What’s in your future? ‘Fortune Tellers’ paper game helps children develop fine motor and language skills


Manufacturing “fortune tellers” – a folded paper game that children hold on their fingers and thumbs and practice counting and “fortune telling” with – has been a treasured craft and play activity for generations across cultures.

One of the earliest known paper foldings instruction manuals are Japanese, dated 1797; German educators also encouraged paper folding in 19th century kindergarten programs. In English, “fortune tellers” are sometimes called salt cellars, talkative Where cootie catcher; in my own family heritage language, Dutch, they are happy (meaning “to bite”).

This unique activity incorporates and provides a context for children to learn and apply key concepts and skills important areas of early development. These include physical health and well-being, including fine motor manipulative skills; language and cognitive development, which includes word knowledge; and social competence.

The activity promotes connected, accelerated and grounded understanding through guided and engaged play.

Experiential learning in a game

It is important to emphasize that different areas of early child development are linked and interdependent.

Orchestrating activities that exploit the interplay between domains supports young children in their quest to unite disparate or discrete “fragments” of conceptual understanding and skills. In this way, children practice bringing different tasks and embodied knowledge into a coherent conceptual system.

In children, experiential learning that engaged neurocircuit connecting brain and hands and is mediated by adult speech is the key to language learning to make sense in the brain.

Talking with children while helping them with hands-on activities is important for language and literacy development.
(Hetty Roessingh), Author provided (no reuse)

The psychologist Jean Piaget describes the beginnings developmental needs of children as concrete learners, i.e. direct contact with objects and materials in real time. The importance of “more competent otherand the role of language interactions in supporting lifelong learning has been highlighted by psychologist Lev Vygotsky.

Different learning objectives

Let’s isolate a few important learning objectives supported by a fortune teller task.

Fine motor skills, manipulation and fine motor skills are developed through working with scissors to cut out a square. Work on a good grip through the manipulation of crayons and pencils occurs when children print messages and numbers.

Colored pencils seen lying on folded paper with patterns.
Handling crayons or crayons helps children practice their pincer grip.
(Hetty Roessingh), Author provided (no reuse)

Support for folding, creasing, cutting, coloring, drawing and writing/printing by adults talking with children helps children learn procedural language and specialized vocabulary related to numeracy and visual spatial concepts such as diagonal, triangle, half.

and concepts are essential to children’s ability to recognize letters that underpin literacy learning. When kids play with their fortune teller, they practice counting out loud based on finger movement.

As a birthday greeting

The social and emotional realm can be developed when children write thoughtful wishes for birthdays. Young children can start by drawing balloons, cakes and candles to go under the flaps of a fortune teller card. Such activities promote the emotional well-being of both the receiver and the sender.

Read more:
Handwritten valentines create a legacy of love and literacy

Kids could also write many other posts related to affirmations, random acts of kindness, mindfulness, and ideas for behavior and stress management.

Cognitive development can be nurtured through playful practice of multiplication tables, jokes and puzzles that encourage problem solving, storytelling and tell a sequence of events.

Children reveal important information about their readiness and developmental progress, and their learning needs are visible in completing small projects such as making fortune tellers. A weak pinch grip, for example, may signal the need for more targeted finger exercises with clothespins, games with chopsticks or pick-up sticks.

Fortune Teller

Making fortune tellers involves around 11 tricks – a multi-step task that will involve step-by-step guidance for young learners.

Video “How to make a fortune teller”.

You can use one of many diagrams available online. Or, on YouTube, a video from “Maflingus” (or Miami Flip, as it bills itself) on how to make a fortune teller explains the folding technique in simple language. I was brought in to give this youngster the opportunity to explain the process as I worked with two children to complete the task. He did not disappoint!

Children benefit from adults who contribute to them in many ways. As an adult directing the task, you can talk and provide hands-on support when making the diagonal folds.

Children seen holding fortune tellers.
After cutting paper into squares, folding and drawing messages, your fortune teller is ready to use.
(Hetty Roessingh), Author provided (no reuse)

Break tasks down into manageable chunks or steps. This may involve first creating a model of the final product. Offer specific feedback and encouragement at each stage and backtrack as needed.

Completing this unique project was motivating, fun and helpful for the kids who decided to make it a birthday wish for their dad later that day.

Not just for little kids

Older students can benefit from using the fortune teller as a study strategy. Under the panes, students can generate handwritten notes and summaries. Reviewing key concepts and vocabulary or definitions and formulas all promote deep processing and learning.

Handwriting creates cognition and memory embodied in the neurocircuitry that we know functions as a key study technique. It produces the added benefit of having a handy and permanent tool external memory support and a storage space that can be revisited for a quick review.

All boxes

Though there is endless free and commercially available resources to make fortune tellers, suitable for different themes including prints or coloring pages available online. I prefer a heartfelt hand-printed message, a joke, and a bit of artwork, and as this article explains, the many benefits of starting from scratch.

Few learning tasks are able to integrate and target many areas of development at once…fortune tellers tick all the boxes.


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