Fine Motor Play: Must Have Toys Series (Part 4)

Huge thanks to everyone who joined me for the Facebook Live about fine motor toys.  If you missed it, you can watch the replay on Facebook or check it out here

What is fine motor play?

Fine motor play is any type of play that increases the use of the small muscles between the fingers and hand.  Fine motor skills become more sophisticated as a child develops and practices using the skills.  Fine motor skills are important for self-feeding, getting dressed, drawing, writing, typing, sewing, painting, etc.  

Many toy creators make toys that encourage the development of fine motor skills.  In fact, most of the toys we have already talked about in this series give children an opportunity to strengthen their fine motor skills.  If you missed the posts on dramatic play, small world play, or construction play, check them out!

Today I am sharing all the toys that I could find in my house, that encourage fine motor skills but did not fit in the first 3 series.  This post does contain affiliate links.  These are all toys that have been well-loved in my house and have gotten lots of use from my 4 children over the years. As with all toy suggestions, you will need to use your best judgement as to what is best for your child.  Some of these suggestions do have small pieces.  


Do you enjoy completing puzzles?  I am not very good at them!  I used to cringe when I was a preschool teacher and the puzzle shelf was left a mess at the end of the day.  It took me longer than I am willing to admit to put the puzzles back together :)

My children, on the other hand, are puzzle gurus.  Well, we haven't mastered the 100-250 piece puzzles but they loved doing them as young children. And puzzles are great for children. 

Inset Puzzles

When you are ready to introduce puzzles to your children, you will want to start with inset puzzles. These are puzzles where each piece is a distinct shape and picture and sets into the puzzle frame.
The pieces in the Winnie the Pooh puzzle are large and chunky.  Most children will use a palmar grasp, using their whole hand, to pick up the pieces. The great thing about these puzzles is that the pieces can also be used for small world play!  

Another type of inset puzzles are ones with peg puzzle pieces.  These small pegs encourage children to move to a pincer grasp, which is the same grasp you use when writing. This farm puzzle is fun because it makes the animal sound when you put the piece in the correct spot. 

Interlocking Puzzles

Once children are comfortable with the inset puzzles, they are ready to move to simple interlocking puzzles.  These are jigsaw puzzles.  First choose a puzzle that does not have too many pieces and has a frame.
An easy hack can be seen on the 9 piece Paw Patrol puzzle above.  You can trace the shapes of the puzzle so children can match the correct piece to the correct spot.  You can also number the pieces in order for easy clean up.

I love these 12 piece puzzle box sets!  We have the pets, farm animals, and dinosaur sets.  I love that they have their own box to keep all the pieces.  Each set has 4 different puzzles inside.  Each puzzle has its own identifying shape on the back to help you sort the pieces.  The lid acts as a frame for the puzzle.  

Do you have favorite puzzles?  A favorite brand?

Pattern Blocks or Tangrams

Brickston has always loved this pattern blocks set.  He will sometimes make his own pictures using the shapes. My kids also have a travel set with a magnetic board, but it was in my office this week.

Stringing and Lacing Toys

Stringing and lacing toys encourage children to use both hands to complete a task.  One hand stabilizes (holds the string), while the other hand does something different (put the bead on).  I actually do not have any commercial stringing toys at the moment.  My children string real pony beads onto pipe cleaners (with supervision).  Because beads are a choking hazard, I found these great wooden and plastic napkin holders at a thrift store.  I placed them in a basket with some ribbon and tulle.

Lacing cards are also well-loved in my home.  We have this ocean set.


My children love playing with magnets while I'm working in the kitchen.  They put them on our dishwasher or on a cookie sheet.  We have these animal and dinosaur magnets that they have loved over the years. 

Other Must Have Fine Motor Toys

Here are some other must haves that I mentioned in the FB Live video:


What are the fine motor toys in your house that we need to add to the list?

Construction Play: Must Have Toys Series (Part 3)

Thank you for checking out part 3 of the Must Have Toys Series.  Make sure you check out Part 1 about dramatic play and Part 2 about small world play.  You can also check out the Facebook Live video I did last week on Construction Play!

Construction Play

Let's talk about construction play! This post does contain affiliate links, but these are all toys that we own, love, and use during routine construction play in our home. 

Construction play is any type of play that invites a child to build or create something.  This can be your traditional block play, which we will talk about in just a second, or it can be more non-traditional types of building. 
Construction play affords children opportunities to problem solve, express their own ideas, make predictions, and practice math skills.  Construction play gives children practice in all developmental areas.  In the Facebook live video, I promised I would link the 10 Things Children Learn from Block Play!  Here it is!

If you only buy one type of Construction Play toy, buy a set of unit blocks.

Unit Blocks

My oldest daughter received this set of wooden unit blocks when she was one.  Unit blocks are the ultimate open-ended resource for children of all ages.  Young toddlers may fill and dump buckets with the blocks.  Older toddlers will begin to make simple enclosures and towers.  As children get older and have more experiences using blocks, their structures will become more advanced.

Cardboard Blocks

These blocks are great for building large structures.  Because they are made from cardboard, they do not hurt when they fall.  But be warned, they take a long time to assemble.

Young Brix Blocks

I like to think of these bristle blocks as a precursor to legos.  They stick together and come apart more easily than lego duplo blocks.  The are perfect for toddler hands, but big kids like them too! 

