Use toys to help your toddler's fine motor development.

Manipulative Play Activities for Toddlers

by Erica Loop

From the stove to the cat's face and even his own nose, there are loads of places that are not for your toddler's hands to go. Instead of always saying no-no, engage your little one's instinct to reach out and grab with a few manipulative activities. When you've had it up to your elbows with your toddler's constant need to pick up everything that isn't nailed down, simply turn his behavior into a fun-filled game.

1. Soft Blocks

A 2-year-old toddler can stack a tower of four blocks or higher. The action of stacking can help your little learner to build, not just towering constructions, but also skills such as eye-hand coordination and muscle control. While many moms grew up with those plain wooden blocks, construction toys have come a long way since then. Instead of running the risk that your toddler will 'accidentally' bounce hard blocks off of her baby sister's head, opt for soft rubber ones. These stack just as well as the older wooden versions but offer a safer alternative.

2. Nesting

Stacking a slew of nesting cups inside each other may not seem like the biggest thrill in the world to you, but to a toddler this is entertainment. This open-ended toy leaves no room for mistakes as your little learner can do whatever he pleases, and it still works. Let him put the smaller ones in the bigger cups, stack them in a tower, or even make a train-like row. This simple manipulative activity will test your toddler's dexterity and help him to develop spatial awareness skills.

3. Art

Get creative with your toddler's manipulative activities. There's no need to stick to toys and games that specifically use the word "manipulative" on the box. Paints, crayons, markers, play dough and other arts and crafts are easy ways to peak your little one's imagination and help her to develop fine motor skills. Don't make it too easy for your toddler and only give her thick markers or pre-filled paint pens. Instead, provide her with an array of sponges, rollers and brushes that will force her to rearrange her grip, move her fingers and test her coordination.

4. Math Manipulatives

Math manipulatives are a preschool (and toddler room) favorite that help young kids develop their fine motor skills while learning about basic mathematics concepts. While your 2-year-old certainly isn't ready for algebraic equations yet, she can start sorting, measuring, matching, counting and making patterns with these simple play toys. The best part about using these toys is that you don't have to actually buy anything. Make your own math manipulatives activities using craft sticks, coffee stirrers or even large sea shells. Avoid items that are choking hazards.

About the Author

Based in Pittsburgh, Erica Loop has been writing education, child development and parenting articles since 2009. Her articles have appeared in "Pittsburgh Parent Magazine" and the website PBS Parents. She has a Master of Science in applied developmental psychology from the University of Pittsburgh's School of Education.

Photo Credits

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