Pointing is a fine motor skill useful for communication.

Fingerplays for Fine Motor Skills

by Cara Batema

You're just waiting for the day your kid learns to tie his shoes, button his coat or even play a tune on the keyboard. Fine motor skills are all those little movements toddlers make with their hands and fingers to allow them to do these things. Useful for communication and pre-writing, fine motor skills can be developed through practice; much like the way a musician gains fine motor control while practicing an instrument, young children can learn how to control and manipulate their fingers through fingerplays. It's also an effective way for them to get those dirty paws out of their mouths.


Fingerplays that teach a cognitive concept and work on those little fingers at the same time are twice as useful for your toddler or preschooler. You've seen those show-off kids that can count to 10 before they are 2 years old -- so how do you think they got there? The classic songs “Five Little Ducks” and “Five Little Monkeys” encourage your child to hold up five fingers, then count down sequentially. They practice an easier movement, which is all five fingers up, and slowly teach your little one to hold up fewer fingers.

For example, "Five Little Ducks" goes something like this: "Five little ducks went out to play," while holding up five fingers. "Over the hills and far away," waving your hand up and down to make hills. "When the momma duck said, 'Quack quack quack quack,'" making your hand into a beak and quacking. "Four little ducks came running back," holding up four fingers. Continue the song with four, three, two, and one little duck. But when you're at one little duck, the grandma duck calls "quack," and you sing that all the little ducks came running back. Little kids know not to mess with the grandma duck. Other similar chants include “Five Little Pumpkins,” which is ideal for Halloween, and “Five Little Seashells.”

Wiggling Fingers

Your toddler wiggling his fingers might seem like a trivial thing, but he’s actually gaining more control over his muscles. “Where is Thumbkin” is a classic tune that also focuses on one finger at a time -- it’s a bit challenging at first, but your preschooler can master this song with practice. “Here is My Beehive” and “Two Little Fishes” are two easier chants that include those wiggling fingers. “Open, Shut Them” encourages your child to make the movements of opening and closing his hand.

The lyrics to "Open, Shut Them" go like: "Open, shut them," opening and shutting your hands. "Open, shut them. Give a little clap," clapping your hands. "Open, shut them. Open, shut them. Put them in your lap," putting your hands in your lap. "Creep them, crawl them," wiggling your fingers up to your chin. "Right up to your chin. Open up your little mouth," opening your mouth. "But do not let them in!" keeping your fingers out of your mouth!

Nursery Rhymes

Nursery rhymes often include a mix of fine and gross motor skills, or those movements by larger muscles. “Ten in a Bed,” for example, uses the fine motor skills of counting on fingers with the gross motor activity of rolling your arms. “Do Your Ears Hang Low,” “This is the Way” and “Wheels on the Bus” follow a similar pattern.

Use “This is the Way” to also teach skills such as brushing teeth, which utilizes fine motor skills. Sing to the tune of "Mulberry Bush": "This is the way we brush our teeth, brush our teeth, brush our teeth. This is the way we brush our teeth so early in the morning." You can also sing about combing hair, tying shoes and eating soup.

Complex Movements

Some songs and chants use more complicated fine motor movements. For example, “The Itsy Bitsy Spider” uses the skill of matching your preschooler’s index finger with opposite thumb and crawling up with them. You can make this movement easier by wiggling your fingers up in the air; as your child gains more fine motor control, you can encourage him to do the more complex movements. “Twinkle Twinkle” is another favorite that asks your preschooler to make a diamond shape with his fingers. “There Was a Little Turtle” and “Dinosaur Song” are two imaginative tunes -- your preschooler will love pretending to be an animal so much that he won’t notice you’re helping his fine motor skills along the way.

The "Dinosaur Song" is sung to the familiar tune "The Wheels on the Bus": "The tyrannosaurus rex had great big teeth," moving your fingers to your mouth like teeth. "Great big teeth, great big teeth. The tyrannosaurus rex had great big teeth, when the dinosaurs roamed." Continue the song with the triceratops, who had three big horns, making your fingers into horns; the brontosaurus, who had a very long neck, making your neck long and pointing to it, and the velociraptor, who had long, sharp claws, making your hand into a claw.

About the Author

Cara Batema is a musician, teacher and writer who specializes in early childhood, special needs and psychology. Since 2010, Batema has been an active writer in the fields of education, parenting, science and health. She holds a bachelor's degree in music therapy and creative writing.

Photo Credits

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