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Fine Motor, Visuospatial, and Matching Activities for Children with Special Needs

Updated on January 18, 2013


Engaging children with special needs in activities that are not only fun, but also helpful for their development, is very important. This article provides information on important skills that children need to develop, and how to go about encouraging them to do so. Whilst a specific item, the Smart Snacks Sorting Shapes Cupcakes activity, is used as an example the information in this article can be applied to other resources which are listed at the end of the text.

What is the "Smart Snacks Sorting Shapes Cupcakes" Activity?

 This item consists of six plastic cupcakes, each consisting of two parts, which are placed in a pan. When the cupcakes are pulled apart, they reveal a shape. Each cupcake corresponds to a different section of the pan, depending on the shape.

What Skills are Developed?

  •  Fine Motor Skills
  • Shape Recognition
  • Matching

What the Research Says

Studies show that fine motor development is very important for children with special needs, as it is the basis of learning (Hengstman, 2001; Wessel and Zittel, 1995, in Murata and Tan, 2009). In order to develop these skills, children with special needs must participate in a wide variety of activities that require them to use their hands and fingers. These activities must provide opportunity for repetition, but also be fun and engaging (Murata and Tan). If either of these elements are lacking, the activity may not provide the opportunity for children to master it, nor may it be successful in encouraging them to engage in the task for longer periods.

The Sorting Cupcakes activity is one that can be repeated over and over again. Due to the bright colours and high level of interaction required, it is also fun and interesting for the children playing with it, hence helping ensure they remain engaged long enough to complete the activity. This also ensures they will not tire of the activity, and will be able to complete it more than once.

Children must also develop awareness of both sides of the body (Murata and Tan, 2009) to help with their fine motor skills. Therefore activities which require children to use both their hands, and/or feet, are beneficial. As the cupcakes activity needs a person to use both hands to pull the two pieces apart, children will begin to understand the importance of utilising both sides of their body to complete tasks.

Participating in visuospatial activities, such as those that involve shape recognition, are “believed to play an important role in math performance.” (Mazzocco et. al, 2006 pg. 89). When children are engaged in the cupcake activity, they are also learning to recognise and match the shapes, which are important skills to have. Matching is a particularly important skill for children to develop, as it is an essential pre-reading skill (, 2009). The web site, Family Learning (2009), lists activities to do with children to improve their matching skills. These activities include shape sorters and jigsaw puzzles. As previously mentioned, The Sorting Shapes Cupcake activity requires children to match shapes, an activity that is similar to shape sorters and jigsaw puzzles. As children are often given jigsaws and shape sorters to play with regularly, the cupcake activity gives them a change from this, whilst still teaching the same basic principles

References (2009). Pre-Reading Skills. Retrieved January 2nd, 2010, from

Mazzocco, M. M. M., Bhatia, N.S., & Lesniak-Karpiak, K., (2006). Visuospatial skills and their association with math performance in girls with fragile X or Turner syndrome. Child Neuropsychology 12 (87-110). Retrieved January 2nd, 2010, from

Murata, N.M., & Tan, C.A. (2009). Collaborative Teaching of Motor Skills for Preschoolers with Developmental Delays. Early Childhood Education Journal 36 6(483-489). Retrieved January 2nd, 2010, from Springer Direct.

Matching Activities and Resources


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