Fine Motor Development: 15 Hand Strengthening Exercises For Kids

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If you’re looking for hand strengthening exercises for kids, you’ve come to the right place! Designed to strengthen the fingers and help with muscle coordination, these simple yet fun ideas can be used in occupational therapy, in the classroom, and at home to help kids who struggle with writing and other fine motor tasks.

Why is Hand Strength Important?

When teachers and therapists talk about a child’s hand strength and fine motor skills, they are usually referring to their ability to control and coordinate the small movements in their hands and fingers. When a child has poor hand strength, they will not only have difficulty in a school environment, but they will also struggle with basic life skills. Hand strength is essential for kids to learn how to hold a pencil properly and learn how to write, but few people realized the important role it plays in other fine motor skills, like brushing our teeth, feeding ourselves, getting dressed, fastening buttons, and zipping zippers. Many gross motor activities, like climbing on playground equipment and throwing a ball, require adequate hand strength as well.

How To Tell If Your Child Has Weak Hand Muscles

I wanted to provide you with ideas and flags to look out for if you suspect your child may have poor hand strength, but please bear in mind that I am not an Occupational Therapist. This is not an exhaustive list of the signs of poor hand strength in children, nor is it intended to be used to diagnosis fine motor delays in kids.

With that said, here are flags that may indicate a child has weak hand muscles:

  • Uses the whole hand or all 5 fingers to grip a pencil
  • Repeatedly switches hands and/or changes pencil grip while coloring, drawing, or writing
  • Uses very light pressure while writing
  • Struggles to carry out the ‘open/close’ motion needed for scissor cutting
  • Difficulty with dressing self (i.e. pulling pants up and down, buttoning buttons, zipping zippers, pulling socks over feet, etc.)
  • Difficulty with activities that require fine motor skills, like opening doors and containers, turning a faucet on and off, and using eating utensils
  • Avoiding and/or becoming frustrated with activities that require fine motor skills

If you suspect your child is not reaching developmental milestones, please speak to your health care practitioner.

15 Hand Strengthening Exercises for Kids

1) Hand Warm Ups
Before you begin any hand strengthening exercises with your kids, take a few minutes to warm up the muscles in their hands. You can do this in so many ways, like asking your little one to squeeze a stress ball or stretch a few Monkey Noodles, but I love using Emotions Putty the most. It’s similar to basic Thera Putty, but changes color as you twist, pull, and stretch it!

2) Fun with Playdoh
If your little one likes playing with playdoh, these playdoh activities double as the perfect hand strengthening exercises for kids!

3) Scissor Cutting with Playdoh
Before you put the playdoh away, grab some playdoh scissors and let The OT Toolbox show you how you can use the 2 together to teach your child correct scissor cutting techniques – a great fine motor activity.

4) Melissa and Doug Wooden Alphabet Lacing Cards
I love toys that offer opportunities to work on multiple skills at once, and this set by Melissa and Doug does exactly that. While working on your child’s fine motor and hand-eye coordination skills, you can also engage with her and teach her letter recognition and work on her vocabulary skills, making this toy an all around win!

5) Stickers
If you need simple hand strengthening exercises to use when you’re on-the-go, peeling and sticking stickers is a great option, and there are tons of great sticker sets out there to keep your little one occupied and entertained while simultaneously developing his or her fine motor skills. This Melissa and Doug Make a Face bundle is a great one to consider!

6) Pipe Cleaner and Colander Activity
This is another one of my favorite hand strengthening exercises for kids, and you will be amazed at how much fun your kids will have stringing pipe cleaners into your kitchen colander. It will keep them entertained long enough for you to get dinner on the table while simultaneously developing their fine motor skills!

7) Yoovi Learn to Dress Boards
Teach your child how to zip zippers, button buttons, snap snaps, lace and tie shoes, etc. with these simple, small, and portable practice boards.

8) Lacing Activities
There are so many inexpensive ways to setup lacing activities at home to help develop your child’s fine motor skills. Whether you use a bit of string and different types of pasta, or invest in a set like this Learning Resources Beads and Pattern Card Set, you can’t go wrong.

9) Erasing Letters with a Q-Tip
This Q-Tip Activity by Gift of Curiosity is awesome. All you need is a white boarddry erase markers, and some Q-Tips, and you can find all kinds of ways to not only work on your child’s fine motor skills, but also teach concepts like letters, numbers, and shapes.

10) Peekaboo Lock Boxes
This set includes 6 wooden lock boxes, each with its own geometric shaped objects and metal locks, and allows children the opportunity to place objects inside of the boxes and then learn how to unlock the locks to retrieve the items. As you can imagine, this is a great fine motor activity! I personally love that the boxes are small enough to be held and manipulated by a child, but feel the price tag is a bit steep and recommend the Melissa and Doug Locks and Latches Board if you’re looking for a less expensive alternative.

11) Fun with Paper Clips
Yup, you read that right. Paper clips can double as one (of many) hand strengthening exercises for kids! Check out these paper clip ideas on Powerful Mothering.

12) Learning Resources Helping Hands Fine Motor Toolset
This toolset provides lots of fun ways to help young kids strengthen the muscles in their fingers and hands needed to develop proper handwriting skills. Setup different sensory stations so they can practice tweezing, scooping, squeezing, and squirting different objects and liquids!

13) ‘Milking a Cow’
I can’t remember where I first saw this idea, but it’s another one of my favorite hand strengthening exercises for kids and it’s super fun to boot! Grab a latex glove, fill it with a liquid of your choice, tie the top, poke small holes in the finger tips, and then hold it such that the fingers are pointing towards the floor. Now have your child ‘milk’ the fingers into a bowl to help strengthen the muscles in his or her hands!

14) Nuts and Bolts
There are tons of great nuts and bolts sets out there to help children refine their fine motor skills and develop the muscles in their hands and fingers, but I particularly love this Kids Corner set as it can also be used to teach kids how to match colors and shapes.

15) Aquabeads
If you’re looking for hand strengthening exercises for older kids, Aquabeads are a good option. Kids work with small tweezers to pick up small beads and make various creations, providing endless hours of fun they can enjoy with siblings, friends, or parents, or even on their own.

I hope this collection of hand strengthening exercises for kids helps keep your kids excited and engaged while simultaneously developing the muscles and coordination needed to carry out important fine motor skills like handwriting.

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Gwen is a 40-something freelance writer and social media consultant who has an unhealthy love for makeup, hair, and fashion. She lives with her husband and 9-year-old daughter in Toronto, Canada and hopes to move to a warmer climate someday. Preferably tomorrow.

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