Tag Archives: OT

Activities That Build Fine Motor Skills

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.  

Level 1

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.

Level 2

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.

Level 3

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.

Level 4

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 AKA POP TUBES in purple, red, green, and blue

Therapy Activities On A Budget: Rapper Snappers

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!

Demonstration of rapper snapper activity:  pulling a pink rapper snapper open

Arm Strengthening

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!

Self Regulation

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!

Demonstration of rapper snapper activity:  squeezing a pink rapper snapper closed

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!

Pro Tip: This activity can be done holding the Rapper Snapper and moving the marble through or you can use Velcro or other adhesives to adhere Rapper Snappers to a wall or other vertical surface. 

Demonstration of rapper snapper activity:  blowing into a pink rapper snapper

Oral Motor

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! 

Academic Skills

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!

Watch the Video!
My Motor Mats movement path, boy completing a crab walk on a black motor mat

Making Time for Movement Breaks

There is no doubt that movement is an essential part of the learning process but finding the time for movement breaks in an already packed school day can be hard.  However, with the ever growing body of research linking movement to academic performance (Petrigna et al, 2022)  finding the time for movement breaks becomes essential. So, how do you move? Here are some quick ways to add a little extra movement to the day: 

Add Extra Movement Opportunities Into Transitions

Movement paths (sometimes called sensory paths or motor paths) offer great opportunities to build in movement breaks during naturally occurring transitions, like changing classes.  The simple addition of movements like hopping, balancing on one foot, or turning in a circle offers an enriched movement opportunity that activates different sensory channels helping the brain get ready and be more receptive to upcoming learning activities.  

Add Movement To Academic Lessons

Reach those kinesthetic learners by incorporating movement into academic lessons. Readily available activities, like the ABC’s of Movement cards or the Drive Thru-Menus makes this easy to do!  Teaching literacy skills? Use visuals from the ABC’s of Movement to add an ‘Alligator March’ to letter A concepts or the ‘Penguin Waddle’ to letter P concepts.  Practicing spelling words? Try spelling each word while performing Angels in the Snow from the Drive-Thru Menus Body Challenge Exercises.

Don’t Just Take A Break, Take A Movement Break

During the school day there are naturally occurring breaks, such as transitions or when students finish up at different times. Fill these moments with meaningful movement opportunities. Use cards from the Move Your Body Fun Deck to add motor movements to transitions. The fun deck offers easy to grab, quick visuals with a variety of different movement activities; pick three for the day, display them on the board, and do each one a few times between activities for a quick brain reset! Use the Minute Moves or Focus Moves Bundles to establish Movement Routines. The Bundles are designed to provide easy-to-do, evidence-based routines to enhance academic skills. Another option is the Year of Mini-Moves for the In-Sync Child, which offers a weekly schedule of different movements that can be easily incorporated into the day.  

Create Accessible Movement Spaces

Getting outside often offers a plethora of opportunities for movement breaks but for the student who has gross motor challenges the opportunities can be limited.  Having a variety of activities available will help ensure students of all abilities are able to access movement opportunities.  For students who have difficulty with standard catch and throw ball games, offering alternatives like Magicatch, Beanbags, or Pezzi Activa Balls offers inclusive approaches.  For students who have difficulty accessing standard playground equipment, the availability of  parachutes, bubbles, or movement based games like Trunks can provide alternative movement activities at recess. 

Movement is a critical component of the learning process that can get overlooked during a busy, academic filled, school day.  Building movement breaks into already existing routines and schedules can help students move and succeed! 

Petrigna L, Thomas E, Brusa J, Rizzo F, Scardina A, Galassi C, Lo Verde D, Caramazza G and Bellafiore M (2022) Does Learning Through Movement Improve Academic Performance in Primary Schoolchildren? A Systematic Review. Front. Pediatr. 10:841582. doi: 10.3389/fped.2022.841582.