I thought about naming this post “big work for little hands” but decided to go with the title you see above. That being said, my discarded title brings up an important point. I believe strongly that typically developing children accomplish tasks when they are ready. Developmentally, not all little hands are ready for big work. The activities and materials below will help prepare your child’s hands and fingers for writing and other fine motor skills by strengthening muscles, developing dexterity, and exposing children to fine motor experiences.
1. Play dough and Theraputty- Whether you buy play dough or make your own, squeezing, rolling, pinching and cutting are great activities for hand strength. To add another challenge, Theraputty is like play dough with extra resistance. The product comes in multiple colors where each color is a different level of resistance. For children with special needs, Theraputty’s texture is more like silly putty than play dough which can be helpful, in addition to the numerous hand strengthening activities to which it lends itself. Let your child pull, squeeze, and roll to their hearts desire. Hiding small items in both play dough and Theraputty is fun and another fine motor skill builder.
2. Broken, Triangle, or Finger crayons- Broken crayons naturally put children’s hands into the tripod grip they will eventually use for writing and more advanced drawing. (Note: Some children will use modified grips, which are appropriate as well.) Triangle crayons also lend themselves to proper finger placement, while finger crayons strengthen the whole hand when place in the palm. Repeated use of crayons will help children feel more proficient in creating marks, letters, etc. and will naturally strengthen fine motor muscles.
3. Hole and Paper Punches-Both products are great for working on hand and finger strength, dexterity and using a helper hand to manipulate paper while the other hand presses the punch. I find it helpful to cut a regular 8 1/2 x 11 inch paper into four pieces. You can give children glue and extra paper and have them make collages. For younger children, tape contact paper sticky side up to a table and let them place the pieces on top. Plus, children love having these items for craft and other projects.
4. Zoo Sticks and Chopsticks-You can buy official Zoo Sticks or go to your closest Asian restaurant and ask them to set up chopsticks for a child (they’ll do this with the paper wrapper and a rubber band). Chopsticks can be used for eating, sorting materials (cotton balls, small animal figures, beans, etc), searching for hidden items in sand and much more. Both Zoo Sticks and chopsticks can improve hand and finger strength, hand-eye coordination, and add intrigue to a meal for even the pickiest eater.
5. Windup toys and Mini Squeeze Rocket- Two great games for working on finger and hand strength. Wind-up toys are a delight to young children. They take some getting used to and children may ask for help initially, but with some practice they’ll be able to get them going and will really “fine-tune” their fingers. The Mini Squeeze Rocket is another game that will have children squealing with delight. What they may not realize is that the squeeze motion is strengthening their arms and hands while they play.
The challenge of this list was that it could go on and on! There are so many ways to support your young child’s fine motor development. Stay tuned for 5 more!