Learning to use their hands, thumbs, and fingers is an ongoing challenge for children ranging from babies with
rattles to preschoolers coloring with crayons. Like many lessons, kids develop these abilities via play. The best toys for fine motor skills are so entertaining and absorbing that your child won't even notice they're "working." Scary Mommy reached out to Pediatric Occupational Therapist Emma Hubbard to learn more about the must-have toys for strengthening fine motor skills. The Expert Emma Hubbard is a pediatric occupational therapist with over 12 years of clinical experience. She received her Bachelor's Degree in Occupational Therapy from the University of Newcastle. She is also the founder of Brightest Beginning, a website and YouTube channel dedicated to helping new parents by sharing her knowledge and experience on all things related to child development, sleep, toilet training, feeding, and more. What Toys Help Develop Fine Motor Skills?
To start, it’s helpful to better understand what fine motor skills entail. Hubbard says that these skills are critical in preparing children to independently “feed themselves, get dressed, brush their teeth and hair, open containers, draw, and write.”
Like any new skill, practice makes perfect. Hubbard recommends providing kids with toys that “encourage a child to use small finger movements” and are “appropriate for their development” to avoid frustration and provide a just-right challenge.
What To Look For When Shopping For The Best Toys For Fine Motor Skills
To help you find the right toy for where your kiddo is at developmentally, here’s what you need to know about emerging skills for the toddler and preschool age range.
Building on skills from babyhood, toddlers continue to refine their ability to pick up small objects with their thumb and index finger, explains Hubbard. They are also learning to accurately place a small item into a small container or object, and “how to rotate their fingers and wrist for accurate placement.”
To strengthen these skills, Hubbard recommends a variety of toys, including those that involve stacking and sorting, play dough, building block toys, and large beads for threading.
Preschoolers are ready to begin working on self-care skills that engage key fine motor skills, like using buttons on a shirt, and skills that will get them ready for kindergarten, like the ability to use
scissors, according to Hubbard.
She says preschoolers benefit from toys including “threading and lacing toys, puzzles, play dough, drawing implements, Lego and [other] blocks, dolls with dress up clothes, and imaginative play kits.” But they also benefit from toddler-recommended toys, as they are “further developing their hand-eye coordination, finger strength and ability to isolate their fingers to complete intricate tasks.”
Using Hubbard’s advice, we’ve rounded up the best fine motor skills toys that will entertain your kids (and exercise those little fingers), with everything from
STEM-based toys to more open-ended and creative picks. 01 A Set Of Chunky Lacing Beads That Will Entertain For Hours
This colorful set of
lacing beads is a classic way of helping your LO perfect their pincer grasp and develop dexterity. The set contains 30 rainbow-hued beads in five different shapes. One shopper said, “Made with good quality!!! My kid plays with this for hours.” It has entertained them for hours on end.” Reviewers note the set may be used in many ways including “beading, colors, counting, shapes, sorting etc.” Two sturdy laces come with the kit. The set comes in a wooden storage box and is a perennial parent fave with an impressive 4.8-star rating after 15,000 reviews on Amazon. Recommended Age: 3 years old & up 02 A Best-Selling Game That Sneaks In Fine Motor Skills
board game for preschoolers is a hit with kids and parents alike. Players practice their fine motor skills on the spinner, aiming to collect one acorn of each color, which can be “stolen” using the grasp-refining sneaky squirrel tweezers. Parents say the highly rated game is snappy too, only taking about 10 minutes for two players and 15 minutes for three. “If you're on the fence, GET this game for your kiddos,” one parent raved. “It's perfect for teaching turn taking, understanding matching colors and they won't realize they are really working on perfecting those fine motor skills.” Another reviewer noted the parts all work well and, “The spinner is great--doesn't get stuck like other games I have.” Recommended Age: 3 years old & up 03 This Travel-Ready Peg Stacker Board Set
construction set with 25 colorful chunky pegs and 8-inch crepe-rubber pegboard lets kids play and build three dimensionally while they refine several different motions that exercise little fingers. The storage box has a handle to tote it around, making it good for on-the-go play. “They get input from the pushing and pulling motions and there are a bunch of different ways to use this while getting educational [play],” explains one happy reviewer. Another shopper raved about how durable the set is, saying, “You can stack, sort by color and count them. The board has survived our playroom with three boys and twin girls and shows no signs of the abuse it's endured.” Recommended Age: 2 years old & up 04 The Dino They’ll Love Building (& Taking Apart)
