Pipe Cleaner and Play Dough Fine Motor Activities
My favourite pipe cleaner activity for encouraging fine motor skill development is creating characters with play dough and adding hair with pipe cleaners and beads, or tooth picks and beads.
Why is this play dough and pipe cleaner activity important?
The main elements for pincer grip are to use the thumb, first finger, and second finger to grasp small objects such as a pencil, bead, or button. For the first three fingers to be able to maintain a pincer grip, the fourth and fifth fingers need to stay clenched and out of the way of the fingers that need to be squeezing the object.
Making playdough monsters uses pincer grip and hand strength to create the monsters body. Then adding beads on to pipe cleaners for the monsters hair uses the skills of pincer grip and bilateral coordination.
Playdough marble rolling
This playdough activity incorporates most of the important fine motor skills needed for children. Flattening the playdough into a pancake shape promotes shoulder strength, arm proprioception, and wrist extension as children push down through their arms on to the table to squash the playdough.
When children hold the marble, they are using their first two or three fingers, teaching the fourth and fifth fingers to relax.
Stabilising the playdough while moving the dominant hand
encourages bilateral coordination, and pushing the marble through the think playdough gives proprioception (pressure) back through the fingers and hand.
All in all I love this activity for promoting fine motor development and the early stages of letter formation.
Cutting Play Dough
Once the child is able to tear paper with a coordinated pincer grip, provide the child with a pair of playdough scissors and pre-rolled sausage shapes.
Encourage the child to pick up the scissors with the thumb in the small hole, and two fingers in the larger hole. Hold the scissors with the thumb on the top, and the remaining fingers underneath the height of the thumb.
Learn more about how to encourage scissor use below.
Pipe cleaner chains
I have my 'mum hat' on when I talk about pipe cleaners because I want to start by saying 'be careful'.
Pipe cleaners can be very sharp at each end, so before giving pipe cleaners to young children I suggest folding over each end of the pipe cleaner until the sharp edge is tucked away and no longer feels sharp to touch.
Once the risk of sharp edges has been reduced, I then talk about the amazing fine motor qualities of a pipe cleaner.
Pipe cleaners are great for developing sensory integration of the hands because the fluffy texture of the pipe cleaner provides great tactile stimulation, and the bending element of the pipe cleaner demonstrates to the hands how much pressure and force can be applied to make the pipe cleaner move - this pressure and force information comes from our proprioception system.
I have used the activity of making pipe cleaner chains as a calming corner activity. I also use this activity to promote pincer grip and finger spatial awareness for children who are holding their pencil too tight.
To make this activity engaging and easy for children, I pre-cut small strips of pipe cleaner using gardening scissors. I place the different coloured pipe cleaner strips into a storage container that has small compartments, and I encourage children to either make patterns, or spread their creative wings and create their own masterpiece.
Learn more simple play activities in my ebook