Fine Motor Centers for Emergent Writers

Fine Motor Centers Are My Favorite.

I run a K-2 Autism classroom and my first few years teaching I didn’t think centers were possible for my crew. Over the last few weeks I’ve talked about how I approach centers in my classroom. You can read about my ELA centers here and my math centers here. This week we are talking about fine motor centers.

I’m not sure if it’s because I get to be more creative or if I just prefer hands-on activities, but I love fine motor centers. My students are all over the place when it comes to fine motor skills. I have students who are copying sentences and some who are learning to use pincher grasp, and just about everything in between. Here are some of my go-to center ideas for emerging writers. 


Give Me All The Sand, Slime, Putty and Play Doh

I’m here for kids exploring textures while building hand strength. Here are a few of my favorite materials I use daily:

  • Kinetic Sand
  • Mad Matter (I prefer this over kinetic sand!)
  • Theraputty
  • Slimygloop Slimy Sand
  • Play doh
  • Play doh sand
  • Floam

We add these into a tray (ours are from Target dollar spot), give the kids some tools like rolling pins, cookie cutters, letter stamps or playdoh scissor and let them go to town. Our rules are simple: Materials stay in the tray. We challenge students to try new materials and use their fingers to pinch the materials as they play. You can even sneak in some name practice, like we did below.

Add in Sensory Play

My students love sensory play and it goes hand in hand with fine motor practice. Shake things up and add noodles, shredded paper, or even ice cubes in a tray for students to explore. Pipettes and warm water melt ice and help students learn how to pinch!

Tweezers of All Types

I love to practice sorting, so these sorting trays often coming out during fine motor centers. We work on pincher grip or using tweezers depending on the student. I really love these tripod grip tweezers from Learning Resources to start with, then we move to the two prong tweezers. We pick up anything from beads to paper to pompoms. 

Lacing Beads, Puzzles, Pop Beads and Paper

These lacing beads are from Lakeshore and have firm plastic ‘string’ to put beads on, plus the beads have designs on them allowing students to grip the beads better. This is perfect for students learning to lace. We have a variety of puzzles, including those with pegs for students to manipulate. Pop beads are another fun fine motor toy. We start with pulling the pop beads apart then move to putting them together. Don’t underestimate the power of paper! Rip it, draw on it or crumble it! All of those choices build fine motor skills!

Build Those Skills!

The goal of centers is to build transferable skills. For my students, having fine motor skills will help them with both academic and functional performance. With a little bit of creativity with the items you have in your classroom, you can build skills in centers! I promise – it’s worth it!


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