Fine motor skills are vital for many functional activities like zippering our coats, writing our name, and opening lunch containers. In this post we will take a dive into fine motor skill development and explore toys and activities that are appropriate for every skill level.
Fine motor skill development begins with the simplest hand movements; reaching, swiping, and gross grasp. As development progresses things like visually guided reach, purposeful release, and a better ability to hold medium and small sized objects develops. Poking, pointing, and the ability to use the thumb and first fingers to hold small objects are major milestones during this period. For children at this developmental stage activities that support the growth of the proximal muscles (core and shoulders) are important because it is these muscles that will support later fine motor skills. Activities that are done while on the tummy and activities that involve pushing and pulling are great choices at this stage.
The next stage of fine motor development is marked by the ability to begin to use simple tools like crayons, scissors, and spoons. Activities like the Smartmax games and Lock Boxes are still great choices but now simple arts and crafts, lacing, and building activities can also be enjoyed. These increasingly more complex activities will lend to the development of the hand skills that are needed for greater independence with self care activities like feeding and dressing.
The next stage of development is marked by the ability to complete tasks that require the separation of the two sides of the hand; the ‘power side’ and the ‘skilled side’. The power side of the hand is what we use when we engage in activities that require strength like opening a jar; actions like squeezing a toy or playing in putty or playdough are great ways to develop these muscles. The skilled side of the hand is what we use when we engage in activities that require refined movements like writing, tying, or fastening a button. To develop these muscles we must engage in activities that predominantly require the use of the thumb and first two or three fingers; actions like winding the small knob on a wind up toy, using the first fingers to grab, grasp or manipulate objects, and using one finger to push a button or lever are all great ways to develop these muscle. The development of the separation of the two sides of the hands is important for academic and self care tasks.
Hallmarks of this stage of fine motor skill development include the skilled coordination between the two sides of the body and a mature pencil grasp. Games like Froggy Feeding Fun and activities with Wikki Stix or Playdough are still great but now activities that require refined skill can also be introduced.
Choosing activities that are developmentally appropriate will ensure not only engagement but will also promote continued fine motor skill development.
Rapper Snappers are a multi functional therapy tool perfect for creating fun, budget friendly therapy activities! In this post, Physical Therapist and creator of the ABCs of Movement, Laurie Gombash, PT, M.Ed, shared five different ways to use Rapper Snappers (also known as Pop Tubes) as a therapeutic tool. Be sure to check out her video below!
Place hands on either end of the Rapper Snapper and pull! Work with the arms overhead to target shoulder strength or work with arms away from the body to target core strength. Target different muscles of the upper body by pulling in different directions. Try holding the rapper snapper in one hand, at hip level, and using the other hand to pull up and across the body. Alternatively, hold the rapper snapper at shoulder level and uses the other hand to pull down and across the body.
Pro Tip, using the fingers to scrunch the Rapper Snapper back to size is great for finger strengthening!
Rapper Snappers are a fun way to learn about self regulation. Help kids visualize concepts like fast breathing or rapid heart beat by opening and closing the Rapper Snapper rapidly. Alternatively, demonstrate slow or rhythmic breathing by slowly pulling apart or closing the rapper snapper.
Pro Tip, the sound made by the Rapper Snappers as it is opening and closing provides great auditory feedback!
Fine Motor & Motor Planning
Looking for a fun and engaging activity? Use Rapper Snappers to make a marble run! Bend and twist the Rapper Snapper to make a maze, drop the marble in, and let it run through. Using two or three fingers to grasp the marble and inserting it into the Rapper Snapper’s narrow opening is a great way to get the small muscles in the hand working. Planning a successful maze for the marble to run through takes planning abilities!
Shape the Rapper Snapper like a smile and try to imitate it with your lips, now flip it upside down to make a frown! Purse your lips, give a big blow, stick out your tongue! There are so many ways to use a Rapper Snapper to help build and strengthen oral musculature!
