10 No-Mess Activities to Develop Motor Skills

10 No-Mess Activities to Develop Motor Skills

By Michelle Mady

When hanging out at home with our children, we often feel the need to fill this time with engaging activities, and this can be overwhelming. Then we turn to Pinterest and feel a complete sense of inadequacy after seeing those “Pinterest Perfect” photos. But there really are ways to keep children learning and engaged during a day at home that don’t take long to prep and, even more importantly, do not require a lot of clean up.

Fine motor skills (those that support and develop the small muscles in the hand that are later used for writing) and gross motor skills (those skills related to the larger muscles needed to jump, run and dance) can be practiced at home. 

Here are some easy no-mess activity ideas for each skill type to engage your child and further develop these skills at home.

Fine Motor Skill Development Activities

  1. Grab a bowl of cheerios, ziti pasta, or age-appropriate beads. Then, put a bit of playdough on the table and stick a pipe cleaner or uncooked spaghetti noodles in it.  Have your child lace the “beads” onto the pipe cleaner. Use various materials as “beads,” depending on your child’s age and ability. Ziti is great for smaller children, but cheerios provide a better opportunity to develop a pencil grip. Beads are wonderful, but they can be tricky to hold onto for smaller children, so leave those for the preschoolers.

  2. Painter’s tape holds some magical qualities that I find myself purchasing rolls in bulk. Painter’s tape alone can offer a wonderful fine motor experience just by peeling it and sticking it! Put a few pieces on the floor, a table, or a chair. Let your child peel it off and re-stick it. The sticky sensory experience is also beneficial as it is possibly a new texture.

  3. Speaking of sticky, another fantastic supply that I cannot use enough is clear contact paper. Cut a large piece and tape it, sticky side up, to the table. Offer your child any art supplies you may have: tissue paper squares, construction paper pieces, pom poms, beads, straws, etc. They can stick and un-stick the pieces, developing hand-eye coordination as well as the motor skills.

  4. Recyclables make great materials if a run to the craft store isn’t on your agenda. Grab a clean canister with a plastic lid, like a coffee can or stackable chip can. Poke some large holes or slits in the top, and have your child weave fabric through. For fabric, cut up that old t-shirt into strips for weaving.

  5. Kitchen items can also offer wonderful fine motor skill development. Colanders can be a great base for flower arrangements. Craft store plastic flower stems fit right into the holes. You can also use uncooked spaghetti noodles, pipe cleaners, or chopsticks to fill the holes of the colander, too. 

Gross Motor Skill Development Activities

  1. Create your own day at the zoo! Take turns with your child calling out various animals. Then, move around like that animal. Hop like a bunny; crawl like a tiger; slither like a snake; flutter like a butterfly. Make sure to use those arms and legs to really get into character!

  2. Remember that painter’s tape? Bring it back out and make a design on your floor. Maybe a snowflake, heart, or a dinosaur footprint outline. Walk the line, putting one foot in front of the other, toe to heel. Now try to side step the whole outline. Can you hop along it? How about tip toe?

  3. You can “ice skate” on any hard surface with a few materials. Use paper plates on your feet and slide around. Try to skate on one foot at a time and coordinate those feet so you don’t lose a “skate.” You can also put some clear contact paper on the rug to make a skating rink; then skate in your socks. This not only develops the motor skills but also the coordination needed to walk, kick a ball, and climb stairs.

  4. Balloons can offer an array of fun activities. Blow up a few balloons and don’t let them touch the ground. You can use your hands or feet. Adults can even call out a body part to hit the balloon with! How fun is it to keep the balloon afloat with your elbows or your nose!? If you are feeling extra adventurous, have cards with body parts written on them and pick one to shout out.

  5. Harness your inner Michelangelo and tape some paper to the underside of a table. You can add some blankets and pillows on the floor under the table for extra comfort. Grab some coloring supplies and lay back, relax, and create! Use plenty of colors and switch to other areas to create a piece of art by the whole family. This is a great activity to work the upper arm muscles and control those muscle movements.

Activities do not have to be “Pinterest Perfect” for children to have a wonderful experience while also developing motor skills. Take the pressure off, grab a few of these materials, and have fun with these activities. The development of skills is a side effect of time spent well together.


About the author: Michelle is a mom of 5 children ranging in age from 5 to 15.  As a toddler and preschool teacher, she shares experiences, activities and guidance to other parents, as both a parent and as a professional early childhood educator, at any stage of their parenting journey.

Photo credit: iStock.com/skynesher


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