Developing Hand Coordination with Playdough!

Hand coordination skills, sometimes called “fine motor skills” are the skills needed to do things like use spoons, pinch salt, and hold a pencil. Young children need lots of practice, especially between the ages of 3 months and 7 years old. Around 2 years old is when playing with playdough starts to have a big impact on children’s hand coordination skills.

Here are some ways you can encourage children of different ages to use playdough as a tool to develop their fine motor skills:

Encourage 2-3 year olds to try:
– Opening the Ziploc bag or jar where dough is stored on their own
– Snipping dough with safety scissors or plastic playdough scissors
– Generally shaping play dough with their hands, squishing it, smashing it, and pulling it
– Using tools like cookie cutters, spatulas, plastic straws, and pine cones to stamp and cut dough
– Roll dough into snakes
– Poke it using different fingers
Encourage 4-5 year olds to design detailed creations as they:
– Continue practicing their age 2-3 skills
– Practice using utensils like forks, knives, and spoons to poke, cut, and scoop
– Use tongs to squish and carry dough
– Use safety scissors to cut lines and shapes
– Build 3D animals, buildings, and other creations
– Build letters (especially letters to spell their names) by rolling dough into snakes and bending them into letter shapes
– Using a pencil to etch letters into flattened play dough “paper”
– Rolling dough into balls of the same and different sizes

Chain Reactions

Can you get a ball into a cup using a cookbook, Ramen noodles, a tuna can, and some rulers?

Build a wacky chain reaction known as a Rube Goldberg Machine by using things around the house! Fun for everyone aged 3 to 83.

Prep It

Gather random materials to use. Some good starters are:

  • Things that roll (like marbles, bouncy balls, toilet paper tubes, cans of soup, and toy cars)
  • Things that can knock other things over (dominoes, cereal boxes, individual packets of Ramen noodles)
  • String (ribbon, shoelaces, neckties)
  • Building materials (tape, stacks of books, rubber bands, Popsicle sticks, clothespins, toy blocks )

Play It

If you would like, search YouTube for “Rube Goldberg Machine” for some ideas. When you find a video you feel is appropriate to share with the children in your care, watch it together for inspiration! Below are some of our favorites 😃

1. Decide on a simple task your machine should accomplish.

Here are some ideas:

  • Knock a ball into a trash can
  • Pour cereal out of the box, into a bowl
  • Get a ball from one end of the room to another without touching it
  • Pop a balloon

2. Give children freedom to build!

Tell them to make a machine that gets to the goal in as MANY STEPS as possible.

Depending on their age, you should change how much help you give with ideas and construction.

Children will be exploring gravity, engineering, and physics without even knowing they’re learning!

Super-Thinker Simon Says

Shake up how the children in your care learn new words, follow instructions, do math, and communicate by playing a twist on Simon Says that focuses on developing children’s ideas about position, time, size, numbers, characteristics, and patterns.

Prep It

Nothing is needed for this game- just some space for everyone to move around!

Play It

Standing somewhere where all children can understand your directions, follow the prompts below to get started, then change them up to make the game even more fun! The prompts are organized by what idea they inspire children to think deeply about, but feel free to go out of order.

Begin by saying: “Simon says…” and say one of the following commands. If you do not say “Simon says” before the command, the children should not do the action!

Give a big (large) wave to our neighbors

Walk in a small (little) circle

Point at the short table

Sit on the long couch
Put your chin up

Put your right foot behind your left foot

Put your elbow in front of your tummy

Put your hand next to your ear

Put your finger under your eye

Pretend to throw a football to someone who is far away

Pretend to toss a baseball to someone who is very near

Put your hands apart

Put your feet together
First hop on your right foot, then hop on your left foot

After you blink three times, stick out your tongue

Before you touch your shoulder, touch your nose
Hold up more fingers than I hold up

Hold up less than five fingers

Show me all your fingers

Show me none of your fingers

Do between 5 and 7 jumping jacks
Show me what it looks like when you’ve eaten something that was too hot

Pretend you’ve been out in the cold too long

Pretend to be asleep next to the shelf

Pretend to be a baby awake during nap time

Find something in the room that is old

Point at something that is new

Open your mouth as wide as you can

Close your eyes

Pretend to be a noisy animal

Tip toe quietly

Pretend to carry a full bucket of water

Put an empty cup on your head

Do the same pose as me

Do a different dance than me
Skip in a zip-zag line

Walk backwards in a straight line

Crab-walk in a wavy line

Gone Fishin’

For a fun way to practice letters, sounds, and numbers that also helps kids practice their hand-eye coordination, try fishing!

