Category Archives: Motor Skills

Color Wheel for toddlers

I’ve seen this activity on tons of blogs since I first started looking and finally thought J was old enough to manage it.  The first time I brought it out he was excited but soon just wanted to point out where each clothespin belonged and have me do the physical labor.  Pinching the clothespin was difficult for him.  I felt ridiculous that I couldn’t figure out a good way to teach him to use the clothespin.  A week later we tried again.  We practiced opening and closing the clothespins together and I realized he could manage them on his own if he used both hands.  So for now I hold the color wheel for him while he squeezes the clothespin open.  Hopefully he will soon develop the hand muscles needed to have more control.  Since he knows his colors, the fine motor skills is really the purpose of this activity. 

(I don’t have a pic of J in action because I don’t have a free hand to snap the photo)

Age attempted: 24 months

Increased difficulty to pipe cleaner toy

I finally made a harder version of the pipe cleaner toy that J loves.  It was one of the first activities I found when websurfing but of course I didn’t save the link so I have no idea where the idea came from.  ETA: I found the link

This particular one is actually a gift for a friend’s little girl, but I let J give it a trial run.  I should’ve made this for him when he was younger.  It would’ve been a great challege for colors; now it’s just good practice.   The original pipe cleaner toy  is SUCH a huge hit and has been for a full year now.  It is probably the top homemade toy in our house (or at least in the top three).  As he got older of course it got easier.  Adding the color matching to the toy makes gives him one more challenge to the task. 

This particular toy is an empty oatmeal container.  I used a knife to cut holes into the lid and added some reinforcements that I colored to match the pipe cleaners.  Done! 

UPDATED: A reader just asked me a great question that might help others out too! 

How do you avoid the sharp end of the pipe cleaner?

I’ve always folded and twists the ends over to keep from that sharp exposed wire. When J was really young, I twisted them in half since that length was enough of a challenge for his fine motor skills.  As he got older I could lengthen the pipe cleaners and just fold down the edge. This doesn’t remedy the problem completely, but it keeps their fingers from getting poked.  It’s still something you want to watch since eyes can get poked. Oh and I’ve found the cheaper pipe cleaners have less fluff around them which means the ends poke more. You could also use colorful straws instead of the pipe cleaners. That might be a great option for some.  I preferred pipe cleaners since we used this activity on planes most often and I liked that the pipe cleaners could be used for lots of other activities on the trip as well.
Age attempted: with colors, 24 months but could be done much much earlier; without colors, around 12 months

Homemade Geoboard

I’ve seen this idea on lots of blogs throughout my activity searching  and finally decided I would make one too.  You can use this link on Mama Jenn to see how it’s made.  This is not only good shape practice, but it’s turning out to be good fine motor skill practice too.  J does have a hard time stretching the rubber bands to far enough, when left on his own he basically lays them across two pegs.  I have to encourage him to try and stretch them further. 

This is definitely an activity that we do together.  Even if he had the fine motor skills to do it on his own, I would still keep a close eye on him because the board is made with pushpins.  So far there is no sign at all that they might come out, but I’m not confident enough to walk away from him with this toy yet.  Also, removing the stretched rubber bands could potential shoot them across the room or into his leg which could hurt.  He can’t remove them on his own yet either, so we haven’t actually had an injury or anything, just FYI.

Homemade Toy: Pushing Puff Balls

I’m pretty sure I got this idea from Children’s Learning Activities (though I can’t find the exact post). 

ETA: Manda just referred to this activity that I couldn’t find earlier on her blog.  Here’s the link for the original idea.

It was really easy to make, just cut small holes in the lid of an old butter container.  J’s goal is to stuff the puff balls inside the container via the holes.  The holes are just smaller than puff balls, requiring J to work a little harder to get all the balls inside.  It’s a fine motor activity that I pull out once every couple weeks and J is always very intrigued. 

Age attempted:  I think I first made this when he was 18 or 19 months old.  He’s now 24 months and still enjoys this (although it’s much easier for him now; I should probably add a color matching step to it too)

24 months

Homemade Toy: Playing Mailman

I made a simple mailman activity for my niece to include in her 1 Year old Busy Box (check out #3 on the link).   At her level, it basically included the foam envelopes and a small metal mailbox.  She could open and close the mailbox, lift up the flag, and play the “In and Out” game that ALL 1 year olds seem to love!  I kept wanting to make something similar for J.

