The Best Way to Improve Fine Motor Skills (And It’s Fun, Too)!

If your child needs help with handwriting, STOP having him practice writing letters sheet after sheet. Let’s go back to the underlying cause, which is more than likely weakened muscles in your child's hand and arm. Counteract this weakness with strengthening of your child’s hand and arm muscles.

Believe it or not, having your child play with play dough is one of the best ways I have seen to improve penmanship. I even worked with a teacher who would practice “handwriting” every Friday by passing out play dough. Most children love playing with play dough. In fact, my two little ones are in the other room playing with it right now as I type this. (I am slightly scared of the mess, but it is worth it.)

Your child will exercise many muscles in his hands, which strengthen his fine motor skills. Have your child use his hands, fingers, knuckles, nails, palms, and wrists while he molds his play dough. You can also have your child use play dough to make the letters in his spelling words. Here are some homemade play dough recipes and some links for Play-Doh products.

Homemade Play Dough Recipe

1 cup salt
2 cups plain flour
2 cups water
2 tablespoons cooking oil
4 teaspoons of cream of tartar

Place all ingredients in a pan, stir, and heat gently until it forms a lump and leaves the sides of the pan. You can add a few drops of food coloring and scented oils for variety. Allow to cool thoroughly. Store in an airtight container.

Edible Peanut Butter Play Dough Recipe

Here is my children's favorite kind of play dough- the kind you eat. We make this at our home every couple of months. Yummy!

1 cup peanut butter
1 cup white corn syrup
1 1/4 cup powdered sugar (10x sugar)
1 1/4 cups dry milk powder

Mix peanut butter, corn syrup, and powdered sugar together. Add powdered milk and knead until smooth. (It gets very thick and must be kneaded with your child's hands for awhile, which is a great workout for your child's hands.) Your child can mold any shape he likes then eat it. We usually have a lot left over, so my children get to play with and eat peanut butter play dough for several days.

For a variation, have your child work with Floam and clay. I find Floam is much easier and quicker to clean up than play dough. If your child works with clay, there are some types that can be baked, so your child can keep his creation forever. I like to integrate my children's clay projects with what they are learning in school. For example, my sons were learning about volcanoes, and they created erupting volcanoes with clay.

Tamara Chilver is an elementary teacher, home educator, speaker, author of Homeschooling with TLC in the Elementary Grades and Tutoring Your Elementary Child with TLC, and creator of the television program Flip Your Family. Tamara’s approach gives parents teaching tools to enhance their children's education and empowers them with confidence. For more teaching tips, visit

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