Watch and learn how to play with Sarahi!

Prep It

1. Collect Materials

You will need:

  • Paper (scrap paper, construction paper, sticky notes)
  • Marker (or pen, pencil)
  • Metal paperclips
  • String (ribbon, shoelace, yarn)
  • Scissors
  • Stick (a ruler, long spoon, or tree branch)
  • Magnets (use one off the fridge if you’d like)

2. Make the “Fish”

Cut paper into squares about the size of small sticky notes.

Use a marker to write one letter or number on each square.

Slide a metal paperclip on, and you have a “fish!”

3. Make the Fishing Rod

Tie one end of the string to a stick, and the other side to a magnet.

Don’t have a magnet?

If you don’t have a strong magnet, or just want to physically challenge your kids more, tie a paperclip to the string and bend it open so it can be hooked onto the fish.

The paperclips on the fish may need to be bent a little to make it easier.

Play It

Spread the fish around the floor and let the kids find and catch them! Try the activities below, but also let children come up with their own ways to play!

– Letter names
– Letter sounds
– Number names
– Try having them catch fish in alphabetical order ( A, B, C, D…)
– Or number order (1, 2, 3…) and (10, 9, 8…)
– Counting how many fish they caught after identifying the letters
– Letter groups ( “Catch all the letters that can make the ‘Kuh’ sound,” like C, K, and Q )
– Patterns (number, letter, number, letter; or even, even, odd, odd…)
– Equations ( “Catch the fish that is 5 + 2;” or “Catch the fish that is 3 less than 7” )
– Skip counting (2, 4, 6, 8… or 4, 8, 12, 16…)
– Catching many fish to make a big number (if they catch 2, 7, 3, and 9, they will tell you the number ‘two thousand, seven hundred thirty-nine)
-Spelling words by catching each letter (you may need to make more letter fish for this)

Tip: Looking at school-aged children’s homework or take-home folders might help you decide what to practice. If you aren’t sure, a great way to find out is to talk to their teacher! Call, email, or visit teachers to get the best recommendations!

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Homemade Playdough

Make playdough using ingredients you might already have around the kitchen- Sarahi will teach you how!

Prep It

Gather the following materials:

  • 2 Heaping Tablespoons Flour
  • 1 Tablespoon Salt
  • 1 Tablespoon Cooking Oil
  • 1 Tablespoon Warm Water
  • Food Coloring (optional)
  • Mixing bowl
  • Tablespoon (any spoon will do)

Play It

1. In a bowl, mix warm water with cooking oil (wet ingredients). Then, add the flour and salt (dry ingredients).

? Ask children: Is the flour and salt dry or wet? What about the oil and water?

2. Mix the wet and dry ingredients together with your hands until it looks and feels like play-dough.

? As a challenge, ask children: does this feel wet or dry to you?

3. If the kids think the dough is too wet and sticky, try saying: “Oh no! Should we add more flour or more water to make it more dry?” Slowly sprinkle more flour into the dough until it feels like play-dough.

Or, if the kids think the mixture is dry and crumbly, try saying: “Oh no! Should we add more flour or water to make it stickier?” Add just a few drops of water at a time until the dough is smooth.

4. To add color, squeeze a few drops of food coloring into the dough. This is a great opportunity to learn about color: point at different food coloring tubes and ask the kids to name the colors.

For a mini science experiment, mix two primary color food coloring dyes (red, yellow, and blue) and have your kids name the colors you made together.

5. Keep the dough in a sealed container to use over and over again!