13 Simple Hand Strengthening Activities To Improve Fine Motor Skills For Kids
Fine motor. I hated doing fine motor stuff as a kid. I wasn’t very good at it and my hands always hurt.
My handwriting was sloppy, I couldn’t tie my shoes forever, and I really hated playing Battleship because I would drop those stupid pieces and couldn’t pick them up. I struggled in school for a lot of reasons but struggling with fine motor was definitely something I remember. Fine motor is pretty important in life and if we struggle with fine motor it can make life pretty difficult.
So I would like to dedicate the next three blogs to just fine motor. Why three? Because fine motor is pretty complicated and when I see adults working with kids to improve fine motor I sometimes see them missing some important steps.
I think of our body as a tree. And our hands are the tiny branches at the end with our fingers being the leaves.
I think of our body as a tree. Our trunk is...well, the trunk. Our limbs the...well, the limbs. And our hands are the tiny branches at the end with our fingers being the leaves. The leaves are pretty important for the tree to survive. They collect the light to feed the tree. I’d call that pretty important. And although we can live without our fingers, not having good use of them can make life tough. So if we think of a tree, we know that those leaves cannot grow to help the tree if those tiny branches are not developed. Those tiny branches cannot grow the tiny leaves if the limbs are not strong. And those strong limbs cannot grow tiny branches if the trunk is not secure. And that trunk cannot support those strong limbs if the core is not stable. See where I’m going with this?
Stability is extremely important if we want dexterity. Proximal stability equals distal mobility. A strong core equals movable limbs and digits. Our bodies have a lot of joints all over the place. Our bodies move and work better if these joints are as stable as we can get them. So let’s look at the joints that help our fine motor and see what we can do about making them more stable. As I said, this will be a three part mini-series on fine motor. We will look at our core, our arm stability, and our hands. And although trees do not grow backwards we will start with the hands and work our way to the tree trunk. Because sometimes it’s fun to go backwards.
To start off we want to build hand strength.
To do that we will first look at the web space in between the index finger (the nose picker) and the thumb (the one that helps the index finger roll the boogers) and the opposite side of the thumb. There is also the chunk on the outside of you pinky side. The side you sometimes use to wipe water off the counter but doesn’t really absorb the water. Because it’s a hand. Not a sponge. That is the hand meat. If we were to eat hands, this would be $16.95/lb and be considered a delicacy. Beefing up the hand meat allows us to create a stable hand.
Let’s break the hand into two parts. The fine motor fingers and the power fingers. Go ahead and pick something small up. A pencil, a lego (check bottom of feet or stuck in your back), a strawberry, something that sizeish. What fingers did you use? Thumb, pointer, and middle? Yes. Yes you did. Don’t tell me you used other fingers because you didn’t. I know you didn’t. Know why? Because those are your fine motor fingers.
Now open a jar of pickles. Or if you’re not a pickle person, a jam jar, or if you’re in my house, a jar of Marmite (it really is good. Toast with butter, marmite, and white cheddar. So good). Grab an umbrella by the handle or a dumbbell. You used all your fingers didn’t you? Unless for some reason you don’t have all your fingers. If this is the case, I apologize. The whole hand is used because your ring finger and your pinky are your power fingers. That’s right, your pinky is a power finger. Didn’t see that one coming did you? Those power fingers are there to support our fine motor fingers so they can do their kung fu moves. So how do we build up our hand meat? I’m glad you asked.
1. Gripping: We want to build up all the hand meats.
This includes both sides of the thumb and the outside of the pinky. When we grip, think of a “lego” hand as opposed to a “hook” hand. We want the thumb to be separate from the rest of the fingers. Think hanging on the monkey bars with the thumb on the opposite side of the fingers. This is a great activity to do! But it doesn’t have to be holding body weight. Gripping can be done in many ways.
Carrying something heavy like a kettlebell.
Pulling thick ropes.
Climbing a tree.
Gripping anything that is palm size even bunched up fabric or squeezy balls.
Mixing chocolate with a wooden spoon.
2. Pinching: Using the three fine motor fingers to squeeze stuff.
Pinching can be done a bazillion ways but I like to look for ways to add resistance. Think your kiddo pinching dough as opposed to their brother or sister (That’s a different kind of resistance). Our goal is to build up that web space!
Actually pinching dough. Cooking has so much fine motor going on!
Putty with little things inside.
Making clay figures and shapes.
