All Posts by Katie Menko

About the Author

My name is Katie Menko, and I’m wife to Justin and mom to Asher and Aiden. We live in Royal Oak, MI where I (try to) balance my time between living life with my boys and being a middle school special education teacher. I am entering my tenth year in teaching and feel blessed to work with students who always inspire me and stretch my thinking. I’m also a Montessori student-turned-parent! I attended Montessori school preschool-6th and want to pass on my love for Montessori-style learning to my sons. I believe education should be hands-on, engaging, and should meet the child or student where they are at.

Jul 22

Posting & Peg Work: Toys & DIYs That Encourage These Fine Motor Skills

By Katie Menko | Toy Guides

Infant and toddler years are such HUGE years for fine motor development. My youngest is 15 months old and he has really been enjoying different types of fine motor activities lately. Specifically, he has been so focused on two different types of fine motor activities- peg work and posting work.

Peg activities and posting (placing an object in a hole, slot, or other kinds of opening) are important activities for developing visual motor planning skills. Posting activities specifically help with understanding object permanence (the idea that the object doesn’t just disappear for good when they drop it into a container). They also can help with fine motor coordination and hand strength as children often use a pincer grasp or the tripod grasp to pick up and place the objects. These skills are building blocks for writing and reading later on!

My youngest started developing an interest in peg and posting activities around 10 months, but I want to stress that this can happen at a wide range of ages! My 3-year-old still enjoys these same activities with his brother. You can follow your child’s developmental cues and activities you observe them doing naturally to see if they are at a place where they are strengthening these skills and would be interested in this work. For example, is your child…

  •     Grasping and picking up objects?
  •     Releasing objects intentionally?
  •     Using a pincer grasp to pick up objects?
  •     Putting objects into a container or basket, and then taking them back out?
  •     Following and tracking objects as they move with their eyes?

If so, then they may be ready for some peg and/or posting work activities! There are some great DIY activities for both of these options that we’ve tried at home, as well as toys and materials that encourage these fine motor skills.

DIY Peg Activities 

Pegs/Golf Tees/Craft Sticks in Play Dough or Clay

 This one can be reproduced so many ways! My oldest (3) tried it with clay, golf tees, and small dowels. My youngest (1) did it with play dough and larger wooden dowels I had from the craft store, but it could also be done with craft sticks, toothpicks, and sturdier straws. The clay adds a little more resistance to this activity for little hands with more muscle development. I’ve also seen variations of this using a block of foam instead of clay or play dough. So many great options for this peg work!

Straws onto Bottle Drying Rack

I loved that this DIY peg work was simple to put together and the perfect amount of challenge for my youngest when he was about 14 months! I unearthed my Boon Drying Rack from pump parts and repurposed it for some fine motor fun. With some old plastic straws added in, it was the perfect peg activity!

Pegs into Wooden Board

This one is not as simple to prepare, but the bit of extra effort was worth it. My oldest actually drilled the holes (with supervision) into this scrap wooden board my husband had. I sanded it a bit and then included some wooden pegs and dowels. A bit more challenging because it requires greater precision!

Crayons into Matching Spools

For this DIY peg work, I glued spools of thread (from an emergency mini sewing kit) to a small box lid. I set it out on a tray with crayons that matched the thread colors. My youngest just liked putting the crayons into the spools, but my oldest had the added challenge of matching the colors. This is a great activity to add adaptations to or for siblings to be able to play together!

Toys that Encourage Peg Work

Spike the Fine Motor Hedgehog – This toy is perfect for developing this fine motor skill, and it also builds in more learning through play! The quills can be placed into the holes on the hedgehog’s back- peg work practice! It’s also a great opportunity to expose older toddlers and preschoolers to colors and numbers since the holes have numbers by each one. Bonus- the quills can be stored inside the hedgehog’s back!

Melissa & Doug Deluxe Pounding Bench – We have a similar version of this pounding bench and it is a favorite for both of my boys! My youngest loved inserting the pegs into the holes on the bench around 12 months and they both loved pounding the pegs out again with the hammer!

DIY Posting Activities

Pom Poms in Wipes Container


I used pom-poms for this just because it’s what I had on hand, but I’ve seen many other possibilities for this! Food pouch lids work well too!

Craft Sticks or Straws in Plastic Bottle

This is the first posting activity I ever created for my oldest. He tried it around 12 months and gained confidence the more he worked with it. Dumping the sticks out at the end has been a favorite for both of my boys!

Paper Straws in Large Spice Container

I love that this DIY work offers three different levels based on fine motor development- 1. With the lid completely removed. 2- With the lid on the spice bottle and the large “pour” side of the lid opened. 3- With the lid on the spice bottle and the “sprinkle” side of the lid opened. The sprinkle holes are just large enough for the paper straws to go through. The large spice bottle is from Costco.

Marbles or Pebbles in a Box

For this one, I cut a hole in the top of a cardboard gift box and included some little glass pebbles from the craft store. Marbles, dry beans, or small rocks from outside would work well too! This is a great option for toddlers or preschoolers who are past the stage of mouthing small objects and are able to grasp tinier items.

