Preschool manipulative activities can take advantage of a wide variety of toys and classroom tools. Items that children manipulate to move, stack, assemble and arrange are included in the manipulative category. Puzzles, blocks, counting and sorting toys, games with pieces that move, or simple animal and other types of figures are examples. Manipulative items help develop fine motor skills as well as involve children in learning activities.

Ways to Pick Things Up

Place several tubs filled with different types of small toys or objects on a table, along with several types of things that kids can pick things up with, including tongs, big plastic tweezers, small fish nets and spoons of different sizes. Have one or two children at a time work in this center. The kids can pick up items in different ways, learning how the different tools work. If desired, provide paper cups for the kids to place the items in as they play in the center.

Nuts and Bolts Play

Place a tool box with wrenches, screwdrivers, measuring tapes and plastic hammers on a table. Provide nuts and bolts of various sizes, plus threaded rods and metal pieces with holes. Preschoolers can use these real-life items to build or simply practice using the tools.

Sort-and-Count Game

Mix some same-sized toys that are different in nature. Cars, dinosaurs, blocks, kitchen items and other distinctively different toys should be put into a box or other container. Have children work alone or with a partner to sort sort the toys into the correct groups. Ask the children to count how many of each type of toy they have.

Lacing Activities

Have preschoolers use a pencil to poke holes all around the edge of a plastic cup, then lace some string or plastic lacing through the holes. Or push lacing through both sides of several cups to make a garland. Kids may color the cups before or after lacing, then hang their project in the classroom. Purchased lacing activities include lacing picture cards, large beads to string and shoe toys to lace up.

Peg Boards

Peg boards have holes in evenly spaced rows and include pegs for children to poke into the holes in any pattern they wish. A homemade peg board can be made with a piece of packing foam. Use a pen or pencil to poke holes all over the piece of foam. Provide plastic straws cut in half or an assortment of sizes of used pencils for the kids to poke into the holes and create a pattern.

Combined Building Blocks

While teachers strive to keep different types of blocks separated, kids often try to mix the blocks to build something they have imagined. Allow preschoolers to mix different types of building blocks to create whatever they wish. Leave the mess for a few days so all the kids have an opportunity to use the blocks. Then have the kids help sort the items back into the proper containers.