Squirreling pennies is one of the fine motor activities that I enjoy leading. Instead of roaming the classroom, I'll camp out at this table and lead them through some hand exercises. I learned about this fine motor activity from a teacher in our district several years ago. I'm still not sure why it's called "squirreling". Maybe its because the kids look like squirrels trying to pick things up with their tiny little hands, or maybe because those little pennies are so darn "squirrely".
I love squirreling pennies with the kids because it gives me a chance work with them in small groups on fine motor skills. It's also a great time to informally assess the students in other areas like math (counting, one-to-one correspondence) and literacy (communicating, using vocabulary). First I have the kids pick ten pennies. I think its just the right amount for their little hands. When working with pennies, or any small objects that tend to be noisy on the table-tops, I use felt squares that we call "quiet mats". I have one for each student. They're pretty inexpensive at a local craft store. From there I lead them through a set of random exercises that challenge their brains and fingers. I have them work with one hand at a time. The temptation to use both hands is strong - so I tell them to put one hand behind their back. I mix-up (and sometimes make up) the activities as we go along, but some of the standard exercises are: lining up pennies, flipping them over as fast you can, making a pattern (heads/tails), picking up the pennies with thumb & finger and gathering them in the palm of the hand, dropping the penny between the thumb & finger and placing them back down, and stacking pennies. Keep in mind, all of these exercises are done with one hand - usually the dominant hand, but we practice with the opposite hand as well. I add a little light competition by timing the kids. My absolute favorite is to see the look of concentration (and contortion) on their faces as they get-in-the-zone. I love it!
Here's a little video of our activity.