20 fun games to teach motor skills to babies and toddlers

Advice for Parents with Special Needs Babies

Helping to develop fine motor skills is one of the best ways parents can aid their child’s development. A good foundation of fine motor skills builds cognitive skills, life skills and coordination. Many parents with children who have a developmental delay or special needs will qualify for occupational therapy, but all parents can help their children learn these skills. These are some exercises we do with my daughter who has sensory processing disorder, agenesis of the corpus callosum, hypoplasia of the left cerebellum, developmental delays and symptoms similar to autism. These are mainly targeted for children ages birth to three or children who are trying to develop the skills typical of that age level.

Related Articles

  1. Make a sensory box. Fill a shoebox or small storage bin with rice. You can add other items like dried beans, but if it’s for a young child, don’t use sizes of bean a child could choke on. You can put small toys or other items in the rice. Encourage your child to reach into the rice with their bare hands, running their fingers through the rice. Let them use a spoon to scoop and stir the rice. Help them find the toys hidden in the rice. Have the child pat the rice and pick up the rice. Lay a blanket underneath the child and drop the rice by handful onto the child’s feet, legs and hands, letting them feel the sensation on their bare skin. You can gently rub the rice across the skin if the child will tolerate it.
  2. Make a texture box. In the box put rough items like: a loofa sponge, slightly rough sandpaper, soft cloth of different types and colors, scratchy cloth, netting, a short length of rope or string, some crinkly plastic, a ball with bumps such as a dryer ball, something prickly like a fake evergreen frond, a string of beads and other items you can find that have interesting textures. Encourage your child to reach into the box and remove items or give them to the child. They can hold the items, run their fingers across them, run them across the soles of their feet and skin.
  3. Take your child to a fabric store. Walk around the store and encourage your child to touch fabrics of different textures, such as velvet, vinyl, crinoline, tulle, satin, cotton, felt, wool, sequined cloth, fringe and other interesting textures. The many colors are also fascinating for many children.
  4. Let your child play with their food. Put colorful food on a tray or highchair table and encourage the child to touch the food and smear it around. Try adding foods of different textures like cottage cheese, or oatmeal. You can strip them down and let them smear it on themselves if desired. Just plan on a bath! If it’s safe for them to eat it, allow them to feed themselves off their fingers. Encourage your child to use a spoon, and try different spoons with different handles and textures. This will help them develop how they manipulate the spoon. Studies have shown that many children today who eat mostly finger foods are missing out on the fine motor development that comes with using a spoon.
  5. Introduce your child to food with different textures as they are able to handle them. Oatmeal, flan, Jello, pudding, small noodles, meat pate, pesto, rice cereal, scrambled eggs are all great options to introduce to a child as they try new foods.
  6. Finger paint, try painting with a paintbrush and color with crayons.
  7. Play lots of different types of music and find videos online that play animals sounds, transportation noises and other sounds. Let them play with musical instruments such as drums, pianos, rattles, shakers, xylophone, bells, tambourine, maracas, wood blocks or metal bowls to bang to help desensitize them to the sudden noises.
  8. Massage your child every day. Studies have shown that massage boosts motor control, brain activity, social skills, health, happiness, build attachment, help ease colic, aide digestion and alleviate constipation and so much more. The touch also benefits the massager! Massage is especially important if your child goes to daycare where they may not be touched frequently. There are good child and baby massage books available but if nothing else, you can just use a firm but gentle flat palm to gentle stroke down your child’s limbs, hands and feet, back and trunk. Always massage the abdomen in a counterclockwise direction because that is the direction the bowels flow and that helps guide gas and bowel movements the right direction.
  9. Help your child or let them play with playdoh or clay. The texture is helpful and it helps build hand strength and dexterity.
  10. Buy a small, handheld massager. Rub it gently on your child to let them get adjusted to it, especially on the palms of their hands and soles of the feet. Let them hold and play with the massager, and let them give you a massage, encouraging them to move the massager in different ways, up and down, twisting and rotating their wrists.
  11. Find toys that will help your child learn manual dexterity. These toys can help them rotate their wrists, use individual fingers, pick things up and drop them, and more.
  12. Find some fun textured items at a craft store, such as puff balls, pipe cleaners, popsickle sticks, foam stickers and more. Put them in a bowl and encourage your child to pick them up and place them in another bowl, or just run their fingers around and through them. Be careful they don’t get small items in their mouths and don’t include choking hazards as a toy.
  13. For children with agenesis of the corpus callosum, it is especially important for them to constantly cross the “midline” of their body. Encourage a child to reach across to get toys. Its also important for them to use both hands together. We try to get her to pick up a ball in one box, cross her body and put it in the other box.
  14. Put on music and dance with your child. For non-mobile children, help them dance by moving their limbs gently to the music and clapping to the beat. Be sure to move their limbs up and down, in and out, corner to corner, rotate different directions, crossover – move their muscles in every rotation you can think of. My daughter thinks this is hysterical!
  15. If your child can sit, place toys on different height objects to help them practice playing at different heights and to encourage good posture. You can use stacks of books, stools, or diaper boxes cut to different heights to make this affordable.
  16. Let your child play with toys they can pull apart, like snap together pegs or large beads or large snapping blocks.
  17. Encourage your child to turn the pages in a cardboard book. My daughter isn’t very interested in reading the book but she loves a good game of “Open the book, close the book”.
  18. Stick chunky magnets to a magnet board or cookie sheet. Help them pull the magnets off the board and place them back. Be sure they don’t put the magnets in the mouth. Besides the choking hazard, magnets can be dangerous if swallowed.
  19. Let a child squeeze an empty plastic water bottle to make the bottle crinkle. This works on grip strength and can provide an easy toy when you need to entertain them! You can also put uncooked rice or dried lentils in a bottle with the cap on and make a cheap shaker.
  20. Buy a bag of plastic balls or some ping pong bowls and dump them into a laundry hamper. Let you child sit in the hamper and play with the balls, feeling the pressure of them rolling around the body.

I’m not a therapist. These are things that have worked well with my daughter. You should always consult a professional therapist for advice and treatment. With any of these, you must be closely engaged and watching to be a sure a child doesn’t put items in their mouth or hurt themselves. If any of these cause a child great discomfort, stop and don’t force it. You may cause aversions without meaning to.

Please comment below and share your experience with us, or give us a feedback about this article. If you think some tips are not included here, please let us know so that we could share them with the rest.