Duplo Blocks

Duplo blocks are very open-ended.  Of course you can buy them in a kit, but the pieces can be used to make many different things.  The shapes and colors can be sorted and counted.  Once your child has mastered the duplo blocks, you can move to regular lego blocks. 

Keva Blocks

These were an unexpected hit for my four year old. He is surprisingly great at looking at the plans on the cards and recreating the structures.  I think they are tough!  I even take these to my college classes and have my pre-service teachers see who can solve them the fastest.

Magformer Blocks

In the Facebook live, I incorrectly said that we had magna-tiles.  We actually have magformer blocks, which are very similar.  These blocks are neat because they are magnetic and translucent.  It adds another fun element to building and creating.

Marble Run Maze

Now we move to a little more non-traditional type of building.  I do not advise using the marble run kit with younger children due to small pieces.  The marble run kits are all tube pieces which allow children to create a path for the marble to travel.  There are so many possibilities.

Wooden Train Set

We don't usually think about train tracks when we think about building, but when children plan out the path they are using the same problem solving and creating skills as they would during block structure building.  These wooden train tracks are great to add to the other types of block play.

Thomas Motorized Railway

Once your children gain confidence with the wooden track, you may want to try the motorized railway track sets.  There are tons of different types of sets.  We have 2 crates full!  You can create bridges and tunnels.  Then you set the battery powered train on the track to see if your path works.

It wouldn't be right if we didn't talk about real construction.  I think it is important for children to learn to build using tools.  Just like we teach children to use writing utensils, we can teach them to use tools to create. 

Toddler Friendly Building Tools

This wooden set of tools is a safe way to introduce children to tools.  The screws and bolts can be used to connect the small pieces of wood together. And it is so cute! Quinny received it as a birthday gift from a sweet friend.

Real Child-Sized Tools

Take a breath, relax.  Yes, these are real tools.  Obviously, I think children should be supervised when using tools.  But using a real child-sized hammer improves eye-hand coordination.  My son loves using the hammer to pound in brad nails to scrap pieces of wood. You can also use golf tees in pumpkins!

What construction toys do you have in your home?  I would love to hear how you are using these toys with your children! 

Small World Play: Must Have Toys Series (Part 2)

In the first part of this series we discussed all of the must have toys to encourage dramatic play.  You can find that post here.

In this post, I will tell you the must have toys for small world play.

What is small world play?

Small world play is a type of pretend play.  Both small world play and dramatic play require children to use their imaginations.  In dramatic play, the children act out their story THEMSELVES.  We know that young children are very concrete thinkers.  Often, children are more adept at dramatic play because they can be one of the characters in the story.  During small world play, children must assign a role to a small toy or object.  This is the beginning of abstract thinking. Think about it.  Abstract thinking makes up so many of the academic tasks.  We assign sounds to letters.  We assign values to numerals. It is all abstract.  Small world play provides children a chance to practice abstract thinking, which strengthens pre-reading skills. 

Here is an example of the differences between dramatic play and small world play: 
While playing house...

Okay, now that we know what small world play are what I think are the must have toys:

Animal figures

We have been blessed.  My mom has a great eye when she is at thrift stores and auctions.  She has provided my children with many of their animals.  We have also received some really great ocean animals from friends. 

These figures can sometimes be pricey depending on the size and the brand. The panda and the hippo in the photo above are Schleich brand.  They are by far heavier and better quality than some of our other animals, but it is hard to justify spending the money.  I love buying the Toob brand of small figures.  We have a bird set, forest animal set, and dragon set.  These are much smaller than the big Schleich panda and hippo, but we love them.

We also have animals that do not have a brand written on them (remember, my mom is amazing and finds these treasures).  Many stores have several affordable options for large plastic animal figures.  My only caution would be to make sure they do not have openings where water or sensory materials will get trapped (think open mouths). 

When collecting animals, think of where the animals live.  You can categorize them by ocean, forest, pet, zoo, artic, and farm animals (I'm sure I'm forgetting a category).


Once again my mom is amazing, she has supplied us with lots of cool dinosaur finds!  I think all children are drawn towards playing with dinosaurs.  You can have small and large dinosaurs in your collection.

Dollhouse people 

We still have my oldest daughter's Fisher Price Loving Family dollhouse.  It is actually in storage, and I'm excited to get it back out for Quinlan.  I believe Kinsley was 2 when she got it for Christmas.  We still have many of the dolls and furniture that go with the house.  

You do not NEED a dollhouse, but I would strongly encourage you to buy some sort of people.  I like these because you can bend their legs and make them sit.  These dolls can be used in dollhouse play or even with your building blocks.  Check back to see my recommendation for construction play toys.

If your child is really enjoying dollhouse play and you want to add to his/her collection, animal characters can also be fun.  We have a mixture of Woodzees and Calico Critters.  I just think they are cute!  Look at this post for ideas on how to extend doll house play for all ages.

Remember the post on loose parts

Loose parts and small world play go hand in hand.  You can add all types of loose parts into your small world play bin.  This helps extend children's play.

Here is a caution.  Do not feel like you have to purchase all of your child's favorite character figurines.  

I'm talking to myself here, too, so don't worry.  But just because they have a plastic Simba doesn't mean you have to have it to play the Lion King.  You can use your lion from your animal stash.  If your child loves Puppy Pals but you don't have the figures, ask your child what you could use instead.  Their imagination just might surprise you!