Summer is a wonderful time to work on fine motor skills! Kids strengthen their hands at the park, playing on playground equipment. A trip to the beach offers the chance to dig in the sand, to build sand castles, and to carry buckets filled with water.
But why not try some simple backyard activities that combine hand development with learning about plants and how they grow?
As an occupational therapist, I wanted to share my 5 FAVORITE, simple, garden-themed activities to help your kids improve fine motor skills this summer!
1- Down in the Dirt:
With this activity, you have a choice of what to do! You can actually prepare a small area to plant a garden, or you can just pretend you are farmers getting ready for a season of growing plants. Either way, try these ideas to work on hand skills!
Tell children that plants grow in soil, but not just any soil. Plants grow best when the soil is light, almost fluffy! We want plants to stretch out their roots and reach deeper into the ground. That means we need to prepare the soil and dig in the dirt over and over and over!
* Dig with a shovel. Supervise kids closely with this task. Help them as needed, but let them try digging with an actual shovel - kids-sized shovels are ideal. Show them how to push into the dirt and dump dirt to the side. This activity works trunk and shoulder muscles which are vital for arm strength and hand development.
* Dig with a small hand trowel. Kids kneel on the ground and hold the trowel tightly with a fisted grasp. This is hard work. Encourage them to take breaks, alternating turns with an adult or another child.
* Get hand-on and dirty! One of the best ways to develop hand strength is for a child to make his or her hand into a fist over and over - this works many muscles in the hand and forearm. So, have kids put their tools aside, pick up handfuls of dirt, and crush it all up in their hands. Kids like this activity and it certainly builds up their hands!
2- Plant Seeds:
Developing a pincer grasp is important for young children. Seeds are tiny and holding them between fingers and thumb is a wonderful way to improve pincer grasp. Next time you're at the store, pick up a couple packets of seeds. Or, if you want to completely do it yourself, try planting orange seeds, bean seeds, apple seeds you get from your own kitchen! What will grow?
When doing this activity, the key is to ask kids to plant ONE seed at a time. This way children will hold each seed in a pincer grasp - good practice for fine motor skills!
3- Make it Rain:
Yes, plants need water!
But put away the watering can or hose and try watering a different way!
Get a couple of kitchen sponges and cut them into quarters so they measure about one inch by two inches (an adult must do this step). Now, fill a bucket with water. The child must dip their sponge into the water bucket then squeeze the sponge over any and all plants in the garden. (Remember, you don't actually and truly have to build a real garden, instead water bushes or other plants in your yard!) Squeezing the sponge is all about hand strength.
Bonus: Kids LOVE this activity!
4- Weed the Garden:
Okay, we all know that farmers and gardeners need to weed their crops and gardens. So let's get on this!
Explain to children that weeds are plants that are kind of pushy. Weeds want to take over the entire garden and we can't let them do that! No way!
This activity is fun for kids. Children love to watch the roots come out of the ground as they pinch and pull upward on the weeds. If you don't have a real garden, then play a game called "WEED PATROL". Point to certain tiny plants growing in your yard and tell kids that you suspect these are weeds. Have children pull these plants out of the ground.
Put all the weeds that you find into a bucket. Dump these out later and turn this into a math activity! How many weeds did a child find?
5- Time for Harvest:
With this activity, children pretend they are harvesting fruit, vegetables, or plants. Explain that harvesting means gathering food that grew. You can actually and truly harvest food you've grown, or you can just make a game out of this.
A simple way to pretend to harvest is to find a big, bushy plant. Tell a child that he or she needs to "harvest" 10 leaves. Using two hands, a child must hold a branch steady and then try to tear off leaves one by one. This is a wonderful two-handed task. Learning to use their two hands together is an important skill for kids!
I sincerely hope you and your kids enjoy these garden-themed fine motor activities!
Follow me on Facebook at Kids Master Skills for more information on child development and for more learning and OT activities. I welcome your feedback on this post, and I look forward to sharing more ideas with you!
Lisa Marnell MS, OTR/L