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Leave a Mark with Clay Activities! Leaf Printing Is a Great Skill-Builder

Photo by Jevtic / iStock
Photo by Jevtic / iStock

By Rachel Ward

Push it, pull it, pound it, roll it! Toddlers are all about using their hands to explore anything and everything they can—all day, every day.

Now that the trees have regained their leafy splendor, we’re letting two- and three-year-olds try their hand at grabbing some clay (or play dough), placing a leaf on top, and then rolling it all flat. Presto! A classic decoration that’s perfect for the spring season.

This activity ups the ante in terms of physical difficulty—and that’s a good thing. “Two- and three-year-olds are still mastering the small muscles in their hands,” explains Meg Davis of KinderCare’s Education team. “As children work with the clay, mash it with their hands, and use a rolling pin to flatten it out, they’re building fine-motor skills.”

Leaf Printing with Play Dough or Clay Brings Fun AND Learning into the Classroom

In centers, the leaf-printing station is left up and running so that kids can visit whenever they want to hone their motor skills—and that means opportunities to mash, smash, and squeeze extend all month long!

There are plenty of things children could make prints with, but we choose leaves for a special reason. “Children in this age range are also learning about the world around them,” explains Davis. When kids use natural objects in activities, they’re getting a chance to explore the shapes and colors of leaves, the texture of pinecones, and more—and that builds their awareness of the outside world!

You don’t need clay and leaves to help your child build muscle skills—all it takes is a couple household items, a spare half hour or so, and some patient encouragement. Try out some of our ideas below!

Beyond Leaf-Printing: 4 Everyday Tasks to Develop Muscle Control

1. Wash Some "Dirty" Dishes

Fill up a little plastic tub with soapy water and dishes--you can use toy dishes or old plastic dishes for safety. Hand over a sponge, and let your child pretend to wash them clean! Your child’s motor skills are getting some practice, and doing "grown up chores" just like you do will make them swell with pride. 

Photo by Kelly Knox / Stocksy / 1825918
Photo by Kelly Knox / Stocksy

2. Build Block Towers

Setting up a block tower lets your child practice building their muscles and gives them the satisfaction of seeing something they created themselves. When they successfully strike the tower and those blocks come tumbling down (every toddler’s favorite part of the game!), they’re also honing eye-hand coordination.

3. Play “Red Light, Green Light”

No supplies needed for this one! The classic “Red Light, Green Light” will usually elicit plenty of delighted squeals from tots as they race forward and screech to a stop on command, helping them learn to control their muscles and master their impulses.

4. Bake Cookies Together

As your child helps you mix up the dough and cut out cookies, they’re building those motor skills and getting valuable experience in the kitchen. (You can even build your child’s math skills with time in the kitchen.) Plus, seeing a handful of ingredients transform into fluffy, golden-brown, delicious treats can be magical for kids!

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