Building Fine Motor Skills: A Guide for Elementary Teachers

As elementary teachers, we understand the critical role fine motor skills play in a child’s development. After all, they are basically the foundation for doing so many of life’s daily activities! From holding a pencil to buttoning a shirt, these skills are essential for both daily life tasks and academic success. In this guide, we’ll explore what fine motor skills are, why they’re important, and how to incorporate these engaging and fun fine motor activities into your classroom! 

What are fine motor skills?

Fine motor skills encompass a wide range of movements that require intricate coordination and control of the small muscles in the hands and fingers. Unsuprisingly, the little hands in your classroom probably aren’t amazing at most fine motor activities…yet!!

These skills are not only essential for academic tasks such as writing and drawing but also for various everyday activities that we often take for granted. (Ex. buttoning shirts, brushing teeth, and using utensils) From manipulating small objects to executing precise gestures, fine motor skills enable children to interact with their environment and accomplish tasks independently.

Additionally, fine motor skills are closely linked to cognitive development, as the ability to manipulate objects and perform intricate movements is connected to the growth of spatial awareness, problem-solving skills, and hand-eye coordination. (Who knew?!) As students grow and develop, fine motor skills continue to play a critical role in their ability to engage in activities that promote creativity, self-expression, and overall physical dexterity.

To put it simply…our students NEED to build fine motor skills. Fostering the development of these skills from an early age is SUPER important for laying the groundwork for future academic and life success.

How to incorporate fine motor activities into your classroom:

Practicing fine motor skills within the classroom allows for structured, hands-on exploration where students can engage in targeted activities specifically designed to offer fine motor practice. This can be accomplished through a variety of approaches to accommodate different learning styles and teacher preferences (let’s be honest…they need to be “teacher friendly” too.) Here are a few ways I’ve found for practicing fine motor skills with elementary aged students:  

Learning Centers/Stations 

Learning centers are one of my (and my students) FAVORITE ways to work on fine motor skill development. Here’s how it works:

  • Create learning center bins with a different fine motor activity in each bin. (Don’t worry…I have PLENTY of suggestions. Keep reading!!)
  • Divide students up into small groups (usually 3-4 works pretty well.) 
  • Provide each small group of students with a learning center bin that contains all of the different materials and supplies they will need for their learning station activity. 
  • Give students time to play!! (That’s right…a good learning center should feel like playtime for your kiddos.)

These centers could be a regular part of your daily routines, or something you do “every once in a while.” If you choose to do a daily practice option, you might have students engage with a single learning bin per day. Another option could be to set aside one day each week (for a longer duration of time) and have students rotate through stations, exploring a different fine motor activity bin every 10-15 minutes or so. 

Independent Choice Bins 

I don’t know about you, but finding good, constructive, and independent activities for early elementary learners is just, well, difficult. (Let’s be honest…this age group can’t do a ton on their own.) I’ve found fine motor bins come in handy when I need something to engage my “early finishers” while the rest of the class finishes other daily tasks. It can be helpful to have a few fine motor bins put together and available as an independent work option. For these bins, I highly recommend choosing activties that require very little supervision or clean up (you know why.)

Independent fine motor activities might include: 

  • Lacing beads 
  • Geoboards  
  • Dry erase tracing activities 
  • Snap cubes 

(You can grab these featured activities in the “March” set of my Fine Motor Activities Bundle!)

BONUS Tip for Teachers: 

These independent bins can be pulled out when you need additional activities for indoor recess. (Trust me…as a teacher surviving Canadian winters, having some good “indoor recess” options is essential.)

Best Fine Motor Activities

A good fine motor activity incorporates a few key characteristics. First, they use fine motor skills. (I know, obvious, right?!) But in all seriousness, these are activities that give your students the chance to practice important skills such as cutting, tying, pencil control, etc. After all, that’s kinda the whole point. 

Playdough Mats

Did you know that playdough play is a favorite activity among occupational therapists?! In addition to be a well-loved activity by pretty much all young children, playdough is a versatile tool for developing fine motor skills. (That’s what we call a “win-win”, am I right?!) Provide students with themed playdough mats that encourage them to roll, flatten, and mold the dough into different shapes and patterns. This activity not only strengthens hand muscles but also fosters creativity and imagination.

