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Hand Strengthening Activities for Children

There are many muscles that are responsible for the movements in the hand.  To be exact, there are a total of 34 muscles that move the palm, fingers, and thumb.  Our fingers actually do not have any muscles inside; their movement comes from the tendons of all the muscles in the palm and forearm.   Nine individual muscles control the thumb alone!   Many children naturally develop adequate strength in all of these muscles to learn the fine motor skills needed to manipulate toys, dress themselves, and use a pencil and scissors. There are some children however, that do not acquire this strength as easily and need extra attention to gain that necessary strength.

Here are some activities designed to help children with weak hand muscles and poor fine motor skills.

PLAY-DOH & THERAPUTTY

Play-doh is a great tool. Have your child knead it, roll into logs or small balls with their finger tips, squash it with open palms and use their fingers to mold it into a larger ball.  Use cookie cutters too!

You can even make your own:

1/4 cup salt

1 cup flour

1/4 cup water

Have your child mix the flour and salt in a bowl then add water. Knead and squeeze the dough to make a clay consistency. You may need to add more water.

 

Theraputty is more resistive than Play-doh; it comes in a variety of resistances ranging from soft to extra firm.  Hide small items (buttons, coins, beads, etc) inside and have the child pull it apart with their hands and fingers to locate the items. Roll the theraputty into a log and have your child snip it with scissors.  This activity can be graded by changing the thickness of the log or using varied levels of resistive putty; adapt according to your child’s abilities.

PINCHING ACTIVITIES

Tongs, tweezers, chopsticks, and clothespin activities use muscles for pinch strength in the hands and subsequently for the muscles used in holding writing tools properly. Always make sure a neutral wrist position and proper pinch grasp are used to maximize strengthening of hand and finger muscles. There are a variety of toys with tongs that can be purchased such as Wok and Roll and the Hungry Dog Motor Skills Game. There are also creative ways to come up with home-made activities such as the two described below.

 

Label clothespins A to Z and work on spelling words.  Clip them onto fabric or a “clothes line” hung slightly above shoulder height of child to incorporate wrist and shoulder muscles in this activity.

 

 

 

Use metal tongs or strawberry pickers to transfer marbles placed on the suction cups of upside down bathtub treads into a narrow mouthed bottle or container.

 

 

WEIGHT-BEARING ACTIVITIES     

When children crawl as infants the arches within the palm of the hand develop and strengthen.   These are the muscles that allow us to cup a dice and shake it within our hand.  Great activities to try with your child to develop and strengthen these arches are crawling on all fours through a tunnel or over uneven surfaces like couch cushions, propelling themselves in a prone position (laying on stomach) on a scooter board, and wheelbarrow walking.

SQUEEZING ACTIVITIES

Squeezing activities may include use of a stress balls, large chip bag clips, crumbling large pieces of paper to make snowballs and have a friendly snowball fight!  Incorporate spray bottles and water squirt bottles to create chores for your child to clean the table after a meal and water plants.  There are a few hand grasp toys (see image below) that children love that can be used to pick up trash or toys during clean up time! 

 

Remember, stronger hands will lead to more independence in self-help tasks like opening food wrappers and manipulating clothing fasteners.  Strong hands and fingers will allow your child to play with a variety of toys and fun games that require the use of good fine motor skills. Lastly, good strength in hands and fingers will give your child the foundation to correctly hold a pencil and manipulate scissors with precision.

- Sari Ockner, OTR/L

 
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  • Calendar icon December 2, 2011
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12 Comments

  • Kerry

    What great ideas for at home therapy.
    Thanks very much.

  • Lori A. Koperek

    I work with special needs children and this article is of great help in more ways than imaginable.Thanks for the article.

  • Christine

    Awesome ideas! CAn’t wait to try some out. Thank you for sharing.

  • tanya

    Hi I just stumbled across your blog today and am so excited! I have a son diagnosed with at risk of autism, he is 4 1/2 and is doing great thanks to great therapist and a lot of hard work! I have a daughter that is almost 3 and has a speech delay and sensory issues. Between the two of them I am always looking for things I can do to help them and still have a lot of fun. My son still hasn’t shown a preferance for his left or right hand. He will write and eat with both hands and is very inconsistant. Should I be pushing one hand over the other and focus on really stengthening that hand? We have a COTA working with him and just last week we decided to do the right hand, but I am noticing that he likes to write with is left and everything else with his right. any thoughts or suggestions?

    • Sari Ockner, OTR/L

      This is a great question. There is research out there that says in typical children hand dominance can take up to the age of 8 to develop! From my experience, generally children choose a preferred hand by ages 3 to 4 but they still may switch. By age 5 or 6, when children are entering Kindergarten and they start writing a lot, we usually see more of a clear hand dominance. Something else to consider, when a child has global developmental delays a hand dominance may take longer to establish.

      First, try to see what his hand PREFERENCE is and start from there. When you place a crayon or a piece of food right in the middle of the table (his mid-line) out of 10 trials does he use his left or right hand more? Try having him crawl in a straight line and push a car forward, he will tend to put the weight on his non-dominant side and push the car with his preferred side. Lastly, I would work on hand strengthening with BOTH hands, crossing mid-line activities, and bilateral hand skill activities. Let me know if these suggestions help!

  • Katie

    Sari, Thanks so much for stopping by my blog! These are some great activities, thank you so much for sharing. It is…interesting for me to be the {speech} therapist on the “other side” with my daughter. So happy to have found you! I’ll go “like” you on Facebook!

  • Suzann Armitage

    Thanks for a great resource! I teach young children with special needs, and will be sharing this with parents who ask what they can do at home to help their children. Lots of my kids get little or no therapy outside of school, so this can be a big help!

  • Christie

    I am a new grad working in pediatric OT and am finding your site to be very helpful! Thanks!

  • H.Johnston

    This is very interesting and well written, I have set a Google alert to receive more of your wonderful post. Also, I have shared your website in my social networks. Thanks!

    • Sari Ockner, OTR/L

      Hi and thanks for your feedback. You can follow me on Facebook (Kidz Occupational Therapy) or Twitter (sari_KidzOT), as I always post new articles on each. – Sari

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