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5 Ways to build fine motor skills in kids

Abbi Perets lives in Houston, TX, with her husband and five children.






Developmental milestones

What's better than playing with your child? Having fun and helping him at the same time -- especially when all he sees is the fun. Check out these skill-building activities that your child will truly enjoy.

Mom fingerpainting with kids

My 6-year-old son has been receiving occupational therapy since he was four months old. In his case, it's because his syndrome causes a delay in fine motor skills and overall low muscle tone. But what I've learned in six years of working closely with occupational therapists is that all kids -- even those without any special needs -- can benefit from fine motor skill-building activities.

Healthcare insurance woes have forced us to scale back our formal therapy programs, so I've been working on incorporating more therapeutic activities into our daily routine. You'd be surprised at how many typical kid activities are great for building fine motor skills -- the skills your child will need for writing, typing, turning the pages of a book, and other important activities. Here are five fun things you can do to help strengthen your own child's proficiency.

1. Finger painting fun

Head out to the yard with an easel and some fingerpaints, and let your child create a masterpiece using only his fingers -- no brushes allowed. No easel? No problem! Tape a large sheet of paper to the sidewalk or your driveway -- or to a low window of your home. If you have very messy kids, have them fingerpaint in their bathing suits, and clean up by turning on the sprinklers afterwards.

In the winter months, you can fingerpaint indoors using shaving cream in a disposable aluminum pan.

2. Play with paper dolls

Paper dolls provide kids with a fantastic opportunity to work on several important skills -- and they'll never know it. Cutting out pieces, folding tabs, and dressing paper dolls can keep kids occupied for hours. Start by cutting out large dolls and outfits, and work towards progressively smaller pieces over time.

You can find plenty of printable paper dolls -- and buildable paper crafts -- online. And if you think your little boy won't be interested in this game, then you need to rethink your definition of paper dolls. These cool Readymech's, for example, are sure to appeal to boys.

3. String them along

When I was a kid, I spent hours playing cat's cradle with string. If you've forgotten how to play this fun string game, you can re-learn online. Kids are ready for easy string figures by around age four. Although most of the string games I played were designed for two players, you'll see that there are an incredible number of one-player designs. Try them out, then teach your kids. Bonus: if you remember to pack yarn, you'll always have a quiet activity your kids can play.

4. Get thready

Grab some macaroni or large beads and some string and let your kids make necklaces. As they improve, have them make more complex designs, and use smaller beads, as long as your child is old enough to handle them safely. Some kids may even develop a talent and passion for jewelry making over time.

Get more skill-building crafts your kids will love here.

5. Puzzle it out

Stock your playroom with puzzles to give your child's fingers a workout. Start with pieces that are simply removed and replaced from their matching cutouts, then move on to the large puzzles that fit within a frame. As your child improves, look for large floor puzzles in the shapes of fire trucks, animals, and other favorites, and then slowly move on to puzzles with smaller pieces to keep stimulating your child's development.

Tell us: What is your child's favorite skill-building activity? Comment below!

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