Cardstock Cutouts into Oatmeal Container

This posting activity can be adapted to fit different themes and/or holidays! This was one of the first activities my youngest tried at around 10 months. I’ve also seen others cut a larger hole in the lid and include wooden blocks for infants to “post” or drop into the container.

Toys that Encourage Posting 

Shape Sorter This is a great option for children who are ready to move beyond more basic posting. It takes a lot of skill coordination- fine motor, visual scanning and planning, and problem-solving. This travel shape sorter would also be fun for a screen-free option to take out! My boys love our shape sorter.

Hoot the Fine Motor Owl Another awesome fine motor toy from Learning Resources! Children can work on posting skills with this one as the coins get dropped into a slot on the owl. We don’t own this one, but it is very similar to the Montessori coin box that we have and it is very well rated! 

My boys have enjoyed these peg and posting activities and toys through a range of ages. They are usually high-interest and are great for fine motor development and so much more! If you have little ones at home or at school who are showing interest in these kinds of activities, hopefully, you can try one out!

Mar 18

Creative Tots: Art Supplies and Activities for 1-3-Year-Olds

By Katie Menko | Toy Guides

Introducing art materials and activities to my oldest son has been so fun! Any fear of the messes that will be left behind fades away when I see how excited he is to try out something new and the look of pride as he masters new skills. There are quite a few art materials that can be introduced to toddlers when they are ready, and a variety of ways to introduce them. We like to start simple and make a few modifications to activities so that they can be learned and experienced in small steps. We also like to keep a few materials at a time out on “art trays” for easy access and encouraging choice. Here are a few ideas for art trays and activities to encourage creativity for one to three-year-olds:

Crayons
Crayons are simple, but such an important early learning experience for toddlers. We started using crayons with my boys around the age of 12 months. These jumbo triangular crayons would be a good set of beginning crayons. The size makes them easier for tiny hands to hold, but the shape still encourages a pencil grip for future writing skills. As toddlers, we’ve liked leaving a few crayons out on a wooden tray with blank pieces of white paper. The blank paper encourages creativity and having access to the tray gives toddlers more opportunities to color and build fine motor skills. When learning colors and building language, we also started with just a blue, red, and yellow crayon to signify primary colors.

Jumbo Triangular Crayons
(10 Pc.)

Pasting
Pasting is an important early skill for toddlers. It encourages fine motor skills and cause and effect reasoning. Glue sticks are an excellent option, but another option for even more fine motor control is pasting jars and brushes. Liquid glue can be squeezed into a small jar with a lid and combined with a brush. Another option (that we used when my son was younger) is to use an empty nail polish bottle with liquid glue in it. These pasting bottles/jars also incorporate the skills necessary to unscrew the lid in order to use the glue. For early pasting trays, we set out simple cut-out colored shapes and blank white paper. This encourages open-ended creativity.

Painting

Paint Sticks
Paint Sticks are a great introduction to painting for young toddlers, and give older toddlers many creative options! The stick is easier to grasp and control movement for younger toddlers. They are also quick drying and can be used on so many different surfaces! We do a lot of cardboard box projects (houses, barns, zoos, grocery stores, etc.) so my two-year-old often uses these to decorate those projects. These are also perfect for setting out on an art tray for older toddlers to access.

Kwik Stix
(Classic 12 Pk.)

Washable Finger Paints
Both of our boys’ first painting experiences were with these washable paints. Around the age of 6 months, I placed a piece of white paper with a few dabs of paint on it inside a Ziploc bag. The bag can be taped to the floor for infants to explore and “paint”! This has been such a fun sensory experience for them and a cute keepsake. As young toddlers, we’ve used these paints with these jumbo paintbrushes and large easel paper and blank canvases. These painting sessions offer more opportunities for learning color names through natural exposure.

Watercolors
Watercolors are another open-ended option for older toddler art trays. With watercolors, new fine motor skills are needed to use the thin brushes. Also, this kind of painting continues to improve hand-eye coordination and encourages more creativity. I usually set watercolors, the thin brush, white construction paper, and a small bowl (that will get filled with water) out together for this art tray. Another fun variation is to draw pictures on white paper with chalk. When painted over with watercolors, the “secret” drawings will be revealed!

Buddha Board
The Buddha Board offers a mess-free version of “painting” for toddlers. It comes with the board, a bamboo brush, and a water tray/stand. Kids can paint on the board with water, and the image will darken at first and then fade away. It’s an easy art activity to leave out and accessible since it doesn’t use any actual paint, and it has the benefit of being a calming activity for toddlers too!

The Original Buddha Board

Stickers
Stickers are such a simple and beneficial art activity! We introduced stickers for my older son around the age of 18 months and have watched his skills develop with them over time. For the first year or so, I would cut the stickers into strips if they were part of a larger page to minimize options and make the task less overwhelming. The sticker “background” paper can also be peeled from the backing, leaving just the sticker shapes and the backing. This makes it so much easier for small fingers to peel the stickers off!

