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Chopsticks and Other Tools for Fine Motor Skills

Looking for a fun idea at home, at a pre-school center or just for fun? Get those chopsticks and pom poms (or cotton balls) out for a variety of activities. Pictured below is the simplest form for young ones to practice hand dexterity, fine motor skills and coordination. Notice the child’s chopsticks are connected and much easier to manipulate.

This idea can be used for many purposes in learning:

Children can sort by color or size and even label after sorting.

One to one correspondence, by placing in egg cartons or on a paper with circles drawn on it.

Simple math problems with adding or subtracting.

There are many other ways for little ones to develop and improve dexterity.

As babies encourage your child to turn the pages of a board book by slightly lifting page and guiding their fingers to complete turning the page. Have them feel different textures, play hand games like “Where is Thumbkin” and wave hello and goodbye.

Toddlers and preschoolers can work on finger dexterity as it is important for each finger to work separately from the others. continue hand games and songs such as The Itsy Bitsy Spider and the Wheels on the Bus.  Hand and finger puppets are also a fun and excellent way to develop hand coordination. Playdough-makes balls or just poke holes with different fingers. the normal play of children such as blocks, using tupperware out of your drawers can all help with coordination. Cutting food so children can easily pick up and eat is a great everyday practice for children. for example, cut small chunks of cheese instead of slices for easier pick up and eating on their own. hand eye coordination is easily practiced with a balloon for all ages. the simple and cheap things we already have at home can serve as tools for learning and growing.

Preschool and early elementary age children can start learning sign language, using more complex puppets and making shadows with their hands. Smaller items such as tweezers and eyedroppers can be used to continue the growth of  fine motor skills. A turkey baster to play with outside or the bathtub allows for fun play and more hand dexterity. Crafts and games also become more complex and an excellent way for strengthening the hand and fingers. Remember the games Operation, mandala and Connect Four? Some of the oldies but goodies still apply today. Instruments give plenty of exercise to develop the motor skills and so much more!

Snowflakes for All Ages

Designing and making snowflakes involves many important  concepts at all ages.  Beyond being fun, children experience shapes, motor skills, following directions, creativity, symmetry and spatial skills.  I was shocked at how many students in my fifth grade class volunteered to help  make snowflakes for a bulletin board, they loved it.  I thought that they would be “over” that!

1.jpgWith my younger children I demonstrate how to make a large snowflake and then they decorate it.  Then, they attempt their own allowing them to explore and discover the world of shapes and symmetry. Please note that the “snowflakes” are truly unique and may not look anything like a snowflake.


3D Snowflake: For older children and adults, I found this site that teaches “How to Make a 3D Paper Snowflake.”

Read A Biography:  Snowflake Bentley stated  “Under the microscope, I found that snowflakes were miracles of beauty; and it seemed a shame that this beauty should not be seen and appreciated by others. Every crystal was a masterpiece of design and no one design was ever repeated., When a snowflake melted, that design was forever lost. Just that much beauty was gone, without leaving any record behind.”   He photographed the first snow crystal and shared that no two snowflakes were the same.

Symmetry: Look for symmetry in nature starting with butterflies, bugs, leaves and bee-hives. For older children,  you may ask them if snowflakes are symmetrical in nature. (The answer is sometimes, the most common snowflakes are not symmetrical.)

The Life of a Snowflake:  This site is for older students to follow the life and growth of a snowflake. Fascinating!

Homemade Play Dough

This recipe is a good one for the little ones, just in case they feel like tasting it!


2 cups     flour

2 cups     water

2 TBLS    oil

1 cup        salt

2 tsp         cream of tartar

Food coloring and/or glitter, the color you desire to make.

Stir ingredients and place over medium heat in a pan. I like to use my large fry pan, it seems to cook more evenly.  Cook until the dough pulls away from the side of the pan and is not sticky.  Cool the dough and then knead thoroughly.  Store in plastic bag or airtight container.  The dough will keep for about three months unrefrigerated.

I like to double the recipe if we are planning for playdates or classrooms.

The play dough can be used for free play, making letters, shapes and number or small gifts for friends.

Around the Clock Math Game

Practice all four operations (addition, subtraction, multiplication and division) while creating an equation with this easy to make and play game.

