The Frugal OT Series: Puffers for Pennies

Dollar Tree Find of the Month: Puffers for Pennies

Pufferfish made out of pool noodles, how fun!  Run to your local Dollar Tree and grab a few pool noodles, one goes a long way.  You can make 20 or so pufferfish from just one pool noodle.  Pop over to the craft section and toss some wiggle eyes into your basket, grab a box of toothpicks and you are all set! Children will enjoy making a cute little pufferfish of their own. Of course, while working on many fine motor skills.

Puffers for Pennies Supply List
Dollar Tree Supplies Needed
  • Pool noodle (one pool noodle makes about 20 fish)
  • Toothpicks (10-15 for each pufferfish)
  • Wiggle eyes (2 for each pufferfish)
  • Pipe cleaners (one for each pufferfish: cut into three pieces, one half, 2 quarters)
Staples Needed:
  • scissors
  • glue

How to Make:  

Puffers for Pennies

Cut the pool noodle into 2” pieces.  Glue the eyes onto the pool noodle first and let dry.  Bend the pipe cleaner (quarters) to make round fins.  Insert one on each side.  Bend the third pipe cleaner (halve) to form a triangle, insert it into the back of the pool noodle.  Break the toothpicks in half and stick them into the top of the pool noodle.  

Use judgment, the pufferfish are prickly and can poke little hands.

Skills Addressed:

This fun activity addresses the following skill areas:

  • pincer grasp and 3 jaw chuck (tripod grasp)
  • hand separation 
  • bilateral coordination 
  • finger strengthening
  • pressure grading (figuring out how much force to apply)
  • eye-hand coordination 
  • spatial relations

Grade Down (Make it Easier)

Break the toothpicks for the child 

Make holes in the pool noodle and have the child insert the toothpicks in the hole

Pre-make the pipe cleaner shapes 

Grade Up (Make it Harder):

Build in-hand manipulation skills:

Translation is the ability to move objects from the palm of one’s hand to the fingertips and from the fingertips to the palm. By ages 6 to 7, children are typically able to manipulate and secure multiple small objects within their hands. Practice this skill with the toothpicks. Using one hand, have the child pick up one toothpick at a time and move it from fingertips to palm. Try collecting 5 and then move up to 10.  

In-hand Manipulation Skills: Translation

Do you know of a fun pool noodle craft? Please share in the comments section below. I’d love to hear about it!


The Fun Strokes blog is designed for educational and informational use only for teachers, therapists, and parents. It is not intended as medical advice or therapeutic treatment that would be provided in an individualized treatment plan. If you suspect a child has delays, please consult an occupational therapist.

Published by Linda Craig Dennis

Pediatric Occupational Therapist, Author and Creator of Fun Strokes Pre-writing Program

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