Stamps
Stamps are another fun art activity for toddlers, and they have the added benefit of more language exposure. We use this washable stamp pad, and the ink has easily washed right off anything that’s been accidentally stamped. Really any stamps can be used, and for a wide variety of purposes! They are fun for birthday and holiday cards for family and friends, sorting activities, “habitat” scenes, and so much more! My son loves to use things in a purposeful way, so during the holidays, he decorates all of our Christmas presents for others with stamps. Depending on what children are ready for, they can also be given access to wipes or water to clean the stamps themselves. This set or this set would be a great beginning set of stamps for toddlers beginning to build more fine motor control!

My First Wooden Stamp Set (Animals)

These are just a few ideas for open-ended art activities and supplies for one to three-year-olds! Providing toddlers with some of these experiences can help to encourage creativity and fine motor skills, and they can help to build confidence! Well worth any mess left behind in my book!
Mar 03

Play and Learn On-The-Go

By Katie Menko | Toy Guides

As the season for spring break and summer travel planning begins, I’ve been thinking about toys and activities to take on the road. Traveling with kids isn’t easy, but with family out-of-town, it’s something that we’ve done with our boys since they were infants. Having car and plane-ready toys and activities for them has had a significant impact on keeping our adventures smooth for everyone. Here are some products and tips that make play and learning on-the-go easier:
Newborns & Infants:

Baby Paper
This has been a favorite for my boys as babies!  As newborns, it works well hanging on the car seat for babies to gaze at the eye-catching patterns (we use links to attach it). As babies get older and begin grasping, the sound these make is so engaging. Best of all, they’re machine washable!

Baby Paper

Chewbeads Stroller Toy
Chewbeads makes a range of amazing products, but this is one that we love for travel specifically. It easily attaches to car seats and strollers and has a ring for babies to grasp. The silicone material is safe and perfect for teething phases!

Chewbeads

Dimpl
We recently got this for our youngest and its small size has made it perfect for throwing in the diaper bag and taking it on trips! The colored discs that pop in and out are great for early color recognition and building concentration.

Dimpl

PipSquigz Loops
A suction cup keeps this toy from constantly being dropped by little hands and makes it another favorite option for baby play on the go! For littles who love sounds, the colored loops on this rattle when touched which makes it a fun sensory experience too!

PipSquigz Loops

Toddlers & Pre-K:

Melissa & Doug Water Wow Books
These books are so engaging and perfect for travel! They also provide important fine-motor practice for pre-writers. The built-in pen gets filled with water and is used to “paint” and reveal the pictures. When they dry, it can be used again and again! I love that these sets specifically are taste-safe and mess-free for younger toddlers. We have so many of these- a few in the car and one in the diaper bag!

Water Wow Books

Car Track
My boys both love cars and trucks, and having an easy way to continue to having fun with them on the road has been a favorite of theirs. We transformed made a car track scene using construction paper, laminated it (to outlast any travel spills), and added magnet tape to the back. Then, we added magnets to the back of a car set. The car track scene attaches to a cookie sheet, and then the boys can “drive” their magnetized cars around on the track. The magnets really help to eliminate the number of times things are dropped. The imaginative play opportunities this offers are endless- it would also be fun with a construction scene and these construction vehicles!

Cute Cars

Animal Figures
Animal and dinosaur figures are another excellent option for creative play and language building! We’ve also adapted these for fun on the road by adding magnets to them and using a metal cookie sheet. For some added learning opportunities, we’ve printed images of the figures, laminated them, and added magnetic tape to the back for object-to-picture matching. Storing these in pencil bags works well for organization on the go too!

Safari Sidekicks

Tangle Jr.
Traveling for long hours can be so hard for young children (and adults too!) When gross motor release isn’t an option, this Tangle Jr. toy is the perfect way to relax. It provides a relaxing sensory experience because of the way the links move, and it also helps to increase fine motor skills as kids work on finger dexterity. It’s small size and the fact that it can be wiped down easily makes this another great travel toy!

Tangle Jr.

Early Elementary:

Mad Libs
Mad Libs are a timeless travel activity for kids. They’re a fun and entertaining way to mix some reading and writing into travel time. I’ve done Mad Libs with my students for years and they always create so much laughter! These books are great for older children who know some basics about parts of speech.

Mad Libs

Flip to Win Game
These Melissa & Doug games provide a fun and easy way for kids to play together on the road! They don’t have loose parts and they have interchangeable game cards that are stored right in the game board. The travel bingo, hangman, and memory options help to build cooperative play.

Flip to Win:

Memory Game

Melissa & Doug On-The-Go
Along with the Water Wow books, Melissa & Doug have also created all-in-one travel kits for older ages. The Color-N-Carry books have crayons stored in the back of the book and offer tons of coloring and activity pages! The SurprizeINK kits have a built-in invisible ink marker that kids can use to reveal pictures and complete mazes and crosswords. The Magic Velvet sets would be a great option too!

As the season for spring break and summer travel planning begins, I’ve been thinking about toys and activities to take on the road. Traveling with kids isn’t easy, but with family out-of-town, it’s something that we’ve done with our boys since they were infants. Having car and plane-ready toys and activities for them has had a significant impact on keeping our adventures smooth for everyone. Here are some products and tips that make play and learning on-the-go easier: