Straws and Matchsticks Fine Motor Activity

Set up a fun fine motor activity for preschoolers using play dough, matchsticks and cut paper straws! Simple, engaging maths and physical play for little ones, which is so easy to set up and clear away.

Fine motor fun with cut straws

I set out an Invitation to Play on two metal dishes, one with cut pieces of coloured, patterned paper straws and the other with some natural play dough with matchsticks stuck into it. You can, alternatively, encourage them to set up the whole activity themselves.Invitation to play with cut straws and matchsticks

2 year old Bean immediately picked up the paper straw pieces between her fingers and carefully transferred them one by one to the matchsticks, where she threaded them over the top. She was inadvertently practising 1:1 correspondence as she covered up each matchstick, and pre-counting skills as she said some familiar numbers by rote as she did so.Fine motor practise with cut straws and matchsticks


She used a pincer grasp and good control and co-ordination as she placed them over the tops of the matchsticks and took them back off again.

Before she did so she turned it into birthday cake imaginative play, lighting the candles and singing me “Happy Birthday to You” before blowing them out. She loved this game and repeated the whole thing, from taking out the matchsticks, sticking them back into the dough, covering each with a straw and singing the song, many times! Practise, practise, practise while having lots of self-directed fun.

Fine motor activity for toddlers


Big sisters really enjoyed this too and couldn’t keep their hands off the gorgeous patterned straws! Miss 5 made alternating patterns and then used some straw pieces to thread onto string to make a bracelet. This makes a lovely progression step for older kids, plus they look gorgeous as paper beads!

Patterning with paper straws

What they are learning as they play:

Physical: fine motor control and coordination, pincer grasp, transferring, hand:eye co-ordination

Maths: 1:1 correspondence, early counting, patterning

Creativity: imaginative play, role play, storytelling

See a huge collection of our favourite Fine Motor Skills activities here



  1. says

    I love this!! Even just putting sticks in dough can be ongoing fun for little ones, but I love the added simplicity and challenge of the straws!! Oooo, so excited to use this. Thank you so much for all of your amazing ideas and work!

  2. says

    I’ve just tried this with my boy and he loved it! What I find amazing is that he had the exact same response as your 2 year old with no prompting from me. He played with it for a while and then when he was done he moved onto the idea that these were candles and cakes!