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How to Hone Motor Development With Art Activities

Sher Warkentin
June 9, 2017

If your little one is scribbling on walls and chasing the dog around with a marker in hand, it's time to channel her creative spirit into something more constructive. Art activities aren't just a great way to let your kids have fun getting messy -- they're also incredibly useful for motor development and can lay the foundation for skills like handwriting.

"One of my favorite ways to build developmental skills is through art projects," says Lindsey Biel, an occupational therapist, founder of Sensory Smarts and co-author of "Raising a Sensory Smart Child." In addition to fine motor skills like grasping, art projects can build upper body strength and stability, and work on "tactile desensitization" for children who are sensitive to the feeling of certain textures and materials, explains Biel.

Here are six art activities you can try at home to help your kids develop motor skills and have tons of fun at the same time.

  1. Potato Stamping
    Using stamps is a creative way to develop skills for kids of all ages. As Tracey le Roux, a pediatric occupational therapist and founder of OT Mom Learning Activities, explains, "Using cut potatoes or other 'stamping' templates can strengthen hands and encourage whole-hand grasp patterns in little hands." Slice two potatoes in half width-wise. Keep it simple and leave the potato shape as is, or carve a simple shape (like a triangle or square) into the exposed end. Have your child dip the potato in paint and stamp out a pattern on paper.
  2. Partner Painting
    Preschoolers love to watch what their partner is painting and then mirror the same image, explains Lauren Drobnjak, a pediatric physical therapist, and Claire Heffron, a pediatric occupational therapist, co-founders of the activities blog The Inspired Treehouse. Set your kids up side-by-side with paper and paints and have them take turns being the painting leader. This helps them work on visual motor integration, as kids have to be visually aware of their own movements and their partner's.
  3. DIY Stickers
    Drobnjak and Heffron are a fan of homemade stickers, especially for toddlers and younger kids. "They'll get practice with grasping skills and visual motor integration as they paint, and peeling the stickers off the page is a great coordination and manipulation challenge," she says. Have your child color or paint on a sheet of sticker paper before cutting out around their drawings. Let them decorate a toy, a folder or themselves with their custom stickers.
  4. Shaving Cream Finger Painting
    Many younger kids don't like to get messy with materials like paint and glue because they don't like the feel of them. "I teach them to tolerate these 'weird but cool' sensations on their skin, slowly increasing the amount of time they have to wait before washing their hands," says Biel. Fill a plastic tub with a layer of plain shaving cream and squirt a few drops of finger paint on top. Have your child mix the paint and shaving cream with her hands, then use it to finger paint on paper.
  5. Collage Art
    Creating collages can support many developmental skills. "Fine motor skills are encouraged while picking up and pasting items. Hand-eye coordination is boosted when components have to be pasted into specific places, and motor planning skills are used to plan the collage," says le Roux. This is also a good opportunity to practice using child-safe scissors, which strengthens the fingers and grasp. Use items like dried beans and pasta, leaves found after a nature walk or have your child cut out pictures from old magazines before gluing them onto construction paper in a unique pattern.
  6. Blow Painting
    Motor development isn't all about the hands. Blow painting, where your child blows paint across the paper with a straw, can help with oral motor development, says le Roux. Add some water to acrylic paint to thin it out and dribble a small puddle on paper. Have your child blow the paint around through a straw for a one-of-a-kind piece of abstract art.

"The important thing for a parent doing art activities at home is to have fun together," says Biel. In fact, you don't really need any specific planned activity at all -- just present your child with materials and let them go wild. "Structured projects are great," explains Heffron, "but it's really important for kids to be able to have time to create freely on their own. This is when you'll get the coolest, most original pieces of art!"

For more creative ideas, check out these Craftily Creative Fun Projects for Kids.

And if you need a hand with your little Picasso, find a sitter on Care.com!

Shahrzad Warkentin is a stay-at-home mom in Los Angeles and a freelance writer with several years of experience covering topics like parenting, health and lifestyle.

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