I love the holiday season and something about the darkness and cold weather makes me want to do arts and crafts to celebrate the season. For those of you who celebrate Christmas, the tree is a perfect place to exhibit your children’s decorations.  I know some people prefer to have a traditionally decorated tree but that does not stop you from having a tree somewhere else specifically for your children’s creations.

Fine motor skills are important skills that should not be neglected and we need to find ways to encourage their development. 

There are so many opportunities for children to work on strengthening their hand muscles with the various seasonal arts and crafts.  Here are some of the crafts I have tried at home with my children and I recommend:

Painting Christmas lights with pom poms, wine corks or fingerprints.

Any activity with paint is a favourite in our house and usually involves getting messy but it also means lots of giggles and fun.

I start out by drawing a line on a paper to be the string for the lights and then ask the children to put the lights on the string.

Using wine corks, or pom poms as a stamp that you have to use a pincher grasp to hold while you stamp Christmas lights on to a line on paper promotes a proper pencil hold.  The pressure from using a finger or thumb to make prints on the paper helps strengthen the muscles in the hand.

Making paper chains.

I love the old traditional Christmas crafts, making paper chains as a Christmas decoration is thought to come from England in the 1850s.  This activity can make use of various different muscle groups in the hand depending on how much you ask your child to do.

The materials you will need for this craft are a ruler, pencil, scissors, glue stick, and construction paper.

The first step is drawing the lines on the construction paper so you know how thick to cut the strips.  You can ask the child to use a ruler and pen to draw lines a rule width apart from each other.  After they have finished drawing all the lines, they can use scissors to cut the paper into strips.  After the strips have been cut, they need to apply glue with a glue stick to one end and then squeeze the ends together.  After they have made the first link, they have to thread the paper through the previous link before they glue the ends together.

Once the chains are finished you can use them on your tree or decorate the doorways.

Making Popcorn chains.

Making popcorn chains or popcorn and cranberry chains is another old tradition.  It requires children to be able to hold a needle in one hand and a piece of popcorn or cranberry in the other.  In my opinion, I think it is a little bit easier than beading because you use the needle to make your own hole in the popcorn and the cranberry so you don’t have to worry about threading the needle through a small hole.

The materials you will need for this craft include popped popcorn, cranberries, needle, thread or dental floss.

Start out by threading the needle leaving one end of the thread still attached to the spool (This will allow you to make a string the desired length).  Then push the needle through one piece of popcorn at a time, letting out more thread from the spool as push the popcorn down.  If you are using cranberries as well, try making a pattern with the popcorn and cranberries.  Once you have had enough or ran out of popcorn, tie a knot at the end of the thread and cut the thread to the appropriate length before tying a knot on the other end.

You can use these popcorn chains to decorate just about anywhere.  When you are finished with them you can either save them for the following year (not recommended for chains with cranberries) or hang them up on a tree outside for the birds to eat.

NOTE: It is best to use air popped popcorn to make popcorn chains because it is dry and does not have the added seasonings on it like microwave popcorn. 

Making beaded crafts with pipe cleaners and beads.

There are so many different options for beads an pipe cleaners.  The great thing about this activity is it can be modified to accommodate different skill levels.

For young children, you can hold on to the pipe cleaner as they place the bead on it.  As children increase in their hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills the can complete this task more on their own.  Another great thing about this activity is that it is one you can work on with individuals at various levels at the same time.  Individuals with greater skill can use smaller beads and do more intricate designs.

If you are looking for design ideas, all you have to do is look on Pinterest to find all sorts of different ideas for making stars, snowflakes, candles, candy canes… the list goes on and on.

Making an owl pine cone.

This is a great activity we did at a craft night for my daughter’s school.  To do this you will need pinecones, cotton balls, toothpicks, felt, glue, and googly eyes.  You start out by cutting out the felt pieces into wings, face, and a beak.  Then I would suggest gluing the face, beak and googly eyes to the face so the glue can have a chance to dry before you have to glue it on the pine cone.