Perfect for kids fascinated with tools, this
dinosaur helps encourage dexterity, problem-solving skills, and even imaginative play when the brachiosaurus is complete. “The mouth, neck, legs, and tail move, which makes it even better. A screwdriver comes in the set and makes a clicking sound to let you know it’s tight, which I love,” said one reviewer. The plastic parts are smooth so they can’t hurt little fingers as your builder constructs (and deconstructs) their dino again and again with the easy-to-use screwdriver. Want more dinos or have a few kids to keep busy? Try the four-pack of dinos, which is an awesome deal. Recommended Age: 3 years old & up 05 This Garden-Themed Set That’s Dishwasher-Safe
Kids will cultivate a love of nature with this unique and adorable 44-piece garden
construction set from Green Toys. With pretty petunias, daisies, and lilies to build, one reviewer noted the set is “simple but endless, creative and practical, fine motor skills and problem solving... It has it all.” The parts are made from recycled milk jugs and are free of BPA, phthalates, PVC, and paint that could chip. Everything is easy to clean (they can go in the dishwasher) and reviewers say they’re super durable: “The pieces are well made and sturdy. They've held up for years now.” Recommended Age: 3 years old & up 06 This Popular Blade-Free Scissors & Activity Pad Set
Scissor skills are key in preschool/kindergarten and they help children work on their hand-eye coordination. Plus, what child doesn’t love cutting paper? Enter this highly rated
Melissa and Doug set that has over 15,000 reviews on Amazon. The booklet has 20 pages of pre-printed activities ranging from simple mazes to more complex puzzles and sequencing challenges that help littles work on their scissor-holding form. Reviewers say the included scissors are all plastic (and blade-free) but they cut shockingly well. Got a lefty? No worries. Reviewers say “it works for left or right handed kiddos.” It’s also available in a pack with three different activity books. Recommended Age: 4 years old & up 07 An Egg-cellent Sorting Set For The Younger Crowd
Hide & Squeak Eggs are the rare toy that can entertain babies, toddlers, and preschoolers alike. The eggshells feature faces with different emotions, offering kids the opportunity to practice matching colors and shapes. Replacing the eggshells and chicks helps children practice using their hand-eye coordination and pressing on the chicks makes a gentle peeping sound. One happy mama said, “Overall, this is a great product, super sturdy and has many uses that can grow with your child. We even added a balance game by trying to stack the empty shells. [...] The eggs are large enough to not be a choking hazard.” The set comes in a yellow plastic carton featuring a latch, adding another way for kids to practice those fine motor skills! Recommended Age: 18 months old & up 08 These Clever Building Blocks For Preschoolers & Kindergarteners
Aimed at slightly older kids, these
little building pieces come with instructions to build a beautiful rainbow and can be used to make lots of other 2D and 3D creations. The 240 BPA- and phthalate-free plastic pieces are small (0.75 by 0.5 inches) and can be combined to create mosaics, castles, figures and more.
The slim, lightweight tube they come in can be toted easily in a bag to play anywhere. One shopper said, “[I] bought these as a recommendation from my son's teacher in helping with fine motor [skills]. He loves these and is entertained for a good solid hour.” To up the feel-good factor: they’re made in Denmark using 100% wind energy. Build their collection for even more fun by adding a
pink glitter, neon, or pastel set or challenge them with an exciting puzzle by number set. Recommended Age: 5 years old & up 09 Lacing Boards With Friendly Animals That Will Last For Years
Sometimes the simplest activities keep kids’ attention the longest. These five farm-themed
lacing boards from Melissa & Doug are made to last for years as toddlers become preschoolers who love practicing their weaving skills. They’ll work on dexterity and hand-eye coordination with this fun challenge. One parent said she is using them to get a jump on the upcoming school year, saying “I bought this for my four year old who is in Pre-K to help with motor skills and to build those hand muscles that are needed for kindergarten activities. [...] Super fun learning activity for younger ones.” The laces are color coordinated to add in a color-matching challenge. Recommended Age: 3 years old & up 10 The Ultimate Lab Set For Budding Scientists
Calling all budding scientists: This colorful 12-piece
science set is a blast and the varied parts are perfect for working on fine motor skills. The caps on the test tubes can be twisted on and off, the tweezers help refine the pincer grasp, as does the eye dropper. Kids love pouring from one test tube to another, building hand-eye coordination as well. One reviewer said they “like[d] how chunky these are for little children. Easy for them to use and my 3 year old son loves squeezing the liquid up with the squeezer and then letting it out in a separate container.” The included activity cards guide your little one through their science experiments. Recommended Age: 3 years old & up 11 A Mesmerizing Gears Board For Younger Tots
