Often when creating fine motor activities, the simplest and the cheapest resources are best. Items that are lying around either at home or in a setting, or things that can be bought for next to nothing can provide quality learning experiences, and provide the starting point for a host of imaginative potentialities. This is definitely true of the humble lolly-stick, or popsicle stick for my American friends that read this blog. But how can they be used? And how to do you create activities with them that engage and inspire?
Lolly sticks can be used to construct models and creations. They are also great for using as tools to manipulate other objects. They are perfect for slotting, picking things up and decorating. Here are my favourite ten fine motor activities involving lolly sticks…
1. Make 2D Shapes
This is a balancing game that requires dexterity and concentration. You start by creating small balls of playdough or plasticine (either will work). For example, to make a triangle you create three small balls of dough. Then you simply balance the lolly sticks on top. You can create a host of different shapes – squares, hexagons etc. You can also make pictures using the balanced sticks. Good ideas are things like space rockets or houses. More skillful children can also build upwards using this activity. When you have one level, make more dough balls, balance them on the sticks and you are ready to create your second tier. Great for balancing, focus and imagination, as well as talking about the features of shapes and all the vocabulary associated with that.
2. Play lolly stick football!
Football is not really used in education as much as it probably could be. It is, after all, the world’s most popular sport, and something that many children can seriously engage with.
Lolly stick football is a really fun job. It works well as a game for two players, but it can also be done by one child, or even a few together. First you need to make two goals. To do this make some small balls of playdough or plasticine again. These are the joins of the goal. Use lolly sticks and join them at the corners to create two goals that stand up facing each other on a small worktop or on the floor. Then make another ball out of dough. This is the football! The players all have a lolly stick each to help ‘kick’ the ball around the playing area and try to score a goal. The other player tries to tackle the opponent and get the ball into the opposing goal. If this becomes a bit too boisterous, children can work together to score in one goal. Fabulous for fine motor, pincer grip and just generally having fun in a competitive atmosphere.
This is one of the ultimate playdough maths games! (Great for keeping score in particular). Check out some other brilliant playdough maths games in this article.
3. Fine motor lolly stick jigsaws
These are fantastic at developing a range of spatial and visual skills, alongside using a pincer grip which becomes great for writing later on. Supporting fine motor skills in fun ways has numerous benefits for young children.
To create your lolly-stick jigsaw, place about ten sticks side by side on a table so they form roughly a square shape with no gaps in between sticks. Then create some pictures for your jigsaw. I usually just go on google and print some clipart pictures – simple images like animals, people and vehicles work well. Print your pictures to a size where one will fit on the ten lolly sticks. Then superglue the picture onto the sticks. When the glue has dried, use a sharp knife to slice down the lines of each stick. You then have ten sticks, each with part of the image on ready to be put back together. It is a good idea to keep two copies of each image – one to stick on the sticks and the other to laminate and the children to use when re-assembling the jigsaw.
4.Make a playground
Imaginative play can be interwoven fantastically with fine motor skills. Make a playground marries the two very effectively. This is another activity that requires either playdough or plasticine. Once again make small ball of dough that act as the joists and joins of the various playground activities you can make. The simplest is probably a seesaw, which can be made with simply a ball of dough with a lolly stick balanced on it. You could make little dough people to sit on it and make it go up and down. Another reasonably simple construction is a balance beam or walkway, which is simply some dough balls in an arrangement with the lolly sticks balanced on top in a meandering path.
More skillful or older children can attempt more difficult features such as a slide, swing or roundabout. For a slide, you will need to create a ladder and the slide part for going down. Let the children’s imagination take control. Often the things they make may not look at all like the real-life examples, but only share one or two key features, and that is absolutely fine. When created, you can make dough people or use tiny figures to play in the playground.
5. Chopstick challenge with pompoms
Lolly sticks can be used quite simply as chopsticks or tweezers to pick items up. A good example of this is a ‘chopstick challenge.’ Get a small container and few pompoms. One child at a time will use the lolly sticks to pick up as many pompoms as they can in a time limit (for example thirty seconds). When their time is up they will count how many pompoms they picked up, and then their friend will have a go and try to beat them. This is a great timed challenge, that encourages speed, fine motor and also counting skills. It also develops skills in knowing that some numbers are bigger than others, because children of course want to win and get the most in the time limit! To understand how to win you need to understand how to count and also how to know the value of the numbers involved.
6. Make a unicorn head
This is a fantastic activity for those who are obsessed with My Little Pony and other unicorn-style culture. To make the head of the unicorn, simply mold a piece of playdough or plasticine into a unicorn-head shape! (To find out the many benefits of using playdough, then check this out). The children can add features if they want such as eyes or ears. They could carve a mane or eyes using a clay knife perhaps.
Then it is time to make the horn, which is where the lolly stick comes in. Put the stick into the head for a horn. Then it is time to decorate it to make it look seriously magical! One way is to get lengths of cotton, thread or wool. You put a tiny ball of dough at each end of the length and then squidge one ball to the base of the stick and wind the material round and round the horn up the stick to the top, where you secure it by squidging the ball to the top of the horn. Repeat with other colours and materials to make it look really magical. Alternatively, you could decorate the horn by sticking things onto it, such as sequins or sparkly stars.
7. Slotting Challenge
This is a more well-known fine motor activity with a twist. You get a container such a small cardboard box, and then cut small slits out of it using a sharp knife. Then, you create a challenge. You could, for example, draw colours round the slits, and have coloured sticks. This would then be a colour matching game, with the red sticks, for example, needing to be threaded into the red slot.
This works well for maths as well. You could, for example, have quantities of dots next to all of the slots, and then have lolly sticks with different numbers on. This is then a matching numeral and quantity game, with fine motor added in. All children really love posting things as we all know, and this activity harnesses this instinct.
8. Make a bridge
This activity links especially well to some books that have bridges in them, like The Three Billy Goats Gruff, or Tyrannosaurus Drip. It can also, however, be tried by itself without any reference to a story.
You make two balls of dough or plasticine, put them a little way apart on a table, and simply balance a lolly stick on top of them to form a bridge. Then you can balance things on the bridge. If you are doing a story, then you can act it out with little figures, or objects to represent the characters on the bridge. If not, it’s just fun to see how many objects you can balance on the bridge. You can balance things like beads, small pompoms or sequins. Beads is an especially good one, as you can balance beads on top of each other and start to build up.
9. Building with pegs and lolly sticks
Lolly sticks and clothes pegs can interact very well to create a range of 3D models. You can create space-ships, houses, tents, sleighs, and all manner of other constructions. The pegs act as the joins to the sticks. Pegs are another item that are great for developing children’s pincer grip, getting them ready to write.
10. Have challenges on sticks and answers on pegs
Another activity that combines these two humble items – pegs and lolly sticks. You have written small challenges on the lolly sticks and a range of responses on the pegs. For example, you could have a stick with four dots on, and then a matching peg with the number four. You could have use it for a topic such as animals babies, with a butterfly on the stick, and a caterpillar on the peg. Be creative and see what you can come up with.
In the hectic world of modern education, simple activities and resources that can be accessed with very little preparation can be a godsend. The lolly stick definitely provide that experience, and also many of the activities are a kind of camouflage learning – children do not realise the vital fine motor and concentration skills they are developing as they engage with fun and meaningful play experiences.
If you’ve found this article useful, then why not check out one of these: