-one correspondence, ask them to move small objects with a tweezer. The pinching muscles are critical in gripping a pencil properly. An easy adaptation to develop hand strength is to use kitchen tongs.
  • A second hand-strengthening exercise is to have students use a hole punch to make a dot-to-dot picture. Placing the tiny dots onto their picture will help work on their precision skills.
  • To practice making groups of ten, let learners string ten beads onto a pipe cleaner. These can be linked together to illustrate addition and counting by tens. It also makes a good Hundreds Day activity.

A Pattern for Fine Motor Skills

  • Making patterns is a hallmark of the primary classroom. This important concept can also be a chance to strengthen some tiny muscles. Let children practice patterning by attaching colored paper clips to strips of paper. You can adjust the activity with the size of the paper clips.
  • With colored wood blocks, learners can build vertical towers to create a pattern and develop precision at the same time.
  • Another activity they will enjoy is weaving pipe cleaners into patterns. Let your pupils weave their creations onto a baker’s cooling rack; then snap pictures of the completed masterpieces and post the pictures around the room.

Geometric Creations

  • For a sweet geometry activity, have children practice making shapes using mini marshmallows and toothpicks. If you need a no-food activity, round pencil-top erasers work well too. For those looking for a challenge, three-dimensional shapes will raise the difficulty level.

Leaves Aplenty

  • Science class is another place where fine motor skills can get extra time. Are you studying leaves this fall? Here’s a nifty idea for decorating your classroom while giving fingers a workout. Kids will trace a basic leaf shape onto white paper. Then they can add some fall colors by dropping diluted food coloring onto the leaf with an eye dropper. Finish by cutting out the leaves for display.
  • Another way to develop the muscles needed for gripping a pencil is to roll balls of clay or paper. For this activity, you will need many one-inch by one-inch squares of tissue paper in fall leaf colors. Let students roll tiny balls from the individual paper squares and glue them to the branches of an outlined tree. This idea can also be used for creating pictures of falling snow, stars in a night sky, and fields of flowers.

The Solar System in Balance

  • When it comes time to study the planets and their place in the solar system, your class can create mini solar systems by arranging golf tees in a block of Styrofoam. Scholars must deposit a marble to represent each planet on top of the tee. Use a variety of marble sizes for a more accurate model as well as to vary the challenge level.

Spelling without Handwriting

  • One final idea for working the muscles in the fingers and hands can be done during spelling time. Print individual letters onto pinch-type clothespins. I love the mini ones! Whatever the spelling list is for the week, students can spell out the words by clipping the pins onto a folder or index card. 

Incorporating fine motor skill development into your daily routines will help youngsters in many different areas, including buttoning, tying shoes, zipping, keyboarding, and handwriting. For more lesson plans for that include such exercises for pre-kindergarten through second grade, check out these from Lesson Planet.

More Resources:

Making Paper Figures

Learners fold paper to make a figure who delivers the mail. This works well when studying community helpers.

Sensational Subtraction Centers

Children perform subtraction every day without even realizing it. Help them practice the skill with these fun centers that include many activities that improve fine motor skills, such as stamping, lacing, and moving small objects.

Numbers and Counting

Young mathematicians explore the numbers 1-5 in this center-based lesson. Tracing, cutting, and coloring are among the opportunities for fine motor skill development.


1 Gwendolyn Bounds, “How Handwriting Trains the Brain”, Wall Street Journal,October 5, 2010, http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704631504575531932754922518.html.