Fine Motor Skills Involved: finger strength, precision movements, grip

Scissor Skills Practice

Scissor skills are an essential part of fine motor development, not to mention an important life skill. Plus…the sooner you can get your kiddos cutting proficiently, the less you have to do it for them. (We both know you’ve got better things to do than help 25 six year olds hold their scissors correctly.) Offer your students opportunities to practice cutting along lines, shapes, and patterns. Start with simple cutting tasks and gradually increase the complexity as students become more proficient.

Fine Motor Skills Involved: cutting, precision movements, hand-eye coordination, grip

QTip Art

QTip art is a fun way to improve hand-eye coordination and fine motor control. Encourage students to dip Qtips in paint and to fill in the dots on the accompanying activity sheets. This activity allows for precise movements while also stimulating creativity. Trust me, the little artists in your class will LOVE this activity!

(You can grab these fun Thanksgiving activities in the November set of my Fine Motor Activities Bundle!)

Fine Motor Skills Involved: hand-eye coordination, precision movement,

Snap Cubes

Snap cubes are excellent tools for developing hand strength and coordination. Challenge students to build structures, patterns, or even simple math models using snap cubes. This activity encourages precise manipulation of small objects while also incorporating elements of STEM learning. As a bonus, this is a great activity for color recognition and pattern practice!

Fine Motor Skills Involved: hand dexterity, finger strength, precision movement

Hole Punch Cards

Hole punch cards provide a simple yet effective way to improve hand strength and control. Create cards with dotted lines or shapes and encourage students to punch holes along the lines using a handheld hole punch. This activity helps refine fine motor skills while also reinforcing shape recognition and spatial awareness.

Fine Motor Skills Involved: grip, hand strength, hand-eye coordination

Looking for fine motor skills activities without creating a ton of extra work for yourself?!

I’ve got you covered! I’ve created a complete set of fine motor bins for each month of the school year! Each month contains 10 unique fine motor activities that can easily incorporated into your classroom learning centers or offered as independent activity options. As a bonus — each month’s activities are designed around a seasonal theme (i.e Halloween/pumpkins in October, Leprechauns in March…you get the picture.) These themes will make is simple for you to weave these fine motor activities into larger lesson or unit plans. Add a few good read aloud stories or related creative writing prompts and you’ve got a multifaced lesson plan.

“Why should I purchase your fine motor activity bins?”

Great question! Three words: DONE. FOR. YOU.

That’s right! I’ve put tons of careful thought and planning (not to mention trial and error in my own kindergarten classroom) into each of the activities contained within my Fine Motor Activities Bundle. Not only will these activities give your young students much needed practice with fine motor skills, they will have a GREAT time doing it! (Trust me…your students will be begging to pull the bins out each week.)

Each month’s set includes carefully crafted printables and a list of supplies you’ll need to complete each activity bin. (Yes, I really am trying to make your life as easy as possible.) Plus, once you’ve got ’em, you’ve got ’em! No need to re-purchase next school year. You can save these activities and use them year after year.

Incorporating these activities into your classroom routine can help support the development of fine motor skills in young learners. By providing engaging and hands-on experiences, you can empower students to build the foundational skills they need for success both inside and outside the classroom.

Looking for more?!

Alright, I thought about keeping this project under wraps until it’s totally finished…but I want you to have access to these goodies during your summer planning!

Introducing: Fine Motor Activites for All Year

In this BRAND NEW bundle of learning center activities, you’ll have access to fine motor activities that are “evergreen”. Unlike my other activity bundle (mentioned above) these activities do not follow seasonal themes and could be used at any point in your school year.

This is a GROWING bundle.

In other words — I will be adding to this bundle for the next few months and it will be COMPLETED in August 2024. As the bundle grows, the price will increase….SO DON’T WAIT!!

If you like free stuff (who doesn’t?!) , click below to join my FREEBIE OF THE MONTH CLUB and get the password! You will receive access to my freebie library Once a month you’ll go to the library to find a completely free item uploaded just for you! You’ll also be the first to know about new blog posts and sales!

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