Use the Rapper Snappers to build shapes, letters, and numbers. Connect multiple Rapper Snappers for bigger numbers or shapes. Work as a team to build a giant letter on the floor!
Rapper Snappers are a small, easy to transport, budget friendly tool that can be used across multiple settings and to target a variety of treatment goals making them the perfect tool when creating therapy activities on a budget!
Allyson Locke M.S., OTR/L & Sarah Glovasky M.S., OTR/L
Summer is fast approaching but that doesn’t mean kids need to lose the skills they developed over the last academic year! Last year, we posted a blog filled with summer activity ideas geared toward preventing the “summer slide”. As therapists, we know summer activities provide numerous opportunities to develop and build skills that will be needed for the upcoming school year in fun and non threatening ways. So we are bringing back the topic with this new post. New this year are more activity ideas and contributions from Sarah Glovasky M.S., OTR/L! As always appropriate supervision is recommended!
Messy play is a great way to develop the sensory skills needed for important school tasks like handwriting and social interactions. Summer is the best time for these messy activities because they can be done outside leaving the mess outdoors. An added bonus is that it is usually warm enough for a quick wash with the hose before going back inside. A few ideas to try:
Hide objects (like rocks, sticks, or mini animals) in a pile of mud, shaving cream, or leaves. How fast can you find them? How many can you find in 10 seconds? Not only is this a great sensory activity it helps strengthen the visual perceptual skills needed for academic tasks like reading!
Stomp in rain puddles, roll down a grassy hill, or skip through a soft patch of dirt. These big body movements help develop the vestibular and proprioceptive systems which are so important for self regulation!
When it is too hot or too rainy to go outside there are still plenty of opportunities for sensory exploration that are a bit less messy!
Make a sensory collage with items found in the recycling bin or use the Sensory Collage Kit! How many different textures can you incorporate? What textures do you like to feel? As a bonus, ripping, crumpling and rolling paper, tissue, and cardboard are all great ways to strengthen the muscle of the hand. For more ways to use recycled materials check out Second Hand Therapies.
Art projects afford great opportunities to develop the small muscles in the hand. This muscle development is critical for academic tasks like writing with a pencil and cutting with scissors. Get creative with your art projects, try:
3D Art. Three dimensional art helps kids build form and space concepts. Building a fairy castle outside is a great way to learn about size concepts. Inside, building with blocks, clay or even pillow cushions is a great way to explore how these concepts work. To add a sensory component try using scented dough!
Tie-Dye Prints: This is a great outdoor activity! First color an old bed sheet or large piece of paper with washable markers. Next use a spray bottle, filled with water, to squirt the drawing. Watch the colors mix and swirl together! Using a spray bottle not only helps build the muscles in the hands it is also great for bilateral coordination! For a smaller scale version, use an eyedropper to wet the paper!
Draw pictures in the dirt or other mediums like pudding (great for kids who like to explore with their mouth!) Use a stick, rocks, or fingers to draw with! We still love the Ed Emberly drawing books when you need drawing inspiration, stencils are another helpful tool! Drawing is so important for early writers and is great for visual perceptual development!
Making Bubble Art! Make bubble paint by putting a small amount of bubbles and a dab or two of food coloring in a bowl (use different bowls for different colors). Use a bubble wand and dip it into your favorite color. Blow the colored bubbles right at plain paper and watch the designs come alive!
Play Catch! Chasing after, stomping on, and catching bubbles are great ways to get some extra energy out. It is also a great way to develop eye-hand coordination and the visual skills needed to complete academic tasks like copying from the board. To make bubbles easier to catch try using Touchbubbles!
Make A Mountain of Bubbles! For a fun indoor activity, fill a small dish bin or other similar size, shallow bucket with lots of dish soap and a few inches of water. Use a straw to slowly blow into the water to make a mountain of bubbles. To really work the muscles in the mouth try a long straw or one with lots of twists like the Krazy Drinking Straws or Connector Straws.
With these fun activity ideas the learning doesn’t have to stop when school is out. Keep skills sharp and be ready for the upcoming school year!