Untying knots. I wouldn’t give them a gordian knot but taking a large rope and tangling it so they can untangle it can be a lot of fun (then I’m working on motor planning too so bam!).
3. Isometric: So take your pinch and hold it.
Think of that egg on the spoon race where you hold an egg on a spoon. That pinch must sustain in order to hold the spoon to hold the egg. Take the grip and the pinch and add them together.
Egg spoon race.
Chalk, pencils, and crayons. These are great because unlike a white board or using a pen these provide resistance. Some kiddos will support their pencil or crayon with other fingers so by making the implement smaller it promotes that pinch. My wife hates it but I snap all the crayons in half. She likes them nicely lined up in the box. So we have a “display” crayon box just for her. Off limits to kids.
Digging with a spoon or something similar size.
Egg beating or mixing.. Again, there is so much that goes on in cooking. Now that they know how to mix chocolate or beat an egg, change that wooden spoon into a fork or use one of those wheel egg beaters with the rotary handle.
These examples are all ways to strengthen the hand before getting into more dexterous activities like in hand manipulation.
If your kiddo is motivated and able to do more complex fine motor activities like threading beads, picking up beans with tweezers, etc then these are all fantastic and excellent ways to build fine motor. Building grip and pinch strength is more foundational. This is to build the foundation of the hand in order to build more complex coordination on top of that. There are so many ways to do this, these are just some ideas to help spark your imagination and to give you the fundamentals in which to build off. Just remember that most of these are kind of gross motorish. Big grippy, resistive activities to make a strong hand. A strong hand is a stable hand in which to grow leaves. Or fingers in this case.
Join us next month when we start moving in towards the branches of the tree and look at ways to build joint stability in the wrist, elbow, and shoulder! I’m excited!
P.S. please don’t tell my wife about the crayon display box. Thank you.
Gear & equipment list for hand strengthening activities
I love gear. I have all sorts of weird stuff in my gym that I keep adding to and my wife keeps telling me to stop coming home from the thrift store with bizarre fitness equipment. This includes a rack of shake weights. Seriously, those things are awesome.
I always say some of the best gear and equipment is found around your house or at the thrift store. That being said there are some things that are pretty cool to have and can make all the difference in function and motivating a kiddo. Things like the following list are some ways to help improve hand and grip strength, the foundation of a hand to improve fine motor.
1. Lakikid Balance Ball Chair. Remember, this ball has those little legs on the bottom for grabbing. This is a cool tool to help motivate kids to use that “C” grab. They can turn it upside down and bounce or even hold the legs to smash stuff.
2. RMT Club. Speaking of smashing! This club is an amazing fitness tool but I use it with my kids A LOT! Most kids love to smash things and what better way to smash things than with a club. This a near indestructible rubber club with buckshot in it. Its intention is to build rotational movement, core strength, and shoulder mobility with the added benefit of creating extremely strong grip!
3. Putty. There is lots of different putty out there but Crazy Aarons has the most variety. It does not have to be Crazy Aarons but this is the most well known. It’s also the most expensive but they do have some pretty cool choices. Sparkle, glow in the dark (recommended for quiet time!), magnetic, etc. Put little things like marbles, figures, even nuts and bolts for kids to find and work those hands.
4. Rope. Probably the most high-tech piece of equipment. Any rope or string will do. Usually the thicker and bigger the more easy and a little more fun.
5. Playdough. Playdough, cookie dough, pizza dough, anything doughy that kids can roll, pinch, squeeze, manipulate that is resistive and squishy is awesome. With Playdough you can make shapes and things that really help fine motor and cookie/pizza dough you can eat. So, lots of motivation there! (I think you can eat the playdough but don’t do that).
6. Crayons. What I like about crayons and chalk is that it really promotes using those three fine motor fingers (Thumb, pointer, middle) ESPECIALLY when you break them in half! There also resistance when using these as opposed to a white board marker, regular marker, or pen. Resistance is good. It builds strength and provides body input.
LakiKid products are tailor-made for children with special needs. All materials are carefully selected to deliver therapeutic benefits and evidence-based aid.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Founder of Sensory Fitness. As an occupational therapy assistant, personal trainer, and special education teacher Matt Sloan has directed his experience into specialized fitness programs for everyone while catering to sensory difficulties, neurodiversity, or any special need. Matt also brings sensory education and strategies to educators, parents, fitness professionals, and anyone working with a sensory difficulties to provide sensory strategies, create sensory friendly environments, and promote the importance of movement in learning and everyday activities.