Fingerplay is a simple, no-cost way to spend time with your child, learn together, and prepare your little one for preschool or daycare. But many parents aren’t sure what fingerplay is, why it is important, and how to begin.
We’re here to break it down for you. Here’s our simple guide to fingerplay, including our favorite 25 fingerplay ideas.
What Is Fingerplay?
Fingerplay is hand movements coordinated with a song, rhyme, or occasionally a short story. The movements may be gross, meaning they involve the entire hand in a large motion such as waving. Or they could be fine, where they involve smaller, more detailed movements of the fingers.
Why Is Fingerplay Important for Kids?
Fingerplay is critical for kids because it boosts:
- Oral language skills: When singing the same songs, sounds, and words, your child is expanding their oral language skills by “working out” their mouth muscles.
- Imagination: When a child engages with fingerplay they have to create images in their mind to accompany the songs.
- Brain development: Research tells us that memorizing songs and rhymes promotes healthy brain development (1).
- Social skills: When a child learns fingerplay at home, they are in a good position to enjoy those same songs and actions in a social setting at preschool or daycare.
- Engagement: For children who find it difficult to engage with others, fingerplay is a low-intensity way to interact.
- Understanding: New concepts such as colors, shapes, movements, and more can be introduced through fingerplay songs.
Since children can pick up the actions without having to say or understand the words, fingerplay is a way for children of all ages, cultures, and abilities to enjoy a group activity.
25 Fingerplays for Preschoolers
We used our multi-mom hive mind to create this diverse list of fingerplay ideas for you to try out.
1. 5 Little Donuts
Five Little Donuts can be enjoyed with or without the fingerplay, making it ideal for children with limited physical dexterity. This version utilizes felt donuts, but you could use simple paper cutouts.
2. One Little Finger
Repeating the same fingerplays in two languages is a great way for bilingual children to improve their language skills, or to help your child learn a new language.
3. Baby Bumble Bees
The squishing of the bumblebee means this rhyme is not for everyone. We like it because it doesn’t have any fine motor movements, making it a good choice for the less dexterous.
4. Baby Shark
A new staple to the preschool musical world, baby shark is not only catchy, but is a song almost guaranteed to be sung by your child’s friends and classmates. Consequently, they will be able to share this song and feel like part of the group.
5. Climbing Caterpillar
Although the video for this one has props, they are not essential. You can make the caterpillar’s leg movements with your fingers and make the shape of the tree with your hand.
6. Finger Faces
Draw different expressions onto your fingers and sing “This is my finger who is xxx” and insert an emotion, or pause and wait for your child to add the correct feeling. There is no particular tune and this helps kids connect facial expressions with emotions.
7. Five Little Leaves
You can cut out leaves of different colors from paper, felt, or tissue and stick them to your fingers. A simple countdown song, you can sing this with either five leaves or ten leaves.
8. Five Fingers
Knowing which finger is the index finger and which is the ring finger can be tricky for little ones. This fingerplay idea teaches the names of the fingers in a fun and easy-to-remember way.
9. Walking Animals
Not every fingerplay has to involve a new song or specific actions related to the lyrics. We enjoy singing Old McDonald with felt finger animals such as these and making the animals dance along to the tune.
10. Peanut Butter and Jelly
Peanut butter and jelly is a simple song that incorporates both fine and gross motor skills. It offers a fun way to transition from a more formal, sitting down and learning process into lunchtime.
11. Here Is The Beehive
The Here Is The Beehive song introduces new vocabulary around movement. If your child has already acquired these words, it provides a way to enjoy multisensory learning.
12. Twinkle Twinkle Little Star
Since this uses a nursery rhyme your child likely already knows, this fingerplay is an especially good choice for children who struggle to learn movements, rhythm, and words all at once.
13. Ants On A Tree
There’s something about bugs that appeals to most little ones. Ants On A Tree is a popular fingerplay because the movements are easy and kids enjoy the faux shock at the end.
14. Open, Shut Them
Fingerplay is an excellent way to transition between sitting down for quiet activities and moving about for more boisterous tasks. Open, Shut Them is good for firing kids up or for bringing them down from a rambunctious activity to quiet time.
15. Multi-Story Gloves
If you enjoy fingerplay with props, a set such as this one is relatively easy to make and will cover a number of songs. This way, you don’t have to make and store a series of more elaborate items.
16. Mary Had A Little Lamb
For children who struggle with fingerplay, take a nursery rhyme they already know. Rather than narrating the story with your actions, focus on basic rhythm and hand-eye coordination movements.
17. Ten Little Friends
This simple fingerplay helps children learn basic one to ten counting skills in a fun and interactive way. This makes it especially useful for multi-sensory learners who may struggle with basic, bland repetition.
18. London Bridge Is Falling Down
Extremely basic fingerplays such as this are a low-pressure way for children to experience fingerplay. The simplicity makes it suitable for children who worry about getting things wrong in front of others.
19. Mr. Wiggle and Mr. Waggle
While fingerplay is traditionally linked to simple rhymes and tunes, there is no reason why you cannot adopt the technique to narrate basic stories that feature repetition, as in this example.
We like this opposites fingerplay because it integrates finger movement and singing, as well as learning about opposites. The vocalization of the “soft” and “loud” elements enhances the multi-sensory experience.
21. Mr. Thumbkin
A more active fingerplay, Mr. Thumbkin teaches about body parts through song and gross motor movements. Mix things up by pausing before you name a body part to create a sense of anticipation.
22. Fuzzy Little Caterpillar
While the finger movements in this song are fairly basic, it introduces the concept of metamorphosis in a way that helps children to connect caterpillars, a chrysalis, and a butterfly in a sequence.
23. Hickory Dickory Dock
We often use this fingerplay in tandem with a large clock face. When the clock “strikes” a particular number, we alter the clock face to reflect the associated number and introduce some early learning to tell the time lessons.
24. Chubby Little Snowman
While the example shown here uses a bunny, you can encourage your child to use other animals in the rhyme. Doing so gives your child an opportunity to imagine how to represent an animal with finger shapes.
25. Five Little Pumpkins
You don’t have to use pumpkins for this rhyme. Any item with two syllables will work. This is a rhyme that lends itself well to cultural or religious adaptations.
The beauty of fingerplay is that it is an easy-to-adapt, inclusive way to bond with your child while exploring a variety of words and concepts.
They are also excellent ways to transition between a quiet time and a more upbeat activity, something that’s especially useful for kids who struggle to switch.