Functional/Manipulative Play

Children learn about objects and their use through functional play.

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Children learn about objects and their use through functional play.  They use toys or objects in the way in which they are intended.  They will roll a ball and stack blocks.

This type of play can also be described as manipulative play.  A child uses their hands to manipulate toys and objects to learn about how to use them.  This includes construction play, arts and crafts and tool-use (e.g. scissors) and helps to develop eye-hand co-ordination.

Early Manipulative Play

Manipulative Play in the early stages is about learning to use your hands.  Fine motor skills develop through a number of different stages from sensory awareness to in-hand manipulation and tool-use.  These skills are essential for the development of other activities of daily living.  Below are some play activities to help your child develop these essential skills.

Reach, grasp and release are fundamental fine motor skills.  It is important to develop these skills early as they are building blocks to complex fine motor skills and participation in activities of daily living which develop later.

Reach & Grasp

The development of reach and grasp is influenced by a child’s growing interest in objects and desire to attain them. 

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Children love to place objects into containers and empty them out!  This helps them to develop their release skills and refine their eye-hand coordination skills. 

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Finger isolation is an important stage in the development of grasp.  It is the ability to move certain fingers apart from the rest of the hand/fingers. 

When children begin using their hands, all fingers move together at the same time. As they grow and develop, they gain the ability to move individual fingers.  It helps with being able to fasten and unfasten buttons, hold and control a pencil for drawing and writing, cut with scissors, type on a keyboard, play a musical instrument, tie shoelaces, and many other daily living skills.

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Or try the following website for more information:

There are a range of free Apps for Apple and Android that can help your child with finger isolation:

Being able to pick up small items between your thumb and index finger is an important stage in the development of hand function. 

A pincer grasp is used to hold a pencil, thread a button through a hole and pick up coins.  

Click here for activity ideas for early years.  The activity sheet has a homemade recipe for play dough for you to make with your child.

Or try the following website for more information:

An important stage in the development of fine motor skills is the development of bilateral hand use.

This is the use of two hands together to grasp and manipulate objects. 

This stage of development starts with bringing the hands together in the middle and develops to using one hand as the dominant hand and the other as a helping hand.

Click here for activity ideas for early years and click here for activity ideas for older children.


Construction play involves manipulating one or more pieces of play materials to create something new. This may involve a variety of methods – stacking, sticking, putting together, taking things apart, sorting or moulding, to name a few.

Construction play develops all types of skills and behaviours;

  • The motor skills necessary to create and manipulate the items.
  • Imagination skills.
  • Planning & ideation skills; the ability to try out and test ideas.
  • Perseverance when things don’t work.
  • When playing with others turn taking and collaboration skills.

Playing with Technology

There are benefits to using technology both for play and learning.  Using technology can help with creativity, problem solving, visual thinking and can make learning fun.  Using the right kind of technology/games/activities can support the development of your child’s learning and skills, including fine motor skills, letter/number/shape/colour recognition, eye-hand co-ordination, reading, writing, planning, problem solving etc.

Click on the links for more information for parents/carers in relation to internet safety and also more information on using IT in education.

Arts and Crafts

Taking part in art and craft activities can help your child in many ways.  Arts and crafts activities can help to develop your child’s imagination and creativity, their planning and organisation skills and fine motor skills.

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