Fine Motor Activity: Cheerio Spaghetti Playdough Counting
Don’t you “hate” it when you are scrolling through Facebook and you see all these moms doing all these Pinterest-worthy activities with their kids? Some days, I feel like I can barely get through the morning and all I want to achieve is putting nutritious food in my children’s bellies rather than on the floor. Who has time for educational activities? How do these moms manage to have their kids sit calmly and complete these activities that for sure will enhance their brain development and make them into super geniuses?
The first time I saw this Cheerio spaghetti playdough activity was probably 2 years ago. The concept is simple enough – you take a big ball of playdough, stick some uncooked spaghetti in it so it looks almost like a person’s head with spiky hair, and you thread the Cheerios one by one onto the spaghetti. Fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination practice, check and check.
I think the reason why it took me this long to finally set up this activity is that it’s ridiculously easy. You think, “oh, let me save this for a rainy day,” which happens VERY rarely in SoCal, by the way. So any time I get more than 5 minutes, I prioritize other activities in my Pinterest queue over this one. Figures that what moms do right? We magically conjure up time here and there to do laundry, to wash the dishes, and most importantly, to spend precious time with our little ones.
One morning, I just decided to put my foot down and finally tackle this activity. But I didn’t want it to be just a simple fine motor skill activity – I wanted to incorporate counting into it. Zoe (2 years and 2 months old) has been counting 1 through 10 since she was about 20 months. I attribute her ability to count to our counting tactic to get her older brother to do something (example, “I am going to count to 10 and if you haven’t cleaned up your toys by then, I am taking them away.”), which I must admit that we use way more often than we would like. However, even though she can count the number in order, she cannot determine the number of items in a collection. For example, I ask her how many balls we have in the basket, and she says “1, 2,…” and then she just goes to “3-4-5-6-7-8…” really quickly without labeling each ball with only one number from the counting sequence; she double counts some of the balls and skips others.
To work on enumeration (one-to-one counting as described above), I made 5 playdough balls and put only one spaghetti strand in each ball. Then I placed the numbers in front of the playdough balls so that she could start to recognize the numbers (not the main point of the activity, but early exposure never hurts anyone). I just happened to have a puzzle from which I could pop out the numbers, but you can use flashcards or even just write numbers on pieces of paper.
Unlike the original Cheerio spaghetti playdough fine motor skill activity, this one does not allow you to run away to do errands. Here, you play the important role of a teacher to educate your kids how to count! When Zoe first started, I realized that the fine motor part of this activity is harder than I thought. If she put a little too much pressure on the spaghetti, the strand snapped into pieces and I had to replace it with another one. So have extras around just in case!
Zoe tried to thread the Cheerio with her right hand, switched to both hands, then ended up succeeding with her left hand (her dominant hand). You can tell she was so proud and happy when she finally achieved it!
Zoe did the first two without much of my help, which was expected because she usually can count up to 2 or 3 objects. After that, she ran into a bit of trouble and needed my help explaining how to count to 4 and 5. It’s funny how toddlers tend to be able to count up to 2 or 3 items and beyond that, they just classify the rest as “many.”
She eventually got a good grasp on how much pressure she could put on the spaghetti strands before they would snap. To help thread the Cheerios, she slightly bent the spaghetti strands since they were a little tall for her (maybe I should have shortened the strands?), but she was gentle enough to not break them into pieces.
After we got to 5, I took out all the Cheerios and we started over with 6 through 10. You could do 1 through 10 all at once, but my table wasn’t big enough for that.
Overall, a great success! Zoe was able to focus well and smiled lots during the activity, and the setup and clean up were super easy. Definitely one that I could do at least once a week with her until she learns how to enumerate objects!