Just as a child goes through developmental milestones for gross motor skills, a similar progression of developmental skills occurs in the hand. Development of the arches of the hand and wrist extension (supporting skilled finger movement) develops.
Then comes development of the “skill” side of the hand. One side of the hand manipulates (the thumb, index and middle fingers) and the other side provides stability and strength. Children also develop the open index finger-thumb web space- this “O” that’s formed with the thumb and index fingers is important to maintain during fine motor tasks. If children are unable to hold this position, it could be due to poor muscle strength. Engaging in activities that support strengthening the small muscles of the hand are important as they can help independence with everyday self care skills and also help with handwriting/ grasp on a pencil.
The activities listed below are ways you can help your child work on hand strengthening right at home! If your child is receiving OT services, these activities are also great to incorporate during the day to help carry over these important fine motor skills worked on in therapy.
Weightbearing + heavy work. Anything where your child is weight-bearing on his/her arms such as wheelbarrow walking or doing animals walks such as walking on all fours like a “bear.” These types of movements are great for building core/ shoulder stability and strength. One activity you can do is empty puzzle pieces of an age appropriate inset puzzle on one side of the room, with the board on the other side. Have your child do animal walks to retrieve each piece to complete the puzzle.
Mini Sponges! Cut up sponges into small cubes and wet them. Then, have your child “juice” the sponges and squeeze over a bowl or cup. To make it more interesting, you can always add food coloring to the water. Another fun activity to work on bilateral coordination and strengthening of the hand/ forearm muscles is to stick the little sponges into a garlic press and to squeeze the sponges out that way!
Make fresh squeezed orange juice. If you have a manual citrus juicer in the kitchen, you can slice up some oranges and have your child squeeze out the juice. It’s a great workout for the muscles of the hand!
Spray Bottles. Use small spray bottles filled with water to spray plants. Kids also have a lot of fun using a spray bottle to wash shaving cream off the inside of a sink. *Be sure to keep ring and pinky fingers around the neck of the bottle and the index/middle fingers to pull the trigger.
Color with chalk pieces. Break sidewalk chalk into 2 inch pieces and encourage your child to hold using their thumb, index and middle finger. If you have chalk spray, (liquid chalk in a spray bottle) you can use that as well!
Squeeze a stress ball while watching TV. Mindware and Yogibo make wonderful durable stress ball that are excellent for promoting hand strengthening. If you are subscriber of Sensory TheraPLAY Box, use the Koala Yogibo stress ball from the March box!
Don’t throw your broken crayons out! Drawing and coloring with broken pieces of crayons is great for kids to do because it forces them to hold in their fingers and gets away from immature grasping patterns.
Squeeze open clothespins or chip bag clips. Clip all over clothes or on a stuffed animal and then unclip.
*Another activity idea: Write letters around the edge of a paper plate & also write letters on each clothespin using a sharpie. Have your child then clip each corresponding clothespin onto the matching letter on the plate.
*Another fine motor activity can be found here involving pipe-cleaners, clothespins and crinkle paper (Baby Bird Eats the Worm Fine Motor Sensory Bin.)
Squish different play-doh colors together. Take two different colors of play-doh or clay and squish them together until they are completely combined.
Snip putty. Roll up putty into a long log for “snake” and cut with scissors along the length into small pieces. For extra fine motor work, take each little putty piece and squeeze it completely flat using the thumb and index finger together.
Squeeze a bulb syringe or turkey baster to “blow” cotton balls or pom pops across a finish line. If more than one child is involved, you can turn it into a fun “race.” Whoever squeezes the cotton ball across the finish line first, wins!
Eye droppers. These can be used in the bathtub or at the sink in your home. Another fun activity you can do is try to see how many drops of water you can fit onto the surface of a penny.
Kitchen tongs. Pick up stuff around the house using tongs! You can turn this into a fun game and have a scavenger hunt to find items hidden around the house and pick them up using only the kitchen tongs. Think Easter egg hunt….except with other items like small stuffed animals, pairs of socks, or crumpled up balls of newspaper.
Use a hole punch. To increase difficulty, hole punch thicker papers such as index cards, construction paper, or a paper plate which require more hand strength.
Help out in the kitchen! Have your child help with cooking- stirring, kneading, zesting, grating cheese all work those small muscles of the hand.
Play-doh imprints. Press down and smoosh play-doh to make it flat on a table. Use everyday objects laying around the house such as keys, combs, coins, pens, paperclips, legos, etc. to press into the doh to make an imprint of the item.
Play kids’ card games. Holding them with one hand in a “fan,” dealing them out one by one, learning to shuffle. Even though this is pretty hard to do, learning and practicing is a good workout for the hands.
Vertical surfaces.Working at vertical surfaces at or above eye level helps promote shoulder and wrist stability (specifically wrist extension which is needed for a mature pencil grasp).
Play with small flat magnets on the fridge.
Draw with window markers on windows (or on car windows)
Color at an easel or paper taped to the wall.
Hide objects in putty and have your child use their fingers to dig through to pull them out. For an activity that adds more of a sensory element, you can hide objects in a bucket of uncooked rice and having your child dig through to find them. Click here for a colored rice recipe.
Hungry tennis ball guy! Cut a slit in a tennis ball and have your child put small objects such as coins inside with one hand while squeezing the ball open with the other hand. You can make it more fun and silly by drawing a face on the tennis ball and telling your child to “feed him” by putting cheerios, mini marshmallows, or uncooked pasta pieces into the “mouth” (slit in the tennis ball.) The wider the slit, the easier it will be to open the mouth. Start with a wide slit for young children.
Use chop-sticks. Practice eating with connected chop-sticks
Sticker activities! Peel off and stick stickers.
Craft activities that involve a bottle to squeeze such as glitter glue and puffy paint.
Peel a clementine! You can start the peeling process for your child if they need help and let them finish it.
Bubble wrap! Next time you get a packaged delivered, save the bubble wrap and let your child pop it by pinching each bubble using their index finger and thumb. It’s fun and kids LOVE popping bubble wrap!
Play with wind-up toys
Use tongs or tweezers to transport or sort small items such as pom poms according to color.
Play with Legos or pop beads
Fine motor games. Games such as Don’t Spill the Beans, Operation, and Hi Ho CherryO, and Sneaky Snacky Squirrel are all great for developing fine motor and grasping skills.
-Author: Christina Kozlowski, Occupational Therapist, OTR/L & Owner of Sensory TheraPLAY Box (the sensory toy subscription box)
Other articles you may find helpful: Work on Fine Motor Skills with the Help of Food!