Designed for babies turning 1 (and up), this cause-and-effect
moving gears toy also appeals to growing toddlers, according to many reviewers. The 11 interchangeable gears spin, play music, and make sounds — and they also light up. Littles can work on stacking, moving the gears around, or spinning them with their hands. One parent said, “It's a very simple toy, but my toddler likes it a lot. He enjoys putting the gears on their slots and then playing the music as a reward. [...] This helps in fine motor [skills] and in their problem solving skills, too.” There’s also a convenient carrying handle at the top of the board. Recommended Age: 12 months old & up 12 A Fun But Challenging Pattern-Matching Board
problem-solving toy encourages kids to use their spatial and pattern-matching skills as they match the challenge cards using colored rubber bands. Creative types can make their own patterns, too. The stretchy rubber bands help “build great dexterity for [kids’] hands and fine motor skills,” according to one reviewer. The set comes with a wooden board studded with metal pegs, 35 pattern cards (5 are blank for DIY), and a slew of latex rubber bands. No worrying about sharp parts either. One parent said, “I like that the nails / pegs have rounded tops so [they] are not sharp to the touch and while they hold the bands on the board securely, they don't snag when [you’re] wanting to remove the bands either.” Recommended Age: 3 years old & up 13 The Cuddliest Way To Practice Self-Care Skills
Proving toys for fine motor skills can still be huggable, this adorable
Playskool doll lets babies and toddlers play with the zippers, buttons, buckle, and ties they find endlessly fascinating on your own clothing. “Fasteners such as buttons and zippers help their little fingers work on hand-eye coordination,” a shopper commented. Even better, the doll is machine-washable and can be put in the dryer on low. The doll is small enough to be taken anywhere they go using its handy carry-along clip. This doll is just one of an inclusive collection including a girl with black hair, a boy with brown hair, a girl with blond hair, a girl with brown hair, a boy with blond hair, a girl with black hair, and a girl with red hair. Recommended Age: 2 years old & up 14 A Themed Play-Doh Set With Tons Of Fun Accessories
This unique set demystifies the dentist and challenges little fingers to mold gunky
Play-Doh teeth that need to be fixed. The drill itself features a small button for kids to press and the set has lots of dental tools including tweezers, a braces roller, toothbrush, syringe extruder, pick, and flosser, as well as tooth molds. As recommended by Hubbard, play dough is always a great choice for working the small muscles in fingers and this set will keep kids busy and interested for a long time. The set comes with eight containers of Play-Doh. One parent enthused: “Such an excellent idea and they executed it perfectly by creating this engaging toy. Great quality and easy cleanup. 5 stars!” Recommended Age: 3 years old & up 15 A Childhood Classic — Now Improved For Your Kiddo
This classic toy from your childhood honed your own fine motor skills even though you didn’t realize it. The
new and improved version comes with six templates, 200 colored pegs and LED bulbs that are battery-powered so you can tote this anywhere. Kids will enjoy following the patterns, creating their own masterpieces or trying to “write” out their name or simple messages.
Even professionals turn to this toy, as one reviewer said: “I’m a therapist and this is a game that’s always in my treatment bag for all age levels. Great for fine motor skills. My younger students have fun by just inserting them in or I’ll ask them to follow a 2 color pattern. My older students have a blast trying to imitate the pictures/designs presented to them.”
Recommended Age: 4 years old & up 16 The Sweetest Pineapple Set That Hones Emotional Skills
Kids love exploring emotions with the
Big Feelings Pineapple. The 26 adorable face pieces require grasping and manipulating too, giving little fingers a solid workout. One reviewer shared, “I am a pediatric [Occupational Therapist] and love using this pineapple as a tool for introducing emotions. Also doubles as a great fine motor toy.” The pineapple has two sides so kids can build both faces at the same time and at the end of play, the face pieces all store neatly inside. Recommended Age: 3 years old & up 17 A Sensory Tool Set For Fine Motor Skills
A great add-on to any
sensory table, this tool set is perfect for improving the fine motor skills used for writing, cutting, and more all while having a blast. Reviewers say they use the set during water or sand play, to transfer small objects like pom poms, count bears, or even play with food items like dried rice, oats or beans. The set includes tweezers, scoopers designed to work on pre-scissors skills without worrying about sharp parts, and droppers. Recommended Age: 3 years old & up Expert: Emma Hubbard , pediatric occupational therapist and founder of Brightest Beginning