Fine Motor Focus: Teaching Kids to Curl Paper

Fine motor skills are such an important part of what is learned and refined in the art room, at any age. In fact, sometimes the art room is one of the only places a student truly gets to practice some of the most basic fine motor skills. Of course, we all know with the boom of technology and devices , students today are spending less time creating things at home. It’s our job as the art teacher to fill this gap in 45 minutes a week, or for 7 weeks out of the year, right? He. Good luck!

I am always amazed to see how varied students can be in their fine motor skills, but there are a few skills that seem to stump almost the entire class. One of those is curling paper. Curling paper can be the perfect touch to add a 3D element to an art project, but can be so frustrating to teach.

I’ve used paper curling during a mask making project as the hair.

I’ve also used curled paper for making the fringed “grass” in an insect project. (The insect gets pasted in the middle).


Here are some tips for teaching students to curl paper:

Demonstrate slowly, and demonstrate several times. We assume because we can do something quickly, students will instantly get it. As with any new skill, repeat and make sure everyone can see really well.

Next, show them several methods and let them practice one that works best for them.

  • I show them how to curl by rolling the paper around a pencil, starting at the end, and working their way to the fold or edge of the paper.
  • I show them how to manually roll the paper using their own fingers. This gives kind of a bent look, but works just fine.
  • I even show the closed scissors and pull with your thumb trick that most of us use to curl wrapping paper (This is best suited for students in the 3rd grade and up when it’s more developmentally appropriate).

By giving them choices and allowing them to practice with scrap paper first, students won’t get frustrated thinking their work must be perfect the first time.

One other reason I think it’s important to teach this fine motor skill, is that students might actually use this in their everyday life. Just like teaching kids to tie knots in weaving, I figure if I can help someone wrap gifts for the rest of their life, then I’ve at least done SOMETHING! Fine motor skills don’t get all of the glory in art curriculum or grade books, but I can argue they are some of the most important skills you teach as an art educator, and it’s important to go the extra mile in honing in on those skills through a variety of projects and techniques.

What fine motor skills do you find students struggling with the most? 

Have you taught paper curling before? Any other tips to add to the list?



Jessica Balsley

Jessica Balsley is the Founder and President at AOE. She is passionate about helping art teachers enhance their lives and careers through relevant professional development.


  • Kim

    I often find that my students have trouble with any type of folding in our art projects.  It requires a lot of extra patience for them.  I think it is an important skill that we need to practice often.

    • I totally agree, Kim. Folding is so tough for my students too. It makes teaching origami quite a challenge, but totally worth it. It’s definitely something they need to practice! 

      • Lindee Zimmer

        Origami is so great, yet oh so frusturating for kids. I am amazed at the ones who get it though.

  • EHarrison

    It is sad to see how children come to kindergarten with less skills every year!  You would think they would have so much more.  Cutting, gluing, folding tearing, tracing, all are being taught in the art room as they do little of it in their class room. We are still working on all of those skills at this point. 3 years ago, we would have been through our shape pictures, and on to patterns, we haven’t even started! oiy

    • Exactly! Tearing is a another biggie, along with cutting. I make a mini-lesson for those skills before we even start the project! 

    • Patti Elwood

      I agree! I am also finding that there is a bigger gap between students in kindergarten. It is very evident who has had opportunities to use utensils, such as scissors, crayons, etc. and who has not.

    • Miss Michelle

      I am in the same boat. I have no idea what to do with these kindergarteners! Why have we not mastered and moved on from shapes yet?!?! I tried scissors the other day… scary

  • I have worked with kids on paper weaving! It is so difficult! I think it is getting worse with children doing less crafts in the home.

  • Leah

    agree- I always overestimate my PreK’s ability to cut. I’m still looking for a good way to teach them. Anyone have good videos? mini-lessons? that help build scissor skills with mini’s?