Fun Ways to Strengthen Little Hands
Little hands are filled with intrinsic hand muscles, which need to be strengthened in order to allow the child to perform activities like spinning a top, writing their name, coloring, cutting, putting a coin in a vending machine (because what child doesn't love that!), typing, and playing with manipulative toys like Legos. These muscles are contained within the hand itself, and allow for smooth, skilled, coordinated movements.
Some of the most common ways I help kids exercise them are through games that use pegs, tongs, and tweezers, like Thin Ice, Lite Brite Magic Screen, Lauri Tall Stacking Pegs, and the Learning Resources Fruit Sorting Pie among many, many more. Legos, Jawbones, Zoobs, Green Toys Build-A-Bouquet, and TinkerToys are fun open-ended construction toys that promote hand strength as well. Putty, clay, kinetic sand, and playdough are so motivating for kids. Even my most tactile-defensive kids love kinetic sand; it's typically the first texture I can get them to tolerate when playdough, putty, and shaving cream are too much for them to handle. You can incorporate child-safe scissors, cookie cutters, a garlic press, rolling pins, googly eyes, pipecleaners, golf tees, and endless other items into play to make it more interesting and therapeutic for the intrinsic hand muscles to grasp small objects.
There are also O.T.-specific toys that I use; I've included pictures below since they're not products that people come across every day! The chopsticks with the green frog produce immediate results for children learning to separate the "skilled" side of their hand (thumb, index, and middle fingers) from the ring and pinkie fingers, as it has soft, flexible loops for these 3 fingers. This separation of the hand is important for the development of mature pencil grasps and use of tools such as scissors, knitting needles, utensils, buttoning and fastening clothing, and countless other items.
I always purchase anti-microbial theraputty for my clients as it's multi-user, but for home use you can buy any type. The color corresponds with consistency; I use blue which is pretty tough, but doable for ages 3+. The putty and sand really get their little hands going when I hide gems inside for them to dig out!
Kristen M. Goodrich, OTR/L
I'm a pediatric occupational therapist with a clinic space in Epping, NH. I also see a limited number of clients within the community. I graduated from Boston University, Sargent College of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences in 2003, and have worked in various pediatric settings, including early intervention, adaptive camps, outpatient clinics, schools, and community as well as clinic-based services through my own practice Seacoast Play Works Therapy, PLLC.