 I got the first mailbox at Michael’s Craft Store but haven’t been able to find them since so I decided to make one with a shoebox…  until I came across this mailbox in the Valentine’s clearance section at Target. 

It’s made of cardboard and opens and closes like normal on the side.  It also has a small slit at the top (originally to place valentine’s card inside).  Regular size foam fits perfectly in the slit on top.  I cut the foam envelopes according the the length of the slit and then labeled each with both a mailing and a return “address” and drew a stamp in the upper right. If you wanted, you could use real stickers and have your toddler place the stamp on each envelope. 

I’ve had this activity made for ever, but just brought it out this week.  I’m glad I waited.  Since the foam envelopes barely fit in the mailbox slit, it makes it an appropriately challenging activity for J’s current level.  He has to be very careful to get the foam inside the slit and then he has to work slowly to push the foam envelope down.  Since foam bends if he pushes too hard or moves to fast the long envelopes will just bend over the top of the mailbox instead of falling inside.  It was a GREAT fine motor skill activity for him. 

Lots of concentration going on!!

He got really frustrated at first.  Dad stepped in and showed him how to hold the envelope on the sides with both hands and SLOWLY push it into the mailbox.  From then on he loved it.  He stuck with it for awhile.  The fact that he had to focus so much and was, in the end, able to complete the task tells me he’s at the right developmental level for this.  I’m actually glad the slit was so small.  If I had made one myslef, I wouldn’t have made the slit that small which would’ve made it to easy for him. 

It can also act as a name recognition game… he can “deliver” the envelopes to the correct person (in this case, Mommy, Daddy, and J) or he can just stack them according to name.  When he’s older, I could add more recipients and J could sort them next to the recipients picture.   

He can of course also sort them by color, count the numbe of envelopes each person recieved (or according to color).

Age attempted: 25 months; a younger toddler can insert the mail through a larger slit or through the door on the mailbox.

Here’s the picture of my niece’s Mailman game

Archeological Dig for Toddlers

Well, I don’t know if “archeological” would be correct since we were digging for puff balls!! But J found them very intriguing 🙂

I filled a plastic tray with rice and hid pom pom balls inside.  I also set out a few scoopers and an empty tray next to it.  At the last minute I added a cookie drying rack on top of the empty tray.  It’s holes were big enough to let the rice fall through but small enough to keep the pom pom balls from falling.  I showed J how to scoop up the rice and then empty it on top of the drying rack to find the pom pom balls.  He then separated the pom pom balls by color into small bowls. 

He loved this activity. 

Age attempted: 23 months (could be done earlier; for really young toddlers you could leave out the scoopers and just let them dig with their hands)

Lesson Learned:  I set out a beach towel underneath, but I should’ve used the plastic table protector instead.  It is heavier and doesn’t move around as much.  I could’ve used the empty baby pool too. 

Homemade Toy: Pipe Cleaners in a Bottle

This activity is a huge winner.   I once read about giving toddlers spaghetti pasta to fit inside empty spice containers in the “Toddler Busy Book”.  I tried this first (with an empty water bottle since he was too young to fit the spaghetti in the tiny spice holes) but the spaghetti kept breaking and then I was worried he’d try to eat the pieces.  It just didn’t work with J so young.  So I changed the activity and gave him pipe cleaners with the empty bottle instead.  I twisted the pipe cleaners in half so they were more sturdy and bent the ends around so they were safe.  J loved loved loved this.  It is definitely in the top 10 toys he owns.  I now include it when making a  Busy Box for 1 year olds.
It’s a great activity to help little ones practice motor skills.  The length of the pipe cleaners makes it more difficult to fit inside the bottle than a puff ball or anything small enough to fit into their hands.  J often tried to hold the bottle in one hand and the pipe cleaner in his other hand so it required steady hands (something he did not have at first!)  As he’s gotten older and in better control of his muscles I’ve decreased the size of the mouth on the bottle.  He now uses an empty parmesan container with the holes in the lid or a plastic lid that I punched holes into.  I’ve also seen an activity online that colored around each hole to encourage their toddler to match the colors during the activity (though I can’t remember where!).  I liked that idea, but haven’t used it yet.  It would definitely increase the difficulty. 
It’s funny how we don’t realize all the skills we had to master in order to do things like pouring, sorting, threading, etc. It’s fun watching J learn these things.  This is one of J’s favorite activities between ages 11 months and maybe 18 months.  
It’s a perfect plane activity since it keeps him occupied for so long and is so light to carry while traveling.  In fact, he just enjoyed this toy on our plane ride this morning at 22 months.  Again it’s light, keeps them busy for an extended time and the pipe cleaners can be used for other things (make jewelry, letters, shapes, chains, threading,…).
Age attempted: I can’t remember exactly when I first introduced this; I know my neice is able to do it at 12 months right now.
Teachable Moments:  In and Out, show them how to hold the bottle still while moving the pipe cleaner, fine motor skills, color matching,
Try Again?  He is still intrigued at 23 months!  I made the activity more difficult as he got older.
Here’s the cuter version I made for my neice.  I just punched holes into the top of an Empty Puffs container.