Materials needed:

Pencil, paper and three dice

To Play: 

Each player draws a clock with the numerals one through twelve around it.  The first player rolls three dice, they can use the numbers to create any equation to get the answer one through twelve.  The player then crosses out the answer on the clock.  Then, the next player repeats the process.  Have the players write out the equation.

For example, a player may roll a 6, 3, and 1.

The options are:  6+3+1=10 (the player would cross out their ten),  6-3-1=2,   6-1+3=8,  6-3+1=4,   6/3+1=3,  6×1+3=9.

The object of the game is to cross out all twelve numbers.  It becomes more challenging as the game continues since there are less options to choose from.  A fun way to practice math facts in all of the operations!

Hanging Out

This is a fun activity for children learning to alphabetize words. Cut out clothing shapes like socks, pants and shirts or if you want to keep it simple use index cards.  Write words appropriate for your child or just the ABC’s for the young children.

Tie string from one chair to another (or what works in your house or classroom) and have child use clothespins to hang the words in alphabetical order.

Other ways to use the Hanging Out activity:

Number Order: 1,2,3,4…

Skip Counting:5,10,15,20….

Sentence Order: Mix a sentence up and have child hang in correct order.

Place Dates from a Time Line in Order. This could be an informal assessment of history lesson.


Mixed-up Cereal

A yummy fall snack that the littlest ones can make on their own!  Have an assortment of cereal in large bowls.  For example, Cheerios, Chex and mini-Shredded Wheat.  All of these have the organic equivalent at most grocery stores. Each child gets a baggie or small bowl to create the combination he or she wants.

A mini math lesson can easily be created with the cereal mix.  

Skip counting: Two, three or four of each cereal placed in a group. Practice skip counting touching the piles as you count.

Addition:  Grab any of two kinds of cereal (three for three addends), separate into piles. Count the amount in each pile and write on paper or whiteboard in a number sentence or equation (Example: 6+7=).  Count the total to get the answer.

Subtraction: Count the total amount of cereal and eat three (whatever number you want) then ask how many are left.  Write the equation out or if child is older have them write.

Division and multiplication:  Start with a number of cereal such as 15.  Have the child separate into equal groups, so they could make three groups of five, five groups of three or even one group of 15 or 15 groups of one.   For younger children guide them with the amount of groups.  You could say, “How can you make three even groups with your cereal?”  You can even draw three circles on paper to make it easy for them to divide.   Multiply or skip count once they are separated to show the relationship with multiplication and division.

Yummy, Yummy Fraction Book

Make a fraction book using your child’s favorite foods!  A great activity for a classroom big book. Clear mailing tape can be used to bind the book together. I simply have the child make one whole food and then on the other side or separate paper have the child divide it into fractions. Young children can do this part and older children should write out which fractions they made with their food and the equation to make the whole. For example, 1/4+1/4+1/4+1/4= 1 whole cookie.

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Make and Eat A Necklace

Fun and simple activity for one or a group of children. A great activity for when you are traveling to keep the little ones busy. Just put all of the supplies into a plastic bag and when you are at grandmas, the hotel or even on the plane, take it out for an instant activity. Hint, put masking tape on end to avoid spilling especially while traveling!


What you will need:

String or thin licorice, cheerios, fruit loops, marshmallows, and any other food you can place on a string.

Thread the food on the string and place around neck and tie ends in a knot.

Make this into a learning experience for the little ones by making patterns, counting the amount as you string the necklace, simple addition and identifying colors.

Before and After-Number Line Practice

So here is something you can do anywhere and it takes less than one minute.  This can be done here and there to practice the concept of before and after and to be familiar with the number line.  The practice of moving up and down the number line prepares children for subtraction and addition.  My five year old does this about once a day and sometimes I throw in the discussion of adding and taking away one number.

This can also be done with the alphabet.


Going on a Shape Safari!

Pick your theme such as shapes, colors, textures, letters, etc and go on safari! Children love to dress up and what a fun way to reinforce any concept. You can make binoculars with cardboard tubes such as toilet paper rolls or a paper towel roll cut and taped together. Younger children find the object and discuss with parent, older children can write or draw what they found on their search. You can decorate a fun notebook to document all of the objects.
Variations: Detective with magnifying glass or use digital camera to find objects and then make into book by putting pictures on pages.

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