Making a cinnamon stick fabric tree.

This is a very easy craft requiring only a few materials and looks great when it is finished (see the bottom right image above.  You will need cinnamon sticks, pieces of fabric a glue gun and some twine as a hanger and optionally you can have sequins and glue for decoration.

To prepare for this craft, you need to cut strips of fabric about one inch wide and between 4 to 6 inches long.  You will also have to cut the twine so it makes a big enough loop for hanging the tree when you are done.

Start off by using a glue gun to attach the twine to the top of the cinnamon stick.  Once it is attached start tying the fabric with a single knot around the cinnamon stick.  Do not worry if the fabric is completely even on either side because you can trim the sides to form a more traditional triangle shape to the tree.  If you would like to decorate the tree with sequins, use the glue gun or white glue to apply them.  Finally, trim the fabric into the appropriate shape.

Making a pine cone bird feeder.

I loved making these as a child.  It is a really easy activity that preschoolers really enjoy.  You will need pine cones, peanut butter, bird seed, and string.

To set up, collect some pine cones, cut the string to a 3-foot length and pour the bird seed onto a baking dish.

First, you tie a piece of string to the top of the pine cone so it can hang from a tree.  Next, you spread peanut butter with a spoon or a knife onto the sides of the pine cone.  Once the pine cone is covered in peanut butter, roll it around in the birdseed until the peanut butter is covered with birdseed.

Once you have finished making the bird feeder, hang it up outside your window so you can watch birds eat from it in the cold weather.  As an added bonus, this feeder is one the squirrels have a hard time accessing.

Making and decorating cookies.

There are many different types of rolled out cookies you can make but in our house, we usually stick to gingerbread and sugar cookies.  Making and decorating cookies is a very tasty way to ‘trick’ kids into using various different muscles in their hands.  Depending on how ambitious you are feeling you can involve your children every step of the way or choose selected steps.  If baking isn’t really your thing you can often buy cookies to decorate from your local grocery store or bakery.

You will need the ingredients for your favourite cookie recipe and your favourite icing recipe (I usually do a buttercream icing or a royal icing to flood the cookies), and candies to decorate the cookies such as sprinkles, gummies, chocolate chips or M & M’s.

Make the dough according to the directions from your recipe.  I have found that my kids love to help measure out the ingredients with me and mix the dough.  Doing these activities makes use of many different muscles in their hands and make them rotate their wrists.

When the dough is ready rolling it out and using the cookie cutters again involves many different muscles in the hands and strengthens them when the child applies force to the rolling pin and cookie cutters.  After the cookies have been cut, peeling the dough from around the cut out works the small muscles in the fingers.  Using a spatula to put the cookies on the cookie sheet is also a good activity to strengthen hand muscles.

Decorating the cookies is always a fun part.  Applying the icing, whether you pipe it from a piping bag (or a ziplock bag with one corner cut off) or spreading it with a knife, are great ways to use different muscles in your hand.  After the cookie is iced, you can add the decorations.  Picking up the candies and sprinkles with fingers is a great way to encourage the pincer grasp.

I am sure I don’t need to tell you what to do with these once they are finished!

Decorating a Christmas tree with stickers.

This is a simple activity that young children enjoy.  I will cut a tree shape out of green construction paper and give the children a page of stickers to apply to their tree as decoration.  Peeling the stickers off the paper and placing them on the tree helps develop the muscles in the fingers using the pincer grasp.  Don’t peel the stickers off the page for your child.  Let them problem solve and find ways to take them off themselves.

Using playdough Christmas mats and decorations.

I have recently discovered the joy of playdough mats.  There are several bloggers out there that produce lovely seasonal mats you can download and print off to laminate or put in a plastic cover for your child to use.  I have a collection of different beads and sequins my children can use to decorate the playdough on these mats.  We get a lot of use out of ours and I highly recommend them.