Tune Your Child's Fine Motor Skills
Suggest your child build towers with pasta, adjusting according to his nimbleness: Stacking pasta with large holes on sturdy rods will be easier than using smaller shapes on more delicate rods. Fill a jar top with modeling clay and stick in chopsticks, dry linguine, or pick-up sticks. To dye pasta, mix a few drops of food coloring with a few teaspoons of rubbing alcohol in a sealable plastic bag. Add pasta and shake; spread on aluminum foil and let dry. Ages 3+
Let your child construct a sweet masterpiece: All you need are marshmallows and plastic straws cut in different sizes. Ages 5+
Up the challenge! Older kids can use mini marshmallows and toothpicks.
Thread It Through
Set a colander upside down on the floor (or on an older kid's lap) and watch your child try to fill each hole with a colored pipe cleaner. Can she fill every one? Ages 3+
Make your own board game with a 12"x 12" foam-core board that's at least 1/2-inch thick (available at art-supply stores), golf tees, and marbles in two colors. For some kids placing marbles on the tees is challenge enough, but if you want to play a game, try this one from the website TherapyFunZone.net:
Push tees into foam-core board, eight rows across and down.Place marbles on golf tees in alternating colors. Take a marble of each color out of the middle. Play by jumping over the other color, collecting the opponent's marbles as you go. Players can double-jump, as long as it is in the same direction. The last player able to jump wins. Ages 4+
How to Make the Most of Playtime
Drawing liquid into an eyedropper by squeezing its vacuum bulb, then releasing it one drop at a time, isolates the fingers used to hold a pencil, making this an excellent pre-writing exercise. Fill cups with water dyed with food coloring. Then try one of these activities:
Ages 2+: Draw or have your child draw shapes with a permanent marker on an absorbent paper towel. Let her use the eyedropper to color in the drawing.Ages 3+: Sketch circles on a piece of paper; place it into a jelly-roll pan or a tray, lay wax paper on top, and secure with tape. The hard -- and fun! -- part is gently squeezing the dropper to put just one drop in each circle. The wax paper will repel the water, so you'll be able to see exactly where it was dropped.
Up the challenge! Have your child suck the drops back into the dropper and transfer into the cups.
Get In the Loop
Sarah Bauer, of Loveland, Colorado, made this pegboard for her kids. To craft your own you'll need: a 2' x 2' piece of white pegboard, wooden dowel pins (1/4" x 1" size), and nylon weaving loops. Have your children push pegs into the board's holes and create designs with the bands. Ages 5+
Bank On It
Set your child up with a pile of coins and a piggy bank. Play Beat the Clock: How many coins can your child get in in 60 seconds? Empty the bank and let her try to beat her record on the next go-round. Ages 4+
This sorting game sharpens pincer skills. Cut colored paper into circles to fit a muffin tin, then give your child a pair of tweezers and color-coordinated pom-poms and ask her to place the puffs into the corresponding cups using the tweezers. Ages 4+
Even if your child isn't a fan of Szechuan, eating with one-piece chopsticks provides pincer (thumb and pointer finger) practice. Zoo Sticks, $2.50 each; Hog Wild Toys
Recommended by Meghan Corridan, a licensed pediatric occupational therapist in New York City, this game challenges kids to use their pincers to pull a stick out of the tree. Tumblin' Monkeys, $20; Amazon
This kid-friendly stylus offers a fun way to practice holding a writing tool while using a tablet, says Corridan. ICreate Crayon Stylus, $12; Fred and Friends
A junior-size fidget toy helps with dexterity, concentration, and problem solving. Tangle Jr. Fuzzies, $4 each; Tangle Creations
Originally published in the September 2015 issue of Parents magazine.