Refining those fine motor skills

Now that B is walking and occasionally running more confidently, it’s time to refocus on his fine motor skills.  I’ve noticed that boys tend to be slower than girls in this age group to master certain tasks… B expresses interest in doing these things, but when he’s stuck, he gets frustrated quite easily and just swipes or throws it away.  Perhaps we can incorporate more intentional fine motor skill practice throughout the day, either through daily routines or short “games.” 

Some ideas:
1) Filling up, dumping out and scooping:
Prepare for this stage by setting up play areas and offering manageable activities. Taking blocks out of a large box, pegs out of a pegboard, toys out of a trunk, and sturdy puzzle pieces out of a puzzle. Once he has the “taking out” step down, it’s time for the “putting in” step. Some of the above tasks can be reversed (although you may not be able to generate much enthusiasm for putting toys away) and will flex your child’s visual and mental muscles as well as fine motor skills. For a follow-up, encourage your little one to try a more challenging feat, such as dropping “O” cereal bits or beans into a smaller container/with a slightly narrowed neck, or using a shape-sorter. This is the precursor to self feeding.  Use a deep, short spoon that easily fits in a tot’s hand. Practice with yogurt, cereal or beans when there’s time (and energy) to clean up.  Be prepared to help a little (or a lot….)
 
2) Dressing and undressing 
Putting things on and taking them off is a toddler delight.  Dressing and undressing — himself or a toy — provides a host of opportunities for him to practice his finger and hand coordination. Tiny doll clothes are too intricate but big capes or ponchos for his teddy bears, felt boards with people shapes and changeable outfits are perfect. Reusable stickers can also fascinate, though very small ones are tough for little fingers to manage. Provide a big box of dress-up clothes that are easy to manage — Dad’s old coat and shoes, your old scarves, and hats galore. When it comes to dressing himself for the day, your toddler will do best with pants that have elastic waists, pull-on tops, and Velcro-fastening shoes to minimize morning struggles. Be sure to introduce new challenges — a single large button or a big snap — one at a time.
 
3) Drawing and scribbling
Sometime between the ages of 12 and 18 months, your toddler will probably attempt to “write” by making marks on paper or with crayons, and sometime between 18 and 24 months she may surprise you by drawing vertical and horizontal lines and perhaps a circle. Set up your budding artist with big sheets of thick paper taped to the table. Thick, sturdy crayons or washable pens in a few primary colors (so as not to overwhelm) are a good choice. Chunky sidewalk chalk to use outdoors, paper pinned to an easel instead of a flat surface, or soap crayons in the tub, finger-painting and printing (hand- and footprints, brush leaves, acorns, carrot-tops, or flower petals with paint to use as homemade stamps)
 
4) Stacking, sorting and stringing
From carefully balancing one block on top of another to placing colored rings on a pole, stacking (and knocking down, of course) is a toddler tradition. Let your child experiment with blocks of different sizes, shapes, and colors, and offer a variety of other materials for building and manipulating. Though ABCs and 1-2-3s games are a ways off, your toddler can sort refrigerator alphabet magnets by color or size or string beads with plastic snap-together beads. Once he’s mastered those, offer a thick shoelace and a piece of felt with holes cut in it or a sturdy string and big wooden beads, colored pasta shapes or fruit rings.
 
5) Poking and pinching
Toddlers are sensualists above all else — they love to smell, taste, and touch. Nontoxic modeling clay invites hand and finger movement as your child rolls, shapes, punches, and molds the material to her liking. A few simple tools, such as a lightweight rolling pin and some plastic cookie cutters, stretch this activity out longer. The softer the dough, the easier it is for small hands to shape. Real edible dough is, of course, the ultimate treat or “gak” – the gooey preschool favorite made from equal parts white glue (or flour, colored with food colouring) and water , which kids just love to squish and squeeze. If there’s opportunity outside, a mud pie kitchen or a sandcastle construction zone creates opportunities to use those same manipulative skills. 
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