Homemade Toys: PVC Pipe Building

I didn’t actually make one of these toys myself, but if you’re handy (or have a really handy husband), this is really a great toy.  J got to play with this on a recent trip to a children’s museum. 

23 months

They had two peg boards standing across from each other and with a tray of short, long, t-shaped, and corner pipes.  I have no clue what their technical names are!   All J had to do was fit the pipes together to build.  I was surprised how well he did with this.  I did have to point out the size of the pipe holes since you had to place one of the connectors in between the straight pipes.  He had a hard time remembering that. 

Age attempted: 23 months; a younger toddler could easily fill the holes with individual pipe pieces instead of attempting to extend the pipes from wall to wall

Teachable Moments:  ask them to send the pipes up/down, requires an understanding of patterns to do this on their own (rotate between straight pipes and connectors)

Try Again?  Not at home, I can’t see us buying the pipes/peg boards nor do I want to store them it could work in a garage.  He’ll have to wait till we visit the children’s museum again!

Homemade Toy – Sponge Curlers

You may have seen this post describing J’s homemade version of stringing beads.  Well, of course you can use the sponge curlers as they come as an easy toy to encourage more practice with fine motor skills.  Often changing just one aspect of an activity makes it seem brand new to J.  So sometimes I pull out the plastic pieces that the sponges came with and J matches the correct color sponge with the (we have two sets pink and black).  Cutting the sponges into halves or thirds obviouslylengthens the task and gives him more practice at stringing them.   It’s also a good way to emphasize size. 

23 months

We haven’t  done this activity yet, but you could first have organize the sponges by size before threading them.  Talk about how many are necessary to fill up the curler peg…. when you’re threading the smallest size, the medium size, the largest size sponges.  When he’s much older this could be a great hands on activity for whole, half, and thirds.

Age Attempted: 23 months, could’ve done this earlier

Teachable Moments:  Encourage them to thread the correct color sponge on it’s matching peg; encourage them to fill up the peg (size)

Try Again?  Yes, it can grow with J

Homemade Toy – Stringing Sponges

In one of my trips through the dollar store, in search of cheap, light weight “toys” to keep my toddler busy on planes, I came up with this version of stringing beads. 

I bought a couple packages of sponge curlers (the kind some of us slept in when we were little).  They came in black and pink in our dollar store.  I took them home and sliced some in thirds, some in half, and kept others the full length.  I keep them in a small wipee box with some pipe cleaners.  The sponges are perfect to string on the pipe cleaners.  I think it’s a little easier for them use the pipe cleaners than regular string, making this activity possible at a younger age.  Wealso make jewelry with them or link them together to create a chain (thought J needs a lot of help with that).

23 months

This makes a good plane/travel activity because it keeps them occupied for awhile, it reuses the same materials from other plane activities (so you have to pack less), and it’s lightweight.  The disadvantage is that the sponges can be decidedly fun to throw around on the plane (but at least they don’t hurt if they hit you and they’re cheap, so it’s not terrible if some are lost).  This works well for J now at 23 months; our first experience with this plane activity (at 14 months) didn’t go as well.   

Age attempted:  14 months (too young for on the plane), better by 18 months and good at it by 23 months

Teachable Moments:  We’ve worked on the meaning of push and pull with this.  You can make patterns with the different colors, practice counting by assigning a different number of sponge beads for each pipe cleaner

Try Again?  This is usually an activity I either bring on the plane or have in the hotel; it is saved for those events to keep it’s novelty but still gets used fairly often