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Hand skills

Your child needs to develop hand skills (or fine motor skills) so they can feed and dress themselves, play and draw.

Some children can struggle to develop these skills because of movement problems, learning difficulties or developmental delays.

If your child is struggling to develop hand skills, you’ll notice that they:

  • Find it hard to use their hands to play or look after themselves
  • Get frustrated when they’re trying to do something with their hands
  • Have a poor or loose grip
  • Use their whole hand to hold something small when they should be able to use just their thumb and index finger

Palmar grasp and release

This is one of the first stages of a child’s development and is a building block for all other fine motor skills. To help them develop, try:

  • Squeezing water from sponges at bath time
  • Posting toys, e.g. shape sorting toys
  • Squeezing play dough
  • Scrunching up paper into balls
  • Stacking blocks on top of one another
  • Throwing objects

Once they’re confident with these activities, you’ll notice that their grasp starts to change and they begin to move their wrist too (cylindrical grip). Continue developing this grip with activities like:

  • Pushing / pulling toys
  • Row, row, row your boat - try holding a broom stick or mop while you do this
  • Tug-of-war
  • Tipping water from a beaker or pouring it from one container into another
  • Holding onto the rope of a swing
  • Holding onto the handles of a tricycle or pedal car

Pincer grip

Your child will also develop a pincer grip. This is a more precise grip and means they use their index finger and thumb to pick up, hold and release an object. To start with, your child will use their thumb and the side of their index finger. It’s important to help them develop this grip as it’s used for holding a pencil or scissors, handwriting, and functions like doing up buttons, zips and shoelaces.

Activities you can try to help them develop and refine the pincer grip include:

  • Using tweezers to pick up objects and dropping them into containers
  • Threading beads
  • Pinching, squeezing, patting, poking and pulling at playdough
  • Pulling toys using a string
  • Using lacing and sewing boards
  • Picking up small objects - rice, beads, marbles, raisins and lentils - between the thumb and index finger and placing them into containers
  • Tearing paper into strips
  • Peeling off small stickers to make into a picture
  • Turning pages in a book
  • Making paper chains
  • Playing with Fuzzy Felt sets
  • Playing games with clothes pegs
  • Making pipe cleaners into shapes, objects or animals
  • Popping bubble wrap

Finger isolation

Your child will also develop the ability to point with one finger at a time. This ability will help them further develop their pincer grip and pencil grip and is important for handwriting, using scissors, doing up buttons, zips and laces and using a knife and fork.

Activities you can try to help promote finger isolation include:

  • Drawing in a sand tray or shaving foam with a finger (please be aware of skin conditions such as eczema that may be irritated by this activity)
  • Flicking a ping-pong ball or cotton wool ball using fingers
  • Playing with finger puppets
  • Finger rhymes, e.g. “Round and round the garden like a teddy bear” or “Incey Wincey Spider”
  • Pressing beads or poking holes into playdough using each finger in turn
  • Dialling the numbers of a toy telephone
  • Water pistols

Hand arches

Hand arches let your child shape their hand so they can get a strong hold on different objects. It also helps with controlling pressure and skilled movements of their fingers. If these arches aren’t developed fully, your child could have difficulty using objects like a knives, forks, pencils and scissors.

Activities you can try to help develop hand arches include:

  • Shaking dice using a cupped hand
  • Cutting playdough using a plastic knife
  • Writing with a tiny chalk on a chalkboard using 3 fingertips including the thumb
  • Using a turkey baster to blow ping-pong balls or cotton wool balls across a table
  • Using playdough to make balls and pressing them into the palm of the hand
  • Using tweezers or tongs to pick up small objects
  • Activities with buttons, coins or small objects
  • Playing card games

If by two years of age, if they can’t pick up small objects between their thumb and index finger and you have tried all of these techniques, please speak to your health visitor or GP.