Tag Archives: fine motor

Baby Play: Pool Noodle Abacus

After each of my baby storytimes, I include a Discovery Time free-play session that encourages parents to talk to one another and to interact with their children. I include a variety of fine motor, gross motor, and sensory activities that appeal to 0-2-year-olds.

The pool noodle abacus helps the littlest children practice fine motor skills and older toddlers and preschool practice basic math. While a true abacus requires more than two strings, this creates a similar effect for young learners, while also providing a cool activity to experiment with how the pool noodle pieces move back and forth and how much pressure the yarn can withstand.

I tied the string between two chairs, though I would suggest something more sturdy if you have that available. Many children moved the chairs or manged to remove one end of the string (the top piece was taped on instead of tied on). Also consider whether you want the string closer to a wall or further away–having the lower string further from the wall encouraged climbing between the strings. This can be a great way to practice gross motor skills, or it can also be seen as a tripping hazard.

How to Make

Materials: yarn, pool noodles, knife, scissors

Steps:

  • Use the knife to cut 1-2 pool noodles into roughly 1-3″ pieces.
  • Tie one end of a piece of thick yarn to a sturdy surface, like a chair.
  • String about 20 pool noodle pieces onto the string (or whatever amount fits in the space you have).
  • Cut the other end of the string, leaving at least 1-2 feet of empty string so pieces can be moved easily.
  • Securely tie the other end of the string to another sturdy surface.
  • Repeat for however many rows of strings you would like to create.

Cost: $0-5

  • 2 Pool Noodles (Dollar Tree)
  • Yarn

Time to Make: 10 minutes

Pro-Tip: To expand this activity, try cutting a vertical slit in one side of a pool noodle piece so the pool noodle piece can also be removed from the string. Little ones can explore how to add or remove pool noodle pieces from the abacus.

Conversation Starters

Start conversations as babies play with this tool by asking questions like:

  • How many red pool noodle pieces are on the rope?
  • Can you find a blue pool noodle?
  • How many pool noodle pieces are on the rope total?
  • Can you push five pieces to one side of the rope?
  • How do the pool noodles feel?

Stretch Vocabulary

When talking with little ones, use big words and small words. The more new words a child hears, the larger their vocabulary will be when they start to learn to read.

Consider using some of the following vocabulary words when using this activity:

Add
Count
Guess
Hang
Itchy
Light

Move
Prickly
Rope
Scoot
Scratchy
Shift

Squeeze
String
Subtract
Tally
Total
Yarn

Baby Play: Card Slot Drop

After each of my baby storytimes, I include a Discovery Time free-play session that encourages parents to talk to one another and to interact with their children. I include a variety of fine motor, gross motor, and sensory activities that appeal to 0-2-year-olds.

Similar to the cereal boxes and straws activity, the card slot drop’s popularity always surprises me. This very simple DIY activity involves cutting a card-sized hole into a container–in this case a bulk-sized Oatmeal container–and providing cards for babies to drop inside of the opening.

I have coworkers who regularly donate these cylindrical oatmeal containers, so they become a great, free resource for these kinds of activities. I particularly like how easy the lid is to remove. Parents can easily dump out the contents of a container if it gets full, and older toddlers can manage to open the container themselves, growing finger muscles and providing a sense of accomplishment.

Babies enjoy putting smaller objects into bins, but this activity is particularly beneficial because of the small card-sized hole in the lid. In addition to fine motor skills, it takes practiced dexterity and hand eye coordination for little ones to be able to fit the card into the slot.

How to Make

Materials: pack of playing cards, empty oatmeal container (alternatively could be a box or other sturdy container on hand), duct tape, x-acto knife

Steps:

  • Use the knife to cut a slot in the lid of the oatmeal container (or box) that is about a 0.25″ x 3″ (wide enough for a playing card to fit through).
  • As necessary, cover any ripped or jagged edges with pieces of duct tape.
  • Put lid onto container.
  • Put out container and pack of opened playing cards.

Cost: $0-5

  • Playing Cards (Dollar Tree)
  • Empty Oatmeal Container or Box

Time to Make: 10 minutes

Pro-Tip: I’ve had more success cutting the slot into the lid of the oatmeal container while the lid was on the empty container. This may just be due to my lack of skills with cutting implements.

Conversation Starters

Start conversations as babies play with this tool by asking questions like:

  • Can you put the card inside the container?
  • How many cards can you fit in at one time?
  • What does the card feel like?
  • Shake the container. What does it sound like?
  • How can you get the cards back out?
  • Play pretend. What else could the playing cards be?

Stretch Vocabulary

When talking with little ones, use big words and small words. The more new words a child hears, the larger their vocabulary will be when they start to learn to read.

Consider using some of the following vocabulary words when using this activity:

Bounce
Dexterity
Drop
Dump
Empty
Fall

Full
Hide
Into
Jolt
Open
Rattle

Release
Slide
Slip
Slit
Smooth
Within

Baby Play: Tugging Boxes

After each of my baby storytimes, I include a Discovery Time free-play session that encourages parents to talk to one another and to interact with their children. I include a variety of fine motor, gross motor, and sensory activities that appeal to 0-2-year-olds.

While not the prettiest of my replicate-at-home baby play items, tugging boxes help little ones explore cause and effect (STEM) while also experiencing different textures (sensory play) and building fine motor skills by wrapping their fingers around small items and developing muscles by pulling.

I haven’t found the perfect combination to make these boxes sturdy but physically attractive so that more little ones and parents gravitate toward them during playtime. I’ve considered wrapping the boxes, but I think the babies would then focus on trying to tear off the paper. If you have any ideas on making these more visually appealing, please comment below!

Overall, this is a great item that requires some time to make but no setup before storytime. I use a pencil to punch 3 holes in each side of the box and then weave various types of string, rope, lace, thick yarn, etc. from one side of the box to the other. After tying off both ends of the string (making a knot large enough so that the material cannot be pulled back into the box can be difficult), little ones can pull on one end of the string and see what happens to the other side of the string.

How to Make

Materials: empty box, pencil, various types of thick string/yarn/rope, shipping tape

Steps:

  • Poke 3 holes with a pencil in each side of an open, empty box.
  • Weave string or rope through two holes, so each end of a string comes out of a different side of the box. Tie large knots to each end of the rope so that neither end of the rope can re-enter the box when the other side is pulled on.
  • Repeat the second step until all holes have string or textured yarn in them.
  • Use shipping tape to secure box seams and to tape the box closed.

Cost: $0-10

  • Variety of thick yarns, ropes, lace, etc.

Time to Make: 15 minutes

Pro-Tip: Consider using a tool smaller than a pencil to poke the hole in the box. Also, it may be valuable to tape the yarn or rope you are trying to weave through the box holes to a paperclip or pipe cleaner to help thicker materials move through smaller holes.

Conversation Starters

Start conversations as babies play with this tool by asking questions like:

  • Can you pull the string all the way through?
  • Which string is the widest?
  • Which string is the softest?
  • How does the string feel?
  • What happens if you pull the ribbon?
  • How long can you make the ribbon?
  • What color is the ribbon?

Stretch Vocabulary

When talking with little ones, use big words and small words. The more new words a child hears, the larger their vocabulary will be when they start to learn to read.

Consider using some of the following vocabulary words when using this activity:

Broad
Bumpy
Flat
Knot
Long
Narrow

Prickly
Pull
Push
Sheer
Short
Small

Smooth
Soft
Straight
